It’s time to take a personal depth year
Mastering the things I care about
It’s February — approximately 4 months away from my 1 year without a traditional day job. Almost 8 months ago, I got a call from the finance manager telling me that the company I worked for — the one where late nights and 3am wake calls was an expected norm — will no longer exist.
I remember feeling relieved but also angry at the same time. I had cut short my maternity leave to get back behind the desk. I stayed up late, woke up early, sat through hour-long commutes for everything to just suddenly disappear. Someone in upper management had pulled the plug and I went down the drain with it all.
Everything I had done, everything I had sacrificed, everything just turned into nothing. It was traumatic — especially when I just had a baby and was suffering the guilt of choosing work over being with her.
I went through an existential crisis.
I questioned my values, my life choices and everything that I’ve done to culminate in that singular moment. I had no portfolio, no clear history of technical skills in anything in particular despite being a tech team lead. The sacrifice of being higher up in the management chain meant that I get to see the thing I love come to life — but never have any actual, get your hands dirty kind of input. That stuff was for my developers. My role was more pushing papers and advocating for agendas.
So for 2019, I’ve decided to take a personal depth year.
Quitting the unicorn race
Everyone wants to be a unicorn. It’s the new rat race but disguised as knowledge in every possible technology stack in existence — sprinkled with a bit of glitter and commercialism. Somehow, the idea of being a jack of all trades became popular and true mastery of a given skill somehow became uncool.
I was on that bandwagon too — until I got kicked off and realized how naive I’ve been.
During my third year at the company, I wanted to leave and call it quits. My gut was telling me that I should be focusing on the things I enjoy — not what’s required from me by opposing forces within the company. My skills as a developer were still fresh and I should have struck while the iron was hot.
But I didn’t and I tried to be everything that everyone wanted. I worked through the nights, I moved things around, I architectured infrastructure savings, made what everyone thought was impossible possible through sheer creativeness and in time frames set by external stakeholders.
I was their unicorn — but the longer I stayed, the more it felt like I was dressing up in a wig and costume. I wanted depth but wasn’t given the opportunity for it. Or rather, I was promised time but it just never materialized.
Then the phone call from the finance manager happened and I suddenly had all the time in the world.
Entrenched habits die hard
When you’ve been working 50+ hours each week, you start feeling guilty when you’re suddenly not.
It gets even more confusing when you’re imbalanced from the guilt of not working and unable to be wholly present with your newborn child. Despite being physically there, I wasn’t able to be mentally present with her.
It took approximately 4 months to get to where I am.
In the beginning, I threw myself into self-created work. I tried reselling. Then I tried drop-shipping. Then I tried freelancing. After trying all the traditional entrepreneurial routes (according to the Internet) of making money, I threw up my hands and just stopped working.
During that period, I started writing. It didn’t take long for writing to turn into my therapist.
I wrote a lot about my childhood, thoughts on entrepreneurship, ways organizations are run, personal development and a whole heap of things that helped me rediscover a long lost part of who I really am.
Around mid-November, after removing myself from everything that I began to feel my original first love calling out to me. I started out as a web developer because I loved the challenge of code. But over the years, I ended up so far away from the path I was supposed to take. With all the distractions wilted away, I could see the yellow brick road once again.
I stopped my other plans at the time and started to code my first MVP.
Protein for life
They say a calorie is a calorie — but not all calories are made equal. Some are better for you. Some are more satisfying. Some make you feel fuller for longer and nourish your body.
The act of doing is like a calorie — not all acts are equal.
When I decided to focus and create my first MVP, I was able to do something I haven’t done in a long time — I was able to make something from scratch, learn the nuances, my own inefficiencies, personal preferences, implement recommendations and understand why they exist.
I was able to finally properly learn and go deeper than just your usual Hello Worlds and shopping list apps.
And my soul felt fuller for doing so.
Here comes 2019
The issue with a shallow life is that we often indulge in the highs of starting something new. Over time, we develop a sweet tooth for the taste and it becomes a toxic wasteland for our soul. We indulge in a wide selection of things then suffer from our post-industrial ADHD towards our pursuits. We drop things the moment it becomes difficult and evades any sort of mastery.
Not only that, we spend a ton of money and time on our fleeting interests — then complain when we no longer have enough resources to put towards something new.
Taking a depth year is, in a way, sort of like taking a gap year. But rather than traveling the world and learning its ways, you take a year to just focus on the things that matter — and do all the things necessary to obtain that coveted sense of mastery.
So this will be my mastery year — a year where I pursue a selected set of pursuits and master the skills involved. I’ll do a monthly review for accountability and perhaps, in 12 months time, I will be a much better human than I’ve ever been in my entire existence.