Jorge Manrubia

May 16, 2022

Priceless adversity

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It's hard to appreciate the good without having experienced the bad.

My first job made me professionally very unhappy. It lasted a few years, and it deeply impacted me. I swear there hasn't been a week since I quit, almost ten years ago, where I didn't reflect on my good luck compared to my starting point. Don't get me wrong: if I could go back, I wouldn't repeat it, but I got something good out of it.

In all honesty, I am not sure I would have wanted to start my career at Basecamp. I feel I appreciate many things here because I have an intimate knowledge of how the alternative feels: working with kind and brilliant people, being fully remote, having a high degree of autonomy, the efficient async-driven processes without meetings, the products I love, the technology, the excellent conditions... I am sure my level of appreciation would be pretty different had this been my first job.

I see an immense sense of entitlement in our industry. Offer and demand are unbalanced on our side: there are more jobs than software engineers, so conditions are excellent and opportunities abundant. Things you wouldn't see in other industries, such as showing disdain for recruiters that dare to contact you, or publicly criticizing your employer for not acting according to your vision of the world, are the norm for us. There are generations of programmers who don't know anything else. And many of those who do have assumed this is normal. I think we, collectively, run short of appreciation.

Take something that really matters, like health. Seeing someone you love dearly going through a life-threatening condition makes you appreciate the time you spend with that person in a completely different way. Again, not something to look for, but that new level of appreciation is real, and positive.

We, humans, tend to take the good things we have for granted. That is a curse, and past adversities are a wonderful antidote. You can (and should) practice appreciating what you have. Past negative experiences can be a way more effective driver than mere intellectual efforts, like the stoic practice of visualizing worst-case scenarios. Reality owns synthetic, always.

As a parent, I would like to teach my daughters to appreciate what they have and face adversity constructively. It's a subject where you can find contradictory advice depending on the author — which is a recurring theme with parenting. I don't buy that making children go through negative experiences is advisable as a preparation for the future, but I do find value in encouraging them to deal with minor adversities that come up naturally.

There is a big disclaimer to include here: there are levels to adversity, and I am aware that, compared to many, I don't even know what adversity is. I am also not advocating for negative experiences as something good. Adversity sucks, it is just unavoidable, to some extent, as long as you exist. But, assuming it's the kind you can put behind, it can also be an irreplaceable source of appreciation in your future.


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