Lessons learned from strangers on the Internet

You are too old to learn, they said. At your age it is impossible to change behavioral patterns, they concluded. “They” being these voices I have been hearing in my head lately — a side-effect of the isolation that comes with being a slave to/freelancer on the Internet.

A couple of days ago I would have agreed. Honestly, I would have agreed to anything. I felt done. Depressed. If somebody would have told me that I would never be hired again and I would have to live under a bridge, I would have agreed to that too. It didn’t matter, because I had already given up.

Whenever I feel dramatic like that I fall back on movie-behavior.

I would be sitting in my living room feeling extremely sorry for myself and I would transition into a movie cliché from a Western or Good-Cop-With-Issues film. I would, for example, sit in my kitchen, a bottle of whiskey and a glass in front of me. I would flick the cap off with my thumb – pause for a moment – then ignoring the glass — drink straight from the bottle while looking at photographs from a happier past.

However, I only have a bottle of Dooley’s, which is a cream liqueur that tastes like toffee, that I bought in 2004 — and there are no photos of me to look at, because I don’t like people, so why would I look at one on a photo? Makes no sense, but I don’t care.

It is actually very difficult to reenact a random movie cliché. I don’t have a bath tub, so razor blades and/or hairdryers are not an option, there are no dangerous pills in shady looking brown plastic bottles (pill strips are really an anti-climax in that regard) and I don’t seem to have any decent rope — or the correct infrastructure (beam) for that matter – to really get into character.

Not that I would ever off myself. I’m way too self-absorbed for that. I just want to feel super sorry for myself so I can feel validated for being so depressed about … not being productive at work.

When you read that out loud it sounds very silly. Maybe the voices are right.

I really need to learn to filter myself. The topic of this post is supposed to be “hurray, I accomplished something”.

It is kind of interesting though. When you read the text before this paragraph then you would probably not understand why I would feel the way that I am describing. Maybe you’re flipping me a virtual finger. Maybe a real one.

Trust me, the hell is real. I feel like I am in a prison 24/7. I look outside and I wish I could be that person in his car or that person jogging. It is like I am chained to my house. It is impossible for me to leave. In my head I have this (unrealistic) idea that when I build a successful application that everything will suddenly be OK.

Then I would have money, so I would be able to travel, drink Martinis with olives dressed in a tux with a bow tie, party on a boat with people I don’t know and drive cool cars — while wearing super-slick car-driving gloves (you know the leather ones with the bare knuckles?).

Yet even those fantasies are not even my own. They are just images of movies I have seen, like “The Wolf of Wall Street”, “The Social Network” and “Bullit” — with my man, Steve McQueen.

Darn, took a wrong turn again.

After my blog post about not being able to deal with “shiny objects” I was bombarded with very useful critique and comments on Hacker News. It was an eye opener. Every single one of you was right. Every person who contributed to that article made an impact.

In fact, forget the article. The comments should be the article.

To refresh your memory I will give some examples of those useful tips.

A user named serve_yay said:

“You can’t do every aspect of everything well, I would say it is even foolish to try. This is what focusing is all about, paying attention to what’s important and disregarding the rest. Don’t dick around with editor configs.”

Uh. Nailed it.

egypturnash commented:

“Stop caring. Make something messy and shitty. Tell yourself you are going to make something messy and shitty; gleefully ignore any ‘best practices’ that make it a pain in the ass to just slap something together.”

You make it sound so easy.

And one of my favorites by benjaminRRR:

“Get to the problem. Don’t solve for problems you don’t yet have.”

Oh man, if only you guys were here; reminding me of these things all day so it would eventually be burned into my brain.

Well, now you are. How is that for creepy behavior?

After I read those comments I wanted to put it to the test. I gave myself the task to build a fully working application from start to finish, without allowing myself to start something else.

It did not matter what the application had to do, although I did try to keep it close to the comments. I decided I would build a small application that would show an inspirational quote (one of your comments) every 60 minutes so I would constantly be reminded of the things I need to change.

I started a new repository on a new Github account so I would not get distracted by old ideas and unfinished projects.

The application is called “YetAnotherGreatMotivator”, the Github repository can be found here and – more importantly – the first MVP (Minimum Viable Product) release can be found here!

God, I feel cool. Like a weight fell off my shoulders. Too bad the weight around my ass is still very much on me.

Yagm application animation

It doesn’t do much, but still.

It may not look like much to you, but to me – tear rolls down my face as I type this – it feels like a ray of sunshine in the anus of Satan.

Thanks.

[List of quotes that are currently included]

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There are too many shiny objects and it is killing me

Update (19/2)

I am extremely thankful for all the valuable comments on Hacker News. I want you to know I will take your insights and apply them to my work. I feel like I need to do something with all the advice you have given me, so your comments will be the focus of my therapy-project:

https://github.com/YetAnotherGreatRepo/YAGM


I’m a self-taught developer and I have always been proud of all the stuff I have learned along the way. The list probably looks familiar to most of you.

