Being a programmer for the majority of my adult life has been by far the biggest influence on how I see the world. It has trained my mind to work more efficiently, become more logical, and to view things in a fairly objective manner. It wasn’t until recently that I discovered how much of a negative impact my way of seeing things was having on me, and those around me. Rationalizing every single detail lead to a very narrow-minded world view, an inability to let go of comfort, and it added an extra layer of difficulty when it came to making important life decisions. Constantly weighing the pros and cons to each possible outcome inhibited me from ever taking chances. I fully understand this is not the case for everyone who writes code for a living, but it was undoubtedly the case with me.
When building complex, enterprise-level applications for clients you will be dealing with a constantly changing system that is not entirely controlled by you. Though you may implement best practices, write modular code, and create a solid foundation in which to build on, there will come a day (if not multiple times every single day) where the client’s needs/wants will change. Such things are impossible to plan for, but you must refactor what you need to do to “get shit done.” Over the course of time you will end up breaking convention, going against best practices, and writing bad code so that the client paying you money has what they want at the end of the day. After a while you will inevitably end up in a vortex of tightly-coupled components, and odd dependencies that take less time to hack around than they do to refactor properly. If you add this type of code to the unescapable complexity of the other components in place (caching, server clusters and architecture, testing, worker processes, etc.), it will result in the exact same maze of craziness that my current state of mind could handle no longer.
In life, as well as in building complex systems, sometimes the best thing that can happen is for everything to fall apart knowing there is nothing you can do to stop it. It’s only then that you can step back, calm down, and see things for what they really are. Usually the best idea is to re-evaluate the end goal and to simplify your approach. This is where I ended up after a period of great loss in my life last year. With that loss came so many great things that never would have happened any other way. I was forced to spend a lot of time by myself which allowed me to reflect on the past, and clearly see what I wanted for myself and my family in the future: freedom to live the life I want (within reason, of course).
I know that “freedom” means many things to many people, but to me it means not being tied down to things I don’t need to be tied down to, and for the things that I do with my life to actually mean something. I wanted my days to be spent as a part of something bigger than myself, and more importantly, bigger than the pursuit of money. This was the beginning of my awakening, but it came with a large host of problems. Obviously, we live in a society where life depends on money. I still have to provide for my children. I still have to pay for a place to live, and food to eat. I have never in my life been able to look past that point. I’ve always rationalized keeping a job because I have children to support, and bills to pay.
As I thought more about this, I began to realize that I was in a state similar to what some developers might know as “dependency hell.” There was a single component that everything else in my life was dependent on: work. Work that took up all of my time during the week, not allowing me to actually LIVE my life. My rent was dependent on work. My food was dependent on work. My kids depended on work in a way, but I am fully confident that they are more dependent on their father being around and alive. These notions are what kicked off the idea of working less as a means to make money, and building a tiny house for a fraction of a loan.
How could I possibly pull this off? The dreamers in my life all said the same thing, “Put your intentions out there, and when it feels right, jump.” I not only had a difficult time swallowing this, but even as I started to think about it more I had no idea where to start. I spent some time putting my intentions out there, talking to people, researching tiny houses, and putting together somewhat of a plan. The next thing I did was talk to a local farmer who I know personally, and asked if I could build a tiny house on her farm in exchange for free work. If you don’t know anything about farmers, they are suckers for free labor. Not only was she all for the idea, but she is also in the middle of building some small cabins for potential interns. Ok. I now have a place to do it, but I will need more time to actually do it. The opportunity alone gave me the courage to take the next leap: asking my job to work part time.
This was something that I took a huge chance on. Not only because I felt like I asked a lot of my job in general, but also the nature of our work and my role meant that I needed to be available all week long. I didn’t let that stop me, and I put it out there and asked to work three, 10-hour days. They were not very excited about the idea, and my dreams were somewhat shot. In a complete state of utter disappointment, I almost just started to accept the reality of being tied to my job. By the grace of powers greater than me, that weekend I ran into an old friend who happens to own a web development company in a neighboring town. I brought up the idea with him, and he happened to be in the market for a new part-time employee. I start tomorrow.
I know it won’t work out as perfectly as I plan, but I am now in a place where I can rid myself of a rent or a mortgage, and live a life on a farm that will help sustain my belly, as well as my soul. This began the fire inside of me to build a more free life, and though it will be a challenge, I know it is in my heart to live this way. So to anyone struggling with their current life situation, whether that be their job, their relationship, or their struggle for freedom, my advice to you is to jump, and the net will appear.