The Careful Work
For as long as I can remember I’ve been inordinately stressed at work. I jump from problem to problem and work until the middle of the night and it never feels like…enough. I don’t remember the last time I returned home after a day and felt that my time had been particularly well spent.
No matter what I do I’m riddled with guilt that I could be doing so much more. And subsequently that turns the weekend into this terrifying and awful thing that roars towards me on a Thursday afternoon. And yes, I know that it’s super unhealthy to think of weekends as these scary and unstructured, amorphous blobs of zero productivity.
But also hey: fuck weekends.
In a dream the other night I felt my body being forcibly squeezed through the space between our labels and form inputs in our giant web app. And so I panicked, waking up in a sweat having felt as if I’d been squidged through an infinite meat grinder of markup and CSS, each part of my body having been spliced through the margins in between.
Afterwards I can’t get back to sleep because I’m staring at the ceiling and I’m suddenly on the verge of tears – I’m thinking of all the other codebases out there, unknown and future codebases that will drive me half mad like this.
And I realize hey maybe I shouldn’t feel the way that I do. Maybe, just maybe all of this is wildly unhealthy and I’m driving myself towards the edge of a very steep cliff for no reason at all.
I guess what I’m saying is that I want a new kind of work. One where I’m not stressed to the eyeballs or panicking in the bathroom because four people just slacked me about the same problem. Or feeling immense paranoia because I have to anticipate design changes weeks in advance. Or the frightened eyes that look at me after a particularly devastating and obsessive rant. Or the feeling that the web is rapidly turning into a junk heap because people don’t care about the languages upon which they’re built.
Goddammit – I’m ranting again.
I want a kind of work where I can calmly advance a single issue at a time, where every solution is better than an improvement of 1%. And maybe I’d like a kind of work that makes me smile when it’s complete, too.
Today when a project ends I’ve barely noticed because seventeen other items pop up that I need to deal with immediately and I find it impossible to predict my day. This feeling of unpredictability is rampant and I fear that my week will be consumed by something entirely out of my control; a modal breaking, a button malfunctioning, our fragile codebase’s radioactive core leaking damage into other parts of the system and turning them all into mulch.
Last year I was talking to an engineer on our team who was leaving for Google and I asked him why. He replied that it was because of the impact. He wanted to work on something that touches millions of lives every day. And I let out a sigh so long it was as if I was a six thousand year old man. The sigh was so prolonged in fact that the buildings shook and the leaves from the hedges burst into the air around us. Dogs barked in the distance, sirens wailed, and the cement beneath my feet was cracked from the sheer force of apathy.
It was at that moment that I knew I want the kind of work that’s…not that. I don’t give a damn about impact or how many people use the thing I’m working on.
Because I know that small things are important, too.