Do your own thing

I was a complete nerd in high school. (I make no claims either way about my current status.) I always tried to fit in with the cool people because I thought it mattered.

One night, I was hanging out with some cool people to work on a group project. We weren’t actually working, of course - we just hung around for a while, then they wanted to go get stoned while driving around. I didn’t drink or smoke, so I just sat in the back seat awkwardly while they smoked, planning my explanation to my mother about why my shirt smelled like pot.

One guy asked me, “Do you party?” (I’d happily name him, but don’t want to incriminate him.)

I had no idea that it wasn’t meant literally. I thought he was asking if I went to parties, which I further assumed to mean big teen drinking parties. I didn’t want to admit that I had never been to one in my life, so I bullshat slightly.

“Not really,” I said, “I’m just not that into it.” Looking back on this, knowing what he really meant, this probably made me sound a lot cooler than I intended.

“You do your own thing, huh? That’s cool, man.”

And that was it. Nobody looked down on me or thought I was a nerd for doing my own thing because I seemed perfectly content doing it.

I wasn’t truly comfortable doing my own thing until years later, but I remembered that night. A stoned guy’s idle conversation became the goal for my life outlook. No other statement or occurrence has been more fundamental in making me stop worrying about what other people think and do, which in turn makes it true.

Doing my own thing

What am I? I’ve never liked the restrictive classifications imposed by employers:

  • Programmer: A meaningless, easily replaced translator between someone else’s specifications and source code.
  • Software Engineer: Marginally more intelligent, but still having detailed algorithmic and structural specifications dictated by management without any real input.
  • Software “Architect”: An asshole.
  • Web Developer: Easy programming in “toy” scripting languages for those who can’t write C++. Alternatively, Spiderman.
  • “Systems” anything: CS graduates who can’t program.
  • Anything “Analyst”: MBAs who can’t program.
  • Interaction Designer: Floaty psychology dropouts who conduct expensive tests to determine that the software engineers suck at design.
  • Web Designer: Finicky artists who don’t understand how difficult that’s going to be in CSS and refuse to budge from their pixel-perfect PSDs.

What if I can program and design a decent interface? What if I can design, specify, and implement good code all by myself?

Ultimately, I hate being pigeonholed. I’m not “just” a programmer. That’s why I don’t work at large companies: I have multiple interests and don’t want to do the same tunnel-vision duty every day.

I have no idea what is. It has switched between a discussion forum, an advice forum, a product review site, a satirical news site, a personal blog, and a tumblelog. Every time I’d redesign it, I would attempt to change what was. I used to object to people calling it a blog (since that used to be an insult), but the definition of blogs has become so broad that it doesn’t matter anymore.

Michael from 2blowhards recently described

If you do make a complete website, why be conventional about it? Here’s a guy whose website consists of a classic blog, a Tumblelog, a forum, and an About page. Although it’s his site, friends of his contribute to its contents too. Unusual and fun. […] Why get hung up on such 20th century notions as the individual author, the fixed voice, the core identity, and the stable self?

I don’t want to be “just” a blog. I don’t want it to be “just” anything. I’ve written all of the code so it can be whatever I want at the moment, and it can evolve freely when that changes.

I do my own thing, and is its own thing. I don’t let people pigeonhole me or my site, nor do I try to do it myself. ignores all conventional “wisdom” about blogging.

  • There’s no title or tagline. I don’t know what they’d be.
  • There isn’t a new post every day. Once a week is optimistic.
  • The articles are longer than most internet readers’ attention spans.
  • There’s no subject focus. Dan and I happily write about computers, fruit, real estate, politics, coffee, satire, pillowcases, the internet, video games, law, ventilation, movies, and puppies. Therefore, doesn’t fit in any directories or advertiser niches.
  • We never write stupid list posts. Top 10 things, 15 reasons, 7 ideas, etc.
  • A recent change: I no longer have any desire to be featured on Digg. Writing for the Digg audience feels like trying to fit in with the cool kids in high school, and has the same payoff.

I don’t care if Google can’t target ads to my site because the subjects keep changing. I don’t care if N.A.D.D. readers miss the point of a big article because they idly skimmed it. And I don’t care if impatient new visitors can’t tell what the site is “about” by glancing at the header.

Don’t try to shove yourself into a particular bucket when it’s a crappy fit. If you don’t want to be a blog, don’t wedge your identity onto Wordpress. If you can program and design, don’t work as a “Software Engineer II” at a big company. Free yourself from other people’s perceived presets.

Do your own thing. It’s great.