Occasionally, you lose sight of your own future – the one you envision for yourself and strive toward. It’s very disorienting when that happens. That ideal life you’d like to lead becomes a diffuse and obscure cloud of confusion. When you lose your sense of direction, you can begin to feel very lost, very quickly.
It used to be easy. I could always go and manage some engineering team or other and that would be enough to pay my bills. These days, though, the biggest sector of the engineering industry, in this country at least, is weaponry. Who wants to work hard to contribute to that? Death, destruction and war are not things I wish to enable. By far the next largest sector, by venture investment, is surveillance capitalism, which is basically spying on your fellow man, by one means or another. There are almost no jobs that allow you to produce products which increase personal agency.
Engineering, especially software engineering, is a deeply ageist culture. Decades of experience are derided, rather than respected or cherished. The young bucks are more pliable and compliant, so infinitely preferable employees, compared to wizened, aware and awake older guys. The youngsters are willing to sacrifice health and home life for the appearance of getting ahead. Greedy employers love the self-sacrifice. It’s very profitable.
The younger engineers also truly believe they invented everything technical under the sun. Any other older idea, to them, is valueless. They don’t read history and their humanity skills are often sorely lacking, due to their obsessive focus on technology. It makes them lacking in empathy and compassion, so ill-suited to making solutions that solve people’s pressing problems. Those problems are in their blind spot. In short, they make rather tiresome work colleagues.
Meanwhile, product management (a field I am highly skilled in) puts you in the middle of the brutal tug of war between people who make things (who demand increasing self-determination, collaborative work environments and a great deal of scope for personal initiative) and the people who hire them (who demand feudal deference, command and control and who intuitively distrust “unmanageable” developers). I’ve been crushed between the jaws of that particular vice more than I’d care to admit. It’s not an experience I relish repeating.
Fortunately, I’m creative and artistic and the creative industries are rapidly closing the gap on the production of weaponry, in terms of sheer gross income. Design and it’s creative cousins are of growing significance, importance and contribution. That ought to be good news. Unfortunately, I remain more confused than ever.
I write, I paint, I design things and I make music. None of these things can easily pay your bills, despite the growing importance of this sector of the economy. Creative artefacts remains largely unrecognised as an industry, hence badly neglected and undersupported. Also, I’m not connected to any “scene”. I don’t belong to a thriving community of writers, my paintings are quite unlike what most other successful painters I know make and my music is made without the benefit of a band, or being part of a similar tribe of professional music makers. I’m not a member of any of the networks that might lead to openings or opportunities. In every case, I’m relegated to the role of bystander.
When it comes to design, I find myself again working alone. This means I have to do everything myself and this is slow, inefficient and constantly challenging. I think I have good design ideas, particularly with respect to music-related products, but I don’t know any of the current manufacturers, who have always had a bit of a “not invented here“ mentality anyway. It feels like a daunting mountain to climb. The best way I can describe it is that it feels like trying to build an entire industry, rather than an enterprise.
My whole family are experiencing their own career crossroads at the moment, too. My wife is changing career direction, with an uncertain outcome. My daughter is trying to clarify what she wants to study at university and my son’s further education could go a number of different ways, depending on how he is adjudicated. Everything is up in the air for everybody in the household and we’re undoubtedly cross-contaminating each other with our barely suppressed anxieties.
So, we press on, putting one foot in front of the other, continuing to create and learn. Hopefully, that determination will lead us all somewhere we want to go. It just isn’t clear to me, at the moment, where that is or even might be. We’re all marching into the unknown, hoping it will all work out somehow.
Consequently, I feel stuck. I feel like I have reached an impasse. I’m waiting for something to happen and for things to change, knowing full well I have to make it happen and change. It takes a lot of energy and resilience. Half the time, I feel like whatever I am making or learning, it’s the wrong thing and I ought to be spending my time on something else. That’s the result of losing that vision of where you might be and what you might be doing in future, if things go well. I just cannot grasp what that might look like, anymore. I’m flying blind, without instruments and it can be very scary.
Meanwhile, the political and economic backdrop, globally, is arguably the worst I have ever known it, throughout my lifetime. The signs are not encouraging and rather discouraging. It’s a hard time to be venturing forth, unaided. I don’t think like the most powerful people do. They believe in hierarchies of power, domination, predation and dog-eat-dog competition. I don’t. I believe there is abundant success to go around, but the wealthiest seem determined to hoard theirs. Hence, I find myself at odds with the prevailing patterns of thought. This makes it even harder to network. I rarely meet people with the same basic belief system as me.
So, here I am. Kind of lost. Kind of disoriented, but trying to make forward progress anyway. I imagine this is a common experience, especially for artists, but I don’t know for sure. I just hope things resolve positively somehow.