Jonathan ES Lin
Life · Tech · Faith

What Makes You Happy?

Apr 14, 2021

A question that I occasionally get with regard to work is, "What do you want to do?", which can be translated as "What makes you happy (at work)?"

Frankly, it is a difficult question.

I have tried many things:

  • Software development: full-stack, mobile, frontend, backend
  • Product and SaaS development
  • Software consulting (freelance)
  • Driving Uber and Grab (short term)
  • Cloud consulting
  • Udemy courses
  • Writing ebooks
  • Starting a tutor finder service
  • Starting a news aggregator service
  • Solutions architecture

I can tell you that these things ultimately don't make me happy. Often it leads to misery for one reason or another. A lot of it has to do with lack of grit, but I think also lack of passion and lack of positive reinforcement (feedback, even monetary) that spurs you on to rough it out longer. The truth is, anything you want to do in life is just hard. Work is hard.

I wonder how many people can do a task repeatedly while failing at it all the time, because that is essentially what software development is. I write code for months, product is deprecated and shelved. I write code for months, product is sold and stack is replaced. I write code for months, and client goes bust. I write code for months, client gives up on idea (and funding) and I have to switch off the servers. I write code for months, and employer said they no longer want me on the project because of strategic reasons. I write code for months, but I no longer resonate with the purpose of the code I am writing. I write code for months, and customers don't bang on my door for more. I write code for months, and nobody is using it, much less paying for it. I prototype in the cloud for months, and then they tell me they are switching clouds. Not making this up, all this happened to me.

Certainly a change in mindset is necessary to survive in this industry. You simply have to distance yourself from the software you are writing, otherwise it will eventually drag you down mentally.

Given the above, can you really continue to write code for months, even years? I suspect that the people who can are already dead on the inside. They don't question what or why they are doing, nor do they have passion for it, they just do it for other intrinsic reasons, e.g. being a breadwinner for their family. I am not one of them. Life is short, and you want your work to have some meaning, not rinse and repeat and see what sticks as a cog in a machine. Having said that, I do respect software developers who are crazy good and continue what they are doing day in and out without any signs of fatigue as I have.

I do secretly wish I could switch to another career, away from software. Maybe make custom tailored suits for a living. Maybe become a luxury watch dealer. At one point I was seriously considering setting up a co-working space (pre-COVID). Something artisan, something small, that takes back the control. I would even consider going back to becoming a boutique software consulting person. I recently found the motivation to build my wedding website (because, unlike many things surrounding my upcoming wedding, the wedding website was absolutely in my control), and I found that I actually enjoyed it. I built my own guestbook feature with Vue and Firebase, and it worked simplistically well.

I just want to take back the control and feel happier about my work life, but with such control comes the mental health challenges of being where the buck stops, due to not having the financial baseline support. It is a repeated pattern I would rather avoid at this stage.

And so, what do I do now?