Ari Stathopoulos

Web Developer, Accessibility & Sustainability evangelist, Human.

What is the meaning of all this?

15 October 2019

This is one of those random posts that has no real point, it’s just spewing random thoughts and trying to reach a conclusion. There is no structure here, don’t expect to find anything meaningful.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my future. What my goals are, my purpose, what my legacy will be. I’m 39 and not getting any younger.

I love my job and I work extremely long hours. I work my normal job, and then when that is done I work on my personal open-source projects, I learn new things, improve my skills and so on. On minimum I am in front of my laptop a minimum of 16 hours/day writing code or studying and learning. So my daily routine looks something like this:

  • Wake up time varies, usually between 7am and 9am
  • Take the dog for a 30-40 minute walk
  • Take my octuple espresso (yep, that’s right… 8 espressos - preferably Guatemalan - in a tall glass with ice, no sugar)
  • Get back home with my coffee and work my normal (paying) job
  • Finish work & grab something to eat, usually while watching a tutorial or a tech talk.
  • Start work on open-source & other projects until 1-2am
  • Put on something stupid to watch on Netflix
  • Fall asleep around 4am
  • Repeat

On weekends I just skip the normal (paying) job and instead work 16 hours on my other projects.

I see my normal job and my open-source projects as different sides of the same coin. I can’t efficiently do one without the other… I learn things in my day job working with others that I bring to my side-projects, and all the work I put in my side-projects regarding web-accessibility and sustainability heavily affect the way I work on my day job, helping me make more responsible decisions there and improving the way I code.

The amount of work doesn’t really bother me, in fact I think I’d just go crazy if I stopped working. Even when not working in front of a computer, I’m still working on the back of my head. Plus - believe it or not - the extra work prevents the burnout effect because there’s a feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment from the side-projects that a normal job simply can’t offer. That shit is mine, I built it, it works and it helps hundreds of people, runs on tens of thousands of websites and other developers use the things that I’ve built to make a living. It’s arrogant and makes me feel good about myself.

I do get mini-burnouts though… I can’t work more than 6-8 hours on the same thing, my brain just gets stuck and I get frustrated. So every few hours I’m rotating my focus. I’ll work on issue A for a couple of hours, then switch to issue B, then back to A, then B or even C. After a certain point though, I’m done. I don’t know if the term exists but I’ll just call it focus-overload for lack of a better word. It’s a mini-burnout. After a while I end up staring at a screen and all I see is random letters and symbols without any meaning. While working on a project, you inadvertently build puzzles in your mind, and as a coder my job is to solve these puzzles. But they do pile up… each puzzle you solve is a smaller piece in a larger puzzle. Switching from one piece of the puzzle to another works ‘cause you’re shifting focus, but after working on a few pieces, you’re left with shattered unrecognizable fragments of a larger image you can no longer see. It’s the curse of big projects. When that “mini-burnout” happens (on a daily basis), that’s when it’s time to switch to another completely different project, with a completely different focus. It’s a fresh start. It’s a mental soft-reboot. All the puzzles I was trying to solve and had accumulated in my head get thrown away and I’m starting to work not on a different piece of the same puzzle, but a different puzzle altogether. A smaller puzzle. And then another. And another (and that’s one of the reasons I also decided to split the Kirki framework to smaller, self-contained packages, I can work on them more efficiently).

Here’s a question: What am I working for? Why am I torturing and slowly destroying myself? Is it so that when I’m old I can move to a house by the beach and live happily ever after until I die alone and someone finds me a week later half-eaten by the cats I’ll have in the garden? Why the fuck do I live in Athens instead of the countryside with a sea view?

I have come to terms with the idea that I will never have a family and that’s OK. I used to feel the need to have children, but I no longer feel that urge. If it happens it will be a bliss, but I am whole as I am, there’s no void I need to fill. So there’s nothing keeping me tied to a place, why am I not just moving someplace nice, by the sea, in a house with a garden where the dogs can run and the cats can come and go as they please, and I can plant my trees and do my gardening? Other people have their religion or their children to rely on. “When I die I’ll go to heaven”, or “my children are my contribution to this world”. What the fuck is my contribution? Is it my work? Is it the people I’ve talked to and interacted with all these years? And is my work all that will be left of me? Do I really want that? If so, it better be some fine piece of work.

I’m almost 40 which means that I’ve already lived more than half of what what I am expected to live, and I have maybe 10, maximum 20 years of work left in me (I haven’t seen any 60-year old developers, have you?) Plus the situation in my country is a bit weird. By “weird” I mean that I’m not going to be able to live with dignity after I stop working. The pensions are laughable and I don’t think I’ll even qualify for a pension when the time comes. See the problem is that for a great number of years I’ve been working for companies abroad, and that is not recognized as “working” years by my country. Employers in Greece are required by law to pay for the employee’s insurance, social security and so on. By working for companies outside of Greece, I automatically lose all these benefits and am left to fend for myself. At 65 I’ll get a pension of $300 if I’m lucky. So yeah… that’s probably one of the reasons that make me work this hard. I feel that I need to build something that will be able to sustain me so that I don’t starve to death in 20 years. Of course that’s assuming I make it to 60 and I don’t die from lung cancer ‘till then ‘cause I’m not only addicted to caffeine but also nicotine (but hey… at least I don’t drink alcohol, never liked it).

The only thing that’s really keeping me in Athens is my love for my brother and my baby niece. We live in the same building and yet I don’t see them very often, so basically I’m just staying here hoping that I see them more often. But is it really worth it? I’m not happy here and I know it. I feel I’m wasting my years closed between 4 walls. And of course that’s not really going to change if I move somewhere in the country, there will still be 4 walls and a laptop. But at least I feel I’ll have more freedom. Freedom to make better friends, go out more, be at the beach in 5 minutes if I so desire. And if I feel the need to be in a big city it’s only going to be 1h by train or car.

So… that’s something I’ll need to sleep on. When I finally manage to fall asleep that is, it’s already 3.30am.



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