An “Amazing Oddity”

The book author interviews Americans throughout the country to determine how they find satisfaction in their lives. He found an “amazing oddity” in a federal employee.

What should I do with my life?

Most readers have probably asked this of themselves. Are you pursuing the goals you set for yourself? Are you taking advantage of any natural talent you have? Does your career or life’s direction give you satisfaction or are you missing out on something?

Not surprisingly, there is a book out with the title What Should I do With My Life (The True Story of People Who Answered the Ultimate Question). It is a series of about 50 short chapters describing people who sought answers to this question and were interviewed at length by the book’s author, Po Bronson.

What becomes clear is that different personalities approach the question from different angles and seek satisfaction in different ways. Bronson observes: “We all have passions if we choose to see them. Most of us don’t get epiphanies. We don’t get clarity. Our purpose doesn’t arrive neatly packaged as destiny. We only get a whisper. A blank, nonspecific urge. That’s how it starts.”

Many people keep searching by going from one job to another or one career to another. Some just mentally retreat and don’t ever find the answer. Most of these people are searching by moving around.

One major exception that stood out from the rest of those in the book is a federal employee. He is an aerospace engineer who has only had one employer during his adult life. While a lot of government employees continue to work for Uncle Sam during their career, it is unusual in America today and Russell Carpenter stood out. In part because of this one fact, the author describes him as an “amazing oddity.”

Carpenter is happy pursuing objectives with a longer time span. Developing software for space vehicles that will fly years in the future is hard to measure in one quarter as is a common practice in most large businesses who need to keep their stock price up. He doesn’t get upset by minor setbacks and isn’t in a big hurry. He has found balance in working through tough problems without getting in a rush. He is satisfied working on projects he finds challenging and interesting without worrying about whether others find them interesting or even feasible. At NASA, he found an organization that paid him reasonably well, provided challenging assignments and an opportunity to work on them.

Out of all the successful, intelligent, and hard-charging people the author picked to write about, the engineer working for NASA stood out as having found satisfaction, stability and challenge in a comfortable environment. While that describes thousands of Federal employees, his continuity and satisfaction are unusual in America and, in the view of the book author, makes him an “amazing oddity.”

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47