finding purpose

I like my employer, and I like my new career as a software tester, and though I strive to be excellent, when I leave work, I do my best not to think about it until the next day. I’ll sometimes try to learn a new skill or read a book related to software testing, or write a blog post, but software testing is not what gives me purpose in life.

I grew up thinking I was going to be exceptional. Maybe every kid does. Maybe it’s my generation. And though I’m a little disappointed that I’m not running the world or making a widely known name for myself, I’m really happy with the life I’ve built. My marriage is nearly perfect – we have similar goals, complementary interests, a genuine enjoyment of conversation and companionship with each other, and a desire to see the other one succeed and be happy. I’ve found solid friends and fun groups to be around. I am getting better at singing and am truly enjoying it. I always have a project or two going, usually knitting. I’m very involved at church and am trying to get more involved in my community. I’ve taken up rock climbing. My depression is mostly kept at bay, though some days, it’s hard to get out of bed.

But is this my purpose in life? I hope I bring joy to others, I think I inspire people in some way, and I’m pretty happy right now, so is this what I can hope to achieve? I try not to be selfish, though that is my nature, and I can be rather self-indulgent some (a lot) of the time. I’ve been looking into ikigai and hygge – it seems that a lot of people are seeking purpose (and contentment) in life. I don’t have one all-consuming passion that makes me happy to get out of bed (and pays me), but I do have rituals and little things that bring meaning to everyday life.

This is a hard concept for me. My life is pretty ordinary viewed from the outside, I think, but it feels special from the inside.

Where do you find purpose? How do you define it?

language and learning

We have a new tester on my team. I recruited her, and I talked her up to my team. They liked her, and I was excited when it worked out. She’s not new to testing, but she’s new to mobile, and it’s a different beast and a different set of systems from what she was doing before. We’re now four weeks in. I’m exhausted.

I think the fault is mine. I expected to train someone like me, and not to talk a big game, but I didn’t get tons of help when I started, and I made it through okay. But I also expected to be able to use my own language, with my own mental images and way of explaining things. That hasn’t worked so well. I’m being asked to show my work, like in math or law, for everything, and it takes so much effort to put things in terms that make sense to her rather than just to me. She’s a very visual learner, and though I make diagrams in my head of things, they don’t necessarily translate well.

It’s gotten me thinking about how language is used to convey such complex ideas without many words. It’s like the Star Trek TNG episode Darmok, right? This society speaks entirely in metaphors, communicating deep ideas to each other but making it difficult for outsiders to come in. Carl and I have our shorthand, where one of us will mention a few words about a memory or an emotion and the other will instantly understand the meaning behind those words. We were at a conference once, and we ate with a couple who had been married for 50+ years and who were both deaf. Their translator explained that she didn’t know some of their signs, because deaf couples will make up signs that apply just to them. I found that fascinating, but it’s really no different from what we do with spoken word in our close relationships.

I fear I’m just becoming lazy with language, and assuming that, if people don’t understand me, it’s on them and not me. I know that’s the wrong attitude, and I’m working on it. But it’s just… exhausting.

insecurity and bravery

My husband won’t sing in front of me. He’s taking voice lessons with a great teacher (Tyler Kofoed, if you’re interested), and he says he’s getting better, but he won’t sing for me. Part of it is intimidation, because I’ve been taking lessons and just singing a lot longer, but part of it is massive insecurity and not wanting to reveal that he’s not great at something. I didn’t realize it was actually a thing until he nearly had a panic attack after he almost got up the nerve to let me warm him up the other day.

He calls me brave. It’s not a word I generally claim, because I think I would back down from a physical altercation, and I’m not sure I would rush into a burning building to save cats. But in some ways, I am brave. I ignore the part of my ego that cares what other people think, and when I want to do something, I just don’t give a damn about other people.

Take climbing. It had been over ten years since I last went climbing (indoors, but still). Ten years and, oh, 50-60 pounds. My harness didn’t really fit anymore. Did you know that shoes feel tighter when you’ve gained that much weight? But I decided to go climbing at a gym here with a friend. We started with bouldering (stupid idea, but I didn’t have a harness that fit), and I fell off the wall. Many times. At one point, I fell on my way walking to the wall. Yeah. I shut down the part of me that said I was too big and clumsy and weak and lazy and all manner of bad things, and I made some progress. And then a little more the next time. And when I finally got a harness that fit, I got a little ways up a wall a few times. And then more. And now, I’m still not very good, and not very strong, but I’m getting better each time, and no one has even tried to say that I’m too big to climb, or anything negative at all.

