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THE YEAR OF LIVING AWESOMELY PART 3 OF 4 (by Tom Russell)

Mary Russell

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One of the worst parts about my day job was the commute. Even when I liked my job - before the company-wide re-org that transplanted me into a completely different department that was rapidly wearing me down to the bone - I still hated the two hours I spent on the road every day. One hour driving into work, one hour driving back home. It meant getting up before the sun came up and, back when I would have to clock in sixty-plus hours a week for seven months straight, it meant coming home after the sun went down.

Like I said, even when I liked my job, that part of it I hated. But that re-org had taken away the stuff I liked, leaving me with a job that left me frayed at the edges, unfulfilled and unsatisfied, with the added bonus that there was no longer any room for advancement in the new flattened structure. So add all that into the mix, and that long commute had started to grind me down, and I often came home utterly exhausted, unable to even look at a board game, let alone play, develop, or design one. This kind of exhaustion has a way of compounding upon itself, and the last few weeks especially were miserable. Really, it only seemed like I was coming alive on weekends, when Mary and I were able to dedicate large chunks of time to our company, and I only felt half alive, at that.

So in February, I was very much looking forward to a four-day weekend with Mary to celebrate thirteen years of her putting up with me, and to recharge the ol' batteries. The original intention was to spend those four days taking a series of day trips around the state. That plan was kiboshed but good when, a week earlier, I was in a serious car accident.

What happened is that I was on my way to work, which, again, is an hour-long drive, much of it spent on the interstate. I merged onto said interstate, which had transformed into parking lot mode, i.e., just a wall of brake lights. I put on my brakes and came to a stop. The person who merged on after me didn't, rear-ending the car at sixty flipping miles an hour.

At first blush, I was relieved. It looked like our car had taken minimal damage, whereas the other driver's vehicle was in very bad shape indeed. Her front right tire was twisted off its axle, and was impaled by some piece of metal. She was alright, and some severe back pain aside, so was I. We were more shaken up by the shock of it, and I remember being obsessively panicked by my inability to find a current proof of insurance in the car. A passerby stopped to check up on both of us, and reminded us to call the police, which neither of us had thought to do.

When the state patrolman came by to inspect the vehicles, I took a closer look at my car and realized that besides the fender damage, there was a hole in my tire. Well, I thought, I need to change this. Not having a spare, I called Triple A and arranged for a tow to a local tire place. The tow truck guy showed up about a half hour later and quickly ascertained that I was out of my flipping gourd. "Your suspension's shot," he said. He pointed to something under the wheelhouse, and I nodded and pretended that I understood (um, probably not a surprise to y'all, but I'm not really a car person?).

The damage was repairable, and luckily my cousin runs the best collision shop in Metro-Detroit. And while the back pain gave me some grief for a while after - flaring up again right before CSW Expo in Tempe, preventing us from going - both the car and myself are alright. But the experience really shook me up, and there was one question that was ringing in my head all that day, and in the days that followed: is this what I want to be doing with my life? Driving three hundred miles a week to clock in and clock out, looking at pictures of moldy walls and vandalized bathtubs filled to the brim with human faeces, explaining to contractors why they shouldn't use their snow plow on people's lawns? Is it worth all the wear and tear those kinds of miles put on a car - all the wear and tear those kinds of hours were putting on me?

So, I have this question lingering in the background throughout the next week, and then I get to my four day weekend with my sweetheart, a four-day weekend which, thanks to my back and the rental car we're using, would not be spent flitting about from Frankenmuth to Pinconning to the Detroit Zoo and so-on, but rather spent in the comfort of our home with a heating pad and a cold press within easy reach. And so naturally, that weekend was spent working. Working on blogposts for the next couple of weeks. Laying out rulebooks and box covers. Designing banner ads and playtesting. Evaluating game submissions. All the sorts of things that we had been doing in precious, stolen snatches of time.

And the problem with that is that there never seems to be enough time to steal. Running this kind of company requires that you really stay on top of every little thing, and that's a pretty dodgy proposition when you're running on fumes.

So, we spent four days doing all the sorts of things that had been reserved for nights and weekends, only we did it fully rested instead of half-asleep. And folks, we got more things done in those four days than we had in the previous four weeks! And I thought to myself, if we could be doing this kind of thing every day, just think of how much we'd be able to get done. Maybe that'd be the thing to push us to that next level, where we're making enough money to live on.

And then I went back to work. Now, going back to work after a four-day weekend, as I'm sure you're aware, is kind of like pulling teeth: your body resists it, your mind resists it. But beyond that normal resistance, I had banging around in my head the two thoughts I've mentioned. From my car accident, there was the refrain, is this what I want to do with my life?, and from that four-day weekend, how much more successful would we be if we could give this our all?

And in January, when we had those two games out, we made the same amount of money doing something we loved that I did in a month of doing something I didn't. The day before the accident, we had been talking about maybe being able to make it work full-time, someday.

Maybe... maybe that someday was now? Could we make a go of it, if I quit my job now? It was a mad, wonderful idea, but one that was very compelling. And exhilarating. And also completely terrifying. I discussed it with Mary. It was something we had discussed in the past, but this time, it was more serious. She had her doubts. So did I.

The day job actually helped me make up my mind a bit. When I got back to work, I was forced to sign a reprimand form because of my unexcused absence on the day of the crash. It was not my first unexcused absence; a tree had fallen on me two months prior. I had left work early when my basement flooded. I had called in the day I was farting blood. Despite the fact that they were very pleased with my performance - I had by this time taken the low-performing team that I had been assigned and turned them into the highest-performing team, with an infinitesimally small error rate, and had been singled out as a model for other managers to follow - if I was absent again, I would be in danger of being fired.

I was stopped on the interstate when I was rear-ended by someone going sixty miles an hour. I was lucky to be alive. And they were going to make me sign a form saying it wouldn't happen again? That wasn't the reason I quit, but it was a tipping point. I talked with Mary when I got home, she agreed it was time for me to get out of there, and the next day I put in my notice.

If we were able to pull it off, February would be the last month I would spend working for someone else. We were cautiously optimistic; sober but upbeat, and also prone to moments of white-hot panic. This was exacerbated by February's sales. Once we crunched the numbers, we didn't come anywhere close to matching January's modest profit. In fact, we had barely broke even.

Mary tried to make a joke of it. "We're going to tell people that you quit your job the month we didn't make a profit."

And we tried to laugh it off, and to think positively, but there existed the very real possibility that I had just made a horrible mistake.


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