Disclaimer: I have no idea if this post will ever be helpful at all to anyone else. Sometimes writing something like this helps me make sense of my own thoughts. Since I wrote it down, I thought I would share it.
A commonly repeated bit of wisdom is that it is a wise career choice to “Do what you love.” I’ve heard this advice for years and at first glance, it seems good. However, as you really dig into it, it can be difficult to figure out what it is that you really love. What would it look like to actually do what you love for a living?
Is this what I really love?
I love to go to my Aunt’s lake house and ride the SeaDoo around the lake. It’s one of my favorite leisure activities. Should I do that for a living? Is that what I love? Thoughts like this go through my brain… Perhaps I can make a living riding a SeaDoo. Perhaps I could become a SeaDoo racer. Do what you love – right! YOLO!
Hang on a moment Mr. YOLO man. Let’s pause and count the potential cost of doing that. I might need to move away from my extended family to some warmer climate where you could do this year-round. I might need to exercise a lot to get in great physical shape to race competitively. It’s nearly impossible I would be able to earn much of a living doing this in the beginning, so for several years I would need to train to be a SeaDoo racer and work at another job to support my family. My free time and a lot of my family time would be totally consumed by this. Hmm. This is sounding less awesome very quickly.
Once you look at what you think you love in the bright light of reality, the picture changes a bit. I do enjoy riding the SeaDoo. However, I don’t love it nearly enough to make all of the sacrifices I would need to make in order to make an actual career out of it.
Now what? Give up? Head back to the proverbial salt mine to spend the rest of my days doing something I really don’t love or perhaps even hate? Nope. Dig deeper. Here are a couple of things I have observed recently that have made me think differently about this topic.
Observation #1 – Olympic Swimmers
Recently we watched some of the 2016 Summer Olympics. I was amazed watching the swimmers. Think about what they did to even make it into that Olympic pool. They exercised like crazy. They ate healthy – probably extremely healthy. The practiced over and over again, nearly perfectly, day after day for years upon years. They sacrificed a lot of big things in their life only to make it into the Olympics.
Watching them, I sat and thought at first, “Wow. That is cool. They sure are fast!” Then I thought a bit deeper about what being that fast must have required and I thought: “You know what – these people are crazy! Why spend so much of your life for so many years on end to become THAT good of a swimmer? Who cares!”
I for one frankly do not care nearly enough about swimming to do that. I would not be willing to invest even a small fraction of the effort that the person who came in dead last must have invested, even if you could assure me that by doing so I could be an Olympic gold medal swimmer. It’s simply not something I care that much about. Those swimmers must really love something about swimming. They have paid a tremendous price to get to this point. I don’t think it is a price anyone would pay, if they did not love it.
Observation #2 – Wonky I.T. Security Topics
Last week, somehow I came across something that peaked my interest in an I.T. security book called the Art of Memory Forensics. So, I paid ~$50 and ordered it from Amazon. It came in on Friday and I proceeded to give it and the great tool that it is written about a ton of my weekend free time.
Why? Because memory forensics is awesome! Well – at least I think it’s awesome. It’s a tool that can help me do something I actually love even better. It open up another possible angle to attack the problems that I wake up thinking about from. It is a small piece of a grander puzzle that has had me fascinated for years.
If most of you were to read this same 858 page book, you would hate it. You would be bored to death. You would not be willing to invest a fraction of the time that I will happily invest on this topic. You would probably not do it even if you could become one of the best memory forensics people in the world. You would nearly die of boredom or confusion or perhaps both during the first few hours. Why? Because most of you don’t care at all about this topic. You don’t care so much that I bet your brain would nearly refuse to focus on this for long enough to really learn much about it. You don’t care about memory forensics in the same way I don’t care about swimming fast.
What I have learned
Why do I love topics related to Computer Security? Honestly, I have no idea. I just do. Perhaps it is just what God put me on this Earth to do.
Looking back over my life, I can see a clear interest in this topic all the way back to when I was a kid. I remember one year, my family was at the beach and somehow I ended up reading a bunch of Tom Clancy books. Perhaps they happened to be at the house we rented for the week. Spy stuff, military stuff, tapping undersea cables to gather intelligence on the bad guys – all of it seemed so fascinating! I did not get nearly the amount of sun that my brothers and cousins did that year.
After hearing I was a Tom Clancy fan, my High School Principal pointed me to a book by a guy named James Bamford titled The Puzzle Palace. I had never heard of the Nation Security Agency before this book, but I read every word. Again – totally fascinating.
Fast forward my life story a bit and I ended up in an I.T. career. As my career has progressed, I’ve always gravitated to areas that fit within the broad categories of Information Assurance / Information Security. I love configuring firewalls. Seeing an IPS alert on a blocked attack is an actual thrill for me. I love well planned and well configured backup systems. Quickly restoring data that was destroyed by a crypto ransomware attack knowing that the capability to do that mean the criminal will not get a dime of my client’s money makes me happy on the inside. I imagine I love these things as much as those crazy swimmers love swimming. It’s just IN me. It’s what I actually love doing.
Could I do something else? Sure, but I might not enjoy it enough to get really good at it. For me, this is the area that is so fascinating that I will willingly invest my free time and personal money to learn even more. For me this is a marker. It’s a hint. It’s an indicator. It’s a pointer that points to what I must really love.
My $.02 worth of advice for you if you are wondering about what you really love.
Sometimes people struggle to figure out what they love. If you can’t figure out what it is that you love, look at your life and ask yourself this question: What is it that I am so fascinated with that I will happily spend my free time and my own money learning more about? For some of you it is music. For others, it’s real estate. Perhaps for some of you it is cooking. For others it’s helping hurting people put their lives back together.
Look for patterns. If you’ve been fascinated with something for years and you’ve spent your own money and your own free time to learn more about it and/or do more of it – pay attention. That might be your thing.
If you think you might want to make a career out of it, pause and run it through the sacrifice filter first. Ask yourself “Do I really love this enough to sacrifice what would be required to become good enough at this to make a living out of it?” Be warned – the sacrifice required will probably be even higher than you expect upfront.
If you are not willing to sacrifice enough to make a career out of something, that’s ok. Perhaps whatever it is can still be a great long term interest for you. For me it has been helpful to have thought of some things and then intentionally set them aside as career options. Doing this frees you up just to enjoy them as interests without getting stuck thinking about a career move that you know deep down you are not willing to actually make. Set them aside and over time move on to the next thing you identify. Rinse and repeat. Eventually, you might hit on the thing you really enjoy where the cost to actually do it fits with what you are willing to sacrifice.
Back to me for a moment…
Do I do exactly what I love 100% of my work time. Nope. I honestly doubt anyone does. However, I get to do enough of it that the sacrifices are worth it.
If I’m lucky, I’ll make it to my Aunt’s place this weekend to ride around on the SeaDoo. However, when I get home and clean up, I’ll probably be thinking about some I.T. security related topic while I’m in the shower.
If anyone reads this far – I’ll be amazed. If you do, I sure hope you can find and do work you love as a career too. If you want to read more on this topic, here are a few links to folks who have shaped my thinking on this.