The Question Mark

4. December 2014
Time6 min read

Originally published on The Campfire Union blog.

Rachael and I waaay back in the day. What were we thinking?
Rachael and I waaay back in the day. What were we thinking?

I've always known what I wanted to be when I grew up.

When I was 6 I wanted to be an artist, so my parents enrolled me in art classes and I spent every minute I could drawing and making art.

When I was around 8 I decided I wanted to make video games, so I spent my days filling notebooks full of sketches and ideas for game concepts.

By 10 or 11, I wanted to be an author. And so, I wrote reams of stories and poems and became a voracious reader. This time my change of heart was inspired by the book Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. I was amazed at how my entire class got so into it that, for once, they were actually reading ahead.

I wanted to make something that inspired people like that.

By 13, I grew my hair long, picked up a guitar, and decided it was rock and roll stardom or bust. Spoiler alert, I'm not a rock star, but I still make music.

I moved to Winnipeg shortly after turning 18, and I needed a job. I had been doing freelance web design which seemed like easy money at the time when the web was still something of a Wild West, and I managed to land a job at the Winnipeg Free Press doing web development, which actually meant manually updating websites for other newspapers, all of which were in Wisconsin for some reason.

This sucked.

Oh, I also lied my ass off about my design and programming skills in order to get the job, which is a really bad idea. But it was that or selling pantyhose subscriptions over the phone at a call centre, so I don't think you can really blame me for it.

So I go my foot in the door as a web developer, but I hated updating these websites which was a full time job in itself. So I took what programming skills I did have from high school and a copy of MacPerl on what was then Mac OS System 7 and in about 3 months I automated my job down to just a couple hours in the morning.

I was hooked.

I was going to be a web developer when I grew up (emphasis on when).

My sister Emily and I back in Windsor. She’s 17 now, which makes me… old.
My sister Emily and I back in Windsor. She’s 17 now, which makes me… old.

I knew that I needed to hone my skills a bit, so I registered for the Internet Systems Specialist Diploma program at the University of Winnipeg. I ended up turning one of my class assignments into a bit of a side business doing website content management, which quickly turned into a full-time business when the division of the Free Press I worked in got bought out by CityXpress in Vancouver.

It was move or make this thing work, and I tend to make somewhat irrational choices according to the outside observer, so I decided to make the crazy decision to stay. I was also inspired by my dad, who has been in business for himself for as long as I can remember.

Fast-forward a few more years. I was 25, and according to society I was all grown up. But while what I was doing was kind of cool, I wasn't really doing what I had pictured for myself, and I started to feel like I didn't know what I really wanted to be.

This started to eat away at me.

At first, I was just like “whatever, I'm a web developer and I own a little web business and that's pretty cool” but the nagging sense that something was off kept creeping back into my head. I was always so sure of what I wanted to be, and for the first time I honestly didn't know.

I had a bunch of friends studying philosophy at the time, so I started reading a lot of it too. This only got me in deeper: now I was questioning everything.

This was bad, mostly for the people who had to be around me at the time.

Sorry guys.

After a while, I realized that I had to admit that I really didn't have the first clue what I wanted to be when I grew up. But I was also already grown up, and had been for a number of years. This sent me into a sort of panic about my life, its lack of direction, and I began to feel very trapped.

The things that I thought were pretty cool suddenly seemed like they were closing in on me and forcing me to be something that maybe I didn't want to be after all.

I had to get out, but I was stuck, and I didn't know which direction to turn. I had no direction. I was also dependent on this business as a source of income, and it was all that I really knew how to do.

Then something clicked.

I remember walking over the bridge into Osborne Village one sunny day, and it hit me that it was okay not to know. For the first time in my life of feeling so sure of myself, I didn't know, and that was okay.

That was the first time I realized I had never actually asked myself the question without already having an answer ready.

And when that realization came, I stopped panicking.

You see, when you haven't made up your mind yet, you still have every option open before you. You have the most freedom possible. When you make a choice, you're choosing one possible future in exchange for that freedom to choose the others. But before then, your options are totally open and you have nothing to lose.

I had been dreaming all my life, but I felt like I was finally free to dream. I had unlocked the first piece of the puzzle, and that freedom put me back in control. I could leave that question mark hanging there on that question for as long as I needed to.

I actually spent the next while trying not to answer that question. I didn't make any big changes. I wanted to give it time, to really get to know myself, and take in some new influences with a clear head.

And slowly the missing pieces started to become more apparent. I had always seen myself in such a narrow way, an artist, an author, a musician, a programmer. But we're human beings. We're so much more than just a job function or a label.

I started to figure out how this role should fit in with the rest of my life. That there was a balance to be sought.

I'm still finding it, by the way.

Fast forward a few more years, I shut the company down when it turned 10, which seemed like a pretty significant milestone, and as good a reason as any to start over. I handed the everything over to a few companies I had been working with, and I took a part time job.

I spent 2 days a week just playing music. I learned so much about myself, what was important to me, the world around me. How this city changed me. How it taught me to appreciate the one I left it for. With Rachael's influence, even I took up gardening again, for the first time since I was a teenager back in Windsor.

I found my voice, and I found my heart.

I can't stress it enough, we are not job functions we are human beings. We're rich in ways we can barely grasp, and we will always know so little. But it's okay to not know, there's beauty in that.

I stopped trying to define what I am in terms of a job function. Sure, I may have a fancy title. But I gave it to myself. Sure, I do some pretty cool things with some amazing people that I'm incredibly lucky to call friends. But at the end of the day, it's those relationships that count. The rest stems from that.

That's why to me, I'm no longer just a programmer, or an artist, or whatever, and that's why The Campfire Union will never be just a company. We're building something that is special because of the connections it forms, and everything we do is informed by that.

When we say we want to use technology to create positive change, what we mean is that technology used well can strengthen our communities and create new opportunities for connection – can make people's lives better – by bringing us a little bit closer together.