Mourning the Loss of Identity

When I was young (like 10-ish), I got my first computer. It was on this computer that I learned how to create software. I had always been interested in computers and that interest blossomed into a full obsession during high school, college, and pretty much to this day. When I was a kid, everyone naturally assumed that I would go into a field involving computers. None of the people that know me now and knew me when I was a kid are in the least bit surprised that I ended up as a computer programmer.

Also when I was young, I was really into writing stories. I wrote stories on my mother’s old blue Smith Corona type writer until she couldn’t stand the sound of the hammers smashing anymore and had to confiscate the thing. I went to summer school just so I could take the creative writing classes. When I got to college, my first year there I took creative writing, introduction to science fiction, greek mythology, and philosophy. Doesn’t sound like the kind of stuff a computer science major would be taking, does it? Sure, I also took Physics and Calculus and Linear Algebra and Discrete Math and a bunch of computer programming classes. I even ended up as a TA/exam proctor for a lower level computer science class.

As far back as I can remember, everyone expected me to go into computers. They certainly had good reason, I can say without ego that I’m incredibly good at what I do, among the best. I have presented at programming conferences, user groups, and written and co-written 14+ books on computer programming, some of which have ended up as dog-eared bibles on the desks of developers. Over the past 10 years, I have made it my goal to be among the top computer programmers in the world. So what’s the problem then? Why blog about this? The problem is that I have never been truly satisfied at any “day job” that I have ever had. Sure, there have been really great jobs, but even then those began to seem unsatisfying. I used to think it was because the job was getting boring (and sometimes it was).  But now I realize that there was a deeper cause to my unhappiness at work.

I didn’t want to work in a cubicle building stuffy, boring computer software all day long. Especially when it felt like there wasn’t a single creative step in the process of building this software. I wanted-needed– to build, create, let my mind free and imagine worlds and people and events that stimulated my imagination. The most fun I’ve ever had programming was when I was building MUDs (Multi User Dungeons/Dimensions) – big, expansive, text-based worlds that let players roam around and solve puzzles, complete quests, and kill things in classic “infocom” style. I got to use the creative and analytical sides of my brain at the same time.

This past October, I decided that I’d had enough. I was done being a computer programmer. I made the mental switch to believe in the old adage that I am not my job. I forced myself to admit that I was a writer and that I was merely paying the bills with my job as a computer programmer. I was no longer a programmer, but instead a writer who knows how to write computer software. It was amazing what a difference that simple change in perspective made on my life. I have been “present” more in my life in the past few months than I have in the past few years. Not only that, but I’ve got a short story coming out in a published anthology soon, I’m writing a few more stories for other anthologies, and I’m finally moving forward on my fantasy novel with real, measurable progress. It’s amazing what a difference a little change in perspective and priority can make.

Part of me mourns the loss of my previous identity. Part of me feels guilty every time I choose to ignore some blog post about a new piece of software. Part of me feels the tug of stress and anxiety when a new development tool or platform comes out. The old me, the one obsessed with being one of the best coders on the planet, would rush off and absorb this new technology to the exclusion of all else – family, friends, responsibilities, hygiene. Now, I feel the tug and am aware of the call but I don’t answer it. I have decided that I don’t need to obsess about my career as a software architect. I have decided that because I just don’t obsess anymore. I will still bust my ass for my employer and give them 100%, I just won’t spend my nights and weekends obsessing about every new thing that comes along.

I now know what makes me happy. I know what I need. I know who I am.

I am a writer, for all the good and bad that entails.

  • John Halloran

    Congratulations, Kevin. That sounds great for you. Please point us all to the short story and the novel when they are out, OK?