Over the Hill
Well I’ve done it. I’ve finally become an adult. At least by Common Law I guess. You can’t be 40 and still be a kid, right? Anyway, I’m remembering what it was like to turn 30. http://joshuaforeman.blogspot.com/2005/04/reflections-on-my-30th-birthday.html
I distinctly remember feeling like I couldn’t possibly accomplish what I wanted in life because I fell behind due to a soul-sucking marriage that held me back for a decade. That, and I was more self conscious about how being in a different decade of life separated me conceptually from those I wanted to hang out with. Neither of those things are a concern to me on the turning of this decade of my life. I really don’t care about people who are biased against older people, and I accomplished a LOT in the last decade. But more important than what I accomplished is the fact that my roadmap to what my life goals are is much better defined. Having that focus has allowed me to better manage my time and energies and brings me so much more satisfaction in life, and will hopefully lead to a better world for others to some tiny degree or another.
While my goals are still virtually unattainable, (They involve creating a media company more successful and culturally relevant than Disney) new mechanisms for AIMING for those goals have materialized in the last 10 years. Namely, the main new mechanism is called ‘building a platform’ online. That means utilizing social media such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, etc. to collect a following large enough to be viral. That requires producing content that your following enjoys enough to subscribe to and share with others. And it just so happens that I’m pretty well suited to do that. I’m comfortable in front of a camera, I can articulate my ideas, and I have a little bit of an initial boost thanks to some popular content I designed in Guild Wars 2. And most importantly, I have (hopefully) juuuust enough skill to get the ball rolling. Again, I suffer no illusion that my goals will ever be met. I don’t think that’s what’s important in life. I think the fulfillment of striving for them is what gives life meaning and joy.
I haven’t really come close to the critical threshold at which my platform becomes viral or sustainable. But I have plans. Oh yes, I have plans. This last decade has been building towards them, and I think that’s one of the reasons I see 40 as a very positive milestone. I like the idea of ‘over the hill’. I’m choosing to interpret the metaphor this way: Having spent a lot of energy climbing said hill, I can now do a little bit of coasting down the other side. I feel like the work I’ve been putting into my platform-building is on the verge of really going somewhere. (Whether it does or not is irrelevant.) Here’s a list of things I’ve started to put into place last decade that I think will propel me towards my goals in this coming decade.
- Officially started my company, Breath of Life Art Studio.
- Became semi-well-known in an online community of millions of Guild Wars 2 players thanks to a lucky break making some fun content and then creating an entertaining GW2 themed art tutorial.
- Started to work with a variety of people to get my website up and running. (Currently on collaborator number 4, with a really exciting reboot planned.)
- Got serious about the fictional world that my future dreams are all about: Talifar. I recruited my mom, who is a science fiction author, to write novels in it. And they are AMAZING. Besides that progress, I had an epiphany that suddenly cleared away a massive problem I’ve had with further development. The problem I had was an inability to develop past interdependencies. For instance, because I’m trying to be scientifically accurate in the design of Talifar, the locations of cities on the planet are dependent on where water is. Where water is on a planet is dependent on how the land masses are composed, what minerals they are made of, where mountains have formed, weather patterns, etc. Since you can’t make a story with any real travel in it without nailing down things like the location of cities, I felt stuck, as I don’t have the expertise to design the landmasses accurately. I was hoping to work with some experts in geology to really nail these things down. The epiphany that I had was that, just like many games do, I should simply start producing content in a Beta form. In other words, everything is subject to change as new, better-informed decisions are made. This was a HUGE weight off my mind, and was only brought about because my mom has worked so hard on the novels that she rightfully wants to pursue publishing them. I felt like everything was under-baked so I really didn’t want to release anything until EVERYTHING was figured out. But the concept of Beta releases fixes that problem so I’m now I’m really enthusiastic about starting to build Talifar out in the open, and reaping whatever benefit public scrutiny might provide.
- I built community skills by interacting with players of Guild Wars 2. I got everything from torrents of praise to angry screeds attacking my personal character, hygiene, fashion sense, and skills. And I learned a LOT from that process. One very important thing I learned is simply what to expect when it comes to online interactions with crowds. Another thing I learned is that I have what it takes to absorb criticism without taking it too personally and the ability to extract meaningful and actionable feedback. This is going to be a super important skill since my plan is to crowdsource expertise to help me design Talifar. It was also very informative to have a lot of conversations with the community team at ArenaNet. Learning why they have the philosophy they do helps me to understand how to proactively create my own plan for my own purposes.
