The real secret to getting what you want out of life is in the tradeoffs that one willingly makes.
From the outside, it looks like some people have it all. Some will even try to sell you on the dream that you can have it all…but it’s just not true.
The reality is that you can have just about anything you want, so long as you’re willing to make the necessary tradeoffs.
You have to decide what the most important things are to you, and then you have to be willing to tirelessly compromise on everything else.
In my own specific situation, since having kids, my top priority has been freedom. Freedom to be able to experience and enjoy their youth, and freedom to be available and accessible to them.
At the same time, my passion is to build software that brings joy to people.
Combine these two things and you start to get a feel for how I accept some of the many tradeoffs that I’ve made over the past ten or so years.
I suspect that it often appears that I’m leading a dream life. I get to do a ton of fun things with my kids, I build lots of different (hopefully interesting and useful) software, and I actually make a decent enough amount of money throughout…so yes, by my own priorities “life is good”…but it doesn’t mean I’ve got it all either.
Here’s a small and incomplete list of some of the tradeoffs I’ve been making in order to have that “life is good” feeling:
1. Money. On average I have taken a salary at least 40k/year less (maybe more) than I would make at a ‘full time corporate’ gig. I accept that because working for startups gives me both more flexibility/freedom in my schedule (to some extent) and more opportunity to actually build software that brings joy to people. I’m also lucky enough to have an amazing wife who works her butt off in a corporate gig and basically makes our ends meet. Still I often wish I had that 400k+ available, the comfort of a 'regular job’, and had been building towards a happy retirement.
2. Friends. Outside of my kids (and the extended families that come along with their friends), I really don’t hang out with very many people. I know a lot of people, and I like just about everyone…but it’s rare that I spend any 'real’ time with someone. If I’m not doing something with my kids, chances are I’m working. Still I often miss having 'real’ friends.
3. Hobbies. I’m obsessed with building software that brings joy to people…essentially it’s my only hobby. I enjoy so many other things, and I try to put conscience effort into experiencing as much as I can…but when I have a few free minutes, I tend to pick 'building software’ as the way to fill it. Still I often wish I took more time to be involved in other hobbies.
4. Health. Partially because of age (39 right now), but mostly because my priorities and obsession dictate a lack of movement (and enable a horrible diet), my weight has crept up year after year. I attend a Kung Fu class at least once a week and try to force myself to 'stay active’, but most days I default to sitting at the computer for twelve plus hours building software. Still I’m constantly worried about the long term damage I’m doing to myself, but not so much that I actually change my habits.
…and that’s just the high-level list…there are many many more small, every few moments of the day, tradeoffs that I make. Sometimes consciously, sometimes not. Sometimes happily, sometimes not.
In moments of reflection, I sometimes question many of these tradeoffs…but as a whole, I’m happy with where they have gotten me and how it’s been going so far…so, for now, I continue to make them.
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Kevin has a day job as CTO of Veritonic and is spending nights & weekends hacking on Share Game Tape. You can also check out some of his open source code on GitHub or connect with him on Twitter @falicon or via email at kevin at falicon.com.
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