I’m going to do a shorter editorial on this, but really I think this deserves more treatment here.
I saw Brent Ozar write a post on measuring your career. In it, he talks about the fact that many people measure their career as a function of their salary. He points out that that’s a poor measure, as it’s really based on something in the past, not the current position or situation in which we are engaged.
I agree, plus I think salary is a poor way to measure success. It’s a crude, gross way to compare the value of one job to another, based on someone else’s view of your job. Your employer decides what constitutes a fair salary, which may have nothing to do with you, your work, the responsibilities, or the total work you accomplish.
Boiling It Down
I’ve been asked many questions in my life, often something like “how would you rate xx?” or “on a scale of 1-10, what do you think of yy?”
In all those cases, I’ve struggled to do much more than peg the needle in my rating. It’s all the way left, all the way right, or dead center.
The reality is that so much of our views of anything, whether it’s our career, our car, our laptop, or anything else can’t be boiled down to a single number. It’s silly to try, and I’ve given up. I’m not going to rate things along one axis when there are many ways to view anything, along different sets of criteria.
It’s one reason I really have started to discard all speaking feedback other than comments. The 1-5 scale means nothing to me. If you can’t express a positive or negative criticism or praise to me, then I don’t gain anything from the evaluation.
My career has been great. Not all an upward rise, nor all an unbroken series of successes. I’ve had setbacks, and at times, I’m a little disconcerted by the number of jobs I’ve had. However overall, my career is a success.
For one thing, I’ve been able to make a difference in many jobs. I’ve written software, a report, documentation, or produced something that was useful to others. They’ve told me it saved time, it saved money, or just that they appreciated it. That’s a success.
My income has gone up over the years, but it’s also gone down. If I were to look at my salary, it has a few nice dips in it. However the important thing is that at most every stage, it’s been enough money to take care of the needs of my family. Sometimes we’ve also needed my wife’s income, but that’s OK. The reality is that my salary doesn’t stand alone. It goes hand in hand with my wife’s and together the numbers have to make sense. I can make less if she makes more, or vice versa.
Or we fix our budget. That’s an area that some people don’t consider. If I can change my budget, take a lower salary at a position I like better for some reason, then it’s still a growth in my career.
I’ve also thought that my career flexed and changed to fit my life. When my kids were younger, I really valued having a job that kept me at home and limited travel. My current position at Red Gate wouldn’t have been a good fit then, but it is now, with teenagers and adult-aged children.
If I were to measure my career right now, in the context of my current situation at home and my position with Red Gate, it’s the best job I’ve ever had and it’s a huge success as I view it. It’s not perfect, but it’s like my tractor.
When I first got a tractor for the ranch, I thought it was so cool. It’s a big, powerful piece of equipment and it gives you a sense of power to drive it around. I can move snow, pick up huge objects like hay bales that I could never move alone, and drill holes in the ground with an ease I never thought possible. Driving a tractor around to plow snow or cut grass is always cool.
For 15 minutes. Sometimes 5 minutes. Then it’s work. Often it’s tedious or really annoying to do something over and over. However I’m always thrilled when I first get going on the tractor.
I have this view of jobs. No matter how amazing the position is, whether it’s rock star, professional athlete, journalist, or DBA, at some point you’re going to have to do something you don’t enjoy or want to do. You’re going to have tedious moments. You’re going to get bored.
Hopefully you get energized with the next project, day, or city you tackle next in your job.
My job is hard. The travel wears me out at times. Video calls can be maddening when people are late, or they don’t speak into the microphone, or any of the things Scott Hanselman ranted about. The tedious nature of administering the site, or editing poorly written articles, and more can wear on me. The stress of putting out daily information tightens the muscles in my neck and fills my stomach with butterflies at times.
I put up with those things because I love writing, speaking, and teaching people about SQL Server. I like learning new things, I like working for a company that values me and gives me opportunities. I like working from home on a flexible schedule. I like the challenge of trying to help the community and improving other’s careers and success at work.
I guess that you have to start rating the importance of things in your career in the ways that are important to you. What matters in your life? When you find the position meets more of your needs than it doesn’t, when you have more positives than negatives, when you have more good days than bad, I think you’re succeeding.
Good luck, remember you get one life to live, so take advantage of it while you can, and always, always, work to live rather than living to work.