I’ve been going through a sort of mid-life crisis for a while now. Well, it’s “called” a mid-life crisis, but I’d call it a third-life crisis, since I do plan on living until at least 150…
A mid-life crisis normally involves the self-reflection of your life up until that point, causing regretful feelings of what you may not have accomplished in your life so far. This accurately describes my situation.
I always knew that I would change the world in some positive way, and had several vague ideas of what vehicle would help me accomplish that. I love technology, and software development, in particular. And I always figured it would be through technology that I would accomplish these goals. But I have not been able to put my finger on exactly how.
Where I Am Now
I’m currently a software architect at a highly successful web marketing startup, and I’ve been there for seven years. And, although it is a challenging position, and the best company I have ever worked for, it makes me feel rather empty. After all, I don’t believe that it’s necessarily the vehicle to change the world.
Back in 1990, I believed that I wanted to run a software company, and develop software development tools. I started such a company with several co-workers from my former firm. It was a niche market, and also not necessarily a vehicle for changing the world. But we needed to earn a living to support growing families, and the tool wasn’t selling well, so we morphed into a software consulting firm. That was also challenging, and we were fairly successful at it, but I began to despise it. It ended up that I had to run the company, and did less and less development. It hurt my soul. But even if I was still consulting, it still wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do, but I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what it was. And when the company basically went bust during the 2000 dot com meltdown, I joined the startup that I’m with today.
I’ve always felt like sort of an outsider here. Although the people are great, and the job is challenging, I had sworn in the past that I would never work for someone else again, and felt like I was just there until my “calling” came through. But I still only had a vague idea of what that calling was. I thought I was going to one day start another software development company to develop productivity software, which is more of a horizontal market target, but when I pictured running such a company, I never really focused on the development aspect as much as having a company where I could help mold development careers. That should have been a hint of what my true calling was.
Past Hints of My Passion
The earliest I could remember thinking of what I wanted to be when I grow up, was in sixth grade. I wrote in my elementary school graduation “autograph” book that I wanted to become a math teacher. Back then, I loved math, and looking back I find it interesting that I wanted to teach it for a living. Well, my love for math sort of fell by the wayside after high school algebra, but my second hint of my calling came in college.
When I was attending Brooklyn College, I got a part time job in the computer department, since I fell in love with computers in junior high and high school. I wanted to be around them. But the only position available when I applied for a job there was for monitoring the keypunch machine area. Basically, I would keep track of the waiting list, and make sure people didn’t hog the machines for too long so that other people got a chance. This was around the time when terminal access was in its infancy. Yes, I know this ages me ;).
But it turns out that I loved the job. Not for its primary function, but for a side benefit — I was also taking software courses at the time, and was a natural at programming. While people were waiting for their turn at the keypunch machines, they would often be poring over the green and white bar printouts of their previous runs. I don’t recall when it started, but they started coming over to the desk I sat at, and started asking me questions about why their program didn’t work. It turned out that I became more of a tutor than a keypunch machine monitor. More and more people came to me with their programs for help, and I loved helping them. I looked forward to people having problems and coming to me. It was the first inkling that I had the ability to explain things clearly and make technical things understandable to the layperson.
Education: The Common Theme
I’ve always loved learning. Even though I was never anything special as a student, I would enjoy school. For the most part, I actually learned a lot more from the classes I did poorly in than the classes I aced. I have also always been of the mindset that learning is a lifelong endeavor. The day you stop learning is the day you die. Due to life circumstances, though, I never did finish college. And when my career took off, I never had a requirement to get my degree. But I always thought about going back to college one day, after I turned 50. So I think it’s quite natural that deep down inside, I yearn for some involvement in education; both giving and receiving.
In the darkness that has overtaken me over the past several years, I have not clearly recognized this in me — even though I’ve planned for a while to have an educational technical blog. I even grabbed a couple of URLs around the CoolTechU moniker for the purpose. It was there, on the surface, but I believe I was in some sort of a denial. You see, consciously, I always thought that I wanted to run a software shop to develop software for sale. But I realized today that it was more of a means to an end, but not really the true goal itself. If I think about it, whenever I pictured in my mind’s eye about running such a company, in a campus environment (see the other hint I missed?), I would not picture the actual development of the software, but instead I would picture myself mentoring my employees or giving classes on a technology we would be using.
Yes, I love writing software, and I love technology. But those are mainly just tools for my real passion, which is teaching. This morning, on my trip to work, I was listening (again) to the Anthony Robbins program, “Live With Passion”. On the last part of the last tape, he asked that we stop the tape and strongly consider our life’s purpose. I then drove in silence (which is rare for me) and although it was a bit painful for me to deeply consider this, as suggested by Tony, I started to think back to my early memories of what I loved to do. And I recalled that early desire to be a math teacher. I started to relax and consider this, and then the other memories started flooding back. Then I started putting two and two together, and realized that this is what I’m all about.
I’m always doing it — whether teaching my family about how to use the computer, or talking to people about lessons learned from running my own company, or mentoring young developers at work, or giving advice about life to young adult friends I’ve made online through my old U2 site, I always found myself comfortable and passionate about sharing lessons I’ve learned throughout my life.
The thing that has made me so depressed for so long was that I thought that I didn’t know what I should be doing in my life. I didn’t really know who I was. I was jumping from one idea to the next, with nothing ever really taking hold passionately. But when I think back, all my ideas stemmed from one common theme — education. Either learning or teaching.
I feel a strong sense of relief today. I know I still have many issues to tackle, but at least now I have a framework in which to pursue my dreams. I don’t have to wonder what my passion is. I just need to figure out how to satisfy it.