Vocational gravity; escape velocity

I've thought a lot about work, career, vocation, calling over the last year. I've started a business, narrowly avoided taking a job, taken on contracts with most of the constraints of a job, dealt with a downturn in the business (and started using the phrase "deal flow" a lot more) and finally taken a job again—and through it all mostly managed to keep working on my own project. Some of my friends have gently teased me about my frequent claim of desiring to exit software development: "You enjoy it, you're pretty good at it, it pays well. Admit that you like it!"

I don't dislike software development, I just like other things more. I like drawing, illustration, animation and painting way more than software development, but I haven't built a sustainable career in those areas (yet), and I have obligations that make that more challenging today.

When I decided to start this blog, I made some choices. I didn't want to join the horde of voices commenting on Apple and Google and Microsoft and Amazon, even though I have many strong opinions regarding them, their service and product offerings, and our relationships to them as a consuming public. I didn't want to talk about the craft of programming, either; there are better sources for that sort of material (though I do intend to write about the whole process of developing software tools for artists, the focus of my project). I definitely wasn't going to write movie reviews anymore: I wanted to veer from the purely reactive toward the contemplative, to struggle with interesting ideas. To essay, to try.

I don't post often, probably as a direct consequence. I need to find "worthy" ideas, then chew on them until I find an angle, a perspective from which to explore. I write somewhat longer pieces, and I'm trying to focus on human, societal issues. I don't apologize for this; I've read too many blogs with a dozen posts or so constantly making excuses for "why I haven't written lately," seeking forgiveness from an audience that mostly doesn't exist. Perhaps if I was striving to be known primarily or significantly for my writing, but I'm not, or at least not at this time.

A job in software is the easiest, most lucrative thing I can do professionally right now. Writing about "tech," as its opinionators like to call it—even as they focus almost entirely on consumer-oriented electronics and software—is probably the easiest, most lucrative (in terms of attention) extracurricular thing I can do right now. I think of the pull toward them as "vocational gravity," holding me to familiar planets, keeping me from drifting into the void.

But we have to escape gravity to visit on the moon, to walk among the stars. The competing drive to do more than the familiar, to establish ourselves in new domains and stretch ourselves in new directions, can be likened to a rocket’s attempt to reach escape velocity, the speed at which it overcomes planetary gravity and soars into space.

The analogy is instructive: just as gravity is stronger with planets having greater mass, so vocational gravity is stronger in domains we have participated in for longer; just as escape velocity is easier to achieve the further the rocket gets from the planet’s core, gravity being inversely proportional to the square of distance, so sustained effort in the new domain, especially at the expense of the hold of the old, makes success more attainable.

So I push myself. I get up when I fall. I prep and I strive, because I dream of riding this rocket to orbit and beyond. I test myself, and one day soon…