Today is my birthday. It’s been a tradition here that I use this opportunity to write about my life, instead of sharing a new idea. It’s a bit selfish, but I’m allowed a little today. Feel free to skip this post and ignore my self-indulgence.
Overall this has been a very different year than the ones preceding it. It involved living in a new city, speaking at TEDx , and, of course, spending most of my year trying to learn  MIT’s computer science curriculum.
Technically, this was my first year not being a full-time student. Although some might count my intensive MIT experiment as evidence I never really left, it’s been a stark contrast to my time in university.
Although I had earned a full-time income during my last year and half of university, since so few of my peers had a full-time job on the side, it was easy to think of myself as a student during that time. Now I’ve been running this business exclusively as my source of income, so I guess that makes me a professional blogger.
I’ve gotten a lot of questions asking me, “What’s next?” Often the implication is that I’m going to get a “real” job. I’ve spent nearly a decade building an online business that can support myself, so my learning experiments aren’t preparation for something bigger—they’re just my life now.
The biggest thing I’ve missed since starting the MIT Challenge has been the lack of time to focus on my business. I’m really looking forward to working on new courses, books and features for the website. Even keeping a once-per-week writing schedule has been tough, and I hope to spend the next year building things.
What Do I Do for a Living?
My career is certainly a strange one. It didn’t really exist when I started this website, and even though I now know a few dozen people who do what I do, it’s still a bit difficult to understand for most people.
Luckily my career doesn’t depend on everyone understanding. So when people ask why I’m not getting a job, or going to get my masters, I just smile and nod. The best thing about running an online business is that you never need to convince anyone it works—there are no VCs, admissions officers or HR personnel to tell me I can’t, it either works or it doesn’t.
Amazingly the business carried on, with very little decline in income, even though I did no new projects during my challenge. Although for passive income, it’s an awful lot of work, I was happy to know the systems I built over the last six years withstood me taking a bit of a sabbatical.
I’m looking forward to applying the skills I’ve built through my MIT Challenge to improving the learning courses I offer. In particular, I’m excited about reopening Learning on Steroids which has been closed for almost a year. [You can find out when it reopens by joining the mailing list ]
A Year of MIT
I’ll save a full dissection of the MIT Challenge for when I finish (which is still on-track to be completed at the end of September). But if there’s been anything that’s impacted my life this last year, it has been this project. By far the largest and most ambitious project I’ve attempted, it’s been a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The biggest constraint created by the challenge was simply the lack of extra time. In the past I’ve had many extracurricular activities—travel, volunteering, business, hobbies. Juggling this blog and following the curriculum, meant working six days per week, so the past year has been a more focused one.
Despite the time commitment, actually following the courses has been relatively relaxed. The first few months were very intense, but I’ve since adapted to the schedule and made it easier, so now I hardly notice. Instead of burnout, I only feel a bit restless.
When I started the challenge, I said to a friend that part of my goal was to see if I could do it. Not a typical goal, in which the object of desire is my motivation, but rather a challenge where the motivation is to see if I’d fail.
I was terrified when I first started. Not only was the goal hard, but I was doing it publicly, where you can tell from my early detractors , there were many hoping I’d fail. I may not have done it perfectly, but having nearly finished I feel the confidence I’ve gained to take on new challenges is vastly more valuable than anything else.
It’s an interesting question because, for the first time in my life, I don’t have an answer. I spent nearly seven years knowing what was next—building an online business so I wouldn’t need to get a job. After that, the looming prospect of this year’s experiment focused me. But what now?
The easy answer is to just keep doing what I’m doing—continue helping people learn better, writing articles and books, maintaining the status quo.
I’ve never been much for the status quo. Stagnancy is death. Although there may come a time in my life when I yearn for routine, now is not that time.
Instead of a single answer to that question, I have a lot of them. There have been many dimensions of life I’ve wanted to pursue, and perhaps I’ll spend some time dabbling in each of them, enjoying the brief respite before I get swept up in another juggernaut of a project.
In no order of preference or probability, here’s some of the things I’ve wanted to undertake:
- Try new sports. Now that I live in the mountains, I may take up skiing or snowboarding. It’s been a long time since I learned a sport, and it’s an element of my life I’ve wanted to improve for some time.
- Write a novel. I have no desire to become a great writer of fiction, but I miss the creativity of my amateur game development days, and learning to write fiction could aid me in my nonfiction writing which supports my life.
- Learn new languages. Spanish has been on my to-do list for awhile and I’ve always wanted to live a few months in Japan. The social aspect of learning languages also makes it quite a different challenge from the math and science of MIT.
- Travel more. There’s so much of the world I haven’t seen yet, and I miss the adventure. While travel is far cheaper  and more accessible than most people realize, having a location independent income removes even that weak excuse for xenophobia, so it might be time to leave my comfort zone again.
- Author a (real) book. I’ve self-published several ebooks, but I keep hearing reminders that I should write a real book. Initially I had considered doing so for the MIT Challenge, but I feel the self-blogging efforts over the last year exhausted most of the topic for me, so I’d rather wait. That said, the concept of rapid learning is one I’d love to tackle in a more serious format, and then I may have another project to consume my life for another year.
Need, Status, Fun
Linus Torvalds , the creator of Linux, suggested that there are three layers of motivation for human behavior. People who do things for need, for status and for fun. To him, fun was the highest motivation and a sign you were truly living well.
The fact that my to-do list of projects are mostly about fun and less about necessity or status may indicate I’ve climbed up that ladder in my own life. It certainly wasn’t always this way, and I can remember spending much of my time focused on the first rung of that strenuous climb.
More than anything else, I’m grateful. I’ve worked hard, but so have many whom life has not been so generous with. So, before I go to celebrate two dozen trips around the Sun, I want to thank everyone for making it possible to do what I love and share it with you.