Optimizing for Happiness

by Josh Owens

Tough choices

Have you ever been faced with a choice of hapiness or a big paycheck? What would you choose?

Around a month ago I made a big decision in my life. My wife and I sat down and talked about the choice (again) for the third or fourth time in as many months - clearly something in my life had to change if the same conversation kept coming back up. I wasn't happy in my job, it just wasn't the right fit for me and I needed a change. It's one of those situations where you're not miserable, the job isn't terrible, the people are nice enough, so you keep telling yourself it's work, right? You're not supposed to be excited about it, that's why they call it work. However, I just couldn't shake the feeling that I should be able to find the passion to get up in the morning and hussle - that there could be a rewarding job out there for me.

Cue Differential

I'd been talking and flirting with the idea of joining the Differential team since January, but it was hard to leave a cushy paycheck behind and play a game of 'risk' with my family finances. Back in May we actually did a trial run, I did work for Differential in my spare time. I ended up feeling overloaded and unable to sustain the pace I was working at, so we put things on pause. I still felt the tug to hang out and work with this group of people, something seemed to fundimentally click. The team just seemed to flow and make decisions in a cohesive way that I had never seen before, and I have been on a lot of teams!

I also felt that my opinions and ideas mattered - people listened and gave back thoughtful discourse and conversation. For example, Ry and I had a conversation one day about what JS framework to use, he wasn't happy with Ember.js. After an hour of talking and weighing options we finally settled on my suggestion of Meteor.js, at least we would give it a try and report back. I had been building a small app for home and it had me intrigued for sure. Now Differential is one of the few shops on the cutting edge of building production Meteor.js apps!

Why now? Do you believe in signs?

What changed? I kept having conversations with the team at Differential and we got close enough on salary talks and Differential really wanted to expand the team. The choice still involved major risk as we ended up taking a 45% pay cut. We started having the serius talks and things still weren't clear, then came the signs. I'm a logical guy, I see coincidence, not signs, but it became very clear something bigger than me was pulling me into the world of Differential. I had known these guys for some time and then they started popping up in my day to day life more frequently. It was like my only choice kept staring me in the face.

My wife and I made some hard cuts in our budget such as; my kids are back in public school, we cut out cable (kept Netflix), and cancelled anything that felt extraneous. We actually had an incident at church, which I believe was a pretty big sign - I had two job offers on the table when I was deciding to join Differential. After we made the decision to accept the offer from Differential, we were walking into church the next day and my wife made a joke "I bet the name of the other business will come up 50 times in the talk today", I laughed and shrugged it off. When the lights came up, Tim Metzner, my soon to be business partner was on stage doing the introductions. I was completely unaware that he was supposed to talk, the first time in the 7 years we have attended. I counted, the other business name came up 0 times. Immediately after the service, we talked and started to feel that calm in our lives like we made the right decision.

Where has this left me and my family? I am pleased to report that we are in a much happier place than ever before! My wife actually made a comment to me the other day that she can see a difference in how I carry myself. It's not that we don't miss the money, it's easy to get used to. But we have found it's not that hard to adjust your lifestyle either. I've always heard about those books that talk about employee hapiness being dependent on letting each one guide their path and contribute how they feel best - I believe that to be true now. Moving forward in life, I will encourage my friends to choose a job based on the happiness and fulfillment it can bring you, not merely the size of the paycheck.

Am I alone?

I don't think I'm alone in this conumdrum - when I was agonizing over this decision, I reached out to a few friends. Turns out at least one of those friends was faced with the same exact decision. Perhaps this is more prevalant because the Cincinnati startup scene is taking off, but I am betting this is a common issue for most knowledge workers.

Are you struggling to make a similar decision, if so let us know in the comments.

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