- I raised kids. Having started so early I’m almost done already. Pretty sweet considering how many people in my demographic still have toddlers. I’m practically an empty-nester at 40 and that’s really exciting. Not that I don’t love my kids, but looking over the past decade I can see the time/effort/emotional expenditure curve on kids has dwindled from gigantic-nearly-all-consuming, to almost none. Clearing up those resources for other goals. Though the jury is still out, I feel like I truly tried my best to raise my kids right, to give them every advantage I could, to pass on values that I thought would make them the best possible people.
- I invested most of my free time in the past five years on a massive project that I hope will be an industry-shaping influence. It’s called The Cutscene Subversion Project, and it’s basically a thesis project in the wrapper of a zany YouTube series, presented by dozens of characters, skits, guests, special effects, etc. I’ve never seen anything like it before. That may be a good or a bad thing. We’ll see. As of this writing, I have 90% of the footage in the can and I’m near to being done with the final character who’s sculpting a Colossus. Then comes the post processing, effects, and editing. I feel like it has a chance to be kind of a big deal.
- Speaking of investing, I’m ABLE to invest in things like education and building a platform for two reasons. First, my job is awesome and I get paid enough to be comfortable. My co-workers and management are passionate and talented, and that paid off with a very successful game. The resulting financial stability has gone right over into paying off school loans and investing in more education, as well as the various projects on this list. The second reason is because my amazing wife is actually more frugal with money than I am. What a change from my 20s where my ex wife would regularly write floating checks for under 5 dollars for things like cigarettes, ending up with a bunch of $40 bounce fees. For several years we were REGULARLY withdrawn six to eight hundred dollars EVERY paycheck.
- I taught myself video effects and editing. My art background is helping me a lot. I would not say I’m GOOD at these things, nor do I feel the need to master them. But I’m good enough to make my video projects stand above the your average YouTube fare.
- I Started making art tutorials. I don’t see this as a primary part of my future goals, but I do see it as a very valuable part of building a platform. Plus it’s really fun!
- I’ve recently started preliminary game development for my own designs. The groundwork of figuring out how to even communicate what I want to do to potential collaborators, as well as figuring out the back-end pipeline of how assets are stored and shared are all really annoying and a not-fun part of game development. But absolutely necessary if I ever want to do it. I’ve also been reading every book on game design I’ve been able to get my hands on, as well as articles about the business side, management, monetization, PR, etc. I’ve got a ton of industry experience under my belt, but it’s all very specialized. Now that I’m trying to understand the basics of ALL the parts of developing a game I’m finding there’s still a lot to learn.
- Speaking of industry experience, I’m now comfortably established in my career. I lost all my game jobs during my 20’s through no fault of my own, and every time it was a real nail-biter just trying to land another job in my chosen field. But now I’ve been in the industry for 18 years, and happily employed by the same company for over 11 years and have friends in dozens of other great game companies. If I were to lose my job at ArenaNet I would not have any fear that I couldn’t find another position quickly.
- Continual blogging throughout my 30s helped me discover who I am and what I truly want out of life, giving me the building blocks to create my goals. This blog is not just a place to dump my random ruminations. The fact that this space exists for me to ruminate publically actually changes the way I think about life, my values, and how I change and grow. I’ve always been introspective, but unlike a simple journal or diary, putting my thoughts OUT there forces me to think through them a little harder than I normally would. Formally composing thoughts into coherent blog posts forces me to face competing ideas and contradicting data. Not only that, but blogging has trained my brain to automatically start analyzing new ideas and concepts rather than passively letting them wash over me. This has been such a positive influence in my life that I’ve expanded the project to micro-journaling. I printed out a form that I fill out every morning and evening that has data I can used to further refine my life to help me achieve my goals and be a better, healthier person. It’s got physical stuff like weight, waist size, sleep, exercise and other physical conditions. It’s got the media that I’ve consumed: books, movies, magazines, etc. (I haven’t figured out a good way to track media from the internet because that would take forever to write it all down.) And finally I record the projects I’m currently working on. I’m excited by the prospects of data-mining this stuff in years to come. This is a concept I learned from working on an MMO. We can tailor the game world, rules, and economy to our players by examining the data we collect from their activities. Likewise, I think I’ll be able to make better predictions in the future based on the data I’m collecting from myself now.
