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The years are long but the days are short and we all die at the end.
In 2013, myself and a few friends with whom I played D&D regularly were enamored with 3D printing. We were also getting quite tactical with our D&D battles and so started to amass a collection of miniatures.
I had some experience with WebGL right around the time three.js was getting ramped up. I managed to convince my friends that I was able to build a relatively simple 3D editor using WebGL and if they could help me with assets, we could figure out a way to drop-ship custom 3D printed miniatures designed using our tools and assets. We were planning on commoditizing the relatively expensive and stupidly useless cottage industry of custom miniatures.
“Oh wow, you’re one of the people behind Hero Forge?”
Finding Hero Forge on KickStarter was both validation that we weren’t crazy, and a kick in the gut when I realized we weren’t going to be able to launch before they were, and they had both funding and actual professional artists. We had some guys in a ramshackle shed in the backyard of a rented house.
In retrospect, we could have tried. Well, I should clarify that - I could have tried. Honestly the team was doomed from the start, it was a bunch of friends chipping in to pay for an LLC instead of a serious business venture. I was the programmer, one of my friends the 3D artist, one was planning on building a multitouch table for projects planned AFTER launch, and I can’t even to this day remember what my other friend was going to do.
Needless to say we didn’t launch. We didn’t even really keep going after finding Hero Forge. We kind of just petered out, stopped meeting and now the code decays on my private git server. That was 10 years ago.
To put it another way, it’s taken me 10 years to fail to launch that idea. So far.
I’m writing this on Friday morning, procrastinating figuring out how to chain whisper.cpp output into my local LLM for AI driven live transcription/translation using HuggingFace.
About a week ago, my wife and I had a conversation about how the education system in Texas, and really the entire US, and possibly the world, is broken. As a teacher she has an intimate view of the industry and as a good, empathetic teacher, she sees how it fails our kids. I mulled over this for a few days, then 5 days ago I approached her with an idea around leveraging AI and LLMs to help fix the problem, rather than education taking an adversarial stance against AI.
I kind of thought she’d blow it off as another one of my whacky ideas, or humor me and tell me that it sounds great then promptly ignore it. Not because she’s not interested or uncaring, but because I’m me and we both know it. Instead, she thought it was a scary good idea, and engaged and even started expanding on my ideas.
So off I went to start cranking on a proof of concept. I initially wanted to slam it out that weekend, but I’m no young man anymore and staying up past 8:30pm has me yawning. I gave myself a week. If I can get… something that clearly shows my idea built in a week, then I can take a step back and really analyze this idea to see if I can get some traction.
This post will probably go out on Monday, so while I technically still have a few days of work before I call time, you’ll be reading this after time has been called. I’ll post a follow up that will probably come out in a week or so (still figuring out a posting schedule), but for now I’m confident that I’ll have a tracer bullet going by Sunday night.
To put it another way, it will have taken me a week to nearly launch that idea. So far.
The In-Between Times
Now I’m not naïve enough to think that 29 year old Tim would have had the same productive conversation with his teacher partner and had the experience, focus and discipline to build out a prototype in a week. There’s definitely an experience and technological advancement aspect to this story.
There’s also something else. Back then I lamented on never having enough time to work on my ideas. I was married and I had a full time job. I’m not a young college drop out who can live in a garage on ramen and work 18 hours a day on my idea. Today I’m married and have a full time job. The difference is in how I used my time.
“Oh great, I get this far and it’s just another ‘work-dont-have-fun’ post”
Kinda? I’ve probably put a collective 12 hours into this thing so far. A few solid chunks of time on Saturday and Sunday, then an average of an hour and a half each day. I have a 50 minute train commute that I can use to work on stuff. I don’t feel I’ve sacrificed living my life.
I couldn’t find 12 hours over 10 years to work on my other idea? I couldn’t find 120 hours over 10 years? Something else was going on.
Of course now I can say exactly what was different. I was depressed, unhappy, and in a marriage that wasn’t a good fit for me. I couldn’t have worked on any ideas even if I did take the in-between times I had, but I didn’t have any. My life wasn’t designed for me to have downtime for myself and the few times I got it, my own neurosis prevented me from doing anything with it.
Now I’m happy, (relatively) emotionally healthy, and in a marriage with a supportive partner who understands how I enjoy spending my time. I intentionally took an in-office job in the work-from-home boom because I had a 50 minute train commute. My life is now deigned for me to use my ample downtime productively. That’s not an accident.
I guess the motivation to write this post was to talk to 29 year old Tim and those of you who feel similar. Who feel like their lives are incompatible with their desire to build something. You know you need to hustle, you know you need to use those in-between-times to build but you can’t. You can’t muster the motivation or discipline, you can’t free the time. You feel hopeless, like your dream is forever out of your reach.
You need to come to terms with that. Really look at your life and see if it’s compatible with your dreams. Chances are it’s not. Then you get to make a decision, which is one of the most fun parts of living.
You ditch the dreams, or you ditch the parts of your life that are in the way.
You probably had a gut reaction to one of those prospects. That’s the one that’s the most important to you.
I made changes to the parts of my life that made me unhappy and depressed. I decided that I didn’t enjoy my lifestyle and that this desire and dream of mine was legitimate. While I’m comfortable talking about that part of my journey through life, I’m not sure that extends to other parties involved so I won’t go into details.
That may not be your decision. Maybe you’re really happy with your life and the reason you can’t stay committed is because this goal isn’t that important to you. That’s a great decision too. It’s also probably the easiest. Just focus on the life you enjoy and live that more and let go of the not-actually-a-dream-dream.
This is a personal thing, just know that nothing in your life is unfixable - some of the solutions are just emotionally painful and difficult. I recommend you start with your mental health and a therapist. The rest will follow, hopefully.