jazzfish: Randall Munroe, xkcd180 ("If you die in Canada, you die in Real Life!") (Canada)
[personal profile] jazzfish
ABOUT fourteen years ago I fell into a career path of software testing and tech writing. I'm good at both those things and they paid well (better than minimum wage, anyhow), so I kept doing them.

It took me a long time to realise that being good at something that pays well doesn't automatically translate into enjoying it.

That came easier and faster with testing. When I got the offer for my last job, I'd also been invited to fly out to Seattle to interview for a testing position. As I recall the money was about the same (maybe a little less?), and Seattle would have had its own attractions. But I took the tech writing job and never looked back.

There are things about testing I like: the creativity in finding ways to break things, the sense that I'm working to make some user's life better, and, yeah, the sense of superiority over stupid developers. There's also a lot to hate: the frustration in knowing that some things will never be fixed at all and more will never be fixed to my standards, the general lack of status in any software company. In the right environment I could be convinced to be a tester again but I'm not convinced the right environment exists.

I STARTED working at my last job in 2006. I liked my coworkers and the general atmosphere (developers who answer questions!) immediately. It took me a couple of weeks to realise that I felt strange doing the actual job. I was working for a company that didn't make software for people: we made software that we sold to companies, so they could sell other things to people more efficiently. This struck me as deeply absurd. The useless wheel-spinning of corporate America, and me right in the middle of it.

But hey, they paid well.

That was enough for awhile. I'm not sure exactly how long because I didn't write much about work. I know that after about three years I'd become resigned to the idea that nothing would ever be Done to my satisfaction, that we'd always have far more work than time to do it right. That was disheartening.

I got put on a Facebook-related data mining project sometime after I moved out here, I think. That was definitely the point where I started to question whether this was really a company I wanted to continue to be involved with.

But I couldn't stop. I wanted to get permanent residency in Canada, and [personal profile] uilos didn't have a job yet but we kept thinking one was just a few months around the corner.

So I kept at the job, and my performance slipped because I was doing progressively less and less work, and doing it less and less well, because I just couldn't bring myself to care. I don't know how to describe it any better than that. I cared a great deal about not losing the job, and the threat of losing it wasn't enough to get me to work any better.

"In hindsight, it should have been clear there was a problem when I began fantasizing about being a garbage truck driver."

Shades of late-2001/early-2002 and the second worst job I've ever had. Unlike early 2002, this time I was able to keep it sufficiently together long enough for other things to get sorted out. And... I still couldn't stop.

I MEAN, maybe I could have. I could have been stopped, I guess. But... not working. Not producing income, not contributing to the household. Dipping into savings. That terrified me. (I'm doing it now and it still terrifies me. I can only do it because I don't think about it.)

I'd been talking with my counselor about my poor work performance for, oh, years, I guess. Once immigration and [personal profile] uilos-job came through, she managed to convince me to at least take a break from work of several months.

So I talked to my boss about that, laying the groundwork for a three-month sabbatical once a couple of my current projects wrapped up. I couldn't say "I want to quit." I could hardly think it.

And then the company's financial state was revealed to be shaky at best, and they decided to pay me to not work for them anymore. Which neatly sliced that particular Gordian knot.

I'VE BEEN out of work for coming on four months now. I've spent the time trying to figure out who I am when there's nothing I have to do.

I still have very little idea.

I'm not writing. I've dabbled in fiction and I'm running a weekly RPG and that's about all the creative I've got going on.

I exercise but that has more to do with my awful ignore/hate relationship with my body than anything. I'm keeping up with viola and I don't understand why. I'm terrible at it, but of course I am, I started less than two months ago. I cannot tell if I like it or if it's just something I'm doing.

I do household chores. I read. I poke at the internet, but less than I used to. I play startlingly few video games. I pet the cats, I nap on the couch. I try to leave the apartment building at least once a day. On rare occasions I do something sociable.

I don't know what I'm doing with myself. To the left, I'm not doing anything with myself, and that doesn't come as a surprise.

"My wasteful and unproductive time was the only time I asked: What should I be doing? What is a worthwhile life? And so it followed that was the only time when I could start to answer those questions."

I know a bunch of things that aren't the answer to 'what do i want to do.' For instance: I'm good at tech writing, and it pays reasonably well, and I can see absolutely no reason why going back to a job in tech writing would end any differently: miserable, burnt-out, feeling obligated to keep going because it's making money.

I don't know what the answer is. I don't even know how to find it. Yeah, yeah, patience, how long will THAT take? I don't know how to find what I love beyond seeing what I do when I'm not doing anything.

Wait and see, I guess.

A footnote: it might be music, either viola or cello. Arguments against: it is even less possible to make money as a musician than it is as a writer, and I was not a very good cellist even after eight years.
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"Jazz Fish, a saxophone playing wanderer, finds himself in Mamboland at a critical phase in his life." --Howie Green, on his book Jazz Fish Zen

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