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Nick Ang

My biggest fear

Jarvis Johnson is a YouTube content creator who was previously in tech as a software engineering manager at Patreon. In his interview with Mayuko, he revealed how difficult it was to leap to quit his job to become a full-time YouTuber.

The neat part about his story is that he worked very hard and created a lot of content by the time he decided to quit. He had 300k subs.

All things considered, I love my job. Quitting is not something that I’m thinking about right now, but it does sometimes pop into my mind in daydreams. Like, what would life be like if I were to quit my job and try and be a creator?

What’s interesting is that both Jarvis and Mayuko worked at Patreon as software engineers before they became full-time content creators. I’m also working in tech as a software engineer…

Anyway, when I think about the word “creator,” I reflexively cringe because I find myself a little too neurotic nowadays. It seems like gone are the days of Nick who does things on a whim. I’m so much more structured these days, perhaps because of my job as a team lead/manager at a fast-growing company. So this neuroticism to do things properly just occupies my mind and leaves me with not much space for wondering and doing creative things.

But that’s crazy! Jack Conte, the CEO of Patreon, runs a billion-dollar company with over 200 employees while producing music with his pretty popular band to the tune of one music video a week, and films and edits documentaries on his JackConteExtras YouTube channel. Have you seen his film cuts? They’re sick! (Watch his video to Casey Neistat for his prowess in full display.)

If someone can juggle this many things and do them so fascinatingly well, I should be able to juggle half of it, at least, if I tried hard! But I’d aim for half of what Jack does because I’m going to become a dad soon and he’s not a parent yet. Just gotta keep it real.

So this brings me to the big question: am I going to have any time left at all to pursue my creative side when Charlotte, our first child, is born? I’m afraid that I won’t and that by the time I realise my regret it would be too late and the regret would eat me from inside.

My wife, my dog, and I I have around 140 days before this family grows by 1 human headcount.

Weirdly, I see Jarvis Johnson’s quitting moment to my Charlotte is born moment - there is a date, something bubbling from it, and I have to use this time that I have left to explore the creative side of me. Like, truly explore. Fearlessly explore things, try different things every day. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to do everything in time!

Keeping in line with naming fears, here’s another: whenever I clear space in my head and think about being a creator, I feel like I arrive at an empty room in my mind. I’d ask myself, “okay, so what Creative Thing are you gonna do, Nick?”

I don’t know. I really don’t!

I’ve never been called creative and therefore have never seen myself as someone creative. I can think of interesting ideas to solve problems at work or home, but that’s as much legitimacy as I would give myself for being creative.

I recently tried writing a novel and it was 80 percent misery and 20 percent enjoyment, and even so, the 20 percent was not that enjoyable. I know enjoyment isn’t supposed to be the measure of creative work, at least not the sole measure, but hey, if it’s mostly miserable then why the hell am I pushing so hard to get to do it?

To be clear, for the past 6 to 12 months, I have been waking up 1.5 hours before my wife wakes up in the morning to explore my creative side. I ended up with many journal entries, 2-3 random chapters for 3 different novels, and some digital drawings that accompany my weekly blog posts and some published as Instagram posts. That’s about the size of my creative accomplishments.

I doubt my ability in the creative arena very much and regularly.

One thing I know will not work is to emulate someone else and copy what they are doing. This won’t work because you are not that person, and that person is not you. Our lives are entirely circumstantial and when viewing others’ accomplishments and enthusiasm out of context, we are putting ourselves in a dangerous place of vain emulation.

If we are not supposed to look outward, at least not until we know who we are, then we ought to look inward. My instincts tell me that the most important thing is to figure out who I am for myself. Once I know that I’m more of a brooding guy who likes melancholy and reading Murakami books, I can then try to make up and write Murakami-esque stories. Or, if I know that I’m more of a nature lover who has not gotten enough of nature because of growing up in the concrete jungle of Singapore, then I could set out on expeditions and film mini documentaries and share them with other inhibited nature lovers.

Now then the question we arrive at is, how do we figure out who we are?

I imagine that watching Charlotte grow is going to teach me simple but profound lessons about figuring out who you are. A baby starts right at the very beginning, tabula rasa, and has to figure out what she likes and dislikes. As the pieces of her being are ordered and re-ordered, shaped and re-shaped, coloured and re-coloured, a vague picture will start emerging at a higher level. What does my picture look like when viewed from the 15th floor? I can’t tell for sure, but I guess that if 100 lego blocks make me up, I would be rainbow-coloured but looking nothing like a rainbow.

It’s been said time and again that writing is not about teaching or telling but about thinking. Writing, as a uniquely human tool, is supposed to help you think.

What is a baby going to do to figure out who she is? She is going to interact with the world one thing at a time, stop to think about it, try to do something new with it, stop to think again, and then eventually decide upon what that thing is in relation to who she is.

So if what I just said is true, then writing is my tool for figuring out who I am because at this moment as I sit here writing this, I am considering a few things:

  • How Patreon’s CEO makes amazing videos
  • How Patreon’s CEO seems to do most of his filming and music projects in his garage and maybe I should try to simulate a garage in Berlin
  • How Jarvis Johnson and Mayuko had an intertwined journey of working as software engineers at Patreon and both left to pursue creative lives as YouTubers
  • How does a baby figure out who she is?
  • How can I be a baby again?

Writing forces me to:

  1. Interact with the world one thing at a time
  2. Stop to think about that thing
  3. Do something new with that thing
  4. Stop to think again
  5. Decide upon what that thing is in relation to me

So by writing, I’ll gradually figure more of who I am. Is blogging about that personal journey considered something creative? Perhaps. But perhaps evaluating everything I end up creating for its creativeness is a silly waste of time. I believe blogging helps people by letting them know they’re not alone.

My approach remains to write a lot of crap, some pieces documenting my learnings and reflections, others experimental, and see what feels good. Just got to write a lot of crap.


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