I’ve been wanting to write about this for a while, and the powerful and inspiring people at NSConference1 are one of the reasons why I’m finally able to do just that.
Over a year ago, about a month or so after WWDC 2013, I set out to do the largest personal project I’ve ever attempted, to write a book about Scene Kit. At some point I want to write about that in great detail, but this is not it.
I started with 3D graphics in college and kept it as a hobby, having the same passion for it as I do for animation, interaction, and accessibility. Every time I sat down in front of the computer, I got excited and full of energy. And in between, I kept thinking about all the things I was going to do next.
I couldn’t have anticipated how hard it would really be, despite having talked to several people about it. Doing something for the first time is always a great challenge, and (as many of us know) the complexities of a project doesn’t scale close to linearly. My nights and weekends of joy and excitement slowly became less enjoyable and were no longer energizing. Over the next 6 months or so, it became more and more draining, both physically and mentally, with countless long nights, high stress, anxiety, and a strong fear of failure.
At the same time I was pushing for things I cared about at work, things that demanded my emotional engagement, that demanded me caring for them. I felt guilty for not having the energy to care about both, guilty about not meeting other people’s unexpressed expectations (or more likely what I imagined that other people were expecting of me). I realized that this was a situation that I couldn’t sustain for long. If I were to ship, I had to make changes to my current plan and keep pushing for “just a little bit longer”. In order to keep going, I took time and energy from pretty much every thing else.
Ruthless prioritization is just that, ruthless. One by one, everything else has to go, to free up as much time and emotional energy as possible. It was only through support from close friends and family that I managed to ship by Christmas 2014, taking almost 3 times longer than what I had originally planned.
Having something out there was a huge relief in the sense that I was no longer “forced” into this ruthless prioritization. But it was also highly anticlimactic for me. Everyone kept asking me: “you did it, doesn’t it feel great?”, but I didn’t feel it. I didn’t feel the way that other people expected me to feel. The last month leading up to the release I had been so drained that just the thought of sitting down in front of the computer was hard.
I became more hesitant to discuss the topic (Scene Kit) in public, afraid that people would find out that I didn’t really know what I was talking about. I couldn’t possibly be an “author”2 because I don’t have all the answers.
I still love writing, I still love graphics. A casual conversation about it or thinking about how to create something cool makes me happy. I enjoy it. But I haven’t been able to act on it. The mere though of it causes an immediate stress reaction. I haven’t managed to get myself to open the iBooks Author file in 3 months.
At this point, I want to point out that I’m not saying that I’m quitting, nor that I want to. I love these things, they make me feel happy, and have brought me so much enjoyment already. But I am pretty far out of balance3, and need to find my way back. I have been at a pretty bad place, but the fact that I am able to write about it means that I’ve already have come far.
I see balance as multidimensional thing, a person standing on one leg. It’s possible to sway from side to side in any direction and find your balance again, but as you lean further in one direction it gets harder to get back in balance and even when you are standing straight, it will take some time before you can stop waving your arms around. If you lean to far, for to long, you will fall, at which point you may need a helping hand to get back on your feet again. I believe that I managed to keep standing, even if it might have been just barely.
But it’s not all bad, and it has been a powerful learning experience. I have come to many realizations about myself, what I really care about, and what I don’t. I’ve started to look at things differently, which has led to new – mostly unformed – ideas that I want to explore further. Someday.
I feel that I’ve grown with this experience. And I look forward with positive eyes.
I want to continue writing this blog, likely introducing some new topics, and I want to explain a few other parts of Scene Kit that interest me. But I need to do this at a different pace, without any expectations.
People have asked me if I would want to write another book, and I would. Someday. But I would do it very, very differently.
If these emotions feel even remotely familiar to you, my best advice is to talk to your loved ones. And know that you are not alone. You are not the only one who feel emotionally exhausted, who feel afraid that you will be exposed, or who feel that you don’t meet other people’s expectations.
Thanks to Jaimee Newberry, Laura Savino, and Amy Worrall for their inspirational talks at NSConference and to all the attendees who had constructive discussions on these serious topics. ↩
It took me almost 3 months to change my Twitter bio from “Writing …” to “Author of …” for this very reason. ↩
I’m not talking about work-life balance. I simply use the word “balance” as an metaphor. ↩