The personal perils of small-scale web success

Or… how I learned to stop worrying and love new hobbies

Have you ever set goals for yourself? They help us keep track of where we are at and where we want to be headed. Some of them are mundane: like setting a goal of finishing the laundry, or cleaning up the dishes before anything funky gets a chance to grow on them.

Then there are also ridiculous goals, the kinds of benchmarks that can take an entire lifetime to achieve. These might include becoming a rock star, or famous artist, or writer. Many of them never happen at all, especially if you put a time limit on them. “I want to be the youngest CEO in company history,” or “I want to be a millionaire by 40.”

I like a challenge, so I did pick one of those ridiculous goals – and I even put a time limit on it. My pipedream was to be financially independent of any job by the time I was 30, and some time around my 29th birthday (earlier this year) I realized it had actually happened.

While I’m not sitting on piles of gold or a big stack of cash in the bank account, I can say that I’m making way more money from my websites than I’ve ever made from a traditional job – and my average workday had become something like 30 minutes on Twitter followed by another eight hours of killing time while I waited for my friends and loved ones to finish chasing their own goals for the day. As much fun as it was to catch up on video games, I also noticed something strange: incredible boredom.

The boredom actually got worse, too. Where was everyone? Why don’t they want to hang out? You rationalize to yourself that they have their own jobs, but you start to lose sympathy for the way they actually feel after hour-long commutes, eight-plus hour workdays, and a rushed lunch. What do you mean you need time to relax, shouldn’t you be ready to go celebrate? Doubts start to creep in, even paranoia. Maybe I said something wrong. Maybe they’re mad at me.

Fact is, I just had too much time on my hands to sit around and worry!

To-Do List: Write New To-Do List

As gratifying as it is to achieve a lifelong goal, there’s a sort of emptiness that follows. “Now what?” Without deadlines and goals hanging overhead, it is hard to stay motivated or even moving in a specific direction at all.

The first thought was to take on more hours for a contract I’m working on, and the next idea was to put down foundations for a few more websites. Even then, I was still only working about 15 hours a week and feeling like I was stuck on auto-pilot. Sure, the new laptop and 4g plan helped make work fun for a bit again, and all that traveling with my girlfriend was a great way to spend money and stay distracted, but that ambitious part of myself wasn’t buying it. There was too much left to do first. (She wouldn’t hear any of it either, because she has her own lifetime goals to work on and she was smart enough to leave them open-ended.)

Of all places, the quest for a new challenge led me back to school. Now I’ve already got a college degree and a half-dozen minors, but I always struggled with Calculus and wanted to give it another shot. Economics is also something I’ve wanted to study more of, so this summer I decided to sign up for a whole bunch of math and economics credits. Not exactly what I imagined I’d do when I had money to blow, but here I am, finally inspired to post in between practicing derivatives and industry supply curves.

Intellectual progress is a much more satisfying goal than “more money,” but it still wasn’t enough so I’ve invested a bit in some free weights and I’m shopping around for a bicycle, too. While physical fitness has always been pretty low on my list of priorities, it is definitely another rewarding goal to have when money and education are also being taken care of.

Now what?

Well, I haven’t had much time to worry about that again lately! The next move will be from Florida to North Carolina so that my girlfriend can take the next step in her own academic goals, and I’m starting to think seriously about a graduate degree in Econ. And before you warn me about the job prospects for graduate students, I don’t actually want or need the job that some people assume comes with the paper…

The point is that we humans always need something to do that challenges us, improves us, and gives us focus in our lives.

It can be easy to forget that once in a while, and especially when we start to get too comfortable!

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