A little bit of what you fancy
I have a confession to make. I enjoy listening to jazz whilst reading and writing about tech. Not a ground-breaking revelation I realize, but it is a fact about me that has been harder to discover and own-up-to than you might think. It’s a peculiar thing, but as I grow older and my work life (14 years) catches up to the amount of time I was in school (16 years), I started to realize that I don’t know what it is that I actually want to do in those cherished moments to myself, when I am not working or being a husband and father.
Looking back on my time as a student, I see my life as more cleanly divided. I went to school and did what was necessary of me to get by as a conscientious, if not stellar, student. But when I left the school grounds I just knew what I wanted to do, whether that was continuing a marathon Civilization or Championship Manager game in my room, watching movies, or going out drinking with my mates, depending on my age and education establishment of the time. But somewhere between graduating university and now I lost a sense of what it is that I like to do.
But this is just growing up right?
You can’t play Champ Manager forever I hear you cry. You have homes to maintain, children to raise, relationships and friends pulling you this way and that, and sometimes work commitments that suck the life out of you so you have no remaining time and/or brain function at the end of the day. Some will even ask whether this time to do what you want actually exists because for them their work is what they like to do and so nullifying the question. However I can’t quite buy that. Even in the case where you’re professional work is doing what you love most in the world, there still has to be the other-side of the coin. Your non-work life existence. Because by doing professionally what you love to do personally, you turned that activity in to an end in itself. You can no longer separate “I just want to do this” from “I need to do this”. So I still see a gap there.
I think in this rapid culture of ours, immense solace is sought in pursuit of finding the work that you love to do and making that your career. A noble and true pursuit, and I say go do it! But don’t do it at the expense of all other interests, ideas and pursuits. Narrow and deep may be good for your career, business or product in the age of the long-tail web, but that does not apply to individuals and our ever evolving intellects.
“A little of what you fancy does you good.”
My Mum used to say this to me when, as a high school student, I was banging my head against the desk trying to concentrate on bloody Science or Maths homework. Take a break she’d say. Change rooms and do something you want to do for a while and come back to it. We all know this makes sense. Our subconscious requires that we take time out to process ideas, solve problems, or just simply build-up the grit and determination to do something you just don’t want to do. But this break doesn’t always have to be something that disengages your brain, like watching TV or exercising. It can also be an engaging, thoughtful or creative pursuit. The difference is in the fact that you are doing something that you quite simply want to do, and in that moment, you are released from external constraints and concerns and allowing your sub-conscious to roam more freely as a result. As a bonus feature, serendipity is also given a greater chance to make an appearance, because more sources and influences creates more chances for your brain to string together disparate ideas and connections.
But understanding that this is true is only half the battle. What I found hardest is identifying what that engaging, thoughtful or creative itch was that needed scratching. Should I read? Write? Learn something new? For every one of us the answer is different, and most significantly, will change over time. So how you read the signs and know how to pin your interest down is as unique as you are. In fact it is no different to the process you go through in trying to find what it is that you love to do for your work.
My point is that the pursuit of non-compensated work activity is just as worthy as your compensated work, and it won’t come on its own. Ironically you must work at it. However what I have found as I continue to learn to zero-in on that little bit of what I fancy, is a more rounded sense of self and a greater perspective on my place in the world, and in history.