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duffney.io


DevOps Engineer | Pluralsight Author | Speaker | Blogger | PowerShell Advocate


The Pursuit of Autonomy Mastery and Purpose

Bored one night, I decided to browse my blog. I eventually scrolled passed my most popular blog post (Doubling my Salary, a PowerShell Story). After a few minutes of reading, I found myself reliving the last six years of my life. I remembered the feeling of writing my first PowerShell script. Not only that, but I went and looked at it, it’s still available on the Spiceworks script center. It’s been six years since I published that script and people are still commenting on it! I remember presenting my first user group talk on SCCM and PowerShell, where I attempted to dress like Don Jones and the audience had to guess who I was imitating to win a copy of a PowerShell book. And I remember the feeling I had after getting the offer from Paylocity as a DevOps Engineer. A smile quickly lit up my face as I recalled screaming down the stairs “I GOT IT!” to my wife.

That is the moment where that blog post ended. I wrote it shortly after being hired on at Paylocity almost three years ago. Much to my surprise, I’m still with Paylocity. I’m surprised because staying anywhere for more than two years has historically been against my track record. Reliving all those memories made me extremely grateful. I was also grateful I took the time to write that blog post as I can now reflect on it. So, I decided to tweet the post out again. I didn’t think anything of it and didn’t expect any likes, comments or retweets. I thought people would see it and say “Hey, I remember that, cool blog post” and move on. That wasn’t at all what happened.

As of right now it has one hundred and eighteen likes, thirty five retweets, and twelve comments. Which for me means, it’s pretty much gone viral. Mathias Jessen (IISResetMe) commented saying “In 2016 your PowerShell salary multiplier was at x2.4 - what’s the current value?” It was a question my curiosity couldn’t ignore. After some simple math I discovered my multiplier is now x3.0, only up .6% since 2016. Which isn’t all too surprising given that I haven’t moved jobs in the past three years. I replied back with the somewhat disappointing percent saying in the past three years it’s only gone up .6%, I can probably do better.

The Spark

His next comment is what sparked the idea for this blog post. His follow up comment was “Maybe it’s worth expanding that discussion beyond salary. I don’t care that much about salary beyond being able to sustain living and eating pizza, but I’m very invested in getting the freedom and autonomy to do interesting stuff, learn and pay that forward. Skill+recognition helps”.

His reply reminded me of an RSA Animate video titled Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. Which states if you don’t pay people enough, they won’t be motivated. But the best use of money as a motivator is to pay people enough to take the issue of money off the table. Pay people enough so that they’re not thinking about the money, they’re thinking about the work. Once the problem of money is alleviated, there are three factors that lead to better performance and personal satisfaction; autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

Beyond the Paycheck

Reflecting on the past three years, those are the three things I’ve strived to achieve since becoming a DevOps engineer. As a remote worker with a great boss, autonomy was quickly checked off the list. Through that autonomy I was able to unlock the second factor, mastery. I am not claiming to be a master. I am stating that the autonomy has allowed me to pursue mastery. Pursuing mastery is in its own fulfilling and rewarding. However, at a certain point the acquisition of knowledge dulls without utility. That is where I have found purpose fits in. Purpose is the final link in the chain. The final infinity stone sliding into its place in the infinity gauntlet.

Purpose however, has been elusive and fleeting. At times the stars have aligned and the power of the infinity stones unleashed. It is at those times I feel on top of my game. But then purpose fades and becomes unclear. One by one, the infinity stones are stolen from my gauntlet. I’ve only just begun to contemplate the reasons as to why this happens. Perhaps it’s normal to lose purpose as one chapter ends and another begins. But I can’t shake the feeling that this thinking is wrong and a common thread should instead tie the chapters together. Even though I do not have all the answers, I’ll share what I’ve learned so far along my journey. I’ll start by diving into each of the three factors; autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

Defining Autonomy Mastery and Purpose

In my mind I equate autonomy with freedom. The freedom to decide where and how I invest my time and energy. I’ve found that this is the largest contributor to my happiness. It makes me feel trusted, valued, and respected. Autonomy can be earned, but if you work for an employer, it’s largely given to you. I’ve been very fortunate in this regard. If you’re interviewing, make sure to get a really good feel for your future boss’s leadership style. I chose the word leadership for a reason, you want someone who leads you, not “manages” you.

