At the start of the pandemic, I lost my job, around the time we reached financial independence. I didn’t want to retire by myself (Fergus is much more conservative than I am when it comes to personal finance), and career-wise I wanted to move in more of a technical direction again, so I started preparing for technical interviews.
I worked on a video game as a project, to get back into the swing of programming, and because I’d always wanted to make a game but never seemed to have the time.
Long story short, I kept making that game (and many more small games as part of game jams), and declared myself retired. Fergus joined me months later, and we started a game development studio, LLC and all.
We had the creative dream: nothing but time to work on our passion projects. After living that creative dream for over half a year, I find myself missing routine.
I had the perfect commute of a half hour walk to work. Long enough to get the blood flowing, but not too long so as to tempt me to take the bus or a Lyft. Work expected me in the office before a certain time, so even if I was feeling meh, I got up and went to work, often curing that mehness with the walk alone.
And my projects! They had layers, so writing, technical analysis, and visual design all came into play, and they had short but manageable deadlines. Every two weeks I had a new and interesting priority to wrap up and deliver. Requirements were clear, but there was freedom in how I went about filling them.
At our new game studio? Nothing is clear.
For some, that might sound invigorating. For me and my ADHD, it makes my heart pound in a less healthy way.
If we’re working together, and you’re stalled because you need something from me, you’re my top priority.
When I’m working for myself, nothing “needs” to be done at any point in time, and my dopamine-seeking brain is going to want to do the simplest thing it can to get that hit, which is usually watching Netflix or YouTube videos. And that’s enjoyable. Until it isn’t. Until you feel numb and know you should stop, but you can’t bring yourself to cancel the autoplay.
That’s when you know the day is lost. And you pledge to do twice as much tomorrow to make up for it. Then tomorrow you get overwhelmed and melt down, or in an ideal situation, recognize your pre-meltdown symptoms and throw the giant jellyfish at your partner (the universal signal for help).
And then you cry and eventually wonder if you were happier when you were working, and if that makes you broken. Or about how game developers are supposed to talk about avoiding burnout, so can you really call yourself a developer if your concerns are the opposite? Do you actually care about game development if you have to force yourself? Is this dream life just wasted on you?
I’m not back to looking for work. But reworking my day-to-day life to fit my goals has been a STRUGGLE (also I lost a very close family member last year, so that did not help my mental health to say the least)
What I’m doing right now:
- Strategic roadblocks that break me out of patterns
- I basically can’t use my phone in the mornings or at night for anything but person-to-person communication, using StayFocused
- on Chrome BlockSite stops me from watching Netflix too early in the day.
- No “should be doings” or “why can’t I justs,” only non judgemental observations. Like, “it’s hard to get out of bed,” and realizing that simply opening the curtains can make a big difference, or making the process as streamlined as possible by doing things like putting clothes out the night before. We’re all our own worse critics, so thinking of yourself as friend or just an impartial third party can make all the difference.
- Breaking up tasks
- Did you know making a video game is hard? But that all big, hard tasks are often made up of loads of tiny tasks? Who knew! Often when I catch myself not being able to start something, I realize it’s a larger task than I thought. And doing a really achievable, small task, puts me in a great mood and often I come out hours later having done multiple tasks. I’ve been using Focus To-Do, which helps me estimate time needed for each task. If I think it will take 4+ pomodoros worth of time (2ish hours with the default ), it probably needs to be broken up more, and I might not be realizing how nuanced the task is.
- Energy management
- With ADHD, it’s often less about time management and more about energy management. Sure, checking in with your artist about new work shouldn’t take long, but there’s social pressure and anxiety on top of that. Probably best not to do that AND a bunch of other similarly taxing tasks all in the same day.
- Body Doubling / coworking
- There are a few groups I’m involved in that have coworking sessions, and I had some 1-on-1 body doubling sessions with the amazing Jen Mah for a while that were transformative.
Keep in mind I say this all while coming off a game playing binge of two days (first was sorta planned, but second day lost any sort of enjoyment and was a zombie-mode day). BUT! I then took a long walk, came back and did a tiny thing for my game, secured an artist for an upcoming game jam, and am writing this article, so, you know, glass half full.
Me of a year ago would have written today off as “wasted.” Me of today recognizes that me of a year ago could have benefited from being more in touch with her emotions.
There is no perfect life. There’s only a better life. And that life is built on a series of small actions.
Financial Independence and early retirement is not a ticket to happiness. And happiness maybe even shouldn’t be the goal.
So yes, I miss my job, but I’m steadily working towards the kind of life I want to live. One where I have a sense of purpose that is of my own design.
I don’t have a neat, picture perfect ending for this story. In fact, it’s been sitting as a draft for literal months and I’m still struggling. But at the very least, I’m becoming more comfortable in not having all the answers.