No One Makes You Do Anything…You Make Yourself

One of the hallmarks of a stressful life is the feeling of not being in control. Whether relating to job, finances, relationships, or even world events, feeling controlled instead of feeling in control causes a sense of powerlessness that drags down a person. Those who feel in control of their lives have far less stress than those who feel they are not in control.

 

What most people don’t stop to think about is that no one actually makes you do anything. You make choices that help you achieve your desired goals, even if they are subconscious goals. There is no one walking around dragging you by the hand from task to task, forcing you to complete certain actions. You make the decisions you make based on the options you are aware of and their known consequences.

 

Even God himself doesn’t control us, if you think about it. God gave us free will, and lets us use our free will to choose whether we will love him or not. We can either follow his son Jesus or we can choose not to. We can choose to do what is right or we can choose to sin. We aren’t robots who have no choice but to love God. If God forced us to love him, it wouldn’t be real love.

 

Now, there are a few times in the Bible where God essentially took control of someone through the Holy Spirit, but those examples are pretty rare. For the overwhelming majority of our life experiences, he does not force us to do anything. Also, there is demonic possession, but that’s something that can only occur because God allows it. Ultimately, Satan and his demons are defeated by Christ and know they are destined for hell. Until judgment, though, they are just trying to take as many human beings down with them as they can.

 

There’s also hypnosis, which I’m sure most of us have seen in action, but as far as I know it’s only possible because a person has agreed to let themselves be hypnotized.

 

So generally, not even God himself controls us or allows other powers to control us. So if not even God himself controls us, why do we feel like other people control us? God has given us control of ourselves—another word for that is self-control. Ordinarily that term is applied only to the choice to abstain from something, but logically, it applies just as much to the things we might choose to do if we didn’t feel controlled.

 

I saw a video on YouTube recently where someone had written in and asked how to stop being a “wage slave.” The response of the producer of the video was that no one is making you be at your job…but yourself (4:21). This guy seems kinda out there and I haven’t watched any of this other videos, but I wanted to give him credit for what he said.

 

Let’s analyze his statement. Our first reaction is to think, but if I don’t go to work, I’ll get fired. That’s probably true. But that doesn’t mean your boss is next to your bed every morning, dragging you out of bed so you can go to work. Okay, but I have bills to pay. That is also true, but the electric company or bank isn’t sending people to your house to cart you off to work. In reality, you are making choices because the consequences of doing things differently are unacceptable.

 

Why is this important? Because until you feel agency in your life, your stress level will be higher, toxifying you with unnecessary stress, and you will not have the vision to see other options in life. For example, if you believe you have no choice but to go to the same job you don’t like every day, why would you ever think of finding another job? Most of us understand that you do have a choice in where you work, and that’s why we look for other jobs. But to take the logic further, we all have the choice of whether to work at all. We must accept the consequences of getting fired and the electricity getting shut off, sure. But once you realize you could stop working any time you want to—although odds are you shouldn’t—your stress level decreases because you no longer feel controlled by your boss, or your landlord, or the bank, or the utility company. You have simply opted for one set of consequences (getting paid) over another (going broke and getting evicted). But it is your choice, not anyone else’s. You have just as much free will as your boss does.

 

How many times have you heard someone described as a “controlling” person? “He/she is so controlling…” Actually, that’s not true because that person can’t control anyone. They can persuade, but the person being persuaded makes a choice to accept the authoritativeness of the person doing the persuading. In other words, the person being attacked by the “controlling” person has chosen one set of consequences—appeasing that person—over the consequences of defying them.

 

One of my favorite books is Don’t Let Them Psyche You Out by Dr. George Zgourides. There is a great chapter on the utility of silence—non-responsiveness—when dealing with difficult people. His basic point is that you are not required to respond to anyone, and that there is an unwritten social rule that if someone says something to you, you have to respond, but actually you don’t have to. That rule is really just a courtesy, not an actual rule. You choose to accept the consequences of not responding, which can sometimes be a socially unacceptable option, but most people take for granted that they must respond every single time and therefore miss out on the times when silence is truly the wisest option. This is just an example of how control by others is an illusion.

