Safety Nets

A few weeks ago now Yahoo bought Tumblr for more than a billion dollars; responding to the news, Marco Arment wrote The One-Person Product. In episode seventy-five of Roderick on the Line, John talked about watching successful young artists blow fortunes one CD at a time. On the one hundred and twentieth episode of their Back to Work program, Dan and Merlin discussed a common topic between Marco’s article and John’s podcast, the topic of a safety net.

By way of closing The One-Person Product, Marco explained that although his windfall by way of the Tumblr acquisition was by no means enough to buy a yacht or helicopter, it was enough to give him and his family a strong safety net. A strong enough safety net to give him the freedom to work on whatever he wanted, in fact, without needing to make it immediately profitable. In other words, the need to make money governed which ventures Marco could explore; in the absence of that need, he became comfortable with working on projects not necessarily whose success was questionable, but whose profitability was in some degree of doubt.

During The Egg MacGuffin, Dan and Merlin used Marco’s article as a segue to ask a very interesting question: What are you not doing now, that you would do if you had some sort of safety net? And why does not having that safety net prevent you from making something good? In characteristic Back to Work fashion — and I don’t necessarily mean this in a negative way, except that I do — the duo eventually relegated the problem to the individual.

The usual Back to Work conclusion places blame on the individual rather than that individual’s circumstances, and for good reason: when I have trouble finding time to write, blaming my job won’t solve a thing, but stepping back and realizing that I need to sit down and write with what little time I do have does. Changing my mindset is much easier than finding a new job. In general, I agree with Dan and Merlin, and the opinions they express are generally ones I can get behind at least in part, if not fully. But this case is the exception, the one where I want to agree with them, but I just can’t.

Before I got a job, I devoted the better part of sixteen hours a day to this site in some form or another; I alternated between reading and writing almost constantly. But now that I have a job, now that I work at least eight hours every day, I am only able to spend a fraction of the time I used to on this site. Articles that would have taken me a day from inception to final copy now spans several days, if not weeks. No matter what I do, I cannot create like I used to: it is physically impossible to produce content of equivalent quality and quantity in half the time. No amount of determination, distraction-free writing environment, or revamped workflow would change that. A safety net, on the other hand, would.

If I woke up tomorrow morning and no longer needed to work, and if for some reason I chose not to work anymore, I could go back to spending the majority of my waking hours on this site. I could write all those articles I no longer have time to write; I could finally learn to build iOS apps, and begin work on that cool app idea I had six months ago. I could do so many things that just aren’t possible now. There are only so many hours in a day, after all, and with a strong safety net in place I could spend the vast majority of those hours working on, well, whatever I wanted. Until then though, until the iOS app I labored away at on nights and weekends hits the App Store, until my monthly pageviews measure in the tens of thousands instead of just the tens, I will do just that: continue working on nights and weekends, hoping that one day I can weave a strong enough safety net to go all-in on a single venture with the hopes of hitting it big.