Running in Circles

Perhaps it was the growing press coverage of indie game developers, the fact that I read The 4-Hour Workweek, or the fact that I had finally arrived at my ideal job and still found myself bored, arrogant, and hungry for something new, but I got hooked on this dream of working for myself. It was like a glimpse through the slats of the fence at greener grass beyond and I just could not let it go. I dived in and did everything I thought I should do to make it happen.

Fast-forward through about three years of stressing about how little free time I had (a continuing source of misery for me, wrongly), pouring through self-help and business books and blogs for the guaranteed way to succeed, an ever decreasing social life, and a rather embarrassing public series of YouTube videos, and you find me where I am now: still not financially independent, still maintaining a paltry social life, and still seeking the best way forward.

I currently work at an ‘actual game company’ but still desire to make my own games and my own companies. My family, girlfriend, and friends have given up expectations for me seeing them but still do not feel like I have ‘enough time’. I’ve read even more books and watched far too many YouTube interviews but still find myself no closer to a ‘best way forward.’ By all measures, I have wasted the past three years of struggle, passion, and neglected relationships. I’ve been hustling, but to unproductive ends. I’ve been treading water.

So what happened?

First, I’ve consumed many of the most recommended, most life-altering books currently out there. My mind is filled with the advice of others and I am glad I know it. I think it definitely gives me an edge. However, unless I act on that advice, that edge is never demonstrates its value. Without acting, the advice has just filled my head with ideas, causing me to think and over think. Over thinking leads to analysis paralysis and depression. Stasis and a shitty mood leads to the ‘better’ way out, which leads to gathering of more advice. The cycle repeats itself.

Secondly, when I recognize I need to act, my next step is, naturally, to make a plan of action. I draft up spreadsheets and To Do lists. I have even made burn-down charts for my future company, plotted my escape from my current job, and have had solid talks with my loved ones about my plans. I was preparing for what I needed to do but often have never advanced to actually doing what I needed to do. Why? Because planning is the easy part. Planning is the fun part. This is what Noah Kagan at AppSumo calls “playing business.” For Send More People, we came up with our business name, logo,looked at studio space, and we even legally registered a business before we had made a product or a profit.

According to Kagan, this is exactly what a wantrepreneur does. Planning makes us feel productive, it helps us feel on top of things, and it comforts us by showing how ‘serious’ and ‘mature’ we have become about our dreams. If we don’t act on those plans, however, then all that is just masturbation. It only serves to make us feel good and keep us well within our comfort zone. Eventually, I wise up to this fact and lament, “Gah! What is wrong with me? Perhaps I don’t know everything. Maybe I should get some advice from others who have been more successful.” The cycle repeats itself.

Thirdly, I eventually recognize I am furthering this vicious cycle and, in my new found wisdom, conclude that all I need to do is to actually do more. Indeed, the advice of many of my heroes calls for me to act now, not wait for tomorrow, and break free from my comfort zone. But I’ve spent years pushing myself beyond my comfort zone to the limits of my health, my sanity, and the patience of my loved ones in order to put in the time at my computer writing code to produce something. I became quite adept at making myself quite busy. But three or more years of busy-ness did not product a business.

I think this is mostly because I was doing things which, like planning or gathering knowledge, made me feel productive without actually producing forward momentum or tangible gains. It’s like buying workout clothes or a new gym membership. I feel like I’m headed in the right direction. A clean slate. I have thus spent many of my weekends in front of my computer, programming gameplay for a game that, just like a workout routine, I will eventually abandon when other priorities, laziness, and exhaustion set in. Without external feedback as to whether or not our time is actually making progress, it eventually begins to feel Sysyphusian. “Damn, this just isn’t sustainable. This project is going nowhere. I shouldn’t waste my time like this. I need to find the right idea to work on.” And just like that, the cycle repeats itself.

So what is the way forward?

I’m still figuring that out. I’m beginning to think, however, that none of it will feel right or comfortable. I’m beginning to feel like success is what happens despite doing all the things you think you should do. But that is probably for the better, because so far chasing my dreams has been the equivalent of running in circles. I think it’s time to veer off the road, without a map, into the thorns and weeds.

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