 

If you don’t feel in control of your life, you will never be happy, no matter how successful you are. If you feel controlled, your success is not up to you, it’s up to your controller(s). You must do everything you are doing because they control you, and you have no choice in the matter. Living without a choice is not living though, something we can clearly see by the most basic fact that God gives each of free will. The most important question in the universe is whether or not we have decided to believe in his Son Jesus. If in the most important question of all time, God gives us a choice, how much more do we have free choice in every other aspect of life?

 

So, take responsibility for yourself and realize that the control by others that you feel is an illusion. Dispel the illusion with the truth. The title of this website says to not be a cog. A cog has no choice but to turn in the machine. You aren’t that cog—you can turn if you want to, or not turn if you don’t want to. But either way, you are in control.

The Consequences of Maryland’s Career Obsession

“Better a handful with quietness than both hands full, together with toil and grasping for the wind.” Ecclesiastes 4:6

 

“The sleep of a laboring man is sweet, whether he eats little or much; but the abundance of the rich will not permit him to sleep.” Eccl. 5:12

 

“Do not overwork to be rich; because of your own understanding, cease! Will you set your eyes on that which is not? For riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away like an eagle toward heaven.” Proverbs 23:4-5

 

Americans are known to be a hard-working, industrious people. Our productivity ranks ahead of the vast majority of countries in the world. We have the highest GDP and we are truly the engine of the global economy.

 

But all this comes with downsides, and I write this essay is to help us consider these downsides and think outside the box on how and why we actually overwork, meaning to work harder than is necessary. In some parts of the country, like Maryland, people pride themselves on how hard they work and how late they work. Working hard is, in and of itself, a badge of honor in Maryland. It doesn’t matter what you were working on as long as you worked hard. Career is everything in Maryland, so working hard is a way of standing out in a competitive talent marketplace.

 

For native central Marylanders, the typical life script goes something like this: You are born into an upper middle class family to two degree-holding parents who work. In fact, they both have to work in order to afford to live in the best school district. You go through school alongside the children of other upper middle class families, and then you go to an expensive college like University of Maryland, during which you have a (probably unpaid) internship at a government contractor/consulting firm because your parents paid for at least some of your college, meaning you didn’t have to work for the period of time of your internship. You graduate from college and either start working right away at the place where you interned, or somewhere similar, especially if it’s somewhere your parents or friends have contacts.

 

Now that you’re working full time, your next hurdle is to buy a house. If your work is close enough to your hometown, you might even live with your parents for the first several years of your career to save up money. I saw this all the time in Maryland. Once you are established and making enough money to afford rent or a mortgage, you get your own place. Now, if you didn’t already meet someone in college, you’re ready for a serious relationship. You’re about 26 by this time. You date off and on for a few years and get married around 30-32. You wait a couple years and have a kid, finally fulfilling anxious parental expectations. Both of you are working and will continue to work, daycare bills notwithstanding. This is of course assuming you actually choose to have one or more kids, in which case the cycle begins anew. You might just get one or more dogs instead, which is not uncommon. Having dogs will then let you fulfill your care-giving instincts without having the responsibilities of a child.

 

To a native Marylander, this life script must seem normal, and I imagine it’s the same for anyone living in New York City or the San Francisco Bay Area. However, not being from Maryland or any place like it, I see some glaring holes with the typical central Maryland life script that need to be pointed out. And by the way, even though I say central Maryland, it’s generally the aspiration of young people all over Maryland to move to central MD/DC area to go to the top colleges and get the high-paying jobs. At that point, they put down roots there, and their one or two kids will then join the central Maryland life script. Not to mention all the people coming from other parts of the country, and even other countries, for high-paying government and government contractor jobs. So what’s wrong with this script of a successful life?

 

The biggest problem with Maryland’s life script is that there is no room for error. You have to stay at the top of your game from ages zero to retirement or you will fall behind and never be back at the head of the pack like you’re supposed to be. Disciplinary problems in grade school? Repeated a grade? Family problems? Family moved around within the state and you lost touch with your childhood friends, whom you might have relied on later to help you get a job? Partied too hard your freshman year of college and never recovered? Moved somewhere else after college and came back but lost touch with your contacts? Health problems causing problems for your career?

