Thoughts about my life as an indie

It’s been nearly two years since I decided to quit my job and go full-time indie. Now I’m thinking of just going back into the world of gainful full-time employment.

There were a few factors that led me to try this out. First of all, I was feeling burned out and just So Very Tired. My job satisfaction wasn’t doing great due to a number of factors and I had an itch to make something for myself for a while.

I also was feeling inspired by a few friends and acquaintences of mine who seemed to be doing really well as freelancers or doing their own things in general (not to mention seeing an explosion in amazingly inspiring indie games that made me think, “Hey, I can do this too!”), and I had a lot of ideas and ambition for all the stuff that I thought I’d be doing on my own. After all, I was already making a lot of stuff after work anyway, and without an energy-sapping full-time job getting in the way, who knows how much more stuff I could get done? And it would be all stuff I cared about, and I would be able to live off my savings while I built an audience and got an income via Patreon and so on.

A lot of things have happened to make that no longer feel very realistic to me.

So, on the plus side, I have indeed worked on a bunch of personal projects. I’ve made a bunch of games and worked on music (especially music for other peoples' games) and did some work with a couple of business partners and made things with them too. But no matter how much I got done, none of it really ever felt satisfying. I get occasional moments of “Hey that was cool!” or the like, but for the most part I just feel like I’m creating into the void.

I also haven’t been able to be as consistent with my output as I’d like. A lot of that is just because, being the way I am, I tend to overwork and crunch on things, and not having a daily schedule only made that worse. So I’ve ended up working myself to the point of pain several times, and haven’t even had anyone else to blame but myself. And sometimes I’ll go way too long without posting anything to Patreon and then I feel really guilty about that.

I had thought I’d be able to establish a schedule where I set aside N hours for music, N hours for drawing/comics, N hours for programming per week, but that’s just not happened either.

And I thought I’d be able to maintain passion for my passion projects (especially Refactor) but it feels like the only reactions I get are, like, “Oh, that was neat, maybe I’ll buy it when you’re done” or whatever, and it feels difficult to keep up motivation in that environment. It’s been nearly a year since I’ve actually made another track for Refactor and when I think about working on it, I don’t really feel motivated by the desire to create, but just by guilt for having not created. I went into Refactor with the thought of it being an occasional single-serving gamedev project, but right now it just feels like a big expanse of effort that I don’t want to undertake, and this is absolutely not a healthy relationship to have with what was supposed to be my biggest, most personal project ever.

I also found out that one of the people who was most instrumental about inspiring me to go indie (and my biggest source of encouragement) was, well, absolutely fraudulent about her own success. I don’t talk to her anymore and while I wish her well in her endeavors, learning the truth about what was going on was a pretty big blow to my motivation and self-confidence.

I’m caught in a vicious cycle where I lose inspiration, which makes it so that I don’t have stuff to make for my audience, meaning my audience shrinks, meaning I lose inspiration. This is not even a remotely sustainable position to be in. It has also negatively impacted my interpersonal relationships, and my enjoyment of my various creative-social venues like my drawing group and the Seattle Indies. Lately I feel less like an inspiration and more like a cautionary tale.

Last weekend I was at a friend’s wedding, and while there I met someone else who is (I think) around my age and had similar feelings about Working In Tech to me. That there’s too much of a drive to be absolutely passionate about what you’re working on, working yourself to the bone or worse for the sake of The Product, and how silly all that is.

And at the same time I’m seeing a lot of really cool stuff happening at some of the bigger tech companies around here that I do want to be a part of, and where I feel like they align with my interests but in a way that’s, like, gentle and collaborative and exploratory in all the ways that I enjoyed about working at HBO, and people I know at those companies and trust tell me that their environments are pretty great and it’s not like Absolute Pressure To Perform all the time and it seems pretty enticing to me.

It’s not that I’m running out of money or anything (my investment income has turned out to be way better than I was planning, even, although I do keep on planning for the near future when our Tweeter In Chief says something that tanks the stock market), it’s more that I’m running out of steam for my self-direction and running out of excuses for not getting stuff done. And the thing I keep coming back to is a realization that I’m best at working on my own stuff when it’s an escape from working on completely different stuff that I’m good at.

I’m not sure if I’m going to give up on my indie stuff just yet, but I am starting to actually look at job postings, and have even applied to a couple that I think would be pretty good fits for me. And I’m considering places like Microsoft where the stuff I would be working on isn’t something I’d be passionate at but at least I’d be good at it and I’d be able to step away from it at the end of the day and then truly enjoy the stuff I am passionate about. Or maybe I’ll find a satisfying public-sector position that I can be at for a few years and feel happy that I’m contributing my skills to an industry that doesn’t put the hammering in my head; Seattle has plenty of those, too.

If I do end up getting a job I will absolutely let everyone on my Patreon know, and that there are no hard feelings if people want to reduce or discontinue their support of me.

I guess my biggest concern is what happens with the startup. I’ve only really been involved in an advisory capacity for the most part (aside from occasionally making a piece of art or writing some physics or shader code) so I don’t think my involvement would be that impacted, but one of the jobs I’ve applied for would probably be a conflict of interest so I’d have to think long and hard about what to do next. Or maybe that would be part of my negotiation for the job if I do end up getting it (although it feels incredibly premature to even start thinking about that just yet, I mean I only applied yesterday and haven’t even heard if they’ve looked at my resume yet). Or maybe this involvement would be a positive, if I figure out how to spin it right. Who knows, at this point!

Here are a few things I absolutely do know, though:

  • I want to stay in the Seattle area
  • I absolutely will not work for Amazon again
  • Games are a nice hobby but, for me, are not sustainable as a career
  • Collaboration and communication are way more important to me than I ever realized
  • Working on my own is lonely as fuck

I feel like I’ve sold myself on a dream but didn’t have what it takes to make that dream a reality. And I feel like it’s okay to reevaluate that and try something else. And also the pain management workshop has helped me (at least for now) with finding better balance and pacing in what I do, and I’ve learned to set boundaries pretty well over the last couple of years as well.

I haven’t made any decisions yet, aside from giving myself permission to make decisions, and that feels pretty okay too.

And hey, at least I finally got Publ written.

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