Is This Really What I Wanted?

It was an average Tuesday night at the office.

I was heating up my 3rd meal prepped container of rice and beans that day for dinner when I went into the bathroom to wash my hands. The automatic soap dispenser pooped out some bubbles and I washed my hands and face. Wiping the wet towel across my face, I opened my eyes and looked into the mirror. It was weird; I didn’t see the image I personify of myself in the mirror. I saw someone else. Bags under my eyes, tired, and miserable, I said to out loud to my reflection,

“Dear God you look awful. I have everything I ever wanted, why am I miserable?”

Do what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life. I’ve believed it for so long. Maybe I just overshot it. Like any issue of the soul, maybe it can’t be broken down into such a simple model. Or did I lose “what I love” along the way, and only focus on “do”. I look back into my reflection.

“I gave myself what I wanted. It’s not a lie.”

I always dreamed of having the house, the engineering career, the startup company. It sounds so sexy. But now running after it feels so cold. Is this truly what I want, or is it a lie I told myself. Why is it so easy to spend countless hours in the lab, but so hard to drive two hours to see my old friends and family? It’s easy to say “Oh, I’ll catch you next time I’m in town” or “I’ll make it the next time it happens” but eventually we all run out of next times. I plan like I’ll live forever, but forget to enjoy the present like there’s no tomorrow. It all spirals through my mind.

“One day, all your friends and family will wake up, but you won’t. The messages will fly saying “did you hear the news?” Don’t worry, they’ll be strong and carry on. To them, you’ll just exist as a slowly fleeting memory instead of an active presence. Your To Do list won’t matter. You can leave behind the things you built as a legacy, but what will it matter to you then? Will you ever enjoy the fruits of the labor, or labor until your dust.”

Leaning over the sink, nose almost touching the mirror, staring into my own selfish gaze, I said

“Is this really what I wanted?”

Ding! The microwave signaled that my rice was hot and ready. Back to work.

Entrepreneur, Engineer, Artist. You’ll either find Danny in his startup’s office, or running in the woods. He is a tinkerer who realised passions can become careers, and that happiness lies in doing what you love.

Don’t Worry, Be Happy Now

When I was little, I was seemingly always happy. I distinctly remember adults asking me, “how are you happy all the time?” And my answer was simple, I would respond “Well, I just decide to be happy instead of sad, and then I’m happy!”

Is it really that simple? Where did we get lost?

Adult me would tell little kid me that I’m just being an idealist and then grumble that I need to get my books ready for tax season or something. “You just haven’t experienced enough yet” I might say to me, “Don’t worry, there’s plenty of time to become miserable, you’re young.” Little Danny would most definitely be confused what happened to future him, and might counter-argue “Can’t you see how easy it is? There is a lot to be happy about! You can run and shout and jump up and down and other stuff too!” Eventually, the older self and the younger self would agree to disagree and go separate ways. Adult Danny would head back to his office, while little Danny preps his 3 wheel scooter to ride down a tube slide and inevitability scrape his knees.

Now I like to think the current me kept that crazy spirt; I think there’s a good chance I did. Adult Danny is handy for making sure the mortgage gets paid, but I don’t think he’s the one in control. As terrifying as it is, the over-idealistic risk-taker riding the scooter might be driving the ship. And I think I found the key reason for that.

Adults are really good at working for their lives. We make to-do lists and systematically check off each item to keep the mechanisms running our lives well maintained. This is important for stability, and by all means not a bad thing. Go to work, check. Make money, check. Pay bills, check. But what do you get when your mind is completely tied up in completing a list of ever-replenishing menial tasks? We lost something in the check marks and line items; I couldn’t put my finger on it but it made me miserable. That is until I dropped my “to do” journal, went outside, and let my mind be free.

Children are terrible at to do lists and holding responsibilities to keep their lives stable, and that’s okay. Children have something far more important to do; they have to work on their lives, instead of for their lives. They need to run, jump, build things and fall over to figure out who they are, and where they are going. Alas, we get older, and the life we built is the life we live. We gain responsibilities, and then dedicate all of our mental and physical resources to maintaining our responsibilities. You can run on that treadmill until the belt wears down and the motor dies, and no one is going to stop you. You’ll be stable, you’ll be successful, and you’ll be miserable. It’s okay, there’s time to stop.

My grandmother used to shout “I grew older, but I never grew up!” with here false teeth nearly falling out of her mouth. I would laugh, but now I think she was on to something. Stay young. Keep exploring new interests. Take risks. Start anew. Don’t get so caught up working for your life that you forget to work on it. Give your childish side the wheel, just don’t crash the car.

Entrepreneur, Engineer, Artist. You’ll either find Danny in his startup’s office, or running in the woods. He is a tinkerer who realised passions can become careers, and that happiness lies in doing what you love.

Iterate and Wait

I know you. You’re like me. You want to change the world.

But the world is so big, and you’re so little. And your goals feel painfully out of reach.

I get it, and I get why you’re discouraged. From one over ambitious soul to another, I have a piece of advice; don’t go out trying to change the world. Do what you love, do what you can, and do that every day.

