Why We Do What We Do

“There are two goddesses in your heart,” he told them. “The Goddess of Wisdom and the Goddess of Wealth. Everyone thinks they need to get wealth first, and wisdom will come. So they concern themselves with chasing money. But they have it backwards. You have to give your heart to the Goddess of Wisdom, give her all of your love and attention, and the Goddess of Wealth will become jealous, and follow you.”

– Dr. Joe Vigil, quoted in Born to Run by Christopher McDougall

I am reading a book David loaned me called Born to Run. It discusses the Tarahumara people who live in the Sierra Madre mountains of Mexico. The book focuses on the fact that these people can run hundreds of miles without stopping or getting hurt (I also found it interesting that their economy is based, in part, on the trading of favors).

In trying to determine why these people can run so far so fast, it appears that the main reason is that, quite simply, they like to do it.

When I was younger I kept hearing from older people “choose something you like to do for a career” and I kind of ignored them. I wanted money, so I was going to choose the career that provided the best path to financial security.

It was only later that I lucked into doing something that I loved. When I became the OpenNMS admin in 2002, I went from a solid six figure salary to sometimes earning $300 a month. That was way less than minimum wage (and was offset by better months), but at least I enjoyed the work. We made adjustments to our expenses and I was surprised to find that at the end of the first year I had spend only $5000 out of savings.

Things took off from there, and I managed to attract amazing people who also loved what they were doing. We decided on a mission statement of “Help Customers – Have Fun – Make Money” with the emphasis on the first two. The money showed up. While all of us could make higher salaries in a more traditional job, we are content for now to use our profits to build a better company, since that increases our ability to both help customers and have fun doing it.

I can remember bringing up open source software on the OpenView Forum mailing list many years ago and being called a communist. I am far from it, although communist and community do share the same root (and I am very interested in the latter). I just want to create an environment where people are rewarded for doing good work, and the best way to get good work is to find people who enjoy and even look forward to doing it.

Ultimately, I think this is the best way to make money. Provide value and you will become valuable.

I end every employment offer letter I make with the same sentence. It has nothing to do with money or even network management, but it distills into five words why I get out of bed in the morning: Let’s go do great things.

“Let us live so that when we come to die, even the undertaker will be sorry” – Mark Twain