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Personal projects and the "Depth Year"

Created: 2023-01-16

I believe strongly in having a variety of skills and interests. But for those of us who find anything and everything interesting, there’s a danger of being a perpetual dilettante in The New Cool Thing.

Here’s a pair of wonderful articles by David Cain of Raptitude. They were written 4+ years apart, but mesh brilliantly together:

Go Deeper, Not Wider

https://www.raptitude.com/2017/12/go-deeper-not-wider/

"I keep imagining a tradition I’d like to invent. After you’re established in your career, and you have some neat stuff in your house, you take a whole year in which you don’t start anything new or acquire any new possessions you don’t need."

He calls it the Depth Year and here’s how the year would go:

"You improve skills rather than learning new ones. You consume media you’ve already stockpiled instead of acquiring more."

The whole article is a delightful read and I love it.

Another way of looking at the same concept is at the time of purchase:

Everything Must Be Paid for Twice

https://www.raptitude.com/2022/01/everything-must-be-paid-for-twice/

"There’s the first price, usually paid in dollars, just to gain possession of the desired thing…​" But then, in order to make use of the thing, you must also pay a second price. This is the effort and initiative required to gain its benefits, and it can be much higher than the first price."

I have been super guilty of this in the past. I buy the equipment to do an exciting new hobby. But then I don’t put in the effort to pursue that hobby beyond the initial fun bits.

When the going got hard, I would bail out and go to the next exciting thing.

Again, the whole article is a great read.

The personal project conflict

On one hand, personal stuff should be fun, right? If it weren’t, it would be work.

But on the other hand, the logical extreme of just pursuing fun fun fun is to binge watch streaming episodes of amazing entertainment until even that becomes boring and then go to sleep.

Deep down, you know that greater rewards will come if you stick with the thing and that knowledge is maybe a little painful. The mind is conflicted.

I’m tangentially reminded of my i-wish-i-had-been-practicing paradox.

Well, focusing on depth rather than breadth kinda naturally fixes this conflict. If you can’t add anything new, you’re naturally going to go deeper with what you already have.

Like, if you lock me in a room with paper and a pencil for a day, there’s going to be some writing and drawing on that paper when you unlock the door!

Doing something about it

I’ve managed to have some successes that have given me increasing confidence: a logging/journaling habit, sketchbooking more regularly, and most recently, "assembly nights".

2023 is looking to take this to an even greater level. I’m starting the year by finishing a game jam which required me to draw a bunch of art assets. That part took a ton of discipline.

After that, the plan is:

  • Not buy into anything new in Depth Year style

  • Plow any stray free time into my 2023: Year of the Microcontroller project

  • Get back to needle felting and at least finish the kit I own

  • Finish my HTMX demo page

  • Continue Assembly Nights Season Two (Meow5)

  • Continue to practice the tin whistle (bought this cheap little flute in 2022 and have been good about nightly practice so far)

  • Read what I already own (I’m always reading, but the emphasis here is on "what I already own")

And I’ll probably rotate in some of these:

  • Finish my ray tracer(s)…​oh my goodness!

  • Give a Forth presentation

  • Sketchbook often

  • Maybe get back to woodworking regularly

As you can see, I have plenty of options. Sadly (or happily?), way more than listed above.

The point is to pursue only existing hobbies and projects. To go deeper into some and stopping adding more for a while.