Perhaps you’ve heard of “20% time”. In many ways, it or something like it are table stakes for many software folk, and perhaps other creative specialists as well; i.e. if a company doesn’t offer something like 20% time, it may have a hard time attracting top talent, and could end up suffering by not profiting from the results of the outside-the-box sorts of ideas and work that emerge from people’s 20% time. Some organizations — Valve comes to mind as the most prominent — even make it policy that staff are to use the “law of two feet” to self-organize, with the theory that more impactful work will emerge from the resulting economics.
I relate to this insofar as I’ve been lucky to have wandered into having what I call, tongue-in-cheek, “100% time”. Most discussions of 20% time seem to characterize the mix as being 80% slog, 20% “freedom”. In contrast, “100% time” is a mix of near-complete professional and personal freedom where I can be available to every opportunity that comes my way. Whether related to new business, following new creative inspirations (in programming, web or graphic design, or writing), pursuing scholarly interests, keeping myself healthy, traveling at length, enjoying the company of and taking care of family, volunteering for causes I believe in, or slacking to recharge, 100% time means that I choose what to care about, and then dedicate all my energy to making that choice have impact. Having had the opportunity to live like this and becoming acutely aware of it, I’m nearly certain I won’t be able to “go back” without a fight.
I don’t write this to brag. More than anything else, if 100% time seems out of your reach, I hope to be some proof that it’s not.
There’s nothing in my past to suggest that I should be where I am, doing what I am doing: no family money, no name-brand school (or diploma, for that matter), no powerful connections. In fact, I came very, very close to getting stuck in a “regular” job ten or eleven years ago, after sinking $140K in debt trying to start the first incarnation of Snowtide. I thought that had been my one “shot”: after failing dismally and being forced to take any work I could get (initially landing in a hyper-dysfunctional office run by maniacal Russians…), I figured that my life’s trajectory was fixed. I know I shouldn’t lament a “professional” career with stable companies — it was far more than I had any right to expect — but, perhaps irrationally, I wanted to be king, with direct control over my life and my future.
Thankfully, I’m either too stubborn or too stupid to give up. I extracted PDFTextStream from the smoldering ashes of my wayward startup, and managed to build a small but reliable business serving fabulous customers in a technically-challenging niche. Somewhere along the way, I discovered that the biggest benefit of entrepreneurship was not money (as many have said, far safer routes to much larger piles of cash exist elsewhere; go be a banker or management consultant if that’s where your objectives lie), but time, and the freedom that comes with it. Once my livelihood and income were decoupled from the time I had to dedicate to earn it, I felt like I finally understood the concept of opportunity cost and the aphorism of spending time: you will exist for only a finite duration, and you’d best ensure that that precious capital is used wisely to build the most value possible.
How you personally define “value” is where all the fun and challenge comes from. Build bigger, better, more beautiful things; learn to make music and art and drama; inspire an empire and then go save the world; love friends and family and neighbors and strangers. Do what you can to have the opportunity to make those choices yourself, so you can be the best person you can be, and make the most of the time you’ve been allotted.