  • Perl
  • PHP
  • ASP (Classic)
  • Ruby on Rails
  • Python
  • ASP.NET MVC
  • AngularJS
  • Node.js
  • Xamarin
  • Go
  • Etc.

I make money freelancing for local businesses and accepting jobs on Elance. I will say I make decent money doing that, but it has never been the end-goal. I feel like I’m Mario and I’m simply picking up coins, cleaning tubes and kicking around turtles. Nothing satisfying.

Until recently I was productive. I still spent a good chunk of my time learning new programming languages and techniques by reading tutorials, watching Pluralsight- and Lynda videos, cloning repos and reading books.

I could afford spending that time, because I have no life beyond my computer and so I had a few extra hours to splash around.

Here is probably something you can relate to. I have tons and tons of ideas for mobile apps, web applications and the next angry animal game. It is those same ideas that are currently sending me into a deep dark place. I wouldn’t even call it depression, because I have battled depression and this is a totally different beast.

Let me walk you through a typical week for me.

It starts out in the weekend (I have no clue why I still call it weekend, because there are weeks I don’t even dress myself, let alone keep track of what day it is). It’s normal for me to be all pumped and hyped because I came up with yet another YCombinator-will-totally-fund-me-app — or an improvement on an existing multi-billion app that I will overshadow with my awesomeness (preferably before the summer so I can use the money to buy myself some fun and sunshine).

I go into this weird mental cycle that ends with me getting so excited that I get teary-eyed and give myself goosebumps.

So first things first, I need a domain name right? Thus I visit expireddomains.net, filter on my keyword, sort by size and pick the first cool-looking name I can find.

When I finally get the name, I ponder my options and wonder if instead I can make a quick buck selling the domain name for hundreds of dollars, before I regain my focus on the “project”.

The rest of the day is then used renting a VPS server, installing Linux (for the cool-factor) and going through the mandatory list of essential stuff I need, like version managers, package managers, vim bundles, custom prompts, terminal colors, and so forth. Somewhere along the way I get sidetracked and I dump the Linux installation and install Windows Server.

Time well spent.

It’s weird, because I am reasonably down to earth, but when it comes to ideas I am like a bird who is attracted to shiny new objects.

After writing that last sentence I Googled the name of those birds, found out they are called Magpies and apparently they found out that these birds have no interest in shiny objects at all.

Normally I would not stop there and I would study Rossini’s opera on the subject called “La gazza ladra”, or “The Thieving Magpie,” which is an exciting tale about a magpie who takes several silver items, but in a tragic chain of events, a maidservant gets executed for the crime.

But not this time, because I am trying really hard to focus and to put my thought on paper so I can get some help dealing with this escalating problem that I have.

Right, I have the server installed (and I probably registered Google Apps and created several email-addresses for later use) and I’m finally starting work on my project.

Or so I hope.

Nope, not happening.

Because I now believe I should first figure out the requirements of my app. I’m a sucker for best practices. So obviously I want to TDD the shit out of this project. And therefore I need some user stories.

But wait, what makes a good user story? No, what makes a good requirement? Lets Wikipedia that first! On second thought, I should just order “Software Requirements (3rd Edition) (Developer Best Practices)” from Amazon and become a requirement-ninja.

At this point frustration is setting in. While I wait for the book to arrive I Google what cool bleeding-edge frameworks are available for my ultra-sexy app. I mean, AngularJS is fine, but been there, done that. I think I want to build this thing in React.js.

I don’t know React.js, but that should not be a problem. I do what I normally do and create a new folder on my Bookmarks Bar and spend about 3 hours bookmarking every tutorial I can find on the subject. I will probably never read any of them, but just bookmarking them makes me feel good. Or less sad.

Oh …

If I am going to build this in React.js (which I totally should do) then I’ll spend less time in Visual Studio and more time in Sublime Text.

Before I can start, I should first verify that my Sublime color scheme is up to par. I’m still using Solarized, so I feel very dated. I should also add this new programming font I have been using lately. It makes my code look totally pretty. Also, lets Google for trending Sublime packages that I “need”.

Alright, it is only Wednesday so still very much on track. Speaking off tracking… should I use a Time Tracking app? I don’t know. Should I? Lets download and try out a few!

On second thought, I should totally build my own Time Tracker application first. I will use React.js.

And it goes on and on and on …

I am so hung up on design patterns, best practices, bleeding-edge tools, trends and frameworks and all that other noise that I am not getting any real work done. And it is killing me.

What can I do? I have already talked my doctor into giving me ADD drugs so I can force myself to focus, but nothing works and it is becoming hell on earth.