Saturday, May 07, 2005

Three Year Rule

Since I retired from "real" work about 5 years ago, I've taken on various voluntary jobs - and one paid summer job - in sailing. At various times I've been district regatta scheduler, newsletter editor, fleet captain, sailing instructor, club secretary, junior series organizer and publicity chairman. Most of these are rewarding in their own way but I've found that the satisfaction payback goes through a definite cycle. I'll use the newsletter editor job as an example.

In the first year it was all new and interesting. Having no skills or experience in newsletter design or editing, I did a bit of research. Everyone seemed to say that consistency in design was important. My predecessor had produced a newsletter with a hodgepodge of visual styles and fonts. So after a bit of experimenting I settled on a simple clean design with a minimal number of fonts. I made sure I had interesting articles and I spent the time to make sure there were no mistakes. And, like Mussolini, I made the trains run on time.

I thought these were pretty basic things, but I got some satisfaction from learning new skills and getting the fundamentals right. And I received a lot of positive feedback and thanks from my readers.

After about a year I started to get a bit more ambitious. Introduced more humor into the newsletter with quirky clip-art, punning headlines and the occasional article by myself highlighting some lighter aspect of the sport. It was fun seeing how creative I could be; my professional life had not been one that rewarded a sense of fun. My efforts seemed to be appreciated as after two and a half years in the job I was awarded the prestigious club trophy for Outstanding Service. Wow.

But now that I've been doing the job for just over 3 years, the psychic payback is diminishing. I don't feel that I'm trying any new things. I think I'm still doing an OK job but the monthly cycle of producing the newsletter is starting to feel more like a chore.

And then I realized that some of the other jobs went through the same evolution. Year 1 - new, exciting, challenging, learning, getting on top of the fundamentals. Year 2 - creative, exploring, pushing the boundaries, seeing how good it can be. Year 3 - mastery, but less challenge, leading to disillusionment.

So I'm thinking of making myself a new rule. Whatever voluntary job I take on I will never do it for more than 3 years. After 3 years I will look for something new. That way I will keep challenging myself to learn new things and I will not become some boring old fart stuck in a rut.

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