One More Step

The Story Of Creating Business And Music

Living More Deliberately in 2017

My birthday is on December 28th, so I have the fortune of reassessing my personal growth at the same interval the world runs on. In other words, “how has the year been” and “how has your year been” are the same questions for me.

Every December 27th, the night before my birthday, I sit down to reassess my past year and plan ahead for next year. Over the past four or five years, I’ve come up with a short list or high-level goals I’ve wanted to accomplish. Time and time again, most of these do not get accomplished, and those that do happen in ways I couldn’t predict or didn’t actively work towards. For example, during one such session, I committed to save $X (at my then-income) by next year. I was failing miserably until I changed jobs and got a significant raise, which made saving $X a breeze. Although I worked hard to get a new job, within my initial plan, the increased income was effectively a windfall and not the product of deliberate action.

The yearly check-in is useful to remind me of my high-level priorities and I always walk away feeling re-centered. However, like many other people whose New Year resolution fail, I then get completely sidetracked. I commit to friends’ projects and follow new ideas that come to mind. I find myself paralyzed by inaction, not sure where to begin. Finally, I tend to massively overestimate the amount of and quality of work I can do in a short period of time. I procrastinate, then I hit the “oh shit!” moment, and then I chide myself for not doing high-quality work.

Last year was a little different. First, the sheer amount of time and energy I spent at work pushed me to seriously consider how I spent my free time and whether I’m building my own life, or letting others build it for me. Second, I went back and reviewed my goals a few times during the year; in Apr, Aug, and Sep. This didn’t have a major impact (because it was sporadic and not supported by planning,) but still provided a serious kick in the butt. Third, after a really great trip to Iceland, I reviewed my past accomplishments to try and zero in in on what type of work makes me happy. Finally, I sat down and wrote down a list of common mental traps I repeatedly fall into.

So, in 2016, I did a lot of good thinking, but not a lot of good doing. In 2017, I want to implement the lessons I learned. In an effort to live more deliberately, I want to make a few commitments.

1. I’m going to keep an up-to-date, definitive list of all the projects I’m involved in. These focus on three themes – coding, writing music, and getting fit. Undoubtedly, I have other goals – like straightening out my finances, getting my own place, creating my own ventures, etc – but I believe that doubling down on these three themes will build the foundation for everything else.

2. I’m not taking on or starting any new major projects, and cutting my past ones. There are a bunch of projects from my past that I was fully intent on finishing – projects I believed in, like the Explo coffee-table book, or the article on how writing code and writing music go hand in hand. However, I have to cut my past projects in order to focus on the present ones. This is difficult to do – I have to admit that I cared about these, but ultimately didn’t care that much – and will undoubtedly disappoint the people involved. While it’s possible I’ll come back to these in the future, when I feel that I have a better grasp on my current goals and do a better job staying disciplined about my work, for the time being, these projects are over.

In years past, I’ve chased after many  other projects, hangouts, and other commitments that distracted me from my main goals. It’s easy to come up with a new idea and say “yea! I’m doing that now.” This often leads to half-baked, unfinished, disappointing projects, and further stress. While I don’t want to shut away serendipity and spontaneity (never say never), I plan to focus on my existing, high-priority projects and not take any new ones.

3. I’m going to write out the specific benchmarks and actions I’ll need to take in order to succeed. This takes guesswork and inspiration out of work. I’ve long found that all my greatest accomplishments are built on the back of focused, sustained effort – and yet I keep counting on inspiration (and am discouraged by lack of it) to get things done.

4. I’m going to track and constantly revisit my goals. My friend James does a great job of this with his budget, regularly logging and reviewing his purchases. I think doing the same with all my goals will help motivate and keep me focused. Tracking and revisiting is uncomfortable, because it forces me to confront failure and focus on work, which doesn’t offer the same kind of immediate gratification that playing Black Flag does. However, I think it’ll also bring me closer to delivering the results I want to see.

If you’ve made it this far, you’re probably thinking, “so, what exactly are your goals?” The high-level answer is that I want to exclusively focus on coding, writing music, and fitness. Beyond this, I’m now defining specific benchmarks and a schedule for me to follow. I think that publicizing specific things I want to accomplish will only make me less likely to complete them. However, I’ll be sure to share when I start making progress!

Between these commitments, I hope to end a year from now on a much more positive – and productive – note.

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Chasing My Own Tail

I’ve noticed a pattern – I spend my week at work fantasizing about cool projects I want to tackle and the skills I’ll need to learn to complete these projects. However, when I can carve out a day, escape away to a quiet coffeeshop somewhere, and try to focus on my own work, I often don’t know where to begin. I need to figure out a way to structure this better.

I also need to decide on my first weekly challenge.