I’m really insecure about most everything. I know I’m smart, but I’m not doing big, important things with it. I know I’m a good musician, but I’m not in top-notch ensembles. I know I’m kind and funny, but I’m sometimes unsatisfied with my friendships. I could create a very long list of the things that I am insecure about, but you get the idea. My pride and my bravery and very closely related to my insecurity. It comes from deciding that my life would be better for having tried something, or for letting something go, than to stick with the old ways of doing things. And once I decide that, the external naysayers get the same treatment as the internal naysayers: I ignore them, or, at least, try to ignore them.

indispensability and value

I had a realization when I started my current job: I don’t want to be indispensable.

For a very long time, I wanted to be indispensable, where things would come to a halt if I weren’t there or if I hadn’t left detailed instructions behind. I wanted to be so important to a company or a project that work absolutely required my expertise and my presence. I thought that was a sign of value, that it meant I mattered.

But now, I don’t want to be indispensable. It seems to be a sign of arrogance to the point of irresponsibility and disregard for the well-being of an organization to be indispensable. I want to be valued and to train others to do my job, so that I have the freedom to take a vacation, or even (gasp) leave, somewhere down the road. I care about the team I’m on and want them to succeed, with or without me. What I want is to be valued, to be respected for the skills, knowledge, and ideas I bring, and to be regarded as a positive force on our team.

However, we have a new tester on our team, and I’m training her. Though I know I really want her to succeed and be a partner with me, I still feel a little threatened, like… I’m no longer required. Even though I’ve been thinking these ideas, about the tension between indispensability and value, and coming to regard them as separate concepts, I still feel like they are the same thing, like the best way to be valued is to make myself indispensable.

I actually talked with the new woman about this, so that she understands that if I start to sound a bit territorial or a bit fussy, it’s not about her, but about me, and she’s welcome to confront me about it. We’ll see how I react if she does confront me. 🙂

luxury and want

What conjures thoughts of luxury to you? Nice purses? Hand-tailored suits? Expensive scotch?

For me, yes, those are luxurious items, but a much simpler luxury item is… Goldfish. Yeah, the cheese crackers shaped like fish. I still feel a little self-indulgent when I buy them. Realizing that has made me think about how our childhood circumstances continue to affect our thinking as we are older.

Growing up, my mom supported our family of four on a pastor’s salary. She served congregations that were made up of people who were mostly middle and upper-middle class. I don’t know how much she made, and it’s not terribly relevant. We didn’t have money for new books (realizing that I couldn’t get the books I wanted from the Scholastic flyer is a decently strong memory), rarely went out to eat, and did a lot of shopping at Goodwill.

My mom made most of my clothes until we moved to Germany. I didn’t have my first pair of jeans until I was in sixth grade, and those were hand-me-downs from a boy in the church. I loved the clothing she made me; she is a great seamstress, and I was never self-conscious about what I was wearing, though… I do remember a lot of pairs of pink sweatpants. I would get a new dress for Easter, and it was kind of a big deal when she bought me one instead of making it. She stopped making my clothes when we moved, in part because fabric was so much more expensive in Europe.

Our snacks were not fancy – string cheese, homemade cookies (yum) – but she would sometimes buy Goldfish. I loved those things, but they seemed to only come out on special occasions. I felt really high-class when I would get to eat Goldfish, and that has stayed with me into adulthood. (Now that we’re just a couple weeks from Easter, I’ve been thinking about how our plastic Easter eggs were filled with Froot Loops and sugary cereals that were only in our house for those times.)

In spite of not having much disposable income in our daily life (maybe because of it), we had an annual vacation that would take us camping in Yellowstone or driving along the Pacific coast while we lived in the US, and Italy, Spain and Portugal, Crete, Israel, or many other places while we lived in Europe. My mom spent money on experiences rather than stuff while we were growing up, so even though we would take our own snacks and sandwiches to Disneyland, we went to Disneyland most years with her family. We traveled widely in Europe, staying in hostels and not being terribly adventurous in cuisine, following Rick Steves’ guidance and exploring on our own. It was an incredible way to grow up, and I’m happy to have those experiences to remember.

I now have a situation where we have two incomes and no children, in a city with a reasonable cost of living, but I still hesitate before I buy myself name-brand snacks or the leaner beef. And Goldfish, well, those are just special.