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Just out from a combined shave/shower/scrub-the-bathroom session, with a few interesting ideas to write about. These are the kinds of ideas that might escape me if I read them in a book – which I probably have at some point – but they seem to have popped up of their own accord now, and are thus more likely to stick around.Psychologists and counsellors have been known to advise people not to place too much of their self-esteem on, or expect validation from, other people: what is bugging me, as I turn onto final, cleared for another birthday circuit-and-bump, are the links between self-esteem, age, work, and happiness.

The things you do when you are young are often highly dependent on others: celebrity, social gatherings, even work. It’s not surprising to me that celebrity is a young person’s game, from the point of view of the celebrities or the public who follow them in the newspapers.

A broad generalization: as people age, their interests change and deepen; where a driver once focused on the car’s looks and speed, later they may learn to appreciate the engine as more than just a source of power: witness the hot-rods and choppers made in the USA, where the engine is shined up and lovingly tuned. A young woman becomes a mother, investing love and attention on a single infant, where she once followed the celebrity scene. Even an interest in other people can drift from the external – their hair, their bodies, what they’re wearing – to fundamental animal behaviours (sex and violence), relationships, life and death. (Soap operas have all of the above and appeal to all age groups.)

So far, so obvious: but I have a very personal angle on this, as I consider a career change. It makes sense, as I get older, to look beyond other people for interests and validation, to try to find out what I fundamentally enjoy and want to do. A key point is sustainability: when you become good at something, your reward is … to keep on doing it, again and again. It follows, therefore, that it’s a good idea to become good at something you enjoy. Obvious, again.

Looking at it the way I have above, it’s clear that I can rule certain things out.

  • music: I’ll keep on doing it for fun, but I’m not good enough to put together a sustainable career. There is no chance of pop success: I can’t say I want that, since it would be too fickle (unless you’re Status Quo) and I see many bands stuck in endless touring and regurgitation of their previous work, struggling to recapture the spirit that got them there in the first place (e.g. Yes). In the professional audio fields, the doors are now closed to all but the luckiest and most qualified.
  • computers: I’ve grown to differentiate between the use of a computer as a means to an end, or as an end in itself. Even though most of the things I do involve computers – keeping this website, making music, communicating with others via the Internet – I have to realize that I don’t make a very good geek, by geek standards. The people who contribute to Linux, write application programs or program synthesizers in depth are the real geeks. Those are things I’ve been OK at, but never that good, and that was when I was younger.

What does that leave?

  • management: I don’t like the idea, frankly, but I would be foolish to rule it out altogether. It’s a natural progression for aging office workers, qualified or not. There is zero chance of management advancement in my current job, since there are already too many managers and too many better-qualified colleagues waiting for an opening.
  • teaching: this is something I didn’t consider at all until I noticed my growing pedantic streak, and the enjoyment I get from imparting knowledge when I have it (and sometimes when I don’t). “Those who can, do; those who can’t teach” is the old cliché – but “doing” is not that black-and-white, and teaching something you’re good at is an option to consider when you’re not quite good enough to lead your particular field.

It’s taken me till after midnight, on and off, to get that much thought in order, on a topic I’m sure I’ll be returning to this week.

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Written by brian t

May 1, 2004 at 11:56 am

Posted in history, life, philosophy, work

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