I’m driven by two basic needs:

  1. I need to be needed. I find my self-worth in what I’ve done for people lately. I have an ability to figure out how things work, and I have reams of tedious technical trivia stored in my head; so when I can put them together to help someone solve a problem and save them some frustration, that’s what makes me feel fulfilled.
  2. I hate to be needed. I don’t want to be the person who’s only called on when there’s a problem. I want to surround myself with peers and friends, not clients. I want to be respected for more than what I can do for people.

My problem at the office right now is that I am desperately needed, I have no shortage of work to do, I’m in all kinds of meetings, people are forever interrupting me with questions; but at the same time I’m not really needed, I don’t feel like my effort truly makes a difference, decisions are made about things on which I’m an authority but no one requests or accepts my input. I really have no idea how I could be unhappy with both sides of the contradiction at once, but there it is.

I used to be a volunteer for Give Kids The World, the village nearby that hosts terminally ill children and their families. I was a puppeteer during Sunday morning brunch. For a while I had a lot of fun with it, interacting with people, being silly, bringing smiles to their faces. (My favorite routine: I’d ask them to start a knock-knock joke, then as soon as they said “Knock knock” I’d run to the door to see who it is, then I would apologize for the interruption and ask them to start again. Repeat ad infinitum.) But none of the other volunteers really understood why I was there getting in their way and keeping families past the end of brunch, and some of the kids would swing fists at the puppet or me, and eventually I started feeling weird about the whole thing and I asked GKtW to take me off the schedule, and I never heard anything more from them. I’m a little sad about that.

Right now I run the computer users group in town. We meet one evening each month, and I’ll choose a topic and answer any questions people bring. I wanted it to be a place where technically-minded people could compare notes and talk about cool new technology while teaching folks how to solve their computer problems. Instead, it’s become the same half-dozen retirees every time (and there’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s not my peer group), with an occasional visit from someone who needs help getting email on an iPhone, doesn’t care how, just make it work. I’ve been running the group for years and I’ve been losing interest in it, so last month I let them know that I’m going to find a successor by the end of the year. “We’re just not having the kinds of technical discussions I set out to have,” I explained. “You could talk about how to use Excel,” someone suggested. “I’ve never used Excel,” I replied. I think that illustrates the problem perfectly.

I guess the common thread is that I don’t feel like I’m working towards something, and I don’t feel like I have useful feedback at what I’m doing. Am I rocking or am I sucking? I don’t feel like I know anyone who’s walking a path similar enough to mine to look to as a mentor. Is it right to seek validation, or is this being overly needy?

Perhaps this is why I’m so drawn to video games that have well-defined achievements and rewards. “Congratulations, you cooked a pork chop! Have a sticker!”

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