- I’ve invested in education. One of the great joys in my life is The Teaching Company and their college courses on CD/DVD. (Because I’m so old I still insist on buying physical formats) I’ve got shelves full of these courses now. I started out mostly with religion and philosophy and have been getting more into history, science and psychology. I feel like this stuff enriches my life so much and helps me to make better informed decisions, ideas and opinions. Another way I’ve educated myself over the past decade is by making a concerted effort to really, truly investigate social and political positions I’ve never understood, didn’t grow up with, and didn’t agree with. All of this has certainly lead me leftward, both theologically and socially. I still can’t get behind most of the left’s economic ideas, and I think a lot of their social policy ideas backfire. But I’ve shed most of the social conservatism I once had. (Though I still personally live very conservatively.) There’s the old saw that goes “If you’re not a liberal in your twenties you have no heart. If you’re not a conservative in your thirties you have no brain.” Since I’ve gone the opposite direction I don’t know what that says about me. I don’t know if my leftward bent leaves me closer to Truth or not, but it’s worth noting for an end-of-decade review.
- I figured out how to be physically healthy. This was a several year project, and I’m still working on that last 10% that takes ten times more effort. The single biggest factor to getting my weight under control was learning to make my own food. I usually make my meals at the beginning of the week, and then if I don’t eat it every day I know it goes bad and I’ve wasted money. And that’s enough of a motivation for me to stick with it. I learned about macronutrient proportions, weight lifting, and a kind of cardio I can tolerate. I very recently learned that I can survive just fine on fewer than 1,000 calories a day. THAT was a huge surprise.
- I married a woman who supports my ambition by giving me the time and space required to pursue my goals, as well as emotional encouragement. I cannot stress this enough. A defining characteristic of my 20s was the black hole that was my ex wife who pulled all time, money, love, energy, etc into the void. Being able to direct those resources at the items listed above is what has lead me to the happy state I find myself in at 40.
Having pointed out all the positive ways I’ve built momentum, I should also mention the inverse: the things that didn’t happen (but could have) that would have derailed my efforts. I didn’t get seriously ill like my brother and wife did. I didn’t have a coworker or boss who actively undermined me like my wife has to deal with. I didn’t suffer financial ruin like so many have. I didn’t suffer another divorce. I didn’t get laid off again. Four of those things DID happen to me in my 20s.
I also explored a couple of endeavors that I found out I DON’T want to do. I tried casting figurines to sell. (Found out I can’t compete with mass-produced figurines from China) I tried doing a weekly column for Examiner.com. (Ended up taking almost 8 hours per article with the fancy illustrations I was doing; far too much time for the couple dollars it got me.)
And I utterly failed in regards to my oldest son. Being a finite person of limited conceptual range, I honestly don’t know what I could have done differently, but my emotional/philosophical/ spiritual/physical resources were not up to the task of parenting him in a way that would not lead to our current estrangement. I haven’t talked about this issue on this blog for the obvious reason that it involves someone else, and this in not the appropriate place for that kind of analysis. But I bring it up only insofar as it was a very important and impactful part of my 30s. In many ways it parallels the family failure I experienced in my 20s of losing a wife. The same situation where I feel like I honestly tried to do everything right, (not always succeeding of course) and still can’t think of what I could have done or not done that would have saved that marriage. In both these cases the family member sees me as an evil monster. On the one hand, I know I’m not an evil monster. On the other hand, most actually evil monsters “know” they aren’t evil monsters. The only comfort I have is the fact that it is only these two individuals who interpret me that way, and I’m more than happy to call anyone else I interact with daily as a character witness. Regardless, it sucks to have an estranged son who holds such a poor opinion of me. I pray for him often and hopes he can find a way to reinterpret things.
But after all that looking back, I feel happy about looking forward. God willing, I still have 2 - 4 decades to accomplish my goals. And I feel like I’m on the verge of getting to that apex of hard ground work that will allow me to coast downhill. Like a snowball I’ve been rolling up and up and up a mountain, once it starts rolling down the other side it can begin accumulating mass on its own. That’s my theory anyway. I’ll check back in a decade and enjoy laughing at how wrong I was.