Over the past 20 months I've been considering what to do next. For over 2 years I've been considering what my life's work is; that navel-gazing was triggered by an article on Chongo in the New York Times sports section. I finished the article and said out loud "man, that's his life's work".
And I couldn't stop talking about it. And only a few people seemed to get what I meant.
At the time I was frustrated with software. Burned out, blocked by internal politics that I had failed to manage, racing toward a brick wall instead of finding a way around it, I wondered what my life's work was. Software? Really?
Software is just a tool--a means to an end.
I think my life's work is about helping other people. When I'm not doing that, I'm a lot less happy. The farther removed I am from the delivery of the help, the less happy I am. But it also seems that the closer I am to the delivery of the help, the more diluted my efforts are.
So I ran for school board, wanting to help. And that's sometimes satisfying, though it's far enough removed from helping kids directly that I feel a bit detached from the results. And I've volunteered a bunch in other ways, mostly in an effort to learn more about the nature of poverty in Lancaster city, and what we can do to reverse it (I believe we can).
But I think my life's work is more than just helping, I think it's catalyzing. I've been able to spark some good things, and help others create their own sparks. So I want to put myself in a position where I can do that more--maybe even full time.
Consulting to startups has been fun, and sometimes frustrating, because I'm removed from the actual execution that it takes to make my advice meaningful. So if the advice isn't followed, they aren't successful on its basis (and maybe not at all), which means I wasn't successful.
Coding for the past 10 months has put me in direct control of execution. Getting that immediate feedback is very fulfilling--you code, discover bugs, fix them, see stuff work, and move on to the next thing. It feels great.
It feels 20 times better when someone uses it and says, this is ok, but what would really rock is...and then I have someone to help. I've given them the basis for something that scratches an itch, and they say no, you need more cowbell and less whatever.
That feedback is really important in the process of building software. I'm about to release an alpha to some friends of a new thing I've been working on, and it's the feedback I crave. I'm not yet sure why it's different or better, but I know it's useful to me. And through that, my guess is it will be useful to someone else.
I recently decided it's time to build a small team so I can move things along faster. So I'm going to raise a round of capital and take a swing for the fences again. I'm hoping that what we produce will fundamentally change the way people work and help them simplify.
So I think I found out what my life's work is. It's helping people to help themselves. How I get there, for now, is through software. Really.