No doubt about it, telling my mother about our extended travel plans was one rather difficult thing to do. I knew she was going to think that having no job for a year is very bad idea - and that will be the essence of all her objections, although she may have more to say. And sure enough she did. As I announced the notice during my weekly phone call, I think she was initially in a bit of shock. Then she started organizing the counter-attack. My mom has common sense, so didn't really object to the idea of traveling and seeing remote places. But for one year? That's borderline insanity... what's gotten into her son?
Spending one year without a job is a long time by any standards, however not an uncommon occurrence among people of all kinds, from bums to yuppies to millionaires. My mother however thinks that giving up your job at this age is completely irresponsible and is afraid I would become some sort of a loser without any achievement in life. Instead, I should buy a house. I should concentrate on my career. She also seems to think that working for Microsoft is an achievement of unparalleled brightness, it is the paradise every computer programmer should aspire to.
Explaining that life is not only made of work and saving money, and buying a house and having kids like everyone else, that life is also learning how to get out of the daily routine, and doing crazy things that go against the common sense of the majority, explaining all this and convincing her that our plan isn't lunacy wasn't easy. I used the metaphor of life as juggling balls - I don't know to whom I am quoting; it's probably one of those common sense things that date a long way back and are attributed to many people - "life is like trying to keep five balls in the air: they are called work, family, friends, health, spirit. Of those, work is made of rubber. You can always drop it, it will bounce back at you. But the others are made of glass. Once they have fallen, they will be nicked, scuffed, maybe even shattered." This is one of those quotes that really gets to people. It really struck a chord with me a while ago when I heard it in the "engineering excellence" class, on the subject of work/life balance. I don't know if it got to my mother.
How could I explain to her that Microsoft is just like any company, and that although I love my job I don't make a religion out of it? That there are plenty of other opportunities in other places? That there will be plenty of jobs for me in a year, maybe even back at Microsoft? How should I put it to her that this career doesn't really have long-lasting satisfactions, that whatever you have achieved today will be obsolete and forgotten in a couple of years, that not even the money part is that that rewarding, and that the greatest thing about it - the interesting challenges we face in our work as software designers - is also the one thing that leads to all that stress and the nights spent at the office and burns you out...
I insisted on the predictability of our enterprise instead, and tried to convince her that we were planning this thing the right way, we won't be going head-first into the unknown with a shirt and a change of underwear. Yes, all the route is planned, we know where we're going and what to expect. No, we're not going to blatantly unsafe places, but there are certain risks when traveling to the third world, we're aware of them and we're mitigating them. We got vaccinated. Etc...
In the end she had to admit that it wasn't a bad idea, but she won't agree with it regardless. She'd rather that we wait. How long, it's not clear, but in any case, we shouldn't do it now. We could do this during our regular vacations - just the math of it is absurd - the 52 weeks that we'll spend this time, divided by 3 weeks a year yields... - well, in 18 about years of working we may be actually done with it. And once you bring children in the picture... don't even get me started!
I understand my mother's fears - she would like me to be safe, to benefit from the security of a steady job, to thrive and buy a house and have children... These aren't bad goals but they aren't very exciting either, they are rather common. If I did that, It would be as if all my future life were fully arranged ahead of me like a perfectly fitting puzzle, neatly tucked into a nook of the mainstream democratic-voting middle-class beehive. I need more uncertainty than that. I need new projects to get absorbed into, I need some sort of chaos to thrive intellectually. I need to tell work "you don't own me". There will be plenty of time to concentrate on security. Later.