If I had to summarize my focus in the first half of 2023, I'd say it's "rediscovering the joy of doing nothing".
I've been phrasing it as "rediscovering the joy of doing nothing" https://t.co/JbHdNvbmXh— Hamilton Greene (@SIRHAMY) May 20, 2023
There were many factors that led to this journey but the overall reason is that I felt how I was moving through life differed from how I wanted to live life.
Some reasons (non-exhaustive)
- Lack of meaning / purpose in Career - "Is this all there is?"
- Shifting personal values while core systems remained static
- Feeling the passage of time -> ~30ish existential dread
It was unclear to me what was off balance (if anything - grass is always greener, first world problems, etc) so I decided to seek balance the best way I know how - by gathering data via real world experiments.
I instituted a lot of large changes to shake up the balances in my life and give myself some new data / perspectives to better understand what balances better fit my current value sets.
Some things I did (non-exhaustive)
- Quit my job at Instagram
- Tried more active connections (less social media, more IRL)
- Tried a new job
- Tried solopreneurship
- Tried focusing on different hobbies (running and exercise, art, video games, etc)
- Tried doing nothing - a summer break!
I'm now 7 months into this experiment and the truth is I don't know what the perfect balance is. But I do know that this journey has allowed me to find and appreciate perspectives I would likely never have entertained with previous systems / value sets. That, I think, is growth.
The three biggest takeaways:
- The most important question: Are you happy?
- I like building systems, not necessarily companies.
- It's okay to do nothing. Enjoy it.
This time was refreshing. I've never taken this much time off - even in college. Removing my normal internal / external structures / systems allowed for greater exploration of what else is out there. I think this is apparent in the types of takeaways I have from this time - nebulous and not immediately actionable.
That said there's always a balance and imbalance can be achieved by going too far on any side. After 7 months of this journey and about 3 months of doing absolutely nothing I'm once again off balance.
I'm feeling good, a little bored, and excited to do things again.
Generally I think I do a lot of travel / adventures and take it for granted.
Recently we met up with some family for Megna's bridal shower (I think that's what it's called). I was asked if I traveled for work. That took me by surprise because 1) I'm not working and 2) I've never been in a position that travels for work. It forced me to consider what my life looks like from the outside to understand where they were coming from and I realized that I guess I do a relatively large amount of travel / adventures (and of course make many posts about it adding visibility / perceived frequency).
I've been thinking about this a lot recently because it plays into a few different ideas I've been weighing:
- I've been feeling bored
- If you're bored, you're boring
- Happiness / boredom is based on perception
A lot of what I've done the past few months is experiment with things that I think I'll like and that won't be boring (external stimuli). I've largely failed.
- Many of the things I like -> I don't like doing them more than I already was
- The things I've taken up (starting more businesses, video games) -> aren't that non-boring over time
The things I've really enjoyed have actually been smaller things that I've approached with lower expectations / a healthier outlook (internal grounding).
- Dinner / drinks on the roof
- A game night with friends
- Building something fun / interesting / challenging
These are all things that are by no means exceptional. They are decidedly normal. They can be done anywhere with anyone with relatively little lift.
Yet they also seem to bring the most happiness.
I think this is what Digital Minimalism meant by virtuous hobbies. I don't really like that term but I think the concept is sound.
- Builds community
- Doing something you enjoy
- Fulfills multiple values
All this to say that I think a lot of my restlessness has been internal rather than external - taking many of the small things for granted.
I've been focusing on having more good moments - doing one event with one person at a time. I've liked that - a 3S (Simple Scalable System) for more happiness.
Some Adventures, large and small:
- Zermatt, Switzerland
- London, UK
- The Hamptons
and ofc NY, NY.
I don't believe there's a point to life. You could label me as nihilist (or perhaps absurdist is more precise?).
Instead I think you have to create your own meaning / point to life. That's hard to do but that's the work that's most important (read: that is THE work).
For me, I decided the point must be to be happy. Because if nothing matters then you might as well be happy with the time you have.
What is happiness? I'm still figuring that out - that is also THE work.
But I think a decent approximation is: Doing things you like with people you like.
Obviously an over-simplification but what's the point of defining things if you can't simplify them? Plus this is my blog post so I can do what I want.
