Work & Passion

Work & Passion

Hi, I'm Niall. I'm the third hire (fifth including founders) at Apsis.

The first thing you ought to know about me is that I disdain work. I aspire at all times to idleness. I refuse to search for some great passion in my employment1 despite digesting years of well-meaning propaganda to the contrary.

Granted, there exist some people who have truly come alive in their work. People who have found purpose in their own lives, who perhaps are making the world meaningfully better for others or expanding the frontiers of our collective knowledge. We read about them in magazines and biographies. Let us freely admire and envy them, if we wish, but let us not stake our own happiness on the odds of becoming an exception to a rule.2 For most of us, our jobs will be a means to some other end.

That's not to say we need to be dreary about it though. There are many pleasures and satisfactions to be gained from work: mastering a craft, articulating and solving a problem, teaching or learning from a colleague, and so on. And the friendships we make at work can be an important and rewarding part of our social circles.

It was this spirit that drew me to Apsis and to Noah & Wyatt's vision of their business. It's a place where we want to make work as good as it can be without trying to make it something it isn't. As consultants, we solve concrete problems for paying customers; we don't make pipe dreams funded by venture capital or advertising or steroids. We divide up the work we get according to our interests. It's usually rewarding, rarely either fascinating or terrible.

Most importantly, I've found that we all prioritize our lives outside of Apsis. I imagine you're aware that we have a minimum vacation policy and a 20-hour work week. But that's only a first step: research has shown that such policies can leave employees working harder than ever.3 We try to communally praise each other for working less or more efficiently, and we try to dissuade each other from overwork (what we may have subconsciously been trained to view as "feats of programming strength"). This peer support helps us live in the spirit of the policy.

I haven't been at Apsis for long, but so far it has been a very positive experience. I've been spending a lot more time on my other interests, including joining a synthetic biology meetup and enrolling in woodworking classes at a nearby college. My wife and I have our first child on the way, and it's great to not even think about a calendar or work conflicts when scheduling OB/GYN appointments... and in the longer term, to know I can easily be an active father after my parental leave ends.

Oh, and the work is good too! I got to learn React and Redux the other day to build a small line-of-business web application, we have good tooling and decent testing, my colleagues are smart, it's all great. It's just not my passion, and I'm quite happy to have it that way.


  1. Unless you are making a tongue-in-cheek appeal to etymology, in which case, sure, I believe that most people patiently suffer in their employment.

  2. As Alain de Botton melancholically writes in The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work:

    I left Symons’s company newly aware of the unthinking cruelty discreetly coiled within the magnanimous bourgeois assurance that everyone can discover happiness through work and love. It isn’t that these two entities are invariably incapable of delivering fulfilment, only that they almost never do so. And when an exception is represented as a rule, our individual misfortunes, instead of seeming to us quasi-inevitable aspects of life, will weigh down on us like particular curses. In denying the natural place reserved for longing and error in the human lot, the bourgeois ideology denies us the possibility of collective consolation for our fractious marriages and our unexploited ambitions, and condemns us instead to solitary feelings of shame and persecution for having stubbornly failed to become who we are.

    Or regarding the chances of entrepreneurial success:

    In reality, the likelihood of reaching the pinnacle of capitalist society today is only marginally better than were the chances of being accepted into the French nobility four centuries ago, though at least an aristocratic age was franker, and therefore kinder, about the odds. [It] did not cruelly equate an ordinary life with a failed one.

    Our era is perverse in passing off an exception as a rule.

  3. First, because you can feel like you owe the organization something in exchange for the flexibility, and therefore work harder than you would in an 9--5 office job where the constraints are clear and everyone leaves together at the end of the day. Second, because actually working less or taking more vacation can signal to your peers that you are less committed to the company than they are, and therefore harm your social and career prospects.

    See, for example: