Back when I worked at Viaweb in the late nineties, I used to stay late to work on personal projects. This is back when only businesses could afford high-speed internet and Adobe Photoshop was cutting-edge. So I would stay in the office long after everyone went home to use these tools.
It was an extremely nice office, occupying the top floor of a walk up apartment in the heart of Harvard Square. If anything, it looked more like a grad student apartment than an official company. My desk faced the window and from it I could look down at all the people walking about.
But I would work late into the night on a weekday, long after the throngs had gone home. It was dark and soothing and, steps away from Harvard, it made me feel like some crazed intellectual or artist. While I worked I listened to the song “Into Dust” by Mazzy Star on repeat on my CD player.
I listened to the lyrics of this song recently and thought, “Jesus, this is morbid.” But at the time it was nice – a pretty girl singing to me with some nameless guitarist playing in the background.
While the lyrics barely registered at the time, I think I subconsciously gravitated to this song for a reason. This dark subject matter forced me to reflect on my own mortality and spurred me to make my mark, to try to beat death, and I did this by being creative.
So late at night I built a demo website for a potential client and spent hours crafting the images. I also attempted to twist the software from it’s original use into a different use entirely. The web was new back then, Netscape had only come out two years earlier, and it was a wide open field. We were all amateurs and I went nuts attempting everything I could.
While reflecting on mortality excessively is bad, doing so from time to time with songs like “Into Dust” helped me see what was important. Knowing my time was going to be up at some point pushed me to engage with life.
That’s why I can’t stand sitting in an office filling out a bunch of forms. I would much rather be writing, building websites, climbing mountains, rowing in open ocean races, drawing, searching for rattlesnakes, playing with my kids, or otherwise interacting with life for the short time I’m going to be here.
In retrospect, I was most happy at companies that encouraged creativity and rewarded innovative thinking. Fortunately after realizing this fact, I’ve taken the plunge and now work for myself. It’s a nice return to the life I lead previously, working on projects that interest me rather than toiling on jobs thrust upon me by some nameless taskmaster in Russia.