Purpose, Meaning, Drive

Hi, I’m from Germany and I have completed my B.Sc. in Media Informatics at the start of the year.

I am struggling with finding deeper “purpose” and meaning in what I do and I come here to ask for advice.

My entire life I have been kind of a computer nerd and in school I realized my talent for coding. I then went on to pursue an apprenticeship as IT businessman at a big retail company but I didn’t find fulfillment there. It was mostly dealing with systems administration, particularly in SAP, and didn’t envolve coding at all.

I decided I need to dig deeper and started to study Media Informatics. I believed this to be a good choice since I would be able to combine coding with creative design. But then again, I was always very bad at arts or tinkering, this creative stuff. Only thing I excelled in was creative writing, and well, coding. I enjoy beautiful design, though.

I decided to study web development in my free time more deeply because it seemed like the most practical approach. I got particularly interested in Blockchain, I kinda fell for the hype of 2017 and lost a lot of money but I believed in the technology and implications of it. So I decided to use my interest and talent and I landed a job as working Student as a Blockchain Engineer.

When I was there I quickly realized how low my technical knowledge actually was. My mates were far more proficient than me. I ended up specializing mostly in Frontend stuff, because the backend and blockchain stuff was over my head.

Because of this experience, I decided to focus more on the Frontend side and after my graduation, I landed a job as a Junior Frontend Engineer for an E-Commerce Platform Provider. This job made me feel more comfortable, because it was more appropriate for my skill level. But I kinda missed the deeper purpose that I felt when working on the Blockchain stuff.

Now the company is basically bankrupt thanks to COVID-19. I therefore have to find a new job just a couple months after beginning.

Now I am having kind of an existential crisis. I don’t know which path to go. I have been working myself into more backend and cloud stuff but just foundational knowledge without much practice. I am solid in Frontend Development, but something inside me screams that this isn’t what I want to do forever. I like the work itself, designing and implementing user interfaces and features. That’s not the problem. But it feels dull at times and pointless.

Like, I am creating websites and apps, but it doesn’t really feel like I’m actually achieving something profound. It’s just digital pixels appearing on the user’s screen. There is no deeper meaning, nothing groundbreaking, it’s just a job.

I have been thinking of moving to other fields like Machine Learning. But this would mean all my built-up knowledge on web development has been for waste. And I don’t want to be hopping from one thing to the next until I’m bored again.

So to summarize, I like the work itself, the coding, the creation of cool User Experience and new Features. I also like digging into new technology and learning. But I am missing an inner drive, a deeper meaning, a clear goal what I want to achieve. I don’t want to waste my life.

Do you have any thoughts, inspiration, ideas about this? Have you ever experienced the same thing?

Thanks in Advance.

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I’m turning 40 this year and I’ve come to the conclusion that we feel this way because society has instilled in us the need for a deep purpose, finding what fulfills you in order to achieve complete happiness. I’ve been where you are, I’ve spent countless days wondering, researching, and coming up with nothing.

We trouble ourselves too much with trying to find that deeper meaning without which we can’t achieve fulfillment. The same can be said about personal relationships, movies and books have brainwashed us to believe that there is that special person out there that is perfect for us and when we find them we will live happily ever after.

News flash, that’s not how relationships work. That’s not how life works. No relationship is perfect, just like no 1 single thing in life will fulfill you. Everything requires work, there will be good days and there will be bad days. What fulfills you today may not fulfill you in 3 years.

This does not mean you have to give up or settle, for anything. Compromise, yes. Settle, no.

Things change. People change. It’s inevitable, it’s part of life.

The person you love today will change, it is up to you to change and adapt or move on.

The job that fulfills you today will change, it is up to you to change and adapt or move on.

Personal example: I’m from Colombia and I was never satisfied there. As I was growing up The American Dream was instilled in me, it was the ultimate goal, the land of opportunities. That translated to “move to the USA and your life will be perfect”. I’ve been here for 11 years and… the world changed, life changed. While I know I’m better off here than back home and I have had great opportunities because I’ve been here, at the moment this is not my utopia. I am not fulfilled. This is not enough for me. Unfortunately, my options are limited so I make the best out of my situation. At the moment, it involves learning how to play the bass and being active in this community, helping people who are struggling with things I’ve struggled with in my career.

No, I’m not miserable. I have everything I need and other things that I really don’t need. I don’t feel fulfilled, but after starting something new it goes away, for a bit.

Now, back to you.

  1. What you’ve learned and done so far is not a waste of time. You have a skill you didn’t have before. It helps you build critical thinking skills that allow you to learn new things faster.

  2. Ask yourself: If money was not an issue, what would you do? The answer to this question is often tied to the existential crisis you mentioned. After doing lots of research myself I’ve found that people who claim to have achieved what you’re looking for started doing something they loved because… they loved it. Money was not the driver, only satisfaction in doing something they liked. If you do something because you’re passionate about it, the money eventually follows. I don’t mean I’m filthy rich money, I mean money to cover your expenses and enjoy your life.

Once you have an answer (or answers), then ask yourself how can you apply the knowledge that you have towards it? This essentially boils down to:

  • finding a job in an industry tied to your answer
  • branching out on your own

If you’re interested in branching out on your own (freelancing), there’s a Q&A on it next week you can sign up for.

https://www.codecademy.com/events/codecademy-and-you-freelancing-pablo-chois

The last thing to consider is that your job doesn’t define you, it only provides the income you need to live your life. Yes, jobs are boring and tedious but again, that’s life. If you don’t love your job, get a different one. Doing what? There’s no magic formula to answer it, most of the time you just have to try something new. There’s a very good chance there is a job out there that won’t bore you, it might not even be related to software development. The answer(s) to question #2 will help in this regard.

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I’m so glad that you’re asking these deep questions about how you want to find fulfillment through work.

Generally, I think about three big picture areas for work satisfaction:
1.) The role. How intrinsically meaningful do I find the day-to-day work of my role?
2.) The company or organization. Do I align with and derive value from the overall mission of the company? Is it in a field or industry that I want to learn more about?
3.) The people. How good is my relationship with my manager and my peers?

For me, I know that I need 2 out of these 3 things to be happy and motivated (although if any of them is super messed up it can make other positives disappear). If I really like the work that the company is doing, it might be okay for awhile that my own role isn’t exactly what I would want (or vice versa). For you, would being a junior front-end developer at a company that was in a field that you’re more interested in than e-commerce be more fulfilling?

Generally, building a track record of success in one field will help you pivot into other related fields. The programming knowledge you learned for web development will help you more than you realize if you pivot to machine learning, for example.

My advice would be to try to look for a job with whatever skillsets you have that you are most confident with today (which sounds like it is front end development). From there, you can try to progress internally, and take on more backend or data-heavy work, or explore other fields in tech that you are interested in that you think you might be more passionate about.

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First of all, love the title. And if your looking for a little bit of creativity, I wrote an article on art and freedom in coding and design called " Coding isn’t hard, it’s like rocket science!". I think it can give you the inspiration you need, but here’s the most important thing: Never loose hope. If you do, then you’ll lack the complete motivation and not be able to put yourself in a better situation. Reading what you’ve been through, I would suggest, freelancing, or starting even a movement to connect with people who may be in the same situation as you. That’s my advice, and don’t worry, the day will always follow the night, and as cheesy as that sounds (mmm… cheese!) I hope you have the inspiration you need!

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