 

These are all examples of things that could put you at a permanent disadvantage in the Maryland rat race. Because everyone idolizes the perfect life script, there is no real sympathy for people whom it doesn’t go perfectly for. It is expected that everything goes perfectly, and people are primarily interested in associating with people who have had that perfect life, because they know such people have the best chance of helping them climb the ladder. So, those who have fallen behind in one way or another are subconsciously viewed as some sort of “inferior human product” of human debris. There is no benefit to associating with such people, especially since the need to have a social life in Maryland is under-acknowledged. Everyone is so busy with work that they’ve become numb to the need for true, deep social interaction. Sure, you may go on a Saturday hike with some people you don’t know very well, and photos on Facebook show the world that yes, you have a social life. But if that’s the extent of things, you are socially unfulfilled. But in Maryland, people don’t admit to that, because having any kind of problems is seen as a weakness and a sign of an imperfect life script. The whole situation is one big pressure cooker, and many don’t survive very well.

 

You can look around and see the spoiled kids of dual-income suburban parents, acting out in their own ways like crazy-colored hair, piercings, tattoos, or all three. These kids think they’re rebelling, but they don’t question the system around them—the pressure cooker that is Maryland careerism—that has led them to act out this way. It’s like rebelling without rebelling. That’s how effective and self-reinforcing the whole thing is. If you were to complain about it, you’d likely be viewed as someone who “just can’t cut it” in career, or else you wouldn’t be complaining. But that’s the most effective brainwashing of all, if you think about it. So many people in Maryland have little inner life because career takes up so much time and energy—and that’s just in order to maintain a baseline level of existence. You don’t get anything extra for it. What a waste of time and energy!

 

I mentioned earlier how the main problem is lack of room for error. The second problem is the stress level. Marylanders undergo a level of stress that is simply not natural, between social pressures to be successful, neurotic expectations of upper middle class parents, relationship difficulties due to women who avoid men to focus on career (following the script), the soul-killing daily commute, and the hyper-competitive, antisocial mood of everyone around you. But if you let it get to you, if you slip up, you will fall behind and probably never catch up. It’s a double whammy, and most people in Maryland are somehow mollified into thinking this is a normal way to live. They let off steam by binge-watching Netflix, drinking, and complaining about politics on social media. What creativity might these people otherwise be providing to the world if they weren’t so busy being wage slaves?

 

In light of all this, what is normal, you ask? Well, all I can say is that most of the country doesn’t live the way Maryland does. For instance, take my home state of New Mexico. It’s often called the “Land of Mañana,” meaning land of tomorrow, as in, “don’t worry about it today, we can do it tomorrow.” People here understand that life is not about career. It is about family, relationships, experiences, and even faith, depending on who you talk to. Career is necessary, but it’s not an end unto itself. People here don’t just work hard for the sake of working hard.

 

Sure, New Mexico is one of poorest states, but the people here are way, way nicer and less judgmental than in Maryland. There is no “perfect life script” here that everyone is expected to follow like in Maryland. You don’t have to prove anything to anyone here. People make more time for social experiences because they don’t see other people as an inconvenience like Marylanders often do. In Maryland, hanging out with others is OK, but it must be on a strict schedule because they have to get up super early for their commute tomorrow. People’s schedules during the week are so jam-packed with commitments that there is no room for socialization on a weeknight, and weekends are the only option. That is a sign that your job controls you instead of you controlling your job.

 

I don’t say this to exalt New Mexico but to show that there are other options besides the way Marylanders live. Often, you cannot understand the flaws in something without seeing alternatives. The differences between the two states is a topic I plan to write more about, but my main message in this essay is this: Marylanders, think outside the box you’ve been raised in or transplanted into. Think for yourself, and take control of your happiness by simplifying your life. Don’t be a cog in the Maryland Perfect Life machine.

 

Oh, and there’s plenty of space out here in New Mexico.

Why Tech Jobs are a Bubble and What the “Pop” Might Look Like

These days, there is a seemingly endless emphasis on getting a high-paying tech job. In Maryland, for example, the air you breathe is saturated by the belief that tech majors and jobs are the ultimate path to success. Cybersecurity is especially big due to the NSA being at Ft. Meade, with its accompanying defense contractor sprawl across central MD. But even without cybersecurity in the mix, the elevation of tech jobs and tech majors as basically a career silver bullet is unmistakable.

 

I am a skeptic of this trend for several reasons. I have worked two IT jobs in my life, one as a service technician back in 2008-09 and one as an application administrator from 2014 to 2016. I worked a lot with our developers in the latter and got a good glimpse inside the developer world as well. If you look at job announcements in the IT field, the requirements section usually includes an alphabet soup of programming languages, software programs, and IT best practices. This gives the impression that all you need to get a high-paying tech job are specific skills. It follows, based on this logic, that anyone could make the $60-80K average salary of a programmer or network admin—all you have to do is learn those skills. But is this really accurate?

 

I don’t think it’s as accurate as people think. In fact, I’m a skeptic of the rosy tech industry job outlook, for four reasons:

 

1. Easy money. This problem is also found in the US higher ed industry, which I hope to write about at some point. If you walk through the developer area of your company’s building, you may notice all kinds of “perks,” zany creature comforts that companies have essentially been forced to provide to tech workers, especially developers, in the name of retention because it’s “part of tech subculture.” I’m talking about the nerf guns, lounges, treadmill desks, crazy paint jobs, and other odds and ends you would never see in say, the Finance or Supply Chain departments. Since this is a uniquely IT thing, it says to me that companies are coddling tech workers for retention’s sake, and such things can’t go on forever. If they could, then Finance and Supply Chain would still have whatever perks they got back when they were the new hotness. But there are enough accountants and supply chain people in today’s job market that average wages are lower than for your average programmer, and they don’t get nerf guns. This is a sign that the tech job market will reach an equilibrium, at which point the perks will be reduced. Companies will realize that there is no longer any retention advantage to offering such perks because they can replace tech workers more easily. There is a lot of easy money being blown on perks which will dry up just before companies start lowering tech salaries. (The perks will go first.)

 

2. Overemphasizing specific technical skills. It seems as though the mindset of the average developer is that as long as they keep their certs up to date and learn the latest software and coding languages, their job is safe. This is true for the moment, but it completely ignores soft skills and even other hard skills that could enable them to advance into middle or upper management, the levels where you have to manage a budget and manage personnel. For example, the CEO is not asking the CTO questions about code. He is asking questions about the limitations of the business and where the best cost-cutting opportunities are. If you plop the average developer into that scenario as the CTO, he will have no idea how to answer those questions because he doesn’t have business skills, he only has technical skills. But, you say, what if the average developer doesn’t want to move up the ladder and become a manager? He still might have had job security in the past, but read on and you’ll see why he should not rest on his programming laurels.

 

3. Automation. This is the deadliest of all factors that threaten the IT field. “But tech people have to administer AI,” you say. Sure, right now they do. But what happens when we write programs that can code so well that they replace programmers? Perhaps this is already happening—if so it seems like no one is talking about it. To date, I have heard no mention of AI that can process business requirements and write code to build/test/deploy the requirements. Or even one that can operate as an application administrator like I did in my old job. Right now, it’s not very possible because human beings come up with the business requirements. However, if we ever invent AI that can take on that role, by reading business data and determining requirements for itself, it will herald a new dark age for tech workers. At the current pace of AI advancement, I don’t see how it’s possible that we won’t invent AI that can do this. Heck, we may even be able to invent AI that can run the entire technology department on its own, merely taking guidance from the CTO, with contractors doing the moving and installation of physical equipment (or maybe robots doing it). Or perhaps someday the CTO “itself” will be an AI, with a management interface that is non-technical enough for the CEO to interact with. Sound far-fetched? What we have today was far-fetched 10 years ago. The key with human technology is, if we can conceptualize how to do it, all that’s left is the doing of it and the scaling of it, and those latter two things always seem to happen eventually.

 

4. Foreign workers. We all know what this means. Generally, it means American jobs get filled by workers from various countries like India and China. This is something that has really shaken up the tech industry, because—say it with me—foreign workers will do the work for cheaper. Many a programmer has been replaced by a foreign worker, and in some cases they have been forced to train their replacement, a humiliating scenario by any standard. I bring up foreign workers taking American tech jobs only because I see it getting worse. I think the Trump administration has slowed the pace a little or kept it at its current pace, but I think it would have accelerated if Hillary Clinton had won. Either way, I don’t see this situation actually improving short of a massive grassroots movement by displaced tech workers, which I don’t see materializing.

