Taking a Break
December 19, 2015
Hello there! It's been a while, hasn't it? But no time for re-introductions; let's dive in.
Let's start off with something that's already old news to some of my closer friends, as well as anyone who used to follow me or this blog online. I took an extended hiatus recently from writing once to twice a week. And while it required me to break a promise I made to myself over a year ago, I also had very little choice. But I wasn't just being a couch potato during those two months or so, so before we return to regularly schedule programming, this is a look behind the scenes of my month-long vacation from writing on the regular.
The two-month hiatus from writing really wasn't a planned break, but as the school year began to gain steam and the workload got more overwhelming, it was noticeable that I was getting behind on the regular posts. The duration between posts stretched from a couple of days in the regular schedule to ten or twelve days, and I decided after my last post in mid-October that it may be better to take a brief leave. Long story short, after I'd gotten used to filling up my summertime schedule with projects and errands every day, having more than forty hours of the week taken up by school on top of it made it far more difficult to keep up with everything I wanted to get done.
So after a few weeks of the struggle, I cut many projects and postponed many others from my agenda on the daily until much later in the year (or 2016, in some cases) to take a step back and sort out my schedule and priorities in the meantime. And unfortunately, as a part of that decision to take my workload down a notch, writing twice a week had to take a hit.
If I have to be honest, the two months that I spent slightly less focused on projects wasn't all that bad. I like to keep myself busy, and I always need something with which I can occupy every waking minute; even without the regular posts or some of the more ambitious projects in the works, my days were still packed. Nothing had really changed, except that I wasn't getting nearly as sleep-deprived as I was when I had too much on the table.
But I haven't been just been sleeping and doing schoolwork twenty-four seven the last two months. Not only did I manage to make a couple of simple web apps and wrap up some of the older programming projects I was working on, I also took the opportunity of a crisis to prioritize and look at what was really important, versus what was blocking my way by being a burden that appeared to be more significant. What I found then eventually helped me out a lot in getting through some of the tighter spots during the year as well as prioritize work and life better, and what follows is my attempt at describing my thoughts from then.
As I've said previously, a huge part of my life consists of making things. I make software, ranging from 50-line snippets of code I run as a little desktop notepad to applications hundreds of lines long with thousands of users around the world. I write music, I produce video, I publish online, build websites, build more apps, create new organizations, design, craft, hack, and generally find my passion in taking an idea and creating a physical manifestation of it in the real world. It's such a gratifying and engaging process that's different every time; I never get tired of it.
But as with any obsession, as I talk about in an upcoming post, the identity of a passionate maker of things is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you have a community of people who find what you make interesting, you use what you make, and who appreciate what you create, and that's wonderful to have. But on the other hand, creating new things is a bit of a drug. When we create, regardless of if you're creating a work of art, writing a book, coding a new idea into an app, or architecting a new company, I think we fall into a bit of a maker's high. And once you're in it, it's addicting. It's fun, it's unstoppable, and it's exciting. And eventually, it sort of consumes your life.
I don't mean to make it sound more dramatic than it has to be, but I really don't have a better way of putting it. It's not a way of consumption that becomes destructive. In fact, it's more productive, if anything. But when you're creating new things day and night, it becomes a part of your identity. And there's a very fine balance between being confident in your work and being nothing more than an embodiment of your work. I began on the wrong foot; I stepped into the wrong side of this dichotomy.
The first project I really got attached to was this website (no surprise there, it's been the biggest thing I've made for a long time). In retrospect, I realize what was going on mentally, but I was inside my mind at the time, and didn't realize that in my mind, I was slowly erasing the line that separated my identity from the identity of my work, specifically, this website.
So as I wanted myself to be a perfectionist, I wanted the website to be perfect ... to an irrational degree. I'd make sure each pixel was in their right place (literally), I'd optimize loading times for days, make sure everything was constantly up to date, tweak animation settings every other day, mess with background colors, and constantly be mindful of what I wanted to fix and what I wanted to be better on the website. And while that's good for the site -- I'm still satisfied by its speed and design without much tweaking these days -- that also meant I spent an inordinate amount of time worrying that it wasn't perfect. In a weird way, the blog became my identity and my self-image. And as long as the blog was perfect and flawless, so was I. But when the website went down or something was wrong on it, I took it personally.
In the programming world we have a saying,
You are not your code.
Replace that a little bit to better fit me, and we get,
You are not what you make.
Unfortunately, it took me a long time to see that. But looking back, it's also the most important thing that allowed me to move on from certain projects with insurmountable roadblocks and dedicate parts of my schedule to other things.
In less condensed terms, it means that the things I make -- the websites, the lines of code, the designs, and my writing -- are related to, but certainly separate from -- who I am personally. And thinking about work that way makes a huge difference in the way you approach it. My projects went from something that literally represented myself to something I did for fun. My image of myself went from a collection of portfolio items to a person who just happened to enjoy making new things.
To sort that out, I had to take a little break. I had to take a step back from the projects that I cared about the most (a little too much, to be honest) and tell myself, you'll be fine without them.
I love creating; I love being a maker and a writer and a designer and a coder.
But that's not who I am. I'm just a person.
I'm not defined by what I do. What I do is defined by who I am.
And I think that's pretty important.