On Being Dispensable

Published .

Question: What is the good/bad decision you made in your mid 20’s about your career?

My good decision was to always be dispensable.

In my 20s I was doing a mix of sysadmin and programming work for financial traders. I loved it. High stakes, high pressure, very rewarding. I got my fingers into a lot of pies and became seemingly indispensable. Which meant that taking vacations was hard and I was always kinda on call. I also couldn’t escape the duties I had taken on to do new stuff. After a while, it wore me down and I grew to hate life.

Then a friend quoted Charles De Gaulle to me: “The graveyards are full of indispensable men.” His point was that nobody is really indispensable, and pretending otherwise is a great way to waste your life. So I quit and became a freelancer, where I learned the art of being dispensable. By learning to delegate, collaborate, document, and build to last, whenever I got tired of something I could always move on responsibly.

Now that I’m an employee again, I plan to use those skills even more. I have a great life that I want to keep, and as new challenges come along, I will be ready to seize them.

Note: Originally published on Stack Overflow. The excellent question and many good answers were deleted without warning or apparent sense. I only found out because a kind reader of my site asked me about the broken link. That put me off Stack Overflow, so I no longer answer questions there.