Is this all there is?

Originally written 10/22/2009

As I approach 50, I’m in full-fledged mid-life crisis. I look back over the majority of my life and I critically evaluate my path across this planet. Do I matter?

As a man, I look first to my work for significance. I’ve been employed by the same company for over 27 years. I’m very good at what I do. This is not idle boasting; I have performance appraisals and a salary to back up my claim. I’m also sure that you could ask anyone with whom I’ve worked over the years and they would back up my claim. By all accounts, I would be considered a success at my job.

I’m a computer programmer. No, that’s not enough. I resist the title “Software Engineer” because I went to an engineering school and I know “real” engineers… the kind who are licensed by the State. I even dislike my current title, “Software Architect”, even though I am a Certified Information Systems Architect, because it fails to capture the scope of what I do. I design, develop, deploy and maintain complex automated processing systems. I deal with an ever-increasing number of complex technologies to create solutions to specific problems. And while I am capable of performing the full cradle-to-grave development cycle myself, I also have to communicate the vision of the system to the rest of my staff, teaching/mentoring, debugging, and optimizing.

But as impressive as all that sounds, when I look back over 27 years I have to realize that nothing I have built will really last. My current project, a labor of more than 10 years, is always one budget cycle away from being cancelled. Despite the fact that no other system in the world does what this system does, it has failed to achieve broad-based support, so we limp along from year to year with uncertain and insufficient funding. Regardless of all of that, I have no doubt that within 5 years of my retirement all my work will be (at best) a DVD-ROM sitting on a shelf somewhere until it gets thrown out with the other trash. So after a lifetime of effort, I will have nothing to show for it. Futility.

(updated 12/5/2011)

Recently, a friend died. He wasn’t much older than me, and his death was sudden and tragic. And, attending his funeral, it caused me to take stock of my life. How will I be remembered? Do I matter?

As I worked through this dilemma, I realized that my eulogy is not the final grade. What I’m really hoping for is “Well done, good and faithful servant.” What I want to avoid is the DiNozzo head-slap (“WHAT were you THINKING?”).

At Thanksgiving, I realized that I have a significant legacy. I have 3 adult children who are making their own way, and a teenage daughter whom I actually enjoy. I am disproportionately proud of them, as if I really can take credit for who they are. But the point is that I have have a profound impact on them and they are my legacy. There are others who I share life with; I impact them and they impact me.

The Westminster catechism states that the chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever. My goal is the former. My hope is the latter.

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