I’m trying on an idea to see if it fits. Here’s the tweetable version:

If I own my own thing, I don’t need to own your thing.

You could interpret that in a lot of ways, I think. What I’m talking about is control, and how we strive for control in most every situation we’re in. In our work, our relationships, our financial transactions. We always want some level of control. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, necessarily. But we do have to recognize there are limits. There are limits to the control you can, or should, have over another person. There are limits to the control you have in a purchase, which depends on a lot of different variables.

In our work I think we have a tendency to try to establish ownership over certain aspects so we can feel like we have control. We talk about “my projects” and “my systems”. We adorn our cubicles and offices with personal knick-knacks. We feel like we own the aspects of our job that we maintain. And when that control is taken from us, we get mad. We feel like we’ve lost something that belonged to us.

Except, we haven’t, because it didn’t. What we’re doing is confusing responsibility for ownership. The difference is, when you’re responsible for something it’s up to you to get it done. When you own something, you control how it’s done. If you work for somebody else you don’t really own anything you work on. You might be responsible for it, you might even have some say in how it’s done, but ultimately your employer owns the code, the machines, everything. You only have as much control as they let you have.

But that goes both ways. Your boss only has control of what you do for the company. What you do for yourself, on your own time, that’s all you. And in my experience, if you have something outside of work that you own, you’re less stressed about the amount of control you have on the job.

This is why I develop apps in my free time1. I like having things in the store that I own. If they’re crap, they’re crap because of decisions I made, not because someone else made a decision I had to implement. And when I own something, really own it, I have far more incentive to make it better.

And this is not to say you shouldn’t care about the work you do for your employer. Part of being responsible is caring about doing a good job. But for me at least, I have to distance myself from my job a little bit, and recognize what’s mine versus what’s their’s. When I do that I’m happier and more productive, because I’m not worrying about trying to own things that don’t belong to me. I’m less concerned about what privileges I have and more concerned about just doing good work. And having things that really are mine make it easier for me to let go of things that aren’t mine. In other words…

If I own my own thing, I don’t need to own your thing.

Anyway, welcome back to News Goat.

  1. Also, my lack of free time explains why I haven’t developed any more apps.