3 min read

Last Year and Beyond

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow, we will go into such and such town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit” - yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is you life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time, and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”
-James 4

Last year, before Rachel and I embarked on our “three month” trip to Europe, I quit my job as Table XI’s sales guy. I didn’t expect to return to Table XI, didn’t know what I’d do for work when we got back, or if we would come back to Chicago at all.

With time away from routines and responsibilities, I found myself effortlessly engaged in acts of creation such as blogging, and building castles out of toy blocks and rocks I found in the field. I realized that part of my dissatisfaction with big-ticket sales is how it lacks the daily opportunity to look back and say “I built that.”

Rachel and I did come back to Chicago, and I started to program again. I built simple WordPress sites for cash during the day, then did “real coding” for fun at night. Six weeks in, Table XI said “How ‘bout we just pay you to do real coding?”


I grew confident in my writing while keeping a travel blog, and started to write for Table XI. I wrote a series called Code Like a Chef, which was read by over 25,000 people, and in turn opened opportunities to speak at industry conferences.

At night, I built Daily Fantasy Lineup - an app for people who bet on daily fantasy football. I paid $10 for a domain name, and four people paid me $39 for a season pass, meaning that I finally achieved a goal that eluded me for thirteen years: I launched a profitable dot-com.

I know it doesn’t seem like much, but for years I started projects, and tossed them aside when something shinier came along - lots of ideas, never finished anything. The gratification that comes from launching a Minimum Viable Product and having someone say “I will pay you money for this”, and to do so in a development language that I had started to learn less than a year ago… it’s worth a hundred times the $150 I made before football season came to an end.

2012 was the most fulfilling year of my adult life, personally and professionally. That success is a direct result of quitting my job and giving my heart and mind the permission and time to roam free. It was a risk, but a minor one compared to the threat of, as Thoreau put it, “living a life of quiet desperation.”

Naturally, over the last four weeks in Turkey, I’ve been thinking about what 2013 will be about.

I’m coming back to a promotion at Table XI, as our Director of Account Services. I’ll be a kind of concierge - if a client needs something from Table XI, it’s my job to figure out how to get it. It will put to use (what I hope will be) a satisfying mix of my communication and technical skills.

It’s time to cross another long standing goal off the list: graduate college. I need to write about a dozen papers to finish my Bachelors’ from DePaul.

To do that, I must step back from programming - a black hole that consumes all the free time you give it. I feel remorse over that. I feel like I just achieved “competent coder” status, and I’m hesitant to give it up. But my full potential doesn’t lie in pure coding. I’m a competent developer, and with another year or two of hard work, I could be a good developer… but I’ll never be great.

But maybe, just maybe, I can be a great communicator.

I found comfort in a recent post from new friend and co-worker, Noel Rappin:

I’ve never been the guy who needed hours more coding in his week above and beyond work. For most of my professional career, my personal projects have been writing projects. And while I love to continually learn new things, it’s been a long time since I felt the need to forgo sleep to do so.

I will focus on writing this year. Writing papers for school, writing a blog for myself and for work. I’ll always need side projects, and I’ll always dream of a product that I can build once and sell forever, so I’ll follow in Noel’s footsteps and write an e-book, probably on helping developers improve conversation skills, a topic I speak on often.

We return to Chicago in five days, to a future that seems clearer than the one we came back to twelve months ago. I’m excited, but nervous. It’s a lot of new ground, and I have more self-imposed expectations this year. It feels like there’s more to lose.

But, as the song goes, “there’s reason to believe maybe this year will be better than the last.”

Lord willing.