Mastery is a close second as it pertains to my happiness. I love learning new things and I’m always looking for ways to improve. The pursuit of mastery is what continues to drive me forward. It keeps me on the path. Mastery is tricky, because it is an ever moving target, especially in technology. It requires constant evaluation of your skills and honest self-reflection to determine if you’re moving forward or not. To give you an example, say you picked up PowerShell. You read the Learning PowerShell in a Month of Lunches book and have been writing scripts for a few years. One assumes you’re pursuing mastery if you continue to simply write scripts. I beg to differ. To pursue mastery in this example means you need to improve your scripts. That means converting them to functions, adding error handling, adding logging, learning to debug them with a debugger, putting them in a module, writing pester tests for the functions in the module, and publishing it on the PowerShell Gallery. A lot of people don’t continue the pursuit and in my opinion they are not pursuing mastery.

Purpose is knowing what I’m doing has real and lasting impact. It energizes me and is what makes a fourteen hour day enjoyable. Most people think passion should be the aim. Just find something you’re passionate about they’ll say. It’s been my experience that purpose is a much more powerful force than passion. I’ve found passion to be temperamental. Purpose however, pushes me past mental barriers that had I solely relied on passion, I would not have achieved what I set out to. As I mentioned, purpose has been the hardest of the free factors to maintain. Everyone tells you to take aim, set goals, and work hard. Not a lot of people tell you what to do after you’ve achieved those ambitions or how to tie them to a larger strategy. This has tripped me up over the past few years. Achieving what I set out to in my early twenties left me wandering around a bit. Latching on to lesser pursuits. Leading to moments of purpose and moments of questioning. That questioning is leading me to discover a deeper sense of meaning.

Your Turn

Why did I share all of this with you? I shared all of this with you because the last three years of my career have been the most gratifying years to date. The pursuit of autonomy, mastery, and purpose have pushed me to a level of achievement and happiness I hadn’t dreamed possible. The best part is I’m just getting started. My hope is that I’ve articulated these three factors well enough that I’ve inspired you to pursue them or to continue to pursue them. Money is extremely important and you need to strive for an amount that takes the question of money off the table. Once that need is met, then you can truly focus on unlocking your true potential. Having the patience, will, and fortitude to dig deep enough to unlock that potential is proving to be difficult. But I know it will be worth it in the end.

Where are you today? Have you reached your number? Do you even know what that number is for you? Has that number changed? Mine recently changed and I’ve had to reevaluate how I get there. It’s something you need to periodically re-calculate because life isn’t static. Even if you’re in the pursuit of that number it doesn’t mean you can’t also strive toward autonomy, mastery, and purpose. If your number isn’t yet reached, those factors are secondary considerations, but they are considerations nonetheless. Below are several questions I’ve been asking myself. I invite you to spend some time answering these questions for yourself. Invest in yourself, define your number, take your aim, and start the grind!

Questions to Ask Yourself

Your Number

  • Do you have a number?
  • If so:
    • Why is that the number?
    • What does making that amount accomplish?
    • What does that amount allow you to do?
    • Is the number still valid?
    • Do you need to re-calculate it?

Autonomy

  • How is your workload?
  • Do you feel empowered to choose where you spend your time?
  • Are your hours flexible?
  • Do you have time to pursue mastery?
  • Do you have an influence on the work you do?

Mastery

  • Are you improving?
  • Are you learning new technologies?
  • Do you challenge yourself to pick up new techniques?
  • Do you feel overwhelmed by all there is to learn?
  • Have you become paralized by indecision when choosing what to learn?

Purpose

  • Do you feel that your work has impact?
  • Do you feel energized by your work?
  • Do you feel that you’re on a path forward?
  • Have you defined your success? (Be the Master reference)
  • Are you tracking your progress?
  • Have you tied the days to weeks, and months to years?