Two Steps Forward

July 12, 2002

My journey towards personal understanding and truth took two steps yesterday. A big one and a small one. The big one came as I was getting home from the store after work. While in the check out line I felt very out of control. The woman behind me found it necessary to crowd me the whole time, even bumping into me once or twice. I asked her to stop, telling her that she was in my personal space and that I didn't like it. The checker added to my feeling by placing the bags with my items as far away on the counter as possible. I had to walk around the foot of the counter to pick them up.

Traffic was its usual slow cumbersome self, but I was beyond caring or understanding now. I was completely into my out of control fugue. When I got home my lovely wife knew immediately that I was loaded for bear and started a dialog. Neither of us likes it when I am like this, and she has the courage to open the ball so I can get whatever off my chest. This works for us, as we never make it about the other.

The realization I got was that my image of who I was at work, and what I mean to that organization is false. I am faced with a potential layoff in the next month; a layoff that could mean relocating again. I hate this thought and it eats at me. Most of the people I work with are only vaguely aware that layoffs are looming. The situation is very surreal. In the midst of this budget crisis I learned yesterday that the entire team is slated to get monitor upgrades from 17 inch to 19 inch within the next week. Team leads to get 21-inch monitors.

I snapped.

We haven't got enough money to keep everyone employed, but we do have enough money to by new monitors for all. As she and I talked about this the truth finally hit home. The organization just doesn't care about us as individuals. As full-time equivalents, yes, as people no. I recently read on 'The Perils of Leisure' about the progression from new job rose color glasses to taken the glasses off and putting blinders on, to finally seeing the truth about where you work. What happened to me yesterday was more profound. I saw what I had always known but never owned, that I have never mattered to any organization I've worked for. Ever. Not as an individual. Not as Mark Nichols. As a programmer or analyst or team lead, sure. But there will always be another body to fill that requirement for the organization.

I have for most of the past twenty years defined a large part of my self through who I was at work. Now that I see that who I am as and individual really doesn't matter to the employer, I feel like I've lost that part of my self-image. Instead I have to lean on the internal image of me, the one that I don't share at work, that one that isn't a 'programmer' but is rather a human seeking understanding of himself.


The small step was along these same lines. I read part of an essay on how to ask smart questions on mail lists to my wife to get her opinion. Her opinion was exactly what I expected. The piece of understanding for me was realizing that technology no longer fulfills me. It is an intellectual pursuit, and a fine one. But I am in the process of leaving intellectual pursuits behind for emotional and spiritual pursuits. As I delve deeper into my emotional self, and my spiritual self, I find it harder and harder to come back to the intellectual distance I used to have that allowed me to tolerate my work situations. Coming to terms with my self-image as described above will help me develop emotional and spiritual reasons for work. I need to find emotional satisfaction from working. I need to feed my spirit while I am confined to work.

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Mark H. Nichols

I am a husband, cellist, code prole, nerd, technologist, and all around good guy living and working in fly-over country. You should follow me on Twitter.