If you split that definition in two parts:
- Doing things you like
- With people you like
I would say that I've largely overindexed on the former over the years believing that is the core value bringer. This isn't to say I haven't made a lot of close friends but more that I don't think I valued the connections as much as they logically deserved as I believed they were secondary in the preceding equation.
I think my time off has shown me that the two are more equal value bringers than I previously believed.
- Not enough former and you may be unfulfilled / lacking passion, interest
- Not enough latter and you may be lonely / lacking inspiration, connection
Under investing / developing in either leads to suboptimal outcomes.
The takeaway for me is similar to that in Adventure - more Focus on Community and a bit less on the things we do is likely a good direction to go in.
Nothingtoseehere - read a lot of books, played a lot of video games, and took a lot of classes.
My Creation / Projects Domain has always been a struggle. It's the thing I most want to do but also the one I'm the least sure about what I want to do in it.
I don't know why this is - maybe I'm too close to it. Like when a friend is having a dumb problem and the solution is obvious but they can't see it because they're too close to it.
My time off really allowed me to distance myself from the way I was engaging with this Domain and I think that's helped me clarify a bit what I actually want from it.
Previously I think I've been very Impact / Accomplishment driven in this Domain. That has its place and perhaps was a good move earlier in life but now it fits less well.
Now I think I'm less interested in what I've accomplished and more on enjoying the Creation Cycles I'm a part of. This is reflected in several ways from the removal of my Career bucket to refactoring the values of my Business and TECH buckets.
In sum: I think it's less about the outcomes and more about the work I want to do long-term.
I took the last 7ish months to pursue entrepreneurship and the last 3ish months to pursue that full-time. I started building several projects but eventually felt I wasn't really into it and stopped. I felt burnt out and that I needed a break plus I had this nagging feeling that perhaps my efforts weren't aligned with my values.
I was mostly idle during this time but did manage to read / watch / consume many books, videos, and courses around solopreneurship / indiehacking. I also started participating in communities a lot more on Twitter / Reddit / Indiehackers.
Over time I built up a mental model of what it would take to be successful as a solopreneur and also what success actually looked like in this domain. What I found was that many successes required lots of work over lots of years with relatively low ROI (most successes come out to ~$200k / year) and often lots of ongoing costs before breaking even. Now $200k / year is a lot of money, but perhaps less so when you consider that the company likely has costs not reflected there (employees, compute costs, etc), a long period of no income (still have to pay personal expenses and lose out on opportunity cost / time value of money), and that the chances of success are quite low.
This is often what success looks like in the entrepreneurial world.— Hamilton Greene (@SIRHAMY) May 31, 2023
It is a good outcome.
But this journey is not for everyone - same way not everyone wants 12+ years of school to be a dr.
Some ppl just want to get a steady paycheck and live their lives. Also success. https://t.co/eWJSzr0yyw
Now I'm not bashing entrepreneurship or those who do it full-time. If anything I'm more impressed with those who have succeeded.
But what I am saying is that it's not the holy grail of careers any more than any other career is. It comes with its own rules, meta, and risks / costs for participating.
It warrants saying because I think it's too often placed on a pedestal without warning labels - along with its wall of heroes Elon, Zuck, and Levels.
Summarizing my thoughts on grind culture:— Hamilton Greene (@SIRHAMY) June 1, 2023
It's less about the thing you choose to do but how you choose to do it.
It applies to any number of pursuits:
* Corporate ladder climbing
* Entrepreneurship (+ solo)
Takeaway: Don't forget to enjoy the journey. pic.twitter.com/xKskrPeNi0
For some this is the way. For me, it's not - at least not fulltime.
- Risk - I'm a very risk averse person. I like time to be on my side. Entrepreneurship oft has a low median outcome. There are ways to fight against this (Small Bets) but the median is the median and I have better median options.
- Work I like - I like Creation and Ownership and Autonomy. In theory Entrepreneurship allows you to do a lot of these things. But in practice you're often forced to wear many hats that maybe you don't want to - marketing, sales, customer support, etc. Now I think these are all great skills to have and things I would like to improve on over time - but prob not at the levels often required to run a full biz successfully.
- Freedom - What is freedom? Doing what you like when you'd like to? Being able to take a full day off w no worries? I see how some entrepreneurs give themselves room to be free - to take a Wednesday off and do nothing. But I also see a large swath who constantly worry about the next thing and even when they could take off decide to pour more time into their business. I have an obsessive personality - I'm not totally sure I could stop myself from overworking.
