Which path will make you happy?

What Makes You Happy?

I didn’t know myself, even though I thought I did. For years I thought I knew what would make me happy. I thought the right job, using the right technologies, working on the right products, would do the trick. When I left Microsoft, I was sure I needed to work on improving developer productivity. That’s one reason I went to Fog Creek, to help build FogBugz and Kiln. At another point in my career I was sure I needed to work on using technology in education. I felt the fire in my belly, or so I thought. If only I could do that, I would be happy, satisfied, fulfilled.

Which path will make you happy?
Which path will make you happy? (c) Paro_for_Peace

But as I look back, I realize that my choices tell a different story. They tell me what I really value. I’m sure I’ll keep learning what that is, as I keep making choices that defy what I claim will make me happy. Admittedly, sometimes those choices are hard. If I’m honest with myself, I passed up a chance to work at Khan Academy because I valued working remotely more than building tech for education. I left Fog Creek (before they encouraged remote work) because I valued working remotely more than building productivity tools for developers and information workers. Plus, I wasn’t the rockstar developer that either company would change policies to accommodate. I’m still working on that …

It’s got me wondering a bit about why I value remote work, and all the associated benefits, so much. Does it really make me happier? Or am I committed to it, only because I haven’t found the real thing I’m passionate enough about? The thing that would pull me away from home and into an office?

That may be. My life is definitely a work in progress. But I’ve since learned that my reasons for working remotely are borne out by research. The Guardian, in its report on what makes a city happy, revealed some important facts: “Stutzer and Frey found that a person with a one-hour commute has to earn 40% more money to be as satisfied with life as someone who walks to the office.” Additionally, “A Swedish study found that people who endure more than a 45-minute commute were 40% more likely to divorce.”

The Guardian report is interesting, because it makes the case that urban life can lead to more happiness in many cases. If you’re surrounded by people and walk around town you have better relationships with others, you’re more trusting of others, and you’re healthier. The problem is for people like me, a husband and father with four kids. To afford to house my family near enough to New York to work there, I had to deal with a 90 minute commute. So, while New York was great, the commute was miserable. And so was my life. Sure, I could have traded one expensive city with a bad commute, for another by going to the Bay Area to work at Khan Academy. But I made a different choice.

And I’m happier for it. I fully expect that by the time I retire most companies that primarily do information work (like software development companies) will be fully or mostly remote. And the sooner they make the switch, the better off they will be. As that happens, it will become easier for people like me to pursue our technology and product passions, having made the hard decisions first.

Since I started working remotely, I’ve already been able to join a fully remote company, Articulate, that is focused on improving e-learning, allowing me to be a part of the ongoing education revolution. And before that, I worked with an awesome team at TrackAbout, where we put together SpecEasy, an easier way to write unit tests that are very readable. There are lots of ways to pursue your passions. Don’t think you have to do it at the expense of your personal life, your family, your marriage, or your happiness.

How have you combined personal and professional happiness? Have you passed up great opportunities because you valued something else more?