I think a lot about the choices we make in life, and I’d say the most important choices are where we put our time and energy. Work, play, family, community; we choose how to engage with each and how much. Many friends think that my choices in these areas are unusual because I left a supposed dream job at Google so I could spend a lot more time with wheels on my feet. But I think this trend is one that’s growing and in the two years since I made the choice, I’ve come to understand how to construct a practical life that’s full of passion and good work. Here’s a few thoughts.
Our generation has this notion that we ought to pursue our passions, which I think is amazing. But we also have this notion that we ought to be paid for it, and I think this is misguided in most instances, and for three main reasons. First, work is called “work” for a reason, and someone is paying you to do it because they either don’t want to do it (because it’s hard or boring or unpleasant), or they’re incapable of doing it (because they don’t have the expertise). Second, our human psychology is really geared to keep intrinsic and extrinsic motivations separate, and introducing the latter often extinguishes the former. For example, people that enjoy producing artwork often lose their inspiration when they try to make money from it. Third, our society is set up such that many of the things that people are passionate about don’t easily bring in income, which has been the case for many arts for millenia. There’s always exceptions, and I know a few fortunate people in this position, but it’s rare and these individuals have somehow avoided the pitfalls above, either through carefulness or luck.
As you might have noticed, I have a great passion for skating and put a lot of energy into my art. This includes organizing social skate events, teaching classes, mentoring other skaters, connecting and mediating different skating communities, performing on stage and on screen, participating on committees, developing informational content, promoting skating through social media, practicing and competing in multiple skating disciplines, and of course living on my skates as I fly through the city as part of my daily life. I can’t tell you how exhausting it is to do all of this, but it’s sure as hell worth it because I love skating and the community behind it. And I believe it’s some of the most meaningful stuff I do. That said, I make next to no income from skating, and I intend to keep it that way. Because if making money from it were to become a priority, then that’ll draw my energy away from the joy of skating itself.
Many people have asked me how I’m supporting myself financially. Given that I’ve been writing software code for half my life (I learned when I was sixteen), the fact that there’s a high demand for this type of work, and that it’s something I do enjoy and take pride in, that’s what I do for the paycheck. But I do it on my terms. I own my own business, work on a freelance basis, and have an agency (10x Management) that finds me potential clients. The first thing I did upon making this choice was turn down a lot of potential jobs because they didn’t fit my philosophy or lifestyle. They wanted too many hours and that would impede on my life. Or the work didn’t seem ethically responsible enough for my standards. I lived off savings for the time being and this was fine because I was in a privileged position to be comfortable living frugally and not have other humans dependent upon me. And I continued to expand my software engineering skills during that time. But over the last 9 months, my choice to not compromise paid off. I currently have two clients that I’m proud to work for. One of them does work to help non-profits better manage their finances, and many of these non-profits help promote sports activities to kids in underserved neighborhoods. The other client is a non-profit itself in the space of social good. I work the hours and days that I want and get paid only for the work I do. And while it’s a lot of work and responsibility to balance my work expectations, it’s totally worth it for the life I have. I can’t tell you how amazing it is to have the freedom to prioritize time to take care of myself, quality time with my family and friends, and my pursuits in skating and beyond.
I understand that I come a from a place of privilege. I was raised in a household where my parents put a priority on maximizing opportunity. There was care and financial backing to ensure that I got a great education and had exposure to the greater world from travel to having a computer in the house when I was young to sports classes. And while my parents were reserved about my pursuit of the physical arts (as it might undermine doing homework), they still paid for my karate classes and many pairs of skates.
Many people are not so fortunate and they spend a lot of their time trying to make enough of a living to support their family, or are busy taking care of loved ones that need their help. I have all the respect in the world for these people and hold nothing against them for doing what they need to do to have a basic and comfortable life. But I know many of you have the choice to make for a better world. So I ask you this: Are you conscious of the choices you’re making in your life and their implications to yourself and others? Does the work you do ultimately help people or does it harm people? Are you just going through the motions and chasing the corporate ladder because you think that’s what you’re “supposed” to do? Are you afraid of taking the risk to do something less conventional because of what others will think of you?
I think these questions are more relevant today than ever in human history. For one, a lot of the problems of today’s world stem from the disconnect between our actions and their implications. We spend many hours at soulless corporations to the detriment of our health and familytime. Our paychecks in turn come indirectly from those exploited on the other side of the world, or even our own communities. We invest our money in large banks that care only for the bottom line. And yet we have so much opportunity to make for better lives because it’s easier than ever to connect with like-minded others and build something together.
We each get one life and it’s never too late to go after the things that you think really matter. And it doesn’t matter how small you start, as long as it’s a concrete action. Like I said, some of the most important work I do doesn’t bring in money, but it makes the world a happier place. And conversely, the work that does bring me money also contributes to the human community at some level, instead of padding the wallet of some suit driving a Mercedes.