Wherever You Work, There You Are

why can't you just let yourself just be wherever you are

Wherever You Work, There You Are

I work in data. I quite enjoy it, but I wouldn’t regard it as tremendously glamorous. I sometimes go along to local data meet-ups and there are lots of lovely folk there who also work with data and like to talk about it. There are also people who are aspirant workers-in-data. Some of them have jobs they’re not wild about and want to switch careers, which is fair enough: working in data is good money and intellectual engaging work. But there are some—far fewer in person, mostly online—who just seem so desperate to “work in data”; for whom the field itself has become an obsession, an aspirational identity.

They will always find a way to interject in wholly unrelated conversations with talk of this model or that simulation method that they’re learning about, usually in a manner that belies a lack of understanding. They will refer to themselves as “data geeks” or “data nerds” in a manner which feels wholly forced and inauthentic (this is actually a pretty all-purpose tell for someone who wants to appear 'into something' but isn’t). They will share unfunny ‘data memes’. These behaviours can sometimes persist even when they do get a job in data and they have realised that the grass was not as green as they thought—perhaps as character maintenance, perhaps as ego preservation, perhaps because they think the thing they were looking for in their job is still out there, just over the next hill. But, of course, the problem is within them, and the void in their soul cannot be filled by a job in a trendy-ish field or the approval of the Cool Kids.

I find myself reminded—as I sometimes am—of this Awl advice column. The questioner has this clear image in their in their mind of how it must feel to be part of the media Cool Kids Crowd, to be on the inside. They’re utterly convinced that were they In with this Crowd, their life would be completely transformed. The envy for the Cool Kids presumed quality of life has thoroughly deranged them. C.S. Lewis' concept of The Inner Ring (ooh err mrs?) is also relevant here.

I don’t work in media. (At least, not of the kind talked about in The Awl. Not much Cool Kid Crowd cred in running your own local news operation!) There’s little in the way of glamour to working in data outside the buzzy big cities, the startups and the tech giants. (And increasingly less within them, with recent layoffs and the slow vanishing of zero-interest-rate free money.) Even if your company has the kind of office with a table-tennis table, we're all working from home anyway. The mechanics of a data  job are intellectually engaging, sure, it’s pleasant, comfortable. But fundamentally you are still you, wherever you work.

There’s an episode of the sitcom Community where Jack Black guest-stars as an interloper who’s trying to inveigle himself into the study group that makes up the show’s main cast. At the end, one of the protagonists, Jeff, says that if he weren’t a part of the group, he’d think they were cool as well. In my case, I definitely wouldn’t.

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