When I was growing up, it was always clear what the next step was. Finish 8th grade, go to high school. Work hard in high school, do well on the ACT/SAT. Get into college. Get a job. If there was any doubt about any of that, my parents were there to reinforce their expectations.
So I went to Rochester Institute of Technology, worked hard, interned at Apple and Microsoft, and finally went to work at a small startup, CloudMine.
But wasn't until recently I learned what question I should have been asking myself:
Why am I doing what I'm doing? Why aren't I doing something else?
And then: What do I want to do next? More importantly... Why?
The only thing I knew leaving high school was I enjoyed programming. I wanted to get better. At RIT, I loved programming. I loved software engineering. Creating something from scratch and solving problems felt empowering. I can solve anything! I could tackle any problem in the world!
So... which problems do I tackle? Why?
Over the past few months, I've been reading quite a few books that helped me think about that question. Start With Why by Simon Sinek, Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose by Tony Hsieh (CEO of Zappos), and Wait But Why by Tim Urban. I've always thought about what I want to do next, but these books made me think about why I wanted to do it.
It's a painful introspection. For the past year I had been trying so hard to increase my salary. More money meant I was more successful... right? But after reading Startup L Jackson's post on getting rich, I realized that may not be the case. He says:
If you want to get rich, your best bet on a risk-adjusted basis is to join a profitable and growing public company. Google for short. Make $200-500k all-in a year, work hard and move up a level every 3-5 years, sell options as they vest (in case you joined Enron), and retire at 60, rich. This plan works every time.
I could probably go to Wall Street and make even more money faster.
The problem is... I don't want to. Neither of those sound very appealing. My goals, the things I want to accomplish, didn't actually have much to do with money. For example, I want to help make the environment better. I think it's important. I think it's our duty. I don't think enough people are working on fixing it. That goal, that vision, doesn't require me to be rich first. I can go out and help local clubs, for free, tomorrow. I can pick up twenty books and read about ways to help. There's a lot I can do to fulfill that goal. Money isn't necessary.
So if I don't want money... what do I want? And why do I want that? If I'm not maximizing money... what am I maximizing? Time with my family? Time with friends? Saving the environment? Working on reducing gun violence? Why do I want it?
Tony Hsieh argues that if you keep asking "why", it eventually comes back to "because that makes me happy."
I want to learn what makes me happy. This year I'm dedicating time to learn what problems I want to help solve. Problems that I can be happy working toward a solution. I'm not sure what those are yet, but I have some good ideas.
I spent New Years with some friends whom I all love very much. We're all trying to figure out life; what to do next, where to go, how to get there, etc. It was fun to hear them talking about what they were up to.
But I'd like to ask you all to think a little harder and ask yourself: Why am I doing it?
What are your goals? What makes you happy? Where will that lead you? You don't need to know what you are doing next. But knowing why you are doing it will give you the confidence, courage, and determination to do what you have to.
Ask yourself. Why? Why? Why?