One day when it feels like work

Some time before, in a past life, in a past day job, it felt like work. I answered to someone; my stress level indexed my responsibilities and how far off-target I was from them. My life was less “mine,” less the product of my personal goals, more the product of market forces; more what my parents would have wanted. I made career choices based on what would benefit me most financially, rather than existentially. I thought convention would benefit me more than pure idealism, and indeed it did. I don’t mean to say I’m ungrateful for all the fortune conventional wisdom has brought me; only that its gains are short-lived, and I’m looking again to my long-term.

I built my own thing as a way out from this; as a re-declaration of my own skills and capacity to do more than what I was merely told to do. I gave that thing a conventional goal of being a profitable business, to solve the problems convention solves: “nothing in life is free.” Otherwise I merely wanted to build, and wanted to build something that people enjoyed. I made it personal and tied it closely to who I am. I worked on it for years because I enjoyed it, and other people seemed to, too.

Now it’s reached a certain point, a certain clearing on the other side of the woods: modest profitability. I always thought I wanted a big small business, but when I started putting that in motion in a real way, I realized how quickly (and how far) I strayed from my original purpose in building this thing (whether you call it a product or business or art project). I started seeing how even this pure thing can eventually feel like work — not in the invigorating, satisfyingly-exhausted sense of the word, but in the futile, misaligned-with-my-life sense. I started buying into the business gurus who say I need to focus on sales and inserting myself in front of people to “grow.” I didn’t really think (or know to think) that I don’t have to do things by convention now. Sure, conventional business practices might help me reach less-modest profitability. But what then? Again, convention promises only short-term, shallow happiness and not the kind of bone-deep satisfaction you get from giving the finger to convention and generally forging your own path.