Envy, Faith, and This Developer's Life

I listen to podcasts every morning during my drive to work (no more radio for me) and a particular one that's been a favorite of mine is This Developer's Life. This morning, I got into my car, loaded up the episode, and starting driving. Unlike the many other drives I'd done like this, I had an unusually visceral reaction to hearing the latest episode of this podcast: I got angry.

Let me set the scene. This Developer's Life is produced by Rob Conery and Scott Hanselman, and it a loving rip-off of This American Life (in the "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery" good way). It styles itself in the same manner: picking a theme, then telling stories using variations on that theme. Specifically, it tries to tell stories that software professionals can relate to. This episode's theme was "Faith" and the first story was Rob relating how he'd to learn to have faith in his kids (and himself) during the course of this year-long globetrotting trip his family has been on.

Rob talks about how, after selling his successful business tekpub to Pluralsight and accepting a job there, he and his wife needed a change, and so they sold their home in Hawaii and decided to travel around Europe for a year, first to Scotland, then Greece, though from reading his blog it seems they've been a lot of other places as well. All the while, he talked about how he was learning to let go of the fears that were holding him back, how he was trying to have faith in his children that they would make good decisions, and how his faith in them was being rewarded.

All through the story, though, I kept thinking, I'm supposed to relate to this? The adventure Rob and his family are on are so far outside the realm of possibility for most software professionals that I couldn't help feeling like the story was first-world-problems of the highest nature, that a one-percenter in our software development club was humblebragging. See, I get to go on this life changing, epiphany-inducing, utterly amazing trip, and along the way I learn to have faith in my kids. How am I supposed to empathize with that when I'll probably never have that opportunity?

It was stupid, of course, that I felt that way. Stupid, irrational, shortsighted, take your pick. That guy clearly worked his ass off to get where he is, he sold a very successful business that he worked hard at, so why shouldn't he enjoy the spoils?

It took a little while, but by the time I pulled into my parking space at work I realized that I wasn't angry, I was envious. The anger was all a bluster, an empty rage. Damn, did I want to be that guy.

Rob and his family are living the dream. His work had propelled him so far that they could afford to move to Scotland and Greece and wherever else for a year and not have to worry about how they were going to manage it. Further, he and his family had faith that they would be able to make this change. They'd jumped in with both feet and come out fulfilled, more enlightened, happier.

They had the faith I wish I had.

I struggle with keeping sight of the good things I've got going. I have a wonderful family and a great job, and yet sometimes I feel like it's not enough, that I'm not good enough and maybe never will be. But I work hard, dammit. Why can't I do what he did? Why can't I just pack up and go live in Europe? Why can't I be him?

This line of thinking is insidious and counterproductive, and only recently have I begun to be able to rein it in. I find that I have to actively remind my envious brain that I don't need to be Rob Conery, much as I'd like to. For the most part, my life is awesome. I have a wonderful spouse, two incredible children, and I get to be home every day for dinner and bedtime to spend time with all of them. My job is flexible, gives me responsibility and purpose, and my blog gives me a creative outlet. All-in-all, I've got it pretty good.

What I've begun to tell myself is this: I can't keep chasing other people's goals. Their lives are not my life, and their accomplishments and failures are not mine.

Not all of us are going to be Conery or Hanselman or Atwood or DHH. If everyone was a superstar then no one would be. Still, we can be good at our jobs, be constantly improving, be trying to make everyone around us better. We can be great developers, if not famous ones.

For me, the most difficult part is this: remembering that I am me, I don't have to be anyone else, and I am still pretty good at this whole software development thing. I just gotta have faith that it'll all work out, try to be contented with what I've already got, and remember that I am still responsible for my own life and can make of it what I choose.

How about you? Have you struggled with this kind of envy, with wanting to have what your peers have? How are you dealing with it? Share in the comments!

Matthew Jones

Matthew Jones

I'm a parent, a husband, a geek, a web developer, and a speaker, in roughly that order.

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Envy, Faith, and This Developer's Life
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