Cary Tennis: "Your music does not have to support you. In fact, your music might be happier if you were supporting it."
I remember when I started thinking about working in software again, sometime approaching the middle of 2005. I was watching my bank balance shrink and my debt load increase even though my business was starting to see a predictable revenue stream.
My passions and my bank account weren't quite aligned. At that point I had realized I started with too little money, and I knew I had made some early mistakes with my wholesale line of business... not least of which was having a wholesale business, when my objective was to sell products with compelling origin stories, rather than catering to the risk aversion of retail buyers and merchandising managers.
Hiromi advised against caving in and taking a day job so soon, although my rational faculties were fully aware of the inevitability of needing to supplement my income.
I was happy when I finally saw a project come along that matched my technical interests and personal idiosyncrasies back in the winter of 2005. Although I was a little disappointed that I couldn't devote myself full-time to YuzuMura.com for the time being, I quickly learned to appreciate the freedom to go out to dinner with friends again without worrying about making the rent.
Although it's been a quiet year and a half in terms of developing my business, I've settled into a satisfying rhythm of solving challenging technical problems in the daytime, coming home and taking care of the logistics of a small business, and having the financial freedom to be a bit more self-indulgent than I was two or three years ago. My passions for travel, food, and craft have actually gotten more attention (particularly the first two) since I've had more disposable income again.
Surprisingly, I found that I was better at the software stuff than I was several years back, even though I was theoretically out of practice.
I remember a sleazy-but-well-dressed "Career Consultant" in a fancy downtown Seattle office, who had a low pressure pitch and a high pressure close, trying to sell me on repackaging myself for higher-paying jobs. For a fee, of course.
It was a weak moment for me... When his office called me, I knew I wanted to leave Microsoft, but I also knew I needed to escape the industry for a while and I had other passions I wanted to explore. I almost bought into it.
When I told him I really wanted to get out of software and either run a restaurant or start a business that indulged my passions for food and travel, Mr. Career Consultant told me, in roughly so many words, that I could be committing career suicide if I left the field for two years. (He also told me I'd never leave Microsoft, but I know it was just part of the act when he turned up the pressure).
What he said wasn't true, of course... Smart software companies hire capable people, not just resumes... but I was surprised and delighted to discover that I actually liked the work again. I was even happier to discover that being less emotionally attached to my status, or my career, made it possible for me just to "work the problem" and not only deliver value to my employer but also to enjoy most every day at work... something that wasn't happening at all in my last 18 months as a full-time Microsoft employee.
Although I haven't had as much time or energy to invest in my business as I'd like, I've actually had the financial resources to let it slowly grow, instead of having to cut my early losses and run.
Letting my work support my work has been surprisingly liberating. I make decisions for me, rather than trying to chase after small rewards in service of short term urgencies.
I know I'd have done things a lot differently, faced with the same decisions all over again, if I had the last three years of experience and my bank account of 3 years ago... lessons learned, but I'm not living 3 years ago. I'm just building on what I've got now.
Doing both my work and someone else's work makes it easier to wake up every day... Sometimes it's harder to sleep, but I can guarantee that I'll have something to look forward to the next day. Maybe it will be the joy of solving some esoteric technical problem. Perhaps I'll hear from a customer delighted to find something she never expected, all because of my little web store. Maybe it will be the more base pleasure of being able to spend a few dollars on a good pastry and a coffee without feeling accounting guilt. Maybe it'll be that little trip I'll take to Asia in a few days that's part business, part leisure, part love... and entirely in my own hands.