A common recipe for personal growth is to start with what you have, identify what sucks about it, and try to make it suck less. Software developers call this “fixing bugs.”
“Fixing bugs” may seem like a natural metaphor for personal development, but in most cases this is actually an extremely limited, even harmful, perspective. When you focus on fixing what’s broken, the standard by which you measure your progress is whatever you started with. If what you started with was crap, then the standard by which you judge your results is crap.
If your software currently crashes 20 times a day, making it crash only 15 times a day is “good”, only 12 times a day is “better”, and a mere 10 crashes a day would be “excellent.”
You might even get a raise.
This way of thinking is its own worst enemy. Patching a bad situation often still leaves you in a bad situation. Even worse, you might get the impression you’re doing something useful. Sure, 10 crashes a day is a lot better than 20 crashes a day. Perhaps you even used your Employee of the Month bonus to upgrade to the 500 channel cable package that Bob and Alice have been raving about.
But it’s still a profoundly shit way to live. Fixing a bug doesn’t necessarily fix anything. You may think you’ve uncovered a solution, when all you’ve really done is found a rut and made it deeper–a little more like a grave.
Death by a Thousand Service Packs
If it’s been three years since your last promotion–if you’ve spent almost every day for as long as you can remember arguing with your girlfriend about absolutely nothing–if you’ve swallowed up the last six months going on about how hopeless you are with women, yet you’ve approached only a dozen girls in that time, then reality has a message for you: The data has spoken. There is no bandage large enough to cover this wound. There is no way to alter this cause to produce the desired effect.
You cannot fix what was built on this foundation. You have to replace the foundation entirely.
The day after my cousin died several weeks ago, I quit my job. I’d been working on a contract for the last several months, but it just wasn’t me. It couldn’t be me. And no amount of tweaking, tuning, or patchwork could fix that.
It’s always a little terrifying to shake things up, but there is no better way to live. Until last Thursday, I was scratching someone else’s itch. Now I’m scratching my own.
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