Becoming an Antifragile IndieDev

How many of your dreams have died?

I’ve had two in my working life prior to becoming an Independent Video Game Developer.

The first dream to die was to become an astronaut and I’m not talking about when I was 8, I tried becoming more “realistic”.

I realized it would be difficult, but I was on my way with my excellence in Physics for High school, and my acceptance to the United States Military Academy. In fact, one of the two main reasons I wanted to go to the United States Military Academy was to be an astronaut (the other was 9/11).

I attended a briefing as a cadet where an Astronaut came and talked to about 300 other cadets interested in this profession. He told us many would not make it, but I felt that if I tried hard, and kept at it, I could indeed make it. Hard Work would be my savior.

But, all that came crashing down one morning when, for breakfast I had some peach yogurt, and went on my first Flight Lab (think Chemistry Lab, but you take your readings while in a plane in the air), in a Cessna 182.

My teacher told me I set the record for three vomits in one flight lab.  I continued to puke in future lab readings.

Apparently you can develop motion sickness as an adult, and I had it, bad.

Adjusting Flight Controls

I felt a bit shaken, as the path I saw for my life met some turbulence (wa wa).

But, I was still eager to serve my country anyway, so I decided to change my branch from Aviation to Infantry.

I’d enjoyed “the suck,” during training missions, and of all the branches the military provides, Infantry is the one to go if you want to test yourself physically.

So, I graduated with my degree in Aeronautics and went on to become a grunt (Contrary to what might be thought, this branch is actually highly sought after by some of the smartest men at West Point).

At the peak of my training, I graduated the Army’s hardest school, Ranger School, then shortly went on to deploy and meet my unit in Iraq.

Except I would be meeting them at month 13 of their 15 month deployment.  By then the area I was in transitioned to a more stable area.

So I went untested in battle, and quickly switched out of my position, since, upon return, the unit gets a fresh crop of lieutenants.

I became a desk jockey, and on the following deployment to Afghanistan, sat and used my nerd skills to become the Battalion’s accountant. Which is sad because being an accountant was my father’s position, and nothing I ever wanted anything to do with (no offense, Pop).

Following some disagreements with my leadership, I realized that my time in the military would not be good for my wellbeing, nor my marriage (my wife and I spent the first 2 of the 3 years of our marriage apart, and were on track to be split at least another 3). Upon my return from Afghanistan, I was in my final year of commitment (5 years total) and became humbled when I became a Casualty Assistant Officer for a West Point grad’s widow, whose late husband, up until his death by an Improvised Explosive Device, was also untested in combat.

Be careful what you wish for, and indeed, I was naive to want to see war.

Burnout

That last year in the military, I burned out, hard. I developed eczema from stress, and not taking care of my body because I worked all day, and mostly into the nights.

I’d say I lost the warrior spirit I cultivated since being a cadet at the Academy, and just prayed to Jesus that I could go to sleep and make my suffering end (I didn’t know if I would have to contractually spend another 3 years in the military until 2 months before I got out).

I best described myself, as broken.

While attending a Celebrate Recovery meeting a year after getting out of the military, I remember confessing that one of my fears was working hard. I meant it too, and for me, I know the secret to success is hard work.

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan…

While in Afghanistan, I knew my time in the military was coming to an end, especially when the government said my wife and I would not be able to keep the same deployment / military schooling schedule.

So what could I do from home, that would help me recover from my time in the military, stay near my wife for the next 2 years as she finished her contract and figured out what she wanted to do with her life?

Nothing with my degree in Aeronautics. Nothing with my experience as an Infantry Officer.

I really enjoyed playing Video Games as a kid, teen, cadet, officer, and civilian. I’d also been interested in the arts for a while. So why not try that?

And I did.

That’s literally how I got here, and I mean, I knew nothing to start with.

Getting Started

I spent the year after getting out of the Army, piddling around with Unity Tutorial books and playing Video Games while my wife worked. I tried learning everything. The following year we had our first child, and I stayed home to watch her as my wife continued to work.

It’s hard getting work done with a little one.

When my wife got out, we moved back to my hometown, and rented a tiny home (our room, baby’s room, and kitchen / living room / laundry room all in one), for cheap.

Thankfully, we got a hold of Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University, and lived extra frugally the last years of our time in the military.

Fragile, Robust and Antifragile

So, what have I gained from shattered dreams, unmet expectations, and an assortment of failings?

In the latest book I read as part of my IndieDev Informal Education, Antifragile, the author goes on two describe a spectrum that ranges from Fragile, to Robust and to Antifragile. People and objects in the Fragile area, upon being subjected to stress, become broken.

Robustness describes an indifference to negative experiences and stresses. The stoics of the past taught their followers to be indifferent to life’s challenges, which is best displayed in Socrates’ example of drinking his own poison.  These stoics were robust.

Antifragile people, objects and situations gain from stresses. Just as small tears in muscles while weightlifting, combined with rest, results in the ability to lift heavier weights, so do antifragile people benefit with stressors.

While I admit, for the first 3 years upon getting out of the military  I was fragile, I’ve started to become antifragile from my experience. Here’s the gains I’ve achieved from the death of my dreams.

  • Forever Grateful – Whenever I’m down about how I haven’t made money for my family since exiting the military and sad my current skill level limits me from making the games I dream of, I think about the widow I served and how premature the deaths of some of my classmates were. I’m thankful to be alive.
  • I care less – I didn’t really rebel as a kid. My parents stayed together, I got to play video games, and even at the Academy, I had fun learning 3 of the 4 years I was there (year 1 sucked). Without my burnout from the military, I would’ve still continued to care what others think, but now, I don’t. Whatever future critics will say and whatever “well-meaning” friends or family might think of my decisions for my life, I care less about. I’m going to succeed.
  • I’m stronger – While I admitted to being fragile above, reading the book Antifragile and reflecting for the millionth time of my shattered dreams, rallies myself to make sure my experiences weren’t for nothing. That I gain from them, and become stronger.
  • I’ve got experience – I went through things that a normal game developer doesn’t go through. While I don’t display my emotions, I’ve got a deep pool of experiences with a whole bunch of emotions starting to settle, and you can be sure, I intend to bring them out in future games. It’s only a matter of time and experience before I get the knack of expressing them through my craft.

Which are you?

These are my setbacks that I’ve experienced outside of making Video Games, and there’s going to be a ton more in the future in the realm of making games.

I’ll make sure, they don’t make me weaker, but make me stronger.