Taking Stock

I've been pretty quiet for the last month or so. In fact I realised a couple of days ago that this is the least I've even used Twitter since 2008. From an average of about 900 tweets a month, I dropped to just 176 in November... and only 12 so far at the mid-point of December. So what's going on?

I'm not depressed - far from it. Being on the road for almost three months now, a lot of things have changed.

I expected a lot of things when I started traveling, and most of them ended up being accurate. One thing which I didn't expect, or plan for in any capacity, was just how drastically my general outlook on the world would change following the removal of material possessions. I don't know why I didn't expect it, really, cause it's something that's written about frequently. Prior to departure I'd absorbed countless articles discussing the sense of freedom from giving up all one owns. But I've never really been that attached to "stuff" - and I had no reservations about giving up mine - so I didn't really see it as a big deal.

The shift in perspective doesn't really have much to do with the things you own owning you, as such. It's a state of mind. Whilst living a "normal" life, even as a relatively non-materialistic person, I was always thinking about the next "thing" to buy, or pay for, or do. I had absolutely no appreciation for how much time my mind spent locked into this rut of: earn money, buy something, do cool things with it, earn a bit more money, buy another thing.

Now that's all gone. Not only do I have no "stuff" - but I can't buy any new stuff at all unless I'm both able and willing to carry it on my back inside my hand-luggage-sized backpack around the world. Which is an extended way of saying: there's nothing I want or need to buy, and even if I did - I couldn't.

There's a frustratingly large gap in my head where a bunch of things which I used to care about once resided.

Introspection

Right now I'm in Sydney, Australia - staying with some friends over here after speaking at WordCamp Gold Coast last month (which was excellent). As soon as I got here, everything settled down. Between October and November I travelled something like an average of 5,000 miles a day with an average of 2 days in each place. From Lincoln to Seoul, to Amsterdam, to Dublin, to Bristol, to Bournemouth, to London, to The Gold Coast... and finally Sydney. I hadn't had time to even think up until I got here.

Then I started noticing this shift in outlook, and I started trying to fill this large (and growing) gap in my head. I don't know if this is the same for everyone, but I found that I started questioning my goals in life... my dreams... my ambitions. What is really the point of anything I'm doing? Will I look back on what I'm doing right now in 10 years time and say, "those were good years - you really accomplished something."

When you have nothing else to think about, nothing else to even occupy your idle mind with, those types of questions run riot through your mind.

That's also the reason that, despite my best intentions, I haven't been posting on this blog much. Because the question of "who gives a fuck about what I'm writing as I travel around the world?" is haunting me. I'm not sure what the purpose of this blog is yet, and it needs one. I've always posted journal-type-entries on my personal blog... and I'll continue to do so. But it needs to be more than that if I'm going to invest a lot of time into it. I'm still trying to work out what the best angle for that is.

So I've been asking myself a lot of questions, I've been looking for a lot of answers, and I've been diligently continuing work as normal - but taking a step back from the social side of things for some reflection.

Realisation

A few days ago I was talking to Rob, and he mentioned how many industry fights I'd missed over the last couple of weeks. Then I turned on Twitter today to find another stream of personal insults aimed at me from one particularly agressive American web developer who likes to ram his neo-liberal political views down everyone's throat and then attack them if they don't agree with him. These, both things which I usually would pay lots of attention to and get involved in, suddenly seem desperately pathetic.

That latter argument I don't even have the energy for anymore. The former argument is so well rehearsed that I needn't even have looked at it to know what it was about. One web developer points out that another (more famous) web developer is talking shit. A day of destroyed producitivity for hundreds of people ensues as everyone takes sides. Again.

As always, it is far easier to criticise something than to build something. As always, those who've built something take the criticism personally. Nobody wins.

I guess I've realised that really I don't care. To survive in the web design bubble (or any online community bubble), you either have to embrace it and conquer it - or you have to get the fuck out, because you've realised that this has become a far too accurate depiction of your life:

I'm choosing the latter.

Realignment

I've made huge changes to my life in 2011, so I guess now it's time to make some changes to my work - too. I'm going to start transitioning my skills and my experience to apply my knowledge and expertise to my own ideas and my own projects. I started a website called Travelllll.com a few months ago. It's doing rather well. Over the coming months I'm moving into a much more active role on the site, to build a business and a product which I can have some fun with.

I also have a couple of other ideas that I'm working on - ideas which came from my month of introspective questioning - ideas which I think matter. I'd like to explore those, too.

I'm still doing client work, but I turn down about 75% of the enquiries that I get at the moment. If you're a great WordPress theme developer - leave me a comment - I'm running out of people to refer clients to.

What I'm really realigning, is my activity in the web design community. Technology has so many exciting applications to industries which are drastically lacking behind. There are far too many talented people squandering their time arguing over whether or not an <a> tag should always be inside a <p> tag, rather than using their powers to instigate positive change in both the web... and the world.

For me, it's time to get outside my comfort zone and try new things. Again.

John O'Nolan

Founder at Ghost.org. Writes about open source, startup life, non-profits, and publishing platforms. Travels the world with a bag of kites.