Pantheon of Unfulfilled Desires

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There wasn’t a NoScriptShow episode this weekend, and that’s entirely my fault. The hectic work schedule was one thing, but there’s been a lot more going on in the back of my mind of late. Every year (sometimes twice a year) I do a sort of 360 audit of my life.

It’s a fairly existential thing: Reflecting on what I’m doing, where I’m going, who and what I am, where my strengths and weaknesses are, and how I’ve changed (or not changed) over the last few years. My intention in doing this is to constantly discover my optimal path.

And by that, I mean: Where do I spend my time, energy and resources, and to what end? What do I expect to get out of my work/life/hobbies, and are they actually fulfilling? Am I paying a hidden opportunity cost, overlooking something that might be better?

And every year, (usually!) without fail I’ll come across an insight that changes the way I look at myself. This year, the realization was that I’m actually profoundly risk-averse, and the circumstances that pushed me into freelancing are rooted in a much deeper problem.

I’m not sure where in my past it originates, but one of my driving forces in the last 10 years has been work. Specifically, doing really good work. I’ve been told (quite a few times) that people admire my work ethic, attention to detail and the effort I put in.

But that’s always come at a cost, and up until this point I was relatively okay with making that trade. This year, for some reason, less so. Maybe this is part of growing up? Maybe I’m just getting more grumpy 😂 – but my cost/benefit preference is definitely changing.

In truth, I think my work ethic is symptomatic of two underlying issues that I’ve never really dealt with. First there’s my dad, who idolizes people who basically work themselves to death (and he’s made jokes about that on occasion) – there’s lots to analyze there.

But more importantly, it’s a very deep-seated need to solve problems – something I once thought was purely noble. I see problems in the world, I try solving them. Relentlessly. And luckily for me, with my skillset, profitably.

It’s the “why” that’s eluded me for quite a long time though, and it finally clicked for me in the last week that it’s actually a form of risk aversion: I’m working so hard, so passionately on other people’s ideas as a hedge against taking any risks of my own.

There’s lots of things I’ve wanted to do for a very long time, yet I never seem to find the time to do them. Which is a big fat self-delusion, of course: Priorities can be shifted, choices can be made and time can be opened up for the things that matter.

So long as I’m burning myself out trying to solve someone else’s problem, I’m sort of protected (irrationally): If it works out, great! If it doesn’t work out, also great – it wasn’t my risk to take, I did the best I could, I can console myself with that.

As a result, no matter how good/interesting/unique/challenging/fun my own ideas are, they come second to other people’s ideas. Much less riskier to do something that someone else wants, vs striking out on your own.

My freelancing over the last year has actually been an extension of that. Fulltime employment is only a drag because I don’t get to choose the problems I want to solve. Freelance, I have that choice – and it turns out I choose far more work for myself than I can handle.

All to avoid taking the actual risks of spending time on the things that I actually want to work on.

Last year, I could kind of argue that my full-time job was very demanding and left little time. This year, I don’t have the luxury of that same excuse.

I’ve done quite well in the last year, which is not a boast – more of a cry for help. Even as I write this post now, I’ve got a bunch of work to get done ahead of a 10am call tomorrow, meaning I’m going through the night again.

Something inside me has definitely shifted though. Maybe this week has been the final straw, or maybe I just had the capacity to really reflect on all of this while doing mindless, repetitive spreadsheet work.

Regardless, I’m going to have to decide what to do with this new perspective. I’ve already decided to take the month of September off, and in practice this means doing a lot more work right up until the end of August.

Beyond that, I don’t know. In one sense, this has always been “the plan”: Work hard for a year or two to build up a cash reserve, then start taking bolder risks with my time – working on things of my own.

Turns out most of that work is going to be psychological. So many of my decision paths are irrational, so much of my behaviour remains self-destructive. And this is to say nothing of my health, which hasn’t really improved in the last year. Probably for obvious reasons.

My first objective, though: Take something from the pantheon of unfulfilled desires and make it real. I have some real cowardice when it comes to this, but I can already sense the consequences of not following through, and I have no desire to go down that road.