Aubrey Rhodes

You Are Not Your Job

November 28, 2018

When you introduce yourself at a party, how do you describe yourself? Are the first words out of your mouth “I’m a software developer”, “I work at company XYZ”, or just “I do computers”? If so, you might have a problem my friend.

Since college, this has been how I’ve introduced myself. “I’m Aubrey and I’m studying CS”, “I’m Aubrey and I’m a rails developer”, or “I’m Aubrey and I’m a Director of Engineering”. I never really caught this until a friend challenged me to introduce myself and not talk about work. I realized I had no idea what to tell people about myself for the majority of my life when I wasn’t typing into a terminal window. Even worse, I realized how boring it was to start off a conversation this way. The only thing the other person could do to respond would be to ask me about programming, so I ended up hating talking about development at parties because I did it some many times.

This Is A Smell

Just like there are code smells to know when there’s something off about your technical design, there are personality smells that give you hints about things that are off with your life. Only thinking about your life in terms of work is definitely one of them.

In the worst case, this may be a sign that there is a horrible lack of balance in your life. Are you only thinking about yourself as an employee because you go home in the evenings and do nothing? Are you lacking things to look forward to on the weekend? Do you eat plain rice and then sleep for 14 hours a night? Do you literally have nothing else going on? This is probably not the case.

Ok, so you do have stuff going on in your life when you are not at the office, but you still only talk about your job when you introduce yourself. This means that your are defining how your value yourself in terms of your employment. THIS IS A BIG TRAP TO FALL INTO MY FRIEND AND YOU CAN STAY HERE YOUR ENTIRE CAREER.

The Treadmill

Thinking “I’m great because I’m a software developer” really means “I’m great because I’m smart and not everyone can do this” or “I’m great because I’ve got senior in my title and people respect that” or “I’m great because I make X times the average household income in America, and that’s a big number that makes me feel good”. ALL OF THESE REASONS TO THINK YOU’RE GREAT ARE HOLLOW.

If you love yourself based on a title or a number that someone else assigns to yourself you don’t love yourself unconditionally. You’ll always have a hole in yourself you are trying to fill with a better title, more points or stack overflow, or a higher salary. Each time you get a bump to your title or salary you’ll be happy for a little bit, but just like an addict, that good feeling lasts a little bit shorter each time. You’ll always be chasing what you’ve tied your self worth to, instead of things that can bring you real fulfillment.

The Ghost of Developer’s Future

You’ll meet a lot of managers over your career that wish they were still coding full time. They’ll complain about how many meetings there in and generally seem like they hate coming into the office. A lot of these people get into this situation because they were chasing the prestige or salary associated with leading people. It is 100% ok to try out managing and realize it’s not for you, but taking a job just to satiate your need for respect will never make you happy long term. Worse, it’s a recipe for burn out.

The Secret Was In You All Along

It’s sounds corny, but it’s true: you have to love yourself unconditionally to ever really be happy. If you love your family and you took a good paying job that you don’t enjoy to support them, you can survive. However if you took that crappy job to make yourself feel good about the big number on your checks, you’ve just put an expiration date on your coding career. If your self worth isn’t tied up with your job, then you’re free to get yourself into a work situation that supports the rest of your life instead of having your entire life hold up your career.

Say it with me “I am great… period”

Written by Aubrey Rhodes who builds software engineering teams in Atlanta.

© 2020 Aubrey Rhodes