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Work at Home Heaven

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People look at me strangely when I tell them I run my own business from home. Mostly they smile and go on with our conversation, but there's this little look of concern that passes over their face for just a minute. It's like I've said something that just doesn't fit into their mental model of how the world should be.

If you're 24 and working on your startup with a couple of other college friends in a garage in SV the world is your oyster. But it gets complicated at 30, or 40. A lot of that has to do with being a high-tech worker living in a rural area. A lot of it has to do with having a family. When I talk about startups, or web applications, or SEO, or link arbitrage, or Angel capital, or social media, or hosting, or functional programming -- I might as easily be speaking in Greek for all the good it does. I simply don't live in a 21st century business culture.

So I play along.

My FaceBook status updates are usually along the lines of "big traffic on the way into work today! I saw three squirrels!" or "If this day got any prettier I think I'd have to take the afternoon off!" or "if you name the spider that lives in your home office cubicle, does that make him a pet or a coworker?"

It's never "Need to get to work tonight instead of watching TV. I can probably get seven hours in if I work through supper and skip the news." or "I've spent two days working through design questions. Am I wasting too much time with this? Or are there real issues I should be addressing?" or "I wonder if I should just get the office cot out and sleep up here instead of spending all the time of walking to the house and getting in bed?"

People ask me what it's like to work for myself. It's great! Only the boss is an asshole.

But that's the way it has to be when working by yourself from your home office on your own business: if you don't put pressure on yourself nobody else is going to.

We live in a world where everything we own tries to take our time away from us. My Tivo is full of stuff that either I or my wife decided at some point would be cool to watch (I watch little regular TV, but do Tivo political programs and movies that look like they might be interesting) My web browser boots up with 15 pages of web content that continuously generates interesting stuff to spend my time on. I don't even get out the XBox or other game consoles because they passed from being curiosities to being actively addictive many years ago. My cell phone can do so many cool things I could spend a month just downloading and playing around with all of them. And then there's those handheld GPS units I've been meaning to get out and program...

There is this great weight of inertia, both from the surrounding culture, my status in life, and the technology I own to prevent me from actually doing anything. This inertia must be battled, must be overcome, and on a daily basis, for me to make progress.

Being aggressively self-motivated is a lot tougher than it was ten years ago.

We've become magpies, flirting here and there, picking up little shiny bits of information before flying off somewhere else.

So today's Saturday. I get up around 8, make breakfast while I surf the news quickly on the web. There! A great discussion on the leaked emails concerning Climate Warming! It's got all the stuff that turns me on: philosophy of science, how technology teams think, the politics of global warming, how paradigms change, etc. Plus there are real, live people on the internet who are wrong!

And it already took up two hours of my time last night while I was watching Stargate with my son (one of my fatherly duties -- doesn't that say something about modern life?)

Must. Resist. Posting.

Over on FaceBook, there are two are three interesting threads started up by friends. Marc Danziger has another one of his provocative posts over on Winds of Change. Marc, man, you can really write a lead and a hook! And then there's the healthcare vote in the Senate that threatens to blow up the deficit and has been bugging me for a week, and there's an awful lot of foreign-language editorials I'd like to read over on Watching America and ...

And heck, it's Saturday! I'd like to go outside! Mow the stupid grass, play with the dogs, take a hike in the mountains. Go out and live.

So slowly I make my list of stuff to do today on post-its and stick them on my monitor. Blogging makes a nice transition from web surfing to programming and I must feed the blogging monster. I have my DSLR with me so maybe I can get some fall shots from the office before walking back to the house.

I don't mean these last couple of posts to sound like whining -- if anything I feel extremely lucky to be able to work on my business from home. But there is a certain amount of misunderstanding that goes with working from home. It's not really paradise. In fact, it can be a lot more of a struggle than working from an office is. Ever have sick kids and a problem with a production app at the same time? Ouch. Ever miss a major family event because of a self-imposed impending deadline? That makes you popular. Struggle between picking up work on the side that doesn't meet your goals or selling something you like in order to continue forward? How bad does it hurt?

If these seem like easy problems -- problems you can solve by pulling out some moral lesson you learned on a TV show or with some easy slogan -- then this work-at-home heaven is not for you.

1 Comment

Great post Daniel. I too work from home as does my CTO Justin Blake. People don't ask me where my office is as much as they used to. When I tell them I work from home, I too will sometimes get odd looks. When I explain that I know how to leverage the Internet for collaboration and have all of our systems online, thus removing the need for an office an allowing me to work from literally anywhere in the world, they tend to get a bit jealous. As you say though, if you work from home all the time you have other obstacles to overcome, and if you have a family, prioritization and boundaries become a bigger issue. Having said that, I wouldn't trade it the flexibility and freedom for anything.

Thank you for sharing your experience.

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This page contains a single entry by DanielBMarkham published on November 21, 2009 4:38 PM.

The Lure of the Paycheck Stub was the previous entry in this blog.

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  • Robert Dempsey: Great post Daniel. I too work from home as does read more

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