Relentless Optimism

If I had to list out my core values of work (which I did recently have to do), they comprise of things like the following:

  • Always do my best
  • Leave it better then I found it
  • Clarity trumps complexity
  • At the end of the day, people matter most
  • I am a human, not a cog–I need to be able to make decisions and be creative in my work

I don’t think any of those are particularly earth shattering or unusual. But being forced to list them out also forces me to ask the question: am I living these, day to day? At the moment, the answer is very clear and it is “no.”

It’s not that I’m not trying. I do try, and when I try, I am often faced with push back. We don’t have time for this, maybe later. Do the fastest, easiest thing, even if it’s terrible and we’ll have to fix it later (if it becomes a five alarm fire). We’re going to tear this whole thing down soon (“soon”) so why bother trying to improve this or that line of code?

Why bother. When the attitude of the entire team is that it doesn’t matter, why bother, my mental state goes straight into the shitter. It’s not that they are entirely wrong. If the system IS going to be replaced by another one in the future, it is somewhat understandable that a company not invest time (money) in it. Of course, this all depends on if it is really going to go away, when, which parts, and how. I think we’ve all been part of teams that have patched shit together thinking it’s “temporary” only to have that duct tape and fishing line hold a huge platform together for literal years.

My opinions about future architecture aside, the bigger problem is that list of core values above. My job satisfaction comes from creating things I’m proud of, learning new skills, and putting things out into the world that makes things a little better. But if the attitude of the team is poor, I find myself not pointing out unnecessary line breaks in PR reviews, copy-pasting code that should be put into a reusable function, taking the shortest possible route from A to B, even though it makes me die inside. And then I find myself crying every other day in front of my computer, thanking god I work from home.

I don’t like to think that my job has a huge effect on my day-to-day mental state, but it really does. This shitty attitude has leaked into all other parts of my life, and I really have to turn this ship around. How can I stick to my own core values when it doesn’t feel like I have agency to make decisions or improvements? When everyone around me feels down and frustrated? I am heavily influenced by the people around me so it’s really hard for me to push back against the general cloud of defeat hanging over the team. I look at people who have become leaders in the face of pessimism and frustration, and I honestly have no idea how they do it. How do you not let other people’s mental states effect your own?

I think the only way I can only crawl out of this hole is in small, daily actions and possibly being subversive. I have to hold myself to my own high standards as much as I can, even if the code I’m proud of are things I would find pretty normal in some other circumstance. If I can’t learn new frameworks, then I can learn to build coalitions and bridges around work I feel would improve the system and speed up development. For my own sanity, I must remain relentlessly optimistic, and I must push good work forward. If things don’t improve or change, there will come a day when I can’t push anymore, and I will have to take my leave. But for now, I’ll put embarrassing sticky notes on my monitor that say things like “attitude is everything” and again, thank god I work from home.