One Self-Employed Week – A Curious Reflection

I’m currently working at a 9-5. I don’t hate it, as it provides me with the money to pay for the roof on my head, food in my stomach, and pay for all my studying as well as hobbies. But I don’t love it either. It’s takes a lot of time out of doing what I love: learning music, telling meaningful stories, learning, reading, and writing. In essence, it reduces my time dedicated to creating things that matter to me, things that I want to see more of in this world. Here’s a Paul Graham essay explaining more on how working in a big company is not ideal to create wealth.

7/4 took place last week in the U.S., so I had Thursday and Friday off. I took the first 3 days of the week off as well. Thus, I have a whole week for myself. The goal: To see whether I will be motivated enough while being self-employed; when there is no concrete consequence for slacking off, when there is always dread of self-doubt constantly looming.

I have been motivated enough to keep myself occupy with learning music, reading, and writing during the 2-day weekends, the logical next step is to test this for a week. If this works well, I will set out a time to experiment this for a month, then gradually expand this time. If this doesn’t work out, I would reflect long and hard to figure out why and try to compensate for those problems.

Enough background, let’s dig in! So hold on to your seat/beer/popcorn/mama’s skirt, ‘cause this is a brutally honest excerpt from the journey of a guy pusing for the life he wants.

***

Monday 7/1: Captivated

I woke up exactly on the time that I set for myself, 5am. I mediated in the dawn of morning when there is no distraction, wrote for my blog. I commute to my company since there is several music rooms with pianos there. They also have food throughout the day so I wouldn’t have to worry about that and put all of my mental energy into creative tasks.

I put in 4 hours of studying music theory and composing music, 1 hour of writing, 2 hours dedicated to gathering books and reading. Off to a great start! That’s almost an 8 hour day of work. On top of that I went to an improv acting class at the end of the day. It’s like the creative juice is flowing inside my for the whole day. I felt great! I’m hopeful about the career path that I set out for myself

Tuesday 7/2: Pride

4 hours of composing music with the piano, 2 hours of composing music digitally, 1.75 hours doing music theory assignments, 1.5 hours of writing, 1.25 hours of learning to play a new song on the piano. It was surreal to account for all these hours at the end of the day. A 10.5-hour work day.

I woke up at 5am again, mediated to clear my head for another exciting day. I wrote for my blog, squeezed in some reading during my commute. On this day, I composed Staccato Blues