 

Imagine the following scenario. We as a society talk up tech careers into the stratosphere. Parents send their kids to college en masse to get tech degrees. However, more and more of the jobs get taken by foreign workers and automation. Now, those comp sci and information systems grads either can’t get the high-paying jobs they were promised, or can’t get jobs that pay what they were promised, and of course they have accumulated a huge load of student debt, especially since college tuition seems to never stop rising.

 

This becomes a political problem when these recent grads start organizing and demanding mass student loan forgiveness, saying the American economy didn’t live up to what was promised. They can’t directly protest foreign workers taking their jobs, because in today’s America all criticism of immigration policy that puts the needs of citizens over non-citizens is condemned as xenophobic and racist. And in terms of what was “promised,” in reality, only an overinflated promise was made, but no one stopped to question it in time. It becomes an even hotter political issue when you consider the current wave pushing women and minorities into tech. How much of a favor are the proponents of this actually doing for women and minorities? What I fear will happen instead is the situation I described above, but not only will it be unemployed or underemployed twenty-somethings making demands on the government (read: on other taxpayers), they will invoke the same language of discrimination and sexism that always gets invoked. The government will have no choice but to spend taxpayer money to bail them out—money that we don’t have and that will only add to our national debt. Maybe US credit gets downgraded and/or foreign investment in America slows as a result of mounting debt. The whole scenario could have been avoided if people exercised more foresight and stopped hyping up the tech industry as the career panacea.

 

For these reasons, and out of concern for the scenario described above, I think tech jobs are a huge bubble. What remains to be seen is whether it pops suddenly and deafeningly or if it’s more of a slow leak. While all four of the above reasons play a role, the main challenge for today’s workers—in most industries, not just tech—is staying ahead of automation. You do this by developing distinctly human skills that machines are the least likely to achieve. Sadly, I just don’t see most tech workers developing these skills enough to position themselves well in the long run. Don’t be a cog in the tech job hype machine.

How to Plan a Speed Networking Mixer

While I was attending GWU, I was also the alumni relations director for the student association of my graduate program. This was an “elected volunteer” position. My chief accomplishment in this position was having organized and ran a “structured networking event” near the end of the school year that brought in alumni of our program whom our grad students could network with. Planning it was a months-long process.

 

Structured networking is basically speed dating but for networking. We had multiple tables with two alumni at each table, and every 15 minutes students would rotate tables, getting the chance to talk career and exchange business cards with a variety of professionals. I had attended an event like this in my first semester at GW and wanted to mimic it. I worked with the head of the official alumni association to get the alumni needed.

 

I had never planned an event before in my entire life, and this was not an easy first event to have to plan. I made sure to give myself a generous timeline to start putting the pieces together, knowing that we would encounter problems and delays along the way. The first task was to nail down the date, time, and venue. The date and time I decided in conjunction with the other four officers in my org. We basically checked the academic calendar to make sure there were no conflicts and checked that none of the officers were planning anything else at that time. Picking a day of the week was difficult because my grad program is exclusively night classes and has class every day of the week except Fridays, when most people in DC are out socializing (read: drinking at a bar) and often won’t go to something like a networking event. I believe we landed on Thursday because it had the fewest classes. We had to pick a time that was not so late that people would have already left campus, yet late enough to give people off-campus time to get there from work. I think it ended up being a 6:30 PM start time.

 

After that was the venue. This was actually the hardest part, because the Events office at the school was very bureaucratic and not user-friendly. I went back and forth with them in a long chain of emails and even called a couple times to iron out details. At one point I got really upset because the directions on how to get an alcohol permit were not clear enough and jeopardized my timeline once I realized the full extent of what was required. In the end, they worked with me. You may be wondering why alcohol was so important. Actually, you can’t have a networking event or reception in DC without alcohol. In fact, DC has the highest per capita alcohol consumption of any state, which should tell you something about our government. Not that I wanted to contribute to that problem, but I don’t think anybody had more than two drinks (I think we only gave each person two drink tickets).

 

But back to the venue. Hoping for a showing of about 60 people, I reserved a ballroom I had been to for other events on campus. I didn’t want to try to navigate reserving an off-campus location since this was my first time ever planning an event and I felt off-campus would be more complicated. I had to specify the exact furniture arrangement down to number of tables and chairs, as well as the audio equipment required, and tables where the catering and beverages would be set up. I had to reserve it well in advance, and even then the calendar was so booked that I had to push out the event later than I originally wanted. It just goes to show, start early!

