a weakness is just a strength you haven't met

I've known many people in tech who fall victim to what I'll call the Stardew Valley fantasy: to amass heaps of cash and leave it all behind. Some dream of homesteading, others of running adventure travel or extreme sports businesses in exotic far-flung destinations, yet others of writing or painting or some other creative hobby, yet others of going it alone on indie games or ramen-profitable bootstrapped tech businesses. Research, music, brewing, carpentry, architecture, immersive travel: the list of passions deferred is long and as varied as the people you ask.

Maybe it's something about the nebulous and insubstantial nature of the work, or the increasingly charged nature of public conversations about tech, or dissatisfaction with the modern office environment, or the slow ravages of repetitive strain injury, or the gap between some ideal of what the work should be and what it is.

Maybe it's just the age-old fallacy: that the grass is greener on the other side of some invisible life-choices boundary. The paradox of choice writ large. If you could choose to do anything, why this and not that? How will you ever know you made the right choice?

Maybe it's the same in many creative fields, and this is just the one I know. After all, we tend to think our corner of the world is special in some way: invested with unique meaning in its import for humanity, particular in its strivings and foibles and pitfalls.

And yes, before you ask, I also periodically fall victim to that same fantasy. Except I did turn that fantasy into reality, at least in some small degree: back in 2012, I left Facebook to form my own consulting practice, which in a flight of prosaic whimsy I called Savage Internet.

At the time, I was fascinated with the Quantified Self movement, which I felt had potential to improve science education and data literacy by giving learners a direct, personal connection to the process of gathering and interpreting evidence. This fascination became a project, which became a collaboration with Intel Labs, which brought me into contact with other curious, passionate people for three highly engaging years before the churning wheels of corporate strategy and macroeconomics brought it to an anticlimactic end.

This fascination also had a personal dimension: as someone who has alternately struggled, coped, and lived with anxiety for over 15 years now - and, occasionally, thrived in spite of it - Quantified Self offered me a way to feel like an active participant in the strivings, foibles, and pitfalls of my own body and mind, rather than a passive observer or victim.

Since the pandemic, I've been more often than not in the coping to living part of that spectrum. I've developed enough tools to not struggle, but thriving has felt elusive at times - at least, until very recently, after a major international move and two job changes.

And it feels strange to even say that. I have much to be grateful for: a fulfilling career that offers chances to lead, mentor, and build, and to grow in these areas; the financial freedom to travel, eat well, and indulge my pastimes; here in Denmark, a work-life balance that felt elusive in North America. My partner, Valkyrie Savage, is a curious, driven, and loving person with whom I share many hobbies and interests, from jugger to video games to cooking to travel to cycling. Overall, I'm in reasonably good shape, despite a series of strain injuries and health scares over 2023. I've lost 10 lbs in the last few months, meeting a personal target despite the many fantastic bakeries we have close at hand here in Copenhagen. The jugger club here in Copenhagen is growing and thriving. And so on.

Still. Even with so much to be grateful for, sometimes I still find myself asking: isn't there more to all this? (Always, but isn't that exciting rather than threatening?) Am I good enough with what I have? (I can choose to be good enough, regardless of what I have.) What if some bizarre conjunction of the spheres rips all this away from me? (Then I'll deal with it - it's not like I always had any of these things.)

I'm keenly aware that these anxieties are foolish, but that doesn't make them go away.

In 2024, one of my big goals is to be at peace with all this. To finally, after all this time, accept myself as I am and not as I'd like to be. Maybe not just to accept - but to enjoy who I am, to thrive in who I am.

Maybe it's OK that I want to push for more: I like new challenges! But it's possible to seek challenge with a sense of curiosity and joy, to grow with a carefully cultivated balance of eagerness and patience. To be pulled to challenge, rather than pushing myself into it. To grow with purpose and direction, and harness the creative energy at the heart of my anxious striving.

Maybe it's OK to want to shut the world out on occasion: like all of us, I have a need for boundaries, a need for time to be with myself and reflect. The Stoics regarded occasional solitude as essential to human flourishing, and our basic neurology hasn't changed since then, as recent research on positive solitude suggests.

Maybe it's OK to feel overwhelmed sometimes, so long as I'm honest and open about that, and so long as I take action to restore balance. It can be hard but liberating to say No, even to things we'd otherwise love to do, when I'm at capacity. As I practice this more in my daily life, I've already felt the benefits of greater focus on what I value.

When we accept what seems hardest to accept about ourselves, we can find that those apparent weaknesses are merely the reverse side of our strengths.