Image by Flagstaffotos, shared via GNU Free Documentation License 1.2.
As we’ve talked about before, you don’t necessarily have to have passion to be a good employee. And if you are passionate, it’s still worthwhile to resist the urge to make coding into your life. “Sure, it may make survival easier, but loving your job is a compensation that benefits your boss much more than you, making you more hardworking, less likely to quit or move on, better at making money for them, and therefore easier to exploit,” says Kassandra Vee, in an article for The New Inquiry. So even if you love what you do, it’s worthwhile to cultivate other things that bring you pride and pleasure. A motivating factor here: if you’re working overtime without getting paid overtime, you’re effectively working for free. Couldn’t you spend that time on something else?
On the other hand: if you love your work, what do you even do when you’re not coding? If your company has a culture of long hours, or you’re in charge of a project that has you on-call, it can be easy to fall into a dinner/TV/bed routine. On top of that, it’s just plain difficult to figure out what feeds you as a person. Especially during this pandemic, when many are working out of their homes, separating from work and finding new things to do is harder than ever. So: how to get started?
First: it’s worth thinking about where you can buy yourself back some time and energy. At first this might actually take more energy to arrange, but as any good programmer knows, you can save time and energy in the long run by automating repetitive processes. Are there things you’re doing at work that steal your energy without contributing to your productivity? Go over your calendar: are there meetings you can cancel, processes that don’t belong to you that you’re somehow stuck with, tasks you could automate or cut back on? It’s also worth looking at how often you volunteer to do something that’s not related to your job function, like party planning or running the office fantasy football draft. Anything that you don’t enjoy and that isn’t directly relevant to your work performance is a candidate for elimination.
Once you have time and energy, or if you have it already, set aside a specific day and time of the week when you’re going to try new things that aren’t related to work or basic self-maintenance. Depending on what you already do, that could look really different. You could get a new book from the library, check out a local museum, go on a date, volunteer to knock on doors for a political candidate, try running or pottery painting or smoking weed or tennis or competitive lawnmowing. I’m serious; every Friday at six is Adventure Time.
Probably a lot of that stuff won’t click with you. That’s fine. The point is that you’re stretching your capacity and imagination. Being able to say “I’ve tried competitive lawnmowing and it kind of sucked” is better for your soul than having ne’er tried at all.
When something does click, though: make room for it in your life. If you’ve had poor work-life balance before now, this may require a conversation with your manager/coworkers. Keep it simple:“every Friday at six I will be unavailable due to a prior obligation.” You don’t have to tell anyone that you’re bingo-sharking at the senior center or planning a heist with the Animal Liberation Front; you’ve got a meeting, it’s in everyone’s calendar, nobody bothers Brian on Fridays at six. If your boss presses you for an excuse and you’re worried your hobby will sound unprofessional: feel free to come up with an innocuous lie: soup kitchen, elderly relative, etc. Your work gets your on-the-clock hours; don’t let them have the rest of your life, too.
If you’re not cultivating your personal life: what do you think is holding you back, or making you worried it won’t work out? If you’re already living your best life outside of work: what’s your passion, and how do you make time for it?