What now? That was the question that kept a friend and myself busy over the telephone for about an hour yesterday.
We found that there are two main criteria to consider: who you interact with, and why you do what you do. We found also that “what”, “where” and “how” were trivial to answer once “who with” and “why” are cleared up.
We found there are three possible strategies to move forward.
You can either move sideways and start afresh: new people and/or new organization and/or new projects. This strategy widens your network and diversifies your expertise. This answers “different” to “who with” and buys time for “why”: after a change of environment, time is needed to get to know the new people, their interests, how your skills match their expectations; this adaptation process will distract you from mulling over your motivations. As a side note, my experience suggests that you should not change too many things at once: either the people, the organization or the project, possibly two at a time, but maybe not all at once. The reason is that if anything goes wrong you will not know which part of the change was responsible.
The second strategy is to own the current situation and bring it under your control. In other words, do away with “going with the flow” and instead assert your role as the main causative agent of your existence. This strategy exercises and strengthens your network and deepens your expertise. This answers “the same” to “who with” and only works once you know “why”: to successfully transition from your role as a mere participating agent to a causative agent, your peers will need to see you as someone they can trust and rely on, instead of someone who would consider moving to greener pastures when the right opportunity comes up. This in turn implies your motivation must come from within, so as to not falter even under the duress of externalities, and must radiate around you.
The third strategy is to build a new part in the world yourself. Enterprise, in any form, is a creative process by which you build a community around you that did not exist previously. Like the first strategy above, this would imply new people, a new organization and new projects; however this strategy differs in that it is a direct consequence of a strong and vibrant answer to your “why,” instead of a way to procrastinate on answering your “why.”
Now, as to why this matters right now.
We found that at any point in time, your direct peers are getting on with their life over time an are expecting you to do the same. When you are a newcomer, moving forward is easy as it only implies getting to know each other. Once you are not a newcomer any more, you should still move forward in some way, lest you will merge with the furniture and fade into the background. This is where you are now, and this is why you must do something about it right away.
And as to what to do about it.
It seems that unless you are unhappy about your current “who with,” it is difficult to leave the people you like and tell them with a straight face “maybe you are not good enough for me, I’m not sure, I’ll check with other people first if they can do better.” It is, after all, a form of betrayal. This implies that the criterion that determines your choice of strategy is the answer to “why.” Once you are certain of your motivations, your peers will either welcome you if you choose to stay with them, or respect your conscious, motivated choice to build something new.
We also found together that “why” is a difficult topic which must be considered only after dispelling misconceptions about yourself and the consequences of your choices. My experience is that our community is rife with illusions about the meaning and purpose of our activities. We should avoid these fantasies, and always keep in mind that the part of the world that will feed us is a sad, cruel place where we will have to fight hard to succeed, no matter the choices we make. This realization confirms the importance of our direct peers: beyond the necessary occasional warm and fuzzy feeling of mutual appreciation, they are actually our “partners in arms” who will cover our back while expecting us to cover theirs.
It thus boils down to you facing your “why” without illusions about the world you are standing in. Either you don’t know, and don’t want to or cannot answer it right away, in which case the first strategy is for you. Or you do know, or do want to answer it soon, in which case… there are still two strategies remaining, but the choice should be obvious.
These were our conclusions last night. Maybe I was wrong and you do not need to consider “why” to move forward. But this is the argument I am standing against myself, and it makes sense to me.