The following is a copy of a response I sent to one person’s questions. I thought others might be interested also. She asked how I recognized that I loved programming more than anything else. After all, there are many things I like to do, and I had already been working as a programmer for fifteen years.
I remember when I went to computer science class at the university in 1990. My comment to people was, “This isn’t the computer science I know from home.” It was boring and tedious and I switched my major to philosophy. This was my first experience of the basic split between the programming that I love, and programming without that quality. At the several companies I spent time at afterwards, I gradually lost sufficient contact with the “programming I see at home” to actually believe my path lay elsewhere. I had always kept that love alive by working on my own projects, but in marriage this was difficult and I finally felt so much stress related to programming that I thought it was to blame.
It was not the field itself that was the problem, however, but the way I was interacting with it. I failed to find a successful way to manage life and my love, such that they could co-operate in a healthy way. I will keep trying to find a way. But at least now I see that the two are separate realities, and that my love is not to blame for the difficulties of life I experience while trying to pursue it. Even if the commercial programming environments had heaped a cloud of dust upon her, she never disappeared – just harder and harder to see. I am now involved in clearing that dust away.
Communing with God
There is only one goal for any soul: communion with God. If she can find this in her work, that work becomes worship. She does it wholly for the sake of God, meaning: the awareness of God she finds within it. It’s commonly referred to as love.
Scratch out all secondary goals: availability of work, pay, hours, benefits, etc. None of these are what you’re looking for.
The quality I refer to is hard to describe, but easy to recognize. You already know it. I’m sure there is something already in your life that you do because it has this quality – and for no other reason. A person who has no such contact with their Beloved would be moribund. You may find it in your children, your husband, or your backyard.
If you can identify what it is for yourself, you’ll notice a lot of traits present in your interaction with it. These are the traits I have always experienced while programming, but rarely with writing, for example. Some of them are:
Losing a sense of time. The time available to you never seems enough.
You would rather do it than talk about it.
You find you can’t explain why it makes you so happy, except to a very small, special set of people who share your joy. If they don’t share it, you can’t talk about it.
The secondary results are fine, but you don’t really care. If any of them changed or disappeared, you’d find a way to continue.
You look forward to doing it; you have never said, “I really should do more of that.” The relationship is devoid of shoulds, musts, have tos.
You get excited when you are apart from it and think about doing it again. It might be a quiet little heart flutter, or a total loss of sleep. It depends on how much the thing engages your material capacities, such as thinking, acting, etc.
In the midst of life, you long to get back to it. The more you are apart, the deeper the longing. When you do come back to it, you wonder why you ever left. You feel sorrow at the thought that you might have to leave it again.
You are willing to endure pain in exchange for time with it. You are willing to pay to do it, if necessary, rather than be paid to do it. If someone told you you never had to do it again, you wouldn’t accept the offer. If they said you couldn’t ever do it again, you would feel lost.
It’s likely that you’ve known how much you liked it from the first time you experienced it. It’s possible to forget that joy over time, but it comes back whenever you’re near it again.
When you’re in the midst of it, you don’t want to be interrupted. You don’t want to share it with someone who doesn’t understand. You don’t want to explain. You find words cumbersome and tiring. For you, there is only doing.
You don’t explain much why you’ve chosen it. You never find yourself justifying the choice; it is its own justification to you. There is a kind of certitude about it that makes you shy away from explanations.
You might complain when people or things inhibit your experience of it, but you never complain about the thing itself.
When you’re doing it, you feel on, connected, alive, able, creative, awake, a sense of power and untapped potential waiting at your fingertips. It is a bit like flying.
You easily lose sleep if you do it too late. You forget to eat, you forget other people. When they interrupt you, it’s like being rudely reminded that, yes, the world does still exist and expects things from you. Some people can manage these interruptions better that others, but it always takes energy.
Other people who want your attention might feel jealous about the time you spend with it. They may even start to dislike it because they see how completely it gets your attention and holds it.
Some may say that all of these traits describe a compulsion. In my experience, as someone who has COD, a compulsion is something I feel I have to do. But the above I simply want to do more than anything else. I could avoid it, but why? I secretly dread compulsions, and want to be free; but this… I would find servitude to it for all the rest of my days an honor.
Now look at your life and identify anything and everything that approaches these qualities. You may very well already know what you want to do. Or, you may not have found it yet, but you’ve experienced it in other ways. It is a particular, unnameable quality of beauty – of feeling alive in the kind of world you believed in as a child – that you’re looking for. It’s out there.
… if we taste of this cup, we shall cast away the world.