One Year Self Employed

Posted , 4 minute read.

On November 22nd, 2021, I lost my job. I had been weighing if I should leave for some time, and having the choice made for me was freeing in some ways. I tend to stay places too long, trying to effect change long after it becomes clear how large a fight those changes might take. The broad strokes of what I should do next were pretty clear to me, but the specifics of how to turn it into a business that generates revenue weren't. It's been about a year, and I haven't done a good job of broadcasting what I've been working on.

I've been one of the leaders of Reactiflux for the entire time it's been on Discord, 7 years. It grew without much help, by virtue of being one of the only chat communities focused on React. By our metrics, I know that we have on the order of 3,500 monthly active members, with peak online averaging around 15,000 members.

This large number of active members, asking questions and helping each other, has always been operated by volunteers and adjacent to a number of commercial interests. We've had an active job board for year with people hiring through the community, we've brought on guests to talk about new developments in technology or to discuss new products.

As I was figuring out what I wanted to do after losing my job, I reflected on a lot of the projects ideas I'd considered; operating the community in a more professional way and developing it into a self-sustaining operation, rather than an engine kept running purely through goodwill. As a mature community, though, it's been important to me to keep the spirit alive; it's no good to anyone if Reactiflux loses what makes it great.

I've spent the past year spending my work energy on self-employment and building the life that I want. Through my last long-term employment, I made enough money to seriously contemplate how much I would need to do what I want. A prerequisite question to answer, though, is what do I want?

I've always known that I've wanted to work for myself. When I was young, my mom shared a story that entered the canon of my life, of my dad coming home from work one day and telling her, "I can't work for other people anymore." He went on to found a manufacturing business that he operated until he passed away.

I lost my job at the close of a transformative period of my life. I spent the majority of 2021, my 30th year on earth, living nomadically; staying in long-stay rentals, camping in national parks, staying with friends and family, and generally roaming the country. I drove 23,000 miles in 2021, hiked dozens of miles (which included at least one moment of genuine mortal peril), and totally changed how I live my life. Professionally, I had intended to return to a semblance of how I lived before before, determined to make the best at a company I felt was doing good and important work, but instead I found myself untethered and free to pursue self-directed goals. Personally, I made a deliberate and intentional move away from polyamorous relationships, which I'd been involved in since 2018.

The past year has continued to be transformative for me. I set some optimistic goals for myself — many of which fell to the realities of life on the road — and made progress that I'm proud of, learning a tremendous amount about the spaces I'd like to invest more deeply in. I hosted and guested events. I broadened my knowledge of investment portfolios, through needing to adequately manage my own. I obtained my first consulting gig, made significant progress on developing a slate of software products, and formed a corporate structure to support my ongoing work. I've connected with dozens of people doing good work around the world, and have developed a much clearer picture of what sorts of revenue streams might be sustainable. I put an offer on a house in an area I'm excited to live in, financed through an uncommon mechanism (shoutout to SBLoCs). I spent several months exploring the east coast of the US, and several weeks exploring Europe for the first time in 10 years. I've begun building a life with a partner I love.

By foregoing full-time employment, I've had time to and need of living my life with more intentionality. It's not enough to go through the motions; I have to proactively plan and execute on short-term goals at every step. It's been exhausting at times, like visiting 5 countries in Europe in 10 days or scraping together 3 weeks of housing at the last minute after rentals fell through. But it's also been freeing and exhilarating, giving me the freedom to consider what I'm good at, what I want to do, and how I could use that to make money.

I've explored a number of ways of making money to support myself, but still have a long list of topics. I'm consulting and developing my professional network. I'm building products to solve problem I encounter in the consulting and community management work I do. I'm looking at ways to operate events in a way that isn't too draining to be sustainable. My partner and I are drafting an outline for a book. I've laid some groundwork for a paid job board and referral network.

I intentionally didn't go "all-in" on any of these ideas; while I haven't struck gold yet, I have a large number of viable-sounding concepts to explore while part-time consulting pays my bills. I consider the past year as time spent investing in personal and professional growth and development; after nearly 10 years working as a software engineer, I knew there would be an adjustment period as I transitioned to freelancing and entrepreneurship. There's still a long road ahead, but I'm really excited to walk it.