 

Next were the alumni themselves. The head of the alumni association mostly handled this. I asked him to cough up 15-20 people who would volunteer to come and mingle with the students. They had a variety of professional backgrounds, some from big name employers, some from smaller ones. Some had worked on the Hill or had been federal employees. I asked for their names, current employer, and what branch of our grad program they had completed. The night before, I made name tags for all the alumni (and the students who had registered).

 

Then I had to market the event. I got our comms director to design a graphic that I could send out in email blasts, since email marketing fares better when it’s all in one big image. I navigated the association email account and learned how much Gmail hates it when you send bulk emails, and how you have to be very careful or you’ll get blacklisted. Thankfully that didn’t happen to me, but I had issues where the emails would not get delivered for some people and would return delivery error emails, one by one for each address in the list, at a slow trickle, and at one point I had to count how many people had not gotten the email the next day before deciding whether or not to do another blast. I searched Google’s forums for help but didn’t find anything, so I just winged it.

 

I also posted a few times on our official Facebook page and maybe Twitter and Insta, can’t remember. I also made an announcement in class with the approval of my professor.

 

I tracked registrations through a Google Form. The back end shows you a spreadsheet with a row for each person who signs up, including duplicates. In the end, we had about 23-25 students sign up. About 15 actually showed up, plus a few who were not on the list. The day of the event, you don’t really care if they’re on the list or not, you’re just happy people are coming to your event.

 

Because alcohol was going to be present, and this event was on campus, we were required to have a GWPD security presence. So, I called the GWPD station and asked what to do. They directed me to an online form to fill out. I also had to take a module online about the responsibilities of having alcohol on campus. Basically, if we messed up, our entire student org could be dissolved. We had to pay for two GWPD officers to basically stand around for three hours. In theory they were there to make sure no one got disorderly (or tried to take alcohol outside of the venue, I guess).

 

The catering was, thankfully, easy. We went with GW Restaurant Associates, the standard vendor who does the lion’s share of GW campus events, and they made the process very easy. Deciding what to order was tough, and I had to brainstorm with the president of my association on how many people could eat how much of which dishes. We paid for the catering out of our budget, but thankfully the alumni association paid for the alcohol, which was great because the alcohol was more expensive than the food. Alcohol is very expensive in DC (and in Maryland).

 

I got there an hour early the day of, and everything was already set up, including a table outside where I could mark people off and give them their name tags. My association president manned the table with me. I felt a sense of pride as people started showing up, including the alumni and the alumni association president.

 

At the official start time, I went inside and my colleague stayed outside a little longer to hand out name tags. I went up to the lectern, introduced myself and explained the purpose of the event and how it would work, and then had the alumni association president come up and say a few words. He echoed me in terms of what we wanted to accomplish—to give the students a chance to meet some of our alumni. Then the event began. The official structured networking was six 15 minute blocks, followed a half hour of “unstructured” (a.k.a. regular) networking.

 

The only real challenge I had was that a lot of times people wouldn’t change tables when I told them to because they were so locked in conversation. (I felt a little silly urging grown adults to move in the first place.) I was glad people were having such good conversations, but it’s only fair to let the other students who are waiting to circulate have the advantage of talking to specific alumni also. I didn’t figure out any great way to get people to comply, but only a few times did people have to wait around.

 

We didn’t have to break down tables when it was over because the school staff would handle it. The caterer came and got everything. We had a lot of food and booze left over (and soft drinks, because you want to have a non-alcoholic option as well). In the end, the event was a success, and during the unstructured networking I joined in. I learned that the president of the alumni association, who I knew had worked on the Hill, had worked under Rep. Steve King (R-IA), who had just been in the news over his remarks about immigration and “someone else’s babies,” which set of a firestorm on the Left (just like everything does). As soon as he mentioned Rep. King’s name, I had a good laugh. Apparently he hails from one of the most conservative districts in the entire country.

 

So there you have it, how I ran a high-profile structured networking mixer as my first ever planned event, with a fun little vignette at the end. If you find yourself planning an event and aren’t sure where to start, feel free to come back and consult the details here.