what to do

When Once I was Overwhelmed with Life

There have been a number of moments in my life when I was completely fed up, filled to the top with the bullshit of life, I was completely done. It happens to all of us at one time or another. And I don’t know about you, but I’ve observed amazing, striking, things can happen in moments like that.

I can remember, maybe 10 years ago, the time I tried my best at work to convince a room full of people the right way of researching and solving a problem; and nobody would listen. A couple of people scoffed at me; and I shut up and shrunk down into my seat. Now, please understand that I am a talented software developer, I’ve been writing computer programs since age 13; and I’m 51 now.  I take software development very seriously, more seriously than most of my peers. This particular event happened when I was roughly 32 years old. I love programming and designing database layouts and data structures, algorithms, and software development concepts and procedures – to be the most clean, the most optimal, the fastest way to get things done properly and effectively.  I love changing the design when the requirements change; keep it clean and correct. Remove, as well as add. I love software design in general, I naturally think in software algorithms, and I spend my personal time keeping up with the latest technology, along with the many other things that interest me.

The room full of people were solving a problem in the simplest, worst, way; just to get done; just to move on to the next topic; the next emergency; the next event.  Big egos; they were proud. We are fast; who cares; we take shortcuts; we rock. It really pissed me off that they didn’t want to solve the immediate problem in the right and proper way. They didn’t care about the right user interface. Patch it quick and move on, that was the attitude; we can always “fix it later” (which would never happen, ever, during the 11 years I worked there; particularly because of their attitude towards how problems are solved). Never fix things because you know they need fixing; only fix things if the customer complains in such a way that your boss tells you to fix it.

After that meeting I was fed up. I couldn’t take it any more. I had to go on a demon drive after work that day. As I went racing down the freeway on-ramp near where I worked, merging onto the freeway at a speed far in excess of the other cars already on the freeway; swerving between cars all around me, racing forward, because I am young and skillful and irritated and energized and upset, heading towards another city that had stores that I wanted to visit and a restaurant I wanted to eat at for dinner that night; I literally shouted inside my empty car, my voice echoing in the small container, at the top of my lungs – “why are they that way? what are they thinking? why am I so different from all these fuckers? why am I here? what value do I contribute to this company? What value do they contribute to this company? Why don’t they get fired? Why do they all believe the same way that is not the right way? Why don’t they understand what I am talking about, or show any recognition of the value that I am presenting? Why don’t they all get fired? They aren’t meeting my view of the goal of the company. They aren’t doing it right. What really is going on?”

And I immediately got an answer.

Inside my mind some new thoughts that have never passed through my consciousness brushed against my brain.

The thoughts that occurred to me were as follows, very quickly in this order:

  • I am a completely different person than these people: they are engineers, and I am a scientist. My origin and goals are different from theirs.
  • An engineer is someone who takes all the existing things that have already been discovered by other people, learns about them, memorizes them, and applies them to solve problems.
  • A scientist studies the world around them, puts aside their preconceived notions and discovers new rules and laws of nature, new solutions, simplifications on what people currently do, new combinations nobody has ever thought of, new angles, the next step beyond, and it’s so obvious to them, and it’s so simple and easy for them to make this new thing, they think anybody should see this obvious easy thing.

And in that moment I realized: the Engineer never invents anything new. They only solve problems with what’s already available to them.  They have their “tools”.  They learned to use their tools. They were hired to use their tools. They are a worker, and workers need their tools. Without attending a “training class”, how could anyone learn a new tool? The job never expects them to use more than their tools. If they did, they would send them to a training class, to learn a new tool, then they could expect them to use the new tools – not, at any time, understanding the higher purpose behind what they’re doing.

The Scientist says “people keep saying THIS; but I don’t believe it. Let me research it myself, and see if it’s really true.”  “Oh wow, I just found out that this is the way it actually works; but why? Why is it that way? What if I change this, or that? what happens in these cases? Are there exceptions to those cases?  What if I mix other things in?  Combine things? Subtract something? Add something else? Try it a new way? What if I break it, and fix it, and erase it and draw it, and mix it and separate it, and combine it and extract it?  And lift it up? And put it down? And look from another angle? And see it from above? And view it from below? What if we don’t try to solve the problem this way at all; but a completely new way? Maybe it will fail; but maybe it will work? Let’s find out!”

