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Digging Up Your Purpose

Published 9/6/2019

In today's episode, we discuss the difficulty of finding your personal purpose, and the tension we can all feel when we can't put our finger on our purpose.

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Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
This show exists to help driven developers like you find clarity, perspective and purpose in your careers, but sometimes those three things can clash because when you're trying to understand your purpose, sometimes you don't really have clarity. And sometimes when you have clarity, it feels like you're focusing in on the short term. And anything larger, anything with a sufficient decree of perspective is kind of cannibalizing on that clarity. In today's episode, I want to talk a little bit more about seeking your purpose as developer and demystify it a little bit. Give you some practical ways to uncover something that's kind of hidden inside of you. But hopefully we can avoid the kind of motivational speaker tropes as we go down this path together. My name is Jonathan Cutrell, you're listening to Developer Tea. And we've already talked a little bit about the purpose of this show. So I want to dive straight in and give you some practical advice. And this is the first of three things that we're going to talk about today in ways, practical ways that you can kind of dig up some of that internal purpose that may otherwise be eluding you. And the theme of these three things, you'll notice is that you have to look at the evidence of your own behaviors, rather than trying to cobble together some kind of formulation that you think approximates what you value. Instead look at your own behaviors. And the first behavior that I want you to pay attention to the most is look at the periods of your life where big change occurred. And bonus points here, if you can ask other people to give you insight into how you acted, what they noticed about you during the periods of change, that's going to give you a better view from the outside looking in of the things that you might value that you won't even realize that you value. So what kind of changes are we talking about? Well, it doesn't just have to be work changes. You can think back to times when you were even when you were much younger, if you moved, if your family had to pick up and move from one state or one country to another. There's some other more obvious life events that occur like moving out of your parents home or even more difficult transitions like going through a breakup or some serious loss in your life. These are the kinds of kind of stressful transitions periods where you have to make a lot of decisions that you can investigate. Other ones might be having a child or of course switching jobs. And what you want to pay attention to when you look at these transition periods is what were the types of criteria that you used to make decisions. And how did you respond to stress? How did you recover from difficult scenarios? What were the kinds of people that you wanted to spend your time with? And if you were taken away from your work or if you were taken away from an environment, was there a sense that you wanted to return to it? These are the kinds of things that might point to the values that you hold. Of course, this isn't a failproof thing just because you used a particular criteria when you were stressed. It doesn't mean that that's indicative of your deep held values, but it can certainly be instructive. We're going to talk about two more practical ways to dig up your values. Try to find or at least approximate, get closer to that purpose that's kind of hidden inside right after we talk about today's sponsor, GitPrime. GitPrime is promoting a new book called 20 Patterns to Watch for in the Engineering Teams. It's a digital book, but they'll also send you a printed copy if you come through the podcast link, which is GitPrime.com slash 20 Patterns. That's GitPrime as a GIT prime.com slash 20 Patterns to get the book. If you've ever noticed how a really high functioning engineering manager works, the people on the team that are often the best at debugging issues. It's not just simple issues or even issues just in code. It's also problems at the team level. The great engineering manager is actually a systems manager. They're able to see into systems and find the things that are affecting those systems. Systems managers know how to look for patterns. They know how to evaluate a situation that is similar to one that they've seen in the past. They understand that similar systems tend to have similar patterns. That's what this book is about. It's outlining 20 patterns that you should be on the lookout for in your team. This helps you actually use data to understand your team a little bit better and to bring out some of those problems so that you are building it for the long term. You're taking the most advantage of the talent that's on your team and you're setting yourself up for that long term success. Go and check it out, GitPrime.com slash 20 Patterns. This is again to GitPrime for sponsoring today's episode. We're talking about very straightforward, practical ways that you can start to uncover your passions and your purpose as a developer. This is difficult to do because it's this soft thing. It's not easy to nail down. Not everyone is able to immediately put their finger on it. Even once you do feel like you have a pretty good sense of what your purpose or your passion is, it may change in some way. You may feel like it's been challenged. You may even feel like you didn't really get there all the way that you accepted something as your purpose in your career that you don't