Sooner or Later

You can choose to face the music head on, or you can put off the problem and let it catch up to you eventually but only after having it grow much larger. It takes courage to make a sacrifice in the short term in order to save yourself from a much larger problem long term. It feels like the most ideal way to live is to regularly make long term investments such that the payout overlaps to compensate for all the future long term investments. The hardest part is starting.

The flip side means that you can make short term gains but with long term sacrifices. A recent silly example for me is how I saw a special promotion being put on by TELUS in the mall. Get a $200 Visa prepaid card for signing a two year contract. After chatting with them a bit, I thought "I don't really need the 100 Mbps connection. I can downgrade to 50 Mbps download speed and get some money in return. Let's do it." They called in and got me switched to a two year contract. I walked away, feeling quite proud of myself for being so savvy. Then I ran the numbers in my head again just to make sure since I'm terrible at mental math and I admittedly rushed into that transaction. Turns out I was already getting a discount that lasted until October, so I don't actually end up saving money in the end. Losing speed for no benefit. Okaaay, sure. Fine, whatever. I'm an idiot. Then in the middle of my day off on Wednesday, the internet cuts out. Okaaay. Turns out the profile in the network's back end switched when my billing cycle restarted, and my connection went from two DSL lines, which is how I got the 100 Mbps speed, down to one. This freaks out the network, and I can't check my Facebook anymore. Okaaay. Call in, and about an hour of troubleshooting later, which involved such fun activities as resetting my gateway to factory defaults which erased all my settings, plugging and unplugging cables, crouching around my home theatre setup to reach behind the device, all done several times. Overall, it felt like how Squidward always tries to find some way to take advantage of Spongebob, but it just backfires on him in the end because he hasn't learned how to play nice with his neighbours. I tried to get a leg up with my internet plan, and it just caused me grief, ultimately getting me nowhere. I thought I was getting a short term gain, but I'm actually losing out long term.

That's the silly example, and as many of you have caught onto by now, it's time for the serious example. I could have delayed my counselling. I could have avoided all that trouble of being unemployed while Carrie was busy with school. I could have stopped writing about my problems and focused on staying afloat. I could have suppressed my problems further, but thing is, I'd already been doing that for years. They were already growing on me so fast that I couldn't proceed. I have terrible spring fever, and my allergist talks in terms of annual cycles. "Let's see how this nasal spray works in the spring, and we'll see you in twelve months. If it doesn't work so well, we can evaluate some other pills or allergy shots." I could have done the same with my talk therapy. I could have waited a few months to wait for when my world stabilized before taking the deep dive into my emotions. That's a lot of coulda-woulda-shoulda. On top of that, it was really hard dealing with joblessness while fighting all the other titans. Thankfully, Carrie and I aren't there anymore.

Carrie is looking for work now. Night and day difference from when I was job hunting. I didn't hear back from anyone for weeks and months, whereas she's getting interviews within a few weeks. Salary range is looking pretty good too, so we'll soon go back to stability and paying down debt/buying me more brushed aluminium.

When it comes to being happy with your job, I have a theory about tradeoffs between compensation, coworkers, and content. In my observation, if you have two out of the three, you're happy with your job. First of all, having a job is nice enough on its own. Also, most people can't choose the job they want, but when you start asking about whether you're truly happy there, the difference between having a good job and a great one usually comes down to these three domains; certainly there are exceptions. I've only had two of the three combinations:

  • I've worked places where I liked my coworkers and the salary but was bored by the actual work.
  • I've also had jobs before where I liked my coworkers and what I was doing but didn't get paid enough.

In concept, it might seem ideal to balance all three, but it's really hard to pull off, especially at my age. In reality, balancing all three probably looks closer to having none of them at all. I think once people are actually able to find that perfect mix, that's when they stay put for like 10 years or more. Most people end up with a job that only ticks one category.

Certainly there are many more factors that play into job satisfaction, but I think this works as a simplistic filter. And that's only on the spectrum of enjoying your job. You can hate your job for multiple valid reasons and still live a great life.

I've seen people get caught up with one factor of job satisfaction, usually salary, only to have their unhappiness eat away at them over time. It's common to think that you can make so much money that you stop worrying about it entirely, but wealthy people can worry about their money too much too, like how to grow it faster or how to keep people from stealing it. I've worked only for the money before, and it gets old fast. You can get so fixated on doing what you love that it bankrupts your emotional reserves. I've also been here before, trying to work on a startup on the side of my day job, just because I enjoyed designing and building electronics. I can't say that I've worked somewhere just to be close to my friends. The scene that comes to mind is from Good Will Hunting, one of Carrie's favourite movies.

Struggles will find us all at some point. Some people's lives are front-loaded with hardships in their childhood, yet others seem to breeze through only to find calamity in their later years. Some are self-inflicted troubles, some are inherited. I could have tried to put off my deep dive into my emotional struggles, but I had already delayed dealing them so long that they exploded out of my control. I should have dealt with them earlier, but now I have a job I love. Troubles are always coming, so in a general sense, it's up to each individual how courageous they want to face them head on.

Jonathan Phan Lê @jon_le