August 10, 2014

Moderately Messed Up

In some ways this is a long overdue blog post, but in other ways I'm not 100% sure of the conclusions I'm drawing. I guess I need to take my usual approach of writing about it, and see where things go.

Getting on for the past year, life has been hard.

Some self-inflicted and some just unfortunate combinations of circumstances and events that on their own wouldn't really be much of a big deal.

At the same time, there have been lots of examples of life being great, like having my book published (I still haven't written anything about that here, have I? I don't have "all the words need to go in the book" as an excuse now...) - and actually, the Italian translation: L'Internet delle Cose was published recently! - given talks in Bahrain and Ireland and at TEDxLiverpool...

As Sam Altman alludes to in a recent blog post Founder Depression, it feels like I've spent most of 2014 living with the cognitive dissonance of life that seems on the outside to be going fantastically, while privately that's far from the case.

I don't think I'm depressed, although lots of this honest and touching blog post from Ethan Zuckerman rings true. His comment that "smart friends counseled me that publishing a book often leads to feelings of loss and mourning" seems amusingly appropriate.

I'm sure depression is a spectrum rather than a binary state, so there's probably an element of that in there; however, it feels more like a combination of exhaustion and stress. This passage from Ethan's post sums up how things have been of late:

"My guess is that my depression is significantly less visible to people who know me only professionally. I’ve never missed work or another professional obligation. I teach classes, give talks, advise students, attend meetings. The difference is almost entirely internal. When I’m my normal self, those activities are routine, easy, and leave a good bit of physical and emotional energy for creativity and expression. When I’m depressed, the everyday is a heavy lift, and there’s little space for anything else. The basic work of answering email and managing my calendar expands to fill any available time in the day. I’m far less productive, which triggers a voice that reminds me that I’m an unqualified impostor whose successes are mere happy accidents and that my inability to write a simple blog post is proof positive that I’m in the wrong place, doing the wrong thing, in need of walking away from my life as currently configured and starting over. It’s an exhausting dialog, one that crops up for moments at a time when I’m well, but can fill weeks and months when I am not.

Everything scales until it doesn't. And in retrospect (and stupidly obvious when written down in black and white), writing a book alongside being CTO of a startup, continuing work on my own startup with a rather sizeable side project was always going to be asking too much.

Partner that with GNL stretching my cashflow to near breaking point and a an approach to consulting that's far too principled for my own (financial) good, and I think that neatly sums things up.

Rev Dan Catt does an excellent job of explaining life when trying to do the right thing by your conscience. I battle the same issues, and look for ways that I can prosper at the same time as making the world a more equal place and leading the Internet of Things into more open and better territory. At least, unlike Dan, I don't have any dependents...

"So that's where I am now. Toughing it out in the freelance world, sometimes turning down opportunities because I can't reconcile my own feelings while at the same time running out of money and wondering if it's more or less morally responsible to make sure my kids get fed vs working for an org where I'd feel uncomfortable."

I think the end is in sight. DoES Liverpool has been going through growing pains for a while now, and we seem to be getting things in place for that now (mostly thanks to Steve, Andy and John, rather than me).

Another of Rev Dan Catt's blog posts, detailing how he spotted, and dealt with, mild depression helped keep things on track, as I spotted a similar cause-and-effect in myself. Getting stuck into writing code, and making things, definitely helps keep me sane - so I've been indulging my interest in that, outside of client projects and whenever I've felt that I needed a break.

Even within paid work, the coding is always good, and that's been part of the problem this year - I've had lots of small projects on, and plenty of speaking gigs, and while I enjoy all of that, it's meant the creative-work-to-admin ratio hasn't been very good.

This blog post isn't a cry for help, as I say, things are mostly fine, and definitely headed in the right direction. That said, if you've got creative paid projects that I could help with, as always, get in touch. I've got some great family and friends, who are all very supportive.

I'm writing this more for future-me to refer back to, and because I always appreciate similar blog posts that I read from others. And to acknowledge that life is hard, and we don't all have to pretend it's wonderful all the time, despite what the advertisers want us to believe.

Posted by Adrian at August 10, 2014 09:37 PM | TrackBack
Comments

Hey,

While some of this I knew, though far from all, I wanted to say I've read it, and will be taking it in. :)

S

Posted by: Steve at August 11, 2014 11:35 AM

Feel really bad I was partly responsible for this state of mind. Will try to fix it. X

Posted by: Alex at August 11, 2014 11:47 AM

As someone who knows life has its ups and downs and has always admired you and your work, I couldn't read and not comment.

While you may not always feel it you are an inspiration to many.

Take care!

Posted by: Andy Powell at August 11, 2014 12:04 PM

Thanks both of you.

And Alex, thanks, although you shouldn't be apologising. I was the one making the choices. This is a blog post for learning, not for blaming :-)

If anyone is to blame it's the investors who can't see how awesome a product GNL is, and will be. This stuff is hard, for all of us, but worthwhile things often are.

Posted by: Adrian at August 11, 2014 12:05 PM

You really grafted to get your book finished and you can be immensely proud of it. I know I am, and I didn't even write it!

Posted by: Craig Smith at August 12, 2014 02:07 PM

You've done things many people could only dream of.
It doesn't detract from the effort and personal cost involved.
Perhaps a better measure is that of how we touch the lives of those around us. By that measure you can be proud. Thank you for your advice. K

Posted by: K at August 23, 2014 11:34 PM
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