An engineer learns something the first time someone tells it to them; by not questioning it, they learn it fast.

A scientist says “that’s new; I don’t know if I believe it; let me see if I can verify that. I need to hear it from 2 or 3 authorities, and research it myself.”  And thus, appears to learn more slowly than the Engineer.

A scientist says, “I have found a new way to do this, it’s much better than the old way.”

An engineer says, “that is not a proven way, it’s not a commonly accepted way, I’ve never heard of that; so I can’t use it.  Sorry.” The engineer says, “don’t change how things are done! It works, today! Don’t break what we already do!” without thinking thru the problem at all.

The scientist says, “but look! it’s so much better than the old/wrong way that everyone has been doing it all this time! And it makes more sense! Use your mind! You can clearly see this is a better way. Let’s at least try it, so you can see if it works.”

The engineer says, “If that’s so, then other people smarter than me would have thought about it before, and told me about it by now, I would have heard of it from some place other than you.  I don’t believe you.  Besides, I have a job to do, and I have these dumber, but more familiar tools, and everyone knows what to expect from me, and I know what to expect from me when I use these tools, whether they be adequate or inadequate; the expectation is met, and so everyone is happy, so I get paid.”

Then the scientist says:  “… well … Fuck.”  And the scientist wants to quit his job immediately.  And the engineer says: “…what a pretentious fuck.”

And the engineer goes to sleep at night, and dreams of sex, and self-centered things in the Astral plane.

And the scientist goes to sleep that night, and races off to the land of scientists, past the Astral plane to the Mental plane, all of whom share knowledge freely and process new information the way he does, and understand everything he talks about, and tell him new things, and listen carefully to him, and talk clearly, and build upon his ideas, and encourage him, and are happy to receive encouragement themselves, and there’s a feeling of real connection and real progress and real conclusion and perfection of ideas, and they accept him as their closest peer in all his comments and discoveries, and integrates everything he says immediately into what they already know and do, if it fits in any way with what they’re doing; and he does the same with everything they say and do; and conversations and ideas fly around very fast; and everyone learns new things and has lots of fun doing so; exploring, researching, sharing; and everyone is happy here and this world is such a beautiful healing place to live in.

And then the morning comes. The scientist wakes up back in the physical world. It’s a bit of a transition, every morning.  Sometimes the last memory is falling down into the dark clouds, sadly thinking, “do I really have to go down there again?” Sleepily awake he takes a shower, drinks some coffee, gets dressed, kisses his wife and kids and cat, grabs his day-planner, checks that he has enough business cards that say “senior application engineer” (which he should be proud of but actually feels embarrassed about), and heads back to work at the fifth company in 30 years that hired him for his engineering expertise. Because that’s where the jobs are, in today’s modern society. Today. Not 100 years ago. And not 100 years from now. Today, companies want engineers more than scientists.

A scientist is a scientist. He is not something else. He is only what he is.  Identify him.  Use him for the skills that he has. It will make him happy, and your department, your company will become greatly successful if you can recognize it and do it.

If you are a manager, don’t force scientists to become engineers. Don’t be so average, so middle-income, so middle-management that you can’t see their potential and build it and utilize it. Don’t limit your own potential at the company because you couldn’t utilize the amazing treasure you had placed before you in a more proper way. By just solving the immediate need for more engineers by hammering all pegs of any shape into the one square hole you see before you, you will always remain middle management, never reaching the level you wanted, because you didn’t understand and value the incredible people around you in their own unique ways; because you didn’t listen clearly to the training you were given in your corporate world about how to manage properly, because the highest people in the highest positions understand the true value of people but you failed to absorb it in your training, and so you will some day retire on a lesser-than possible income, and live a lesser-than-possible income all of the remainder of your life. Then some day you will pass away and go to the Astral plane, a place where you are ill prepared; and you will float around unconsciously, not doing anything of use to anyone, not even for yourself, and eventually be reborn like a blank slate to do it all over again instead of actually making something out of yourself 500 years from now.

I’m sorry but some of us don’t have time for that.