Be happy

7 minute read article Leadership   Technology   Wisdom Comments

I hung out with my old team from my FinTech days last week. At one point in the evening, I was talking to a friend I’ve known for many years. He was on that old team, but I had known him prior to that. We both lamented how the final years of our careers were turning out to be pretty underwhelming. Sure, we’re both being paid well, but there’s something missing and neither of us could put our finger on it.

The next morning I had coffee with a friend, mentor, and former coworker at the same place. We haven’t seen each other in a long time, but he had a big impact on my time at FinTech, coaching me for my leadership interview and giving me lots of great advice.

When I first saw him he said,

Dude, you look good! You look happy!

It was an interesting observation. Then we talked, and by the time we wrapped up, he said,

You need to figure out what makes you happy and do that.

I wrote part 1 in August and September of 2018. In it, I relate a story from 2001 when I left the so-called safety and stability of a full-time job for what ended up being about 14 years of independence. What I didn’t realize at the time was that the Dotcom bubble was bursting and I had a front-row seat. It was meant to be included in the “Going Indie” book I was writing, but never finished.

Be Happy, part 1

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines happiness as “a state of well-being and contentment.”

Before that fateful day in August 2001, I was unhappy at work, and I was definitely not satisfied. I had joined the consulting company in early 2000 and was immediately impressed that everything they said they were during the interview was true. Everyone knew what they were doing (with a couple exceptions), management was there to support us, the perks were amazing, and I was working on some cool projects.

After about a year, things started to change. First, the perks started to disappear. The once-full coolers of soda, water and juice stopped being stocked, and as the supply dwindled, so did my confidence that this would be a long-term gig. Management changed. The company was acquired by a larger firm. Friends and colleagues were being laid off, simply disappearing on Friday’s at lunch. I was being asked to do more and more. I was being asked to do things I didn’t agree with. There was a distinct feeling that “the beatings will continue until morale improves.” I let this go on for a few months because I was the sole breadwinner of a growing family and it was my responsiblity to take care of them, even if it meant being miserable.

The last straw came for me after an exhausting session of breaking tasks down and developing a time and cost estimate for a new project. I remember being in a conference room with my team for well over a day, hashing out the details, checking and double-checking our numbers. Finally, after we all agreed that our estimate was solid (as far as estimates are), we brought in the sales person who would be responsible for delivering the numbers to the client.

I explained our methodology, talked about all the data we used, listed everyone that was involved, and then gave him the number.

I can’t deliver that to the client. It needs to be lower.

After picking my jaw up off the floor, I spent another hour explaining how we arrived at that number. I brought other tech leads in to bolster my case. They agreed with me. I was supremely confident in the number and was standing by it. He didn’t budge. I went to my manager and filled him in. He took the sales person’s side.

While I don’t remember exactly how much time passed, I know that soon after I walked in with my resignation letter in hand. On that day in August, I was ready to leave. I had no idea where I was going, but I knew that I needed to be happy and it wasn’t happening in that job.

For the record, a few months later I heard from the team that worked on the project. The sales person had delivered a much lower number than we estimated, and the project ended up over-budget. In the end, when the project was completed, the final dollar amount was extremely close to my original estimate.

Happiness for me came in the form of independence; in being able to decide when, where, how, and with whom I would do business. It came in the form of working from home from the time both of my kids were born up until they were both teenagers. It came in the form of knowing I was in control, that if I succeeded, it was because of me. That if I failed, it was because of ME and not some slick salesman on the golf course. I was satisfied with the decision I made and the direction I was heading.

I can’t overstate the importance of being happy in what you do. If you’re not happy doing what you’re doing, why are you doing it? Yes, I understand that sometimes circumstances dictate working a job you don’t love, but seriously, figure out what will make you happy and do it!

What does it mean to be happy?

Because it’s 2024 and GenAI is everywhere, I decided to ask Bing / Microsoft Copilot what it means to be happy. Here is the answer it provided:

Happiness is an emotional state characterized by feelings of joy, satisfaction, contentment, and fulfillment. It often involves positive emotions and life satisfaction¹. Some key signs of happiness include:

  1. Feeling like you are living the life you wanted.
  2. Going with the flow and being willing to take life as it comes.
  3. Believing that the conditions of your life are good.
  4. Enjoying positive, healthy relationships with others.
  5. Feeling satisfied with your life overall.
  6. Experiencing more positive emotions than negative ones.
  7. Being open to new ideas and experiences.
  8. Practicing self-care and treating yourself kindly.
  9. Feeling that you are living life with a sense of meaning and purpose.

Ultimately, happiness can vary from person to person, but these signs provide a glimpse into what it means to be happy¹. 😊

Source: Conversation with Copilot, 6/16/2024

(1) Happiness: What It Really Means and How to Find It - Verywell Mind.

(2) Happiness: Definition, Health Benefits, and How to Be Happier.

(3) Happiness Definition: What is Happiness Anyway … - Psychology Today.

Be Happy, part 2

It’s funny that my mentor gave me the same advice last week; figure out what will make you happy and do it.

If I look at Copilot’s answer in the context of my life in general, I am absolutely happy. I have a great, loving family. I have an amazing group of friends, too. I have three cats who bring me a lot of joy each day.

If I look at it in the context of my job, there’s some work to do, and that’s what my mentor was driving at. My career is more than my job though, so if I take a broader view, I think I’m good. I’m doing a lot of things outside of my working hours that help me “find happy.”

If no one reads a single word I’ve written, this blog makes me happy.

If lots of people read what I write, this blog makes me happy.

My involvement in the software developer community, speaking at conferences and meetups, makes me happy.

The meetup I run, helping new and experienced developers get better at the non-tech parts of their careers, makes me happy.

Reading makes me happy (I finished book 34 of the year this morning).

Learning new things makes me happy.

Final Thoughts

Once again, I was reminded of a talk one of my friends gave years ago at a conference I ran in Kalamazoo, MI. KalamazooX was always billed as a “soft skills” conference, but it was really about being a better human.

This talk, “Find your happy,” by my friend Layla is awesome, and obviously relevant to this post. I remember meeting her at Codestock a few months before. My friend Alan Stevens came up to me and said, “you need to talk her about happiness,” so I sat down and let her talk. There was an immediate, “holy shit, YES!! You have to come speak at my event!!” I am so glad she did!


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