I remember coming across this tweet over the Christmas break and it spurred many thoughts. It also became a big part on how I framed my retropsective for this year.

Life isn't about work

I fundamentally agree with this philosophy both as someone who is an employee but also as someone responsible for employees. As an employee, my work is not my life, and it cannot be. A job that requires that is not aligned with my values. As an employer, to have my team work continuously around the clock is irresponsible and short-sighted. It doesn't mean that my teams don't work long hours from time-to-time, but that happens very rarely. You want the team to have the burst of energy to focus on the small things that matter, and it should be a rarity and not normality.

Where you spend your time is where you'll grow

However, there is a bit more to this then that concept for me. For context, I generally work long hours. I always have. There are times when I regret it, and there are times when I've much appreciated it. At its heart, the core difference between the two was the focus of it. At the core of it, the focus of working hard for me has always been about personal growth and learning. My employers pay me a salary for me to fulfill my job description. A good employer allows me to grow within a portion of it, but I have the option to improve by learning and to push myself outside of the hours that I work. A great employer not only allows me to grow but also invests in me when it is outside of those core working hours. When an employer forces you to work for the sake of work beyond your work hours, it comes at the cost of personal growth.

I started my work life where the culture of over-work for the sake of over-working was present. I also remember hating it. However, I'm also seeing a shift in the work culture over the last five years or so in the opposite philosophy. We're in a place in time where people feel like the only place you should be growing is during your work hours, and it is your employer's responsibility to develop you. Your company's decision to invest in you isn't a right; it's a privilege. Both extreme philosophies are equally destructive. The reality is the only person who can push for your growth is yourself - it is your responsibility and no one else's. Where you spend your time, regardless of your age, is where you'll grow the most.

Your ability to invest changes

Your ability to invest also varies from the different stages of your life. In my personal experience, here is how I break down how I spent in my career

I started my career in my early 20's, and the focus of my investment is growing my "core" capabilities. At this stage of my career, I brought little outside of raw capacity and raw intelligence - that was my asset. In my 20's, my ability to recover was naturally at it's highest. While many people in later stages can recover incredibly well, it's also a massive investment to get to this stage in the later stages of your life. As an engineer, a lot of my effort went into investing in broadening that skill set. In the 2000s, I was one of the rare people who understood software, hardware, databases and network. It allowed me to tackle many different situations at work. At that juncture of my life, it was way easier to be able to over-invest on both my professional interest as well as my relationships.

When I turned 30, my focus started to change professionally. Building on the core of my capabilities, I was able to grow into a different dimension of my work, and I started focusing on leadership and people. At this stage, I began to make even more conscious about how I was investing myself. By this time, my relationships were deeper and also, in many ways, demanded more from me. The type of investment of professional growth is different, but there is also a more significant prioritization of your time, as I felt that I had less capacity to give.

Now that I'm in my 40's, my professional investment is focusing more on an organizational scale. The drive for me is how do I use the investment that I made in the previous two decades and use it to scale things. I still code today, but my code is never to production level, and I still manage and coach, but now it's coaching other people to coach. Learning here is at its hardest right now as my attention is the most divided as my priorities are now my family, especially since I have a very young son. I have neither the stamina or the desire to over-invest in my career as I once did. It's not that I stopped growing, but the rate that I'm growing professionally now is nowhere close to where I was in my 20's and 30's.

So What!?!?

I fundamentally agree with DHH. Don't sacrifice any stage of your life for work. Your focus should be focusing on your personal growth while understanding that your circumstance is going to change based on your life stage and your biology at the time. Don't waste the time that you have. Ensure you are spending time on the things that build a foundation on who you want to be in the future. Find people and organizations that can will invest in you to focus on the things that matter.

Focusing on things that matter