Weekly Challenges

Back in college, I started taking up a challenge a week, where I made a small change to my life, and committed to follow through for a week. Just a week – which is usually no big. Consistency, discipline, and follow-through continue to be the biggest challenge in my life – I tend to work best in bursts, and when other people count on me (some would say “typical ENFP“) – so this might be a good way to explore some ideas with a defined commitment.

My First Collaborative Coding Effort

I’m excited to share the first game I programmed collaboratively with my good friend James Mayr:

Boss Fight

Always On

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I woke up this morning and made a conscious effort not to check my phone. I washed up, got dressed, locked my sixth-floor apartment door, and waited for the elevator. My hand crept into my pocket. I commanded it to stop. Instead, I let my mind wander. I looked at the door frame and remembered how tall it looked when I was a kid.

I got on the elevator, went out the door, and took a three minute walk to the train station in the brisk morning air. I was forcing myself not to succumb. I was trying to just enjoy the beautiful morning.

On that three minute walk, my mind meandered and I thought of writing a blog post about what I was experiencing. So, now I’m sitting on the train, typing it out on my phone. I guess I succumbed.

Every day, I spend a ridiculous amount of time starting at screens of various sizes, and it has an eerie calming effect on me. It’s a full-blown addiction. I check my email first thing in the morning, then go to work for 8-10 hours, then come home and watch shows online, or play an odd computer game. On the subway, I play games on my phone. I never have to stop and be bored.

It’s odd, but I can’t keep myself away; the effect is numbing and it keeps me from having to think about what is happening in my life. At both my current job and my last, I find myself checking work email early in the morning and right before bed. I don’t do it because my job is that stressful, or because I enjoy it so much (I do – within work hours.) I do it because answering an odd request here and there gives my life an instant sliver of meaning. I’m bored, and rather than channeling my boredom into creative, artistic pursuits, I go after the lowest hanging fruit: meaningless Facebook chatter, work emails that can easily wait till I’m back at work, obsessively checking Reddit.

I have a very limited experience with drugs, but in my head, drugs are what you take to get away from reality, and deceive yourself that everything is great for a few hours. By that definition, being “on” all the time is unequivocally my drug.

And so I find myself laying in bed at night and anxiously starting into the ceiling in the fifteen minutes between when I shut off my computer and when I finally pass out. Most nights, I try to go to bed so exhausted that I don’t have to confront my thoughts.

It’s not always like this; I do manage to disconnect and enjoy life sometimes – usually when I have a longer break from work. I can cling on to little nudges of inspiration and motivation and create something, or find the time to get out of town and go on a trip. Then I start feeling alive, happy, balanced. However, these days are getting fewer, and I can’t blame work or others for it. I need to find an escape from the screen addiction.

Some brilliant scriptwriting by the masterful Aaron Sorkin.

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TheyGotFit.com Is Live!

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Over the past four months, I’ve been working on a little project called TheyGotFit. Inspired by r/progresspics, TheyGotFit is an online directory of before-and-after photos for people losing/gaining weight and getting fit. You can search “I weigh ____ and want to weigh _____” and see photos of people who’ve undergone the change.

You can also add photos of your progress with the weight, date, and height attached.

TheyGotFit is an exercise in product management, in programming, and in building discipline. Here are the great things that came out of building it:

  • I learned and practiced a lot of Ruby on Rails
  • I couldn’t be a hypocrite and build a fitness website while sitting on my butt, so I used the project as another motivation to hit the gym
  • I designed and built a UI from scratch while obsessing over every element of user experience
  • I got to stay with a problem for four months all by myself
  • I built the discipline to code consistently at least a few times a week
  • I lost 10 pounds working out

I’m now reaching out to initial users, which is very much an exercise in itself. I finished last year with 3 (!) users who were not my friends or in any way connected to me. It was a thrill. Once I hit 20-30 users, where records are showing up no matter what weight you search, I’m going to announce it to all my friends and to some larger online communities.

I hope that TheyGotFit takes off and becomes something, but if 3 users are all I’m lucky to get, it’s still a great exercise, and a fantastic stepping stone to my next project – whatever it may be.

Until then, check it out!

Working out is… working?

About a month and a half ago, I made a commitment to start going to the gym. Because I wasn’t working full-time during this period, I had the time and resources to invest in making my workouts count. For 6-or-so weeks, I went to the gym 4-5 times per week.

Every time I had tried this prior, I would fail in my fourth week. However, this time around, I saw the dangers coming, and I buckled down. I also had the luxury of not having to work every day, so, I established a routine. Each morning, I’d get up early, eat a quick breakfast – mostly Cheerios -and rest up for 30 mins. Then I’d go to the gym for a 1.5-2 hour workout. I’d come  back, drink a protein shake, and eat a healthy lunch that I often cooked myself.