I reiterate – do that every day.

Eventually, the world will change.

You want to do big things, but the only big things that happen immediately are destruction. Positive change is built one small step at a time. The progress might be hard to see at times, and will definitely be hard at times, but don’t give up the good fight.

Work as hard as you can, but don’t jump to the end, you’ll burn out. Enjoy the small successes; they build the big ones. Embrace the failures; they hone your skills in the correct direction.

Find mentors, ask them bits of advice; they’ll be happy to provide. Mentorship is a two way street. Be a mentor when someone needs you, knowledge is never gone when it is given.

Break your hopes, dreams, goals and problems into small bits and tackle each one, one at a time. You will sit and spin your wheels in a panic. You will choke if you eat the whole thing at once.

Iterate and wait. Do that every day.

Eventually, the world will change.

Entrepreneur, Engineer, Artist. You’ll either find Danny in his startup’s office, or running in the woods. He is a tinkerer who realised passions can become careers, and that happiness lies in doing what you love.

Little Black Boxes

On the dresser in my bedroom sits one of those cheesy little wooden black word boxes that usually shout an unrelated phrase on the wall at your mother’s house like “Cats are my children” or “I love Chocolate!” I have one of these signs that my mother bought for me when I was moving into my first college apartment. It reads:

“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; but remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for”

Now I think about this “box quote” quite a bit more than I probably should. And while a quote from Epicurus may be more complex than “I love you more than jelly beans” it has always stuck with me and evolved as I grew. When I was younger, I would think about “things” as material items, and thought of it as a quote to remind us to appreciate what we already have. But now that I’m older, I’m not quite sure if that’s correct.

Now as I work so hard to achieve entrepreneurial goals, time has become my most precious resource. When you are stuck chasing dreams, and all your focus goes toward future planning, it’s easy forget to appreciate the fruits of past dreams achieved. Relationships fade, people get left behind, and then all you have is all the things you worked for. The best things in life aren’t things; take the time to appreciate them.

Do you remember what you hoped for? We work hard to buy expensive high tech cell phones to aimlessly scroll though news and ads we don’t care about, when that same phone can be used to re connect with an old friend. We have nice cars, but mine mostly takes me to the same few buildings every day to toil away for hours on end. Buy all the little black box signs for your house that say “laugh more” but if you don’t want to spoil all the things you worked so hard for, you need to actually take the time out of your busy schedule to do it.

I’m chasing for more, but I already have everything I ever wanted. Now I only need to afford myself the ability to enjoy it.

Entrepreneur, Engineer, Artist. You’ll either find Danny in his startup’s office, or running in the woods. He is a tinkerer who realised passions can become careers, and that happiness lies in doing what you love.

The Entrepreneurial Sprit

People ask me sometimes why I choose to do this to myself, I’m a twentysomething who works 80 hours a week for a smallish but livable income for the sake of starting a company. “Why don’t you get a normal job and work less?” Why? I have seen first hand the power of choosing to be entrepreneurial. But this story isn’t about me, it’s about my parents.

Growing up in a single parent household isn’t uncommon, but each story is varies wildly on the who, where, when, and why. When my father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in the mid 90’s we knew life would change. What no one expected was that he’d be over prescribed and become an addict. We’d be in and out of hospitals, mental wards, clinics, and assisted care facilities until his passing in 2009. Crazy shit happened then, I can remember numerous times I didn’t sleep on school nights because the police were at the house until 3am. Times were tough. My father would never be able to work again, and my mother spent most of her time keeping things settled until my father was living permanently in assisted care after receiving addiction help.

Here’s the kicker, in the mid 80s my mom was working an office job at the gas company, and my dad was a chemist. Both standard, respectable, normal as hell day jobs. That is until my dad was fired. I don’t know how the actual conversation went when he got home, but I’d imagine it was something like “hey, I just got fired from work. Let’s start a company instead.” In 1986 they went into business selling edible inks, and by the mid 90’s the business was successful enough to stand on its own two feet and run all by itself. Just in time.

Now, the only reason I am able to be where I am today is because of this one gigantically small choice. The decision to strive to create something better than the status quo. I don’t know what would have happened if there wasn’t an operational company helping support us in our time of need. We weren’t from a well to do family. And keeping my brother and me from being taken by child services was a full time job for my mother, she didn’t have the time to work a desk for a few years in the late 90’s.

But besides surviving, we thrived. I could have never afforded to build a 3D printer in college, let alone maybe even go to college if it weren’t for the extra cash we had from the company. Now I get to worry about the next funding round for my startup instead of worrying whether my paycheck will cover both gas and groceries. My entire life could have been drastically different due to choice, not chance.

So if you’re feeling bold, choose to be entrepreneurial. Start something crazy, do what you love. Who knows, it might just save a life.

Entrepreneur, Engineer, Artist. You’ll either find Danny in his startup’s office, or running in the woods. He is a tinkerer who realised passions can become careers, and that happiness lies in doing what you love.