High-tech employment – harmful to your well-being?

A few days ago, I was reminded again that being gainfully employed is a challenge, not a solution. We have to earn a living, but we need to remember not to be seduced by the big bucks or by fame.

Happiness comes to those who manage their lives well. Your emotional well-being is priceless. Don’t throw it away for mere money.

Seven of us gathered for dinner at a favorite watering spot, the Los Gatos Brewing Co. Three were successful professionals still employed by internet-related companies and four were now self-employed. After the usual catching up on old times, we began talking about the issues that concerned us.

We engaged so energetically in our conversations, that it was only when I was driving home that I realized that our conversations had taken two distinctly different tracks. Those who were gainfully employed were stuck in some past incident or were grimly hoping for a better future to come. Those of us who were self-employed seemed to be reasonably content with life as right now and optimistic about our futures.

It seemed that present time was frustrating, painful or discouraging for our friends employed in high tech companies. All of them earnestly wished that things would revert to some earlier state or would move swiftly to some happier future state.

Now some of you may remember when working in Silicon Valley was fun as well as challenging. Author Po Bronson has documented the shift from the free-wheeling days of the late nineties to more serious activities in his book, The Nudist on the Late Shift. His conclusion was that it didn’t seem to be as much fun as before. There’s too much at stake and time is too short. I strongly agree.

Those of us at this gathering who are self-employed earn less than our high-tech friends, but our outlook in life was more optimistic. We seemed to be living in the moment and looking forward to a brighter future.

I think the difference was the fact that we who are self-employed feel we have more control over our lives. It is a rare job that provides you with the authority to match your assigned responsibility. You do what is necessary to get the job done and you get hit because you have not cleared it first. If you try to clear things that are not covered by policy, you get criticised for lack of leadership ability. It is a no-win situation.

Even those companies that say, “It is better to ask forgiveness than to request permission.” mean only that you get forgiven if you make the choice the boss agrees with.

So, what is the solution? One suggestion is to choose those jobs that give you the chance to be self-determined. When things change and you become rigidly controlled, you will have to make a choice and find another job. If you don’t want to risk losing this high-paying job, you will become trapped and unhappy. I can verify this because I have been there.

I was just as wired and anxious as my “successful” friends only a few years ago. Like them, I had been so occupied with the diverse requirements of project and personal success on a highly competitive environment that I rarely took time to notice that I wasn’t flourishing as an individual. I was making good money, but I was controlling my life in personal matters only. This is not enough.

You need to be self-determined to live fully in the present moment. I will venture to guess that most of us have done so for brief moments only. You will know what these moments are because they are still highlighted in your memory. They can be as diverse as a special time with friends, or while executing a slalom on spring snow, or while sailing with a loved one. They can even occur at work when you are doing something you are especially proud of.

The one thing in common to all of these moments is that they occur when we are totally in control of what is going on. Most of us live for those shining moments, and we can experience more of them when we take control of our lives.

This is my final post from my Silicon Valley trip. I am returning to the rolling hills of Virginia, where life moves at a pace more suited to contemplation.

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