really actually identify with. I want to be the first to tell you that it's okay, that it's okay that you're not certain about everything that you want in your career. It's also imperative that you continue this work. Finding your purpose, finding your passion, finding the things that you care about, refining your values as an engineer, these are all things that are ongoing. You don't ever arrive. Ever finish this internal work that you're doing. We've already covered the first practical piece of advice that is to pay attention, pay close attention to the big transitions in your life. The second technique is actually an exercise. Write down a list of two to three things that you're very good at that you also enjoy. Then also a list of two to three things that you're very good at, but that you don't enjoy. These are things that you may be doing in your job now. These are things that you might have done in a previous job that either you really enjoy, you want to keep on doing them. You're good at them and you seem to enjoy them or things that you're good at, but you don't really want to do them again. You want to leave them in the past. You don't really want to participate in that particular area in those particular strengths anymore. Here's the reality. It's easy to get caught up in this trap of excellence. Try to trick ourselves that if we're really good at something and other people appreciate us doing it, that that's the reward that we're looking for. We're looking for the cultural meaning in our work, simply being that the work was valuable in some way. This can be really confusing and it can be really exhausting because the work itself is not really rewarding. Most of the time when you're actually working, you may not really be enjoying it. Try to separate your enjoyment of the activity that you do from the enjoyment of the success of that activity. This is harder to do for some people than it is for others. Some people get more fulfillment out of the appreciation that they receive from others, but this is a complex problem for everyone because it's not always immediately apparent why we enjoy doing something and we may feel some pressure to do only the things that we're really good at doing and discard everything else. Okay, the third and final practical piece of advice that I have for you is that when you can't nail down your purpose, you can start with imprecise measurements. We've all heard about the difference between accuracy and precision. Accuracy is correctness. One that your purpose is the bullseye and your hope is that you can get all of the darts landing directly on that bullseye. Now it's possible that you can hone in on a very specific point that is not the bullseye. In fact, it may be totally off the dartboard altogether. This is a picture of being very precise but totally inaccurate. What you care about more when you're talking about purpose is accuracy rather than precision or perhaps a better way to say it is accuracy and then precision. You care about getting the darts on the board first and then refining those down towards the bullseye. When you think about your purpose, it's okay to be somewhat vague but it's less okay to be wrong. If you're having difficulty with finding those things that ring true to you about your purpose, you can start with a broader question. This idea is that you're not throwing the dart on the opposite wall from the dartboard. You're trying to get those concepts honed in at least to the general direction. You might ask questions like, what things do I not value? What is the opposite of my purpose? What is something that I would never be able to call my purpose? Often, it's easier to answer questions about your values by defining what they are not. This is true for many questions that we face in our careers. It's easier to ask the opposite question or what you might call the white space question, the inverse question. And what you're doing is you're identifying the walls that you don't want to throw those darts onto. Eventually, you can start to identify the place that you do want to throw the dart. But this is not easy to do. It's not as easy as just looking for the dartboard. It's more like if you were blindfolded and dizzy. The truth is, it might feel that way for a long time. These concepts, the idea of purpose and passion and values, they all sound fluffy. They sound difficult to define. They may even sound fake to you. It may not really ring true to you for a long time in your career. Let me be the first person to tell you that that's pretty normal. But it's okay to not really know. And it's okay that you have only a vague idea or no idea at all about what your purpose is. My hope is to encourage you to find ways of exploring this question of looking at your career as an opportunity for deeper fulfillment as an engineer. Thank you so much for listening to today's episode of Developer Tea. A huge thank you to today's awesome sponsor, Get Prime. Head over to getprime.com slash 20 patterns. That's gitprime.com slash 2-0 patterns to learn about the patterns of a great engineering team. Thank you so much for listening to today's episode. If you enjoyed this episode, if it was useful to you, if you feel like you took something positive away from this, I encourage you to subscribe and whatever podcasting app you're currently using. And another thing that we don't often ask for, but I'm going to ask for today is leave a review in iTunes. This is hugely helpful to spread the show on iTunes, but also it's incredibly helpful for other developers as they search for shows on iTunes. They can read your review and decide whether or not they think Developer Tea is for them. Thank you so much for listening and until next time, enjoy your tea.