Sometimes I’d slip up and order takeout. Some days, I’d go out with friends and eat food I knew was undoing my progress. I allowed myself 1-2 break days between heavy workouts. But, all-in-all, I never took more than 2 days off. Every day, I was at the gym, working and getting stronger.

Six weeks later, I had lost about 10 pounds, and I felt great. I could move. I started noticing results. Eating crappy, fat-and-sugar-laden food started becoming both psychologically and physically taxing on my body. And I was building momentum. I knew my body was thankful for what I was doing. Going to the gym every morning was still hard – I had only been going about 5 weeks, after all – but it was consistently rewarding. Working out wasn’t fun. It was work. And work was paying off.

Last week, I started a full time job, my girlfriend was in town, and then I visited my college for a concert. As a result, I took 6 (!) days off from the gym.  I hadn’t done that  in six weeks. In addition, my new job feeds us lunch every day and the office is stocked with snacks.  So, I slipped.

And you know, not going to the gym was easy. I felt guilty, sure, but it also felt amazing to instantly regress into my old self. With no gym and lots of crappy food , I instantly regained about 2-3 pounds, and I noticed it very quickly in the mirror.

I’ve been spending long hours at work, but yesterday – on my third day in -through sheer willpower, I forced myself back in the gym. I had to go after work, so I had to bring my gym clothes with me and change out of my work clothes. I was full of the greasy lunch I had, not my regular workout breakfast.  I was tired after a long day of staring at the computer.

When I got there, the gym was pretty busy – normally, when I’d work out in the morning, the gym would be nearly empty. I had to work in with other people, and swap my regular exercises, and wait for machines. It sucked, and the little voice in my head kept telling me this was the worst and that I need to quit. Still, I got through the workout. It wasn’t my best, I didn’t leave it all out there, but it a was respectable effort. I went home wondering how often I could bear with it. I went home at nearly 10PM, exhausted, uncomfortable, and with bleak expectations. I didn’t think I’d be able to keep it up.

Getting up today was not easy, especially on 6 hours of sleep, but once I did get up, something amazing happened. I felt better. I didn’t ask to feel better. Yesterday, I was a little proud of making it to the gym, but was mostly focused on not being able to sustain it in the future. Today, however I really felt the effects of my workout. I feel stronger. I feel more confident. I feel like my body is grateful for helping it flush out the crap I’ve been feeding it. Today, I feel really proud of myself for having the perseverance to come back and work out.

I’m teetering on the precipice, and my fate hangs in the air. My birthday is in less than two weeks, and six weeks ago, I resoled to end the year in the best shape of my life. To be fair, I’ve been in pretty bad shape, mostly, so this isn’t a very hard goal. But, at any rate, I was well on my way to accomplishing this until I started my job. And now, it’s do or die. It’s very possible that I’ll end up quitting like I always do, and re-reading this post with a sad smile as a fat sloth down the road. But that’s not my intention. I didn’t feel good working hard at the gym yesterday, but I feel great today. I want to keep feeling like this. I want to stay true to my mission. It may be the most uncomfortable thing in the world, but I’m coming back to the gym tonight.

You are in a fight against an opponent you can’t see, but oh, you can feel him on your heels, can’t you? Feel him breathing down your neck. You know who that is? That’s you. Your fears, doubts, and insecurities lined up like a firing squad ready to shoot you out of the sky.

Coding: Builder vs. Creator

I really enjoy coding, but don’t think I’d be happy working as an engineer for someone else’s company. If I though I could be happy doing that, I’d be enrolling at Flatiron School or General Assembly in a jiffy. I took part in the pilot class of Codecademy Labs back in the winter of 2015, and had a fantastic time learning – now I’m even helping out with the Codecademy Advisor program. It’s a lot of fun, especially because I feel like such a beginner, but I love to teach and feel that it greatly enhances my own learning experience. I’m not a fast learner at all, and I oftentimes need a concept explained to me numerous times before I really get it. So, I’m happy to offer exactly that to people I work with. I’m happy to explain something as many times as I need to for the student to understand.

I do love building, though. I write music– I studied music composition in college – and the creative process is strikingly similar. I never paid much attention to all the buzz about how math and music go hand in hand, because I never got caught up by math, but I do think programming and composing are very similar. They both have concrete tools, guidelines, appreciation for beauty and minimalism and design principles, and endless way to create a gorgeous end product. So, I find myself approaching composing and programming very similarly. In both, it’s hard for me to find the discipline to work consistently every day. I tend to work in spurts, for 4, 6, 8 hours one day, and then break for days on end. When I do make myself code/compose consistently, however, I find that it results in my best work.

I don’t think I could be a programmer for someone else’s product, but I am full of fire to create my own. I need to figure out a way to balance how much I’m learning with my awesome day job and find the discipline to code consistently. I have only just scratched the surface of what I can create with code.