Not all of these apply to everyone and I know there are entrepreneurs who have found good balances for themselves. For me, personally, right now I don't think this is the best hand I have to play so I'm choosing something else.
So what's next?
My hypothesis is that the best hand for me is: Backend Software Engineering at a company I like with tiny projects on the side.
I came to this conclusion by rethinking a few things:
- What's the point of Business? - At the end of the day it's to make money to support your life. Previously I was trying to make my Career / the thing I did for money also be the impact / purpose of my life. This is unhealthy and destined to fail as incentives are not aligned. If I no longer need to get fulfillment out of my job / projects - I can focus on doing things that actually fit the way I want to work and find balance / purpose in the rest of my life. This seems like a more sustainable and attainable strategy.
- What do I like doing? - At the end of the day I like to build systems. Systems for myself, systems of accomplishing things, systems that are interesting. Software was never really the end goal - it was / is just the best way I've found to build most systems.
- What leads to a fulfilling life? Knowing that, what can I do in Business to promote it? I've done a lot of research into this externally and internally (via Reflection). The best resource on this I've found is 80000 Hours. They basically found that most job satisfaction comes from three things: 1) Work you're good at, 2) Work that helps others, and 3) Supportive conditions (lack of pressing negatives).
When we put these together, we basically back ourselves into the Hedgehog principle:
- Work that you're passionate about -> Probably better phrased as work that helps others / has an impact you directly see / feel
- Work you're good at
- Work you can get paid for (and that has supportive conditions)
Looking at this, the answer for me was pretty obvious - Software Engineering better fulfills these buckets for me than anything else I can think of.
- Work that Helps Others - If I pick a company that has a product / impact that helps others and solves a problem I have some direct experience with, this is fulfilled.
- Work you're good at - I'm often told I'm a bit of a narcissist and that is probably true. But I also like to think I'm very honest, especially about things that I'm bad at. Software Engineering is not one of them. I am pretty good at systems and that means I'm pretty good at building software. Fulfilled.
- Work you can get paid for (and that has supportive conditions) - Software Engineering is currently one of the highest paid professions on the planet and until recently has been considered one of the cushiest (we'll see w all the recent job market turmoil). Fulfilled.
Thus I think Software Engineering provides a pretty good balance for me. It's not perfect but it's the best play I've found.
Equipped with this new view on Business / work I think I'll be able to find greater balance in my domains and leave room to have fun with TECH again. If any projects turn out to be a good business that's great - a new tinybusiness to add to the portfolio. If not - no worries, each domain is fulfilling their purpose.
TinyBusiness : Releases
I didn't really release any Businesses in my time as a full-time solopreneur. I'm not that sad about it because I think I was being honest with myself that these projects weren't really fulfilling my values.
When I think about the future of Businesses I want to create on the side, I think the term TinyBusiness best describes them. They're Businesses chosen / run in a way that maximizes my own value / enjoyment with them. This means that they likely won't maximize for money but that's okay cause they bias for things that are more valuable to me.
CloudSeed is my primary active business (there are other active projects but they make little / no monies). I get a few sales every year (< 10) and get neutral / slight positive feedback on it which I'm happy about.
This, I think, is the kind of TinyBusiness I want to be launching on the side. It really started as a TECH project (something I wanted to build and use myself) and I saw a route to a TinyBusiness I would want to support (personal impact, something I want to support, with low ongoing costs).
"Technology - the practical application of knowledge especially in a particular area"— Hamilton Greene (@SIRHAMY) July 6, 2023
- Merriam Webster - https://t.co/IUwgloEtd1
This bucket encapsulates my experiments in technology and my Craft - the building of systems. It's gone through a lot of renames over the years but I think at its core it's really about me building / playing with / learning things I enjoy.
This, I believe, is what I like to Create. Not for money. Not for prestige. Not for impact. But really to just enjoy the act.
I've been in a bit of a creative hole recently as I figured out what Creation meant to me but I still built some things I enjoyed.
Check out my full list of projects.
"As long as you're having fun and feel accomplished (or simply don't care), good for you and more power to you."https://t.co/SEo1HIKsvI— Hamilton Greene (@SIRHAMY) June 20, 2023
I think all projects should bring value but my idea of value has expanded:
A project is valuable if it is (ior):
TimeDrip - Visualizes time spent watching it.
Aside: I think this is actually the most Monolith thing I've ever built which is funny cause I abandoned Monoliths awhile back cause I wasn't able to capture the core of the idea. I still love this concept of a living breathing artifact and wonder if perhaps I was trying too hard to shove it into a visual representation when perhaps it's better materialized as a real-world artifact.
SimpleOrbits - a naive simulation of symmetrical orbits.
I think I got burnt out on previous builds of visuals cause I was trying to learn / do too much at once. I like visuals but I've never really had the patience to make things pixel perfect (e.g. one of the big reasons I don't love frontend).
I've been experimenting with ways to quickly, succinctly simualate my ideas visually. This did not hit the mark but I think it's closer than previous projects using Godot / Unity.
Explorations in F# / TypeScript
I have done a ton of tiny experiments (like one-off scripts) with F# and TypeScript these past few months. They're not at all cohesive so don't really fit under one project but I think they're worth calling out cause I spent a lot of Cycles on them.
You can find most of the public ones in my Shares.
If there's one thing I have been consistent with Creation-wise in my time off, it's been Shares. Not up to the once-per-week standard I tried in my quest to be a professional content creator but about 2-3 times a month which has been a nice cadence for me.
Again I think I've found a lot more enjoyment in this bucket when I took a less rigid approach to it - doing things I enjoyed and found interesting.
I do think Sharing is a core satisfaction of mine. In many ways it helps me understand what I think about things and also provides a reason to explore deeper in different topics.
If I had to summarize changes here, I think it's in three buckets:
- Tweeting - I've been tweeting a lot more. Mostly rants but kinda fun.
- Writing - I've been writing a lot more in Labs and even a few Blog posts here and there.
- Videos - I've kept a similar cadence to last year but have simplified many of my systems so these are less of a chore to make.
Lol. I haven't had an income for several months so this one is bad.
I will share an update at end of year cause curious how this all pans out.
Physical - I have been exercising a lot! I love it!!1
Every time I start exercising after not exercising for a while I'm like wow what was I doing with my life. Yet I seem to do this every 1-2 years.
We are dumb plants and are much happier when our base needs are met.
Recently I've changed a few things about my exercise regime:
- Lifting - Back to 4 sets of 10 (similar to what I've done since highschool) - this is about a 33% increase from my sets of 3 but wow the improvements in mood / energy / etc seem much higher than that. I think 4 is prob the lowest I can go to reap these benefits.
- Running - Back to 4+ miles per run. Running is def a core satisfaction of mine but it is hard so sometimes I stop for awhile. I still ran this past year but got lazy cause my favorite running route got chopped up by construction to about 3 miles. Idk why but this didn't give the same runner's high as 4+ miles. I recently found a new, simple running route that gets me running 4-5 miles each time and I'm really loving it.
I haven't been as present as I'd like to be and a lot of this is me wanting to "do nothing". I think that's okay for awhile but prob not optimal.
I've been focusing on doing a bit less screen time and doing meditation in morning / journaling at night which has made me feel more present.
Throughout this post I've talked about Happiness because I believe it's core to a life well-lived.
In fact I'd argue that everything I do in these reflections from how I organize my life to the core impetus for their creation is to lead a good life and thus build and protect my happiness.
That said, not everything on this journey to / through happiness will be objectively happy. It's not a static thing and is composed of innumerable complexities making it hard to game, hard to optimize for.
But I do believe this is THE work. As such asking yourself / others "Are you happy?" is an incredibly potent starting point for understanding where you might have work to do (it's like the human equivalent of 3S - Simple Scalable Systems - for software).
Today my answer is yes - I'm feeling pretty happy.
The past few months have been filled with a lot of languish and anxiousness as I figured out what I wanted to do with my life but I also think I've reconnected with / reallowed myself to simply enjoy the time I have.
Looking forward there's a lot of potential unknowns / stressors:
- Will I get a job? Which one?
- Getting Married (and planning a wedding)
- Family getting older, having more health problems
- Me / my friends getting older, entering new phases
But I'm feeling pretty good all things considered. And you know what? Maybe that's all that matters.