180: Thirty-One Things and an Explanation
Here’s something to look at while I delve into the reasons I was gone:
This was a postcard I sent to my brother-in-law on his 31st birthday a couple months ago. But I don’t think he ever got it, because we just stuck a stamp on the other side of this foam-core board. I think the Post Office didn’t like that. So, I’m putting it here for everyone’s viewing.
It was an effort to pick 31 nouns that had seemingly nothing in common with each other. Click it to really see all the details. The idea was probably more inspired by my friend Susanna Ryan than I care to admit, which I didn’t realize until much later. And, her organizational skills are far better than mine.
While you look at that, I’ll just be down here telling a story about my recent absence.
[Edit: apparently it was a long story.]
nce upon a time, I was an unemployed 20-something with an art degree. …To back up a bit, I’ve always had a fear of accidentally being defined by my career. I envisioned this scenario where I’d be at a party, tell someone I was a cabinetmaker, and they would immediately assume they knew things about me based on that information. “Oh hey, Kyle. You like cabinet stuff, right?” It may seem like nothing, but this was a terrifying prospect to me. So, as a direct counter measure to that fear, I never developed a career. The longest job I’ve ever held was 1 and half years. I’d quit as soon as I felt like there was any danger of the job becoming my identity.
After about 2 years of not working, periodically interrupted by volunteering and freelance projects, I decided to make a change. Not having a job is fun and all, but I needed something steady. I had a George Costanza moment where I looked at my life and asked, “what am I good at?” and I eventually came up with the answer, “doing absolutely nothing for long periods of time.” So, like everyone ever, I started a blog. No, not this blog, a different one. It was called “How to Waste a Week.” Maybe you’ve seen it linked in the sidebar over there (Feel free to check it out. I think it holds up). It was my first attempt at a blog. I started it to get some ideas down on paper, and to schedule a time every week where I could safely do something moderately productive without it becoming my life, even if it was just to write about how I didn’t do anything all week.
As it turns out, I was decent at blogging. Or at least, I was decent at keeping the schedule. I like writing short articles, I like trying to be funny, and I like addressing an audience (who may or may not actually be reading) from an assumed position of authority. It makes me feel good. I did that blog for a year, writing every week. In a year’s time, I had about hundred weekly readers, which was a big deal to me. It made me feel like I was actually doing something. I felt so good about it, that I got a confidence boost and decided to start a second blog — one where I actually did things.
I’ve always had more ideas than time — or, so I claimed. One day, I actually thought about it and said to myself, “Wait. Who can possibly have more time on his hands than I do?” and I saw that my reasoning didn’t quite hold up. So, frustrated with my inactivity, I set a plan in motion. Writing every week was easy, but I wanted to actually get some of these ideas out of my head and into the world. My plan was to do something (literally anything at all) once every week and document it. It went well, and I started to get positive feedback. As I did more, Something a week gradually evolved from a productivity experiment into something I was increasingly proud of.
So much of my self-esteem is linked directly to Something a week. In the years I’ve been coalescing my projects here, it’s become a bigger and more representative piece of me. I’ve gotten job offers based on the content. I’ve had so much internet fame I’ve lost track (often misattributed, but such is the nature of the internet). I am more proud of this weird little blog than anything else I’ve ever done. And to have something like this… a publicly accessible body of work that I personally control, and am responsible for, one that is actually representative of me… has demolished my fear of being defined by a job. As long as this exists, and I can keep it up, I’ll have my own definition. No matter what I do during the day, this is who I am.
Side note: A friend once linked to my blog on Reddit. One redditor visited and reported back, “I can’t tell you how disappointed I was that his blog didn’t suck.” That was perhaps the greatest highlight of my blogging experience. The idea that someone came here expecting to make fun of me, and was swayed by the content alone is the biggest measure of success I could imagine. I’ll admit there’s part of me that wants people to think I’m cool (my past as a chubby nerd will never fully leave me alone), but mostly, I want people to think my ideas are cool.
So, that’s why I do it. But, why did I stop?
Well, as I created things week after week, the average idea in my sketchbook became bigger (both because I was using up the shorter week-long projects, and because I started dreaming bigger). I have 5 or 6 projects that I’m dying to do that are easily month-long projects or longer. So, during the time that they’re coming together, I still need to take time out to make a bunch of weekly entries on the blog. I have fun making those, but I think it can easily have the side effect of diluting the real content. I’m kind of past the point where I need motivate myself to create things. I can’t stop making things. So gradually, the weekly schedule has started to feel less like an inspiration, and more like an obstacle.
I sometimes test out Something a week, by opening up the front page, and pretending I’ve never seen it before. If a new visitor can scroll through more than 3 updates, without being convinced that continuing is worth her/his time, I’ve failed as a content provider. I know that there’s good stuff here, but I feel like I need to convey that quickly to win someone over. Anyway, one day as I tested the content, it seemed that the balance had tipped toward the not-quite-interesting-enough side, so I set out to make something awesome. But I had trouble.
Nothing I tried felt right, and eventually I realized it was because I was trying to make something cool, not trying to make something I liked. I was posting out of habit, out of necessity, and out of desperation. So I decided to quit for a while, while I tried to figure out why I was doing this in the first place. But, after a few weeks absence, I also just liked the break. :) I vowed to start fresh in the new year, and err on the side of the quality over quantity. Which means I might miss a few weeks here and there, but I’ll be happier about the result, and hopefully, so will you. I’ve got big plans for the future. I’m not sure when it’ll happen, but expect cool stuff!
So, am I changing the name to Something almost every week? No. But that’s just because I like the name, and sometimes the internet lies. Also, thanks to everyone who expressed concern about my well-being. It means a lot to me that you care about this. I’m doing fine. See you next week, most likely.