Guiding My Career Choices: From Soldier to Worker

Temporarily caged?

Random Observation/Comment #242: The month-long gap of writing was a test to see how much I could get done when I didn’t write.  The answer, surprisingly, is that I didn’t do anything – well, that’s not true, but I didn’t get as much as I wanted done.  I didn’t know this before, but writing in a blog about what I’m going to do is actually the thing that starts me doing things.  I needed to read that sentence over again to make sure it was right.  Yes.  I am dependent on this writing to clear my mind of all the woes in my ever-growing mind, and basically do a core-dump of my random ideas on how to improve my life.  Without this, I just think about doing things, and I never make the first step to do them.  Knowing this, changes everything… I will address this in the next entry.

For the past 6 months, my underlying belief of this life has been challenged.  The philosophy that I had so desperately formed to make sense of this world – the guidelines that kept me under control and tied to a close-knit community – all of it was shaken by the foundation by a different perspective.  It was a perspective that I had remembered so clearly, yet since I had once looked at the world this way, I had to lean in closer to make sure my choice was right for me.

Let’s start from the beginning: I was a soldier.  I followed orders from my parents and made them proud every step of the way.  From honor societies in high school to graduating as an engineer, I always performed for that greater purpose: my parents’ pride.  All I wanted was for them to accept my strides forward and tell me I was doing a great job.  All I wanted was to see their eyes welt up with tears of joy to see their son achieve great things.

The base for all of this still holds true to my roots, but the difference is: I am no longer a soldier.  You see, my parents had graduated me from that status and told me to follow another goal.  They told me to do what makes me happy, always stay healthy, and remember the importance of community.  As a soldier taking orders for 21 years, I felt confused and lost without a path to follow.  I had perfected the act of following a path, but I had never learned how to make my own.  In fact, the goals for me all sounded strange because none of them mentioned money or success.

They didn’t want me to be a soldier, yet I knew no other path so I tried different things and always just looked back to see their reaction and approval.  Everything I did was accepted with a nod and a smile.  So… now what?  The pressure to meet expectations for reaching the best of the best had faded.  So, I did what everyone else in my situation would do: I looked at my peers to seek their advice and their opinion.  As I asked them, it seemed that my level of acceptance had shifted to another party. Now, all I wanted was their acceptance and their envy.  I wanted a level of respect from them and an overall higher status in this stratified society.

This view of life is what drives our economy.  We see shit we want because other people have them.  I can’t deny that I still don’t follow this line of thought when I see new gadgets that come out every month (I just want to pimp out my daily routine so badly!).  Yet, the things I want are actually not that expensive.  It also makes me wonder what I would do if I had everything I wanted.  I don’t think I would feel complete at all.  There would probably always be something more that I needed to complete my collection.  Plus, my neighbor would probably one-up me with that bigger screen TV and make me wonder if it were about time to get a new one.

This key idea troubled me:  I needed to make money because I wanted to buy things that I thought I needed because I was hanging around other people that made money.  Climbing the status tower is fine, but your expectations keep rising to reaching the status above you.  This vicious cycle makes me believe that one day; you’ll find yourself alone at the top.  Well, you’re either at the top, or you’re disappointed that you can’t reach the next status.  Hopefully, you’ll be happy and you’ll stop, but greed is not something you can fulfill.  The more you feed it, the more it wants and the more you’ll sacrifice to get it.

What I’ve found with wealth (in the sense of monetary wealth) is that people tend to spend money on things they don’t need.  Of course, what I think they need and what they think they need is very subjective.  Some people think they need to own three houses while living in a small studio in NYC and working 80-hour weeks to afford the mortgages: fantastic.  What I wonder is: what if I just need less?  Will that make me less ambitious?  Will I be ill-motivated to reach any higher?  Does being content make the mind stale and boring?

All of these questions formulated into a philosophy that actually fit into my parents’ new goals for me: happiness, health, and community.  So many people objectively see success by salary, the size of their estate, or the number of cars they own.  That’s so… old school.  I would think in our modern day and age, we would measure success differently.  What about overall happiness, health, and community?

Your career can be selfishly geared towards making money.  Many people do it because they associate the money with happiness.  There are some careers that sacrifice happiness in the short term in order to benefit in the long term with money or status.  You may be surprised at this next sentence: I don’t think there is anything wrong with this thinking at all.  I fully support making short term sacrifices for long term goals, but one criterion must hold true: You must believe in what you do.  If you just do it for the money, you’ll never make it.

What my parents really wanted to tell me is: Do what you’re good at and do what you love.  If this makes you happy then your career is not work.  If you constantly need a work-life balance, it means you’re trying to escape work.  If you’re learning new things everyday and you believe your sacrifice will be worth it in the end (which is also very subjective), take the risk – we’re so young.

~See Lemons Love Work