A little over a year ago I left the offices of Teehan+Lax for the last time. The partners had taken jobs at Facebook and the office was shutting down. I had worked there for the past 7½ years with some of the smartest and most creative people I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. I left the office that day with a heavy heart, yet had an incredible sense of freedom.
I never felt shackled to my desk or worked to the bone. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Teehan+Lax was a dream job. I had autonomy, respect, interesting projects, a decent salary, reasonable hours, and amazing colleagues. However, I felt trapped. Trapped by my dream job. It sounds absolutely ridiculous to people that wish they had any single thing I listed, let alone all the perks I had. I felt trapped because rationally I knew it was stupid to leave something so great even though I wanted something different.
I wasn’t sure exactly what it was, but I knew I had lost something over the past 10 years of my career. It was the spark that I had when I started. I remembered what it was like to have an idea and then start working on it for no other reason than knowing it was possible. All I needed was a graphics application and a text editor and I could turn ideas into reality. Very similar to how a carpenter can turn raw wood into a piece of furniture with nothing more than an idea and the right tools.
Working in an agency is similar to that carpenter working in a furniture factory. The furniture is still lovely and functional, but the idea isn’t his and he only touched a small part of the finished product. The creative muscle isn’t exercised, and slowly the passion fades away as you churn out coffee tables and sofas endlessly. I’m sure there are ways to keep the spark alive in an environment like that, but I didn’t realize I was losing it until it was gone.
When I walked out the doors of Teehan+Lax I started a journey to ignite that spark again. I took a significant amount of time off and hit the reset switch. I spent time with my wife and infant daughter. I read novels for the first time since grade school. I started learning things outside of web development. I generally slowed life down and enjoyed every minute. Sure enough, that spark slowly came back. Ideas would pop up, and that feeling that I could make it a reality returned. I was no longer worried about what peers would think. I was no longer thinking about the endless list of obstacles that stood in my way. I simply wanted to make stuff again.
I started working on a freelance project to get back in the groove. I worked on a half day schedule so I wouldn’t fall back into a rut. The rest of the time I tinkered with ideas. It felt familiar, and most importantly it was satisfying. One of the ideas that I kept coming back to was something I had been kicking around for a long time. I shared the idea with a close friend and former colleague and he shared a similar interest in the idea. We broke the idea down and created a long to-do list. It was exciting, and exactly what I was looking for. I found the spark, the craving to create something from nothing, the insatiable desire to turn ideas into reality.
I feel very fortunate I was able to pause and hit the reset switch. Most people need to reset while life carries on around them which seems impossibly hard. I now see why people abandon what they were once passionate about it. It seems easier to move onto something new rather than reignite the spark that’s faded out. Passion is an awful thing to lose, do whatever you can to keep it alive.