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Weeknotes S04E06: Do what makes you happy

I’ve had a week where I’ve been trying, in various ways, to sell myself and work out what I want to do. I’m coming to the conclusion that the question people like to ask – “What do you enjoy?” – is the wrong question for me. I’m putting this out there in the hope that other people will identify with it.

This week I’ve been applying for jobs and speaking to people close to me to help me work out what I want to do. Mentors and peers have all kindly given of their time to quiz me and try to figure out what it is I want to do.

My mentor pushed me hard. I’ve asked him to support me as I seek out a loan, and he really got into the detail of why I’ve asked to be loaned out to this particular role. It’s not a coding role, and he pointed out that every time I’m animated or excited to talk about something, it’s generally when I’m writing code. “When you start a sentence with ‘I’m really pleased’,” he said, “I know it’s going to be about writing code.”

He’s completely right. I love writing code. I’m writing some code at the moment; puzzles for my mentees. I’m writing them an exercise about codes, or ciphers, because the only thing I love more than code is homophones.

I heard you like code so I coded code about code so you can decode when you code

In 20% of my time I’m building a little web application for another team in my organisation, and it’s exposing me to interesting difficult little things like infrastructure and frontends and MVPs for non-technical teams. More than anything though it’s total freedom to build something that solves a problem: a well-bounded, clearly understood problem.

I’ve tried being a developer for a year. I really, really enjoy writing code. It makes me happy.

I spoke to someone this week who does organisational development and design. It was our first meeting, so we chatted about what we did. I talked about being a developer, and about the work I was doing for the other team. She laughed when I talked about the neatness; the tight boundaries around what is inside and outside scope. Her world is completely different: unbounded, vague problems centred entirely around human beings. It’s complex and evolutionary.

Chaotic-complex, some might say

In my organisation, as in many others I’m sure, we have the concept of a Private Office: a small team of people responsible to a senior member of staff or a politician. Among others, this is one role I’m considering asking to be loaned into.

Later that week I spoke to a – well, I’m thinking of them as my mentee. Certainly I give them advice and share my dubious wisdom about the complex beast of an organisation they’ve joined. We stumbled into talking about the hierarchies and structures we have in the organisation, provoked by my talking about the positions I’m applying to. He wasn’t aware of Private Offices or the strict and archaic grades we have in our organisation, which was a great opportunity for me to show him a clip from the wonderful old series Yes, Minister – in particular that wonderful scene that goes:

– I am the Permanent Under-Secretary of State, known as the Permanent Secretary. Wolley here is your Principal Private Secretary. I too have a Principal Private Secretary, and he is the Principal Private Secretary to the Permanent Secretary. Directly responsible to me are 10 Deputy Secretaries, 87 Under-Secretaries, and 219 Assistant Secretaries. Directly responsible to the Principal Private Secretary are plain Private Secretaries. The Prime Minister will be appointing two Parliamentary Under-Secretaries, and you will appoint your own Parliamentary Private Secretary.

– Can they all type?

– None of us type, Minister

Sir Humphrey Appleby; Open Government

Nowadays, of course, we have banished such archaic terms: the top job is still the Permanent Secretary, but below them are Directors General; then Directors; then Deputy Directors.

And all of them type.

They too asked why I was seeking out the roles I was looking at. Not least, they pointed out, as there are senior members of staff in our organisation. If a Private Office role is what I’m looking for, I could do worse than ask around here. It’s a good question. I like questions from people I mentor that challenge. I think it shows I’m doing a good job. I couldn’t answer it then. I’m getting there though. Stick with it.

Later that week a friend and colleague reminded me that I’d said jolly nice things about a job he’s recruiting for, and I suddenly felt a longing to apply.

For sure, part of it is just the same fleeting interest you feel when you brush against something fascinating. All the same, why not? Why not apply for it, and try to make a good stab at it?

In fact, while we’re at it, why not apply to something completely out of the comfort zone? Something like this, even?

None of these jobs are in my wheelhouse. None of them, I am sure, will make me happy. Nothing makes me happy like writing code, nothing except writing prose and going on long walks to neighbouring towns and ordering hot chocolate and dabbing cream on my partner’s freckled nose.

But now I come to the crux. I don’t think what’s driving me is a desire to be made happy by my job because I’m happy outside it. I’ve got the most gorgeous cat who this week stalked over to me as I lay in bed and curled up by my side. I’m one of the happy few in London who’s had the good fortune to be able to purchase property. I’ve got a partner with freckles and a smile that burns clouds away, whose hand fits in mine just-so.

What drives me at work is a desire to make a difference: to be the one that does the hard work to make it easier. I’m not seeking happiness from my work. I’m seeking the satisfaction of a job well done; of a race well run.

I hope that makes sense. If it does, and you think you need someone like that, why don’t you get in touch?

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