If you ask me what my purpose in life is, I would tell you that there are two sides to that question: personal and professional.
On the personal side, that's easy. My three children are my purpose and that will never change. They remind me every day that angels and devils exist in this world and there's nothing more rewarding than parenthood.
On the professional side, it's a different story. I guess the TLDR version is that I am not satisfied.
Midlife crisis or not?
Ok, first of all. I'm not that old... at least not yet. A quick Google search and I found that the typical age for a midlife crisis is 45-65 years old. I have several years before I get there.
When I think of a midlife crisis I imagine, obviously, a middle-aged man or woman buying a motorcycle. I'm not sure why, but that's the first thought in my head.
The "accurate" site of Wikipedia states:
"The phenomenon is described as a psychological crisis brought about by events that highlight a person's growing age, inevitable mortality, and possibly lack of accomplishments in life. This may produce feelings of intense depression, remorse, and high levels of anxiety, or the desire to achieve youthfulness or make drastic changes to their current lifestyle or feel the wish to change past decisions and events."
I've come to terms with my mortality long before the typical age. I can code infinite loops without issue but I can't code infinite life yet. A bleak look of "we're all going to die anyway" has truth to it and I have decided not to dwell on it.
Accomplishments are subjective to me. If you compare me to the CEOs of big tech companies racking up billions in revenue, you could say I have accomplished very little. If you compare me to the average American citizen, I would say I'm well off, successful but also very lucky.
As far as depression and anxiety, I believe almost everyone has dealt with these issues during the pandemic. Professionally, anxiety comes with the territory to me due to the nature of my job.
I'm still on the fence if this is a full blown midlife crisis or not. I haven't decided yet.
An illusion of purpose
When I was younger it didn't matter to me what I was doing for work as long as I was getting paid. As I got older that changed. I started to ask myself what I was doing and why. I was searching for purpose. As cliché as it sounds, I wanted to help people.
The search for purpose led me to start working for a consulting company in the edtech/higher education space as a UX Developer. What does "UX Developer" even mean? Well, I'm a front end developer with a background in design and I'm whatever the client needs as far as a title. Does the client need a tech lead, front end developer, business analyst, and/or quality assurance? I am all those things. Being all those things means I'm a jack of all trades, master of none.
I had found purpose in this job. We do a lot of work with Scholastic, Pearson, Cisco and many educational institutions around the world. I was helping students learn more efficiently. We were making teachers' and professors' job easier with the software we developed.
There was a disconnect that stems from the nature of consulting. I did not realize this until years later. Because I was part of a consulting company, I could be staffed on a project that could last anywhere from one month to two or more years depending on the client's needs. There are times where staff augmentation was a thing with the same kind of timing restraints on those projects.
This disconnect happens when I roll off a project. For example, I spent a half a year with my team developing Scholastic's in-house e-reader for children's books. If you were to ask me how that e-reader is doing now I couldn't tell you. After the knowledge transfer on project roll off, I hadn't heard about that project since.
My purpose of wanting to help people is there but because of the disconnect, I can't see it. I can't support it. I can't make it better. I would have loved to rewrite that e-reader in React.
What I think I want
After my realization of the disconnect and the inability for me to support a project through and through, I fell into a rut. I became stagnant. As a software developer, that's dangerous and it almost killed my career. This wasn't my first rut I have been through, but it was definitely the biggest.
"You would probably succeed working for a product company."
A respected co-worker said this to me very recently and it really made me think about my situation. I've been with this company for over ten years and have gotten somewhat comfortable. Maybe that was the problem?
I started to put feelers out on the job market specifically targeting product companies and avoiding any IT consulting companies. I wanted to see what was out there for front end developer/engineer positions. If anything jumped out at me I would apply.
A week into the search and apply phase, nothing. No replies. Shortly after, the responses came flooding in. I felt pretty good about the responses I got. I knew I wasn't ready for the technical coding interviews but I wanted to see what other companies were working on.
I took screening calls almost every day and a couple of technical interviews (no coding ones). When I heard what these companies were working on I was excited for the first time in years. Oracle is working on upgrading the 911 system in America. What's more important than safety? A couple of biotech companies piqued my interest. My inner nerd was screaming with excitement when I heard one of the biotech companies used robot automation. Finding out about all these projects other companies were working on sparked something inside me.
This was it. This was what I needed. Change.
"Life is about change, sometimes it's painful, sometimes it's beautiful, but most of the time it's both." --Smallville
Thank you, next
So, what now? Well, first a blessing happened. I knew for a fact I was not ready for any technical coding interview what so ever. My main gripe about my profession are technical coding interviews but that's a blog post in itself. I needed time to study more.
My company had just staffed me on a semi-long term project for Cisco. This is perfect. While working on this project, I have decided to study and refresh my brain of all things front end development and some back end development in the off hours.
To keep myself accountable, I'll be documenting all the refresher material and possibly new things I've learned both on and off hours of my career on this blog. Hopefully, in a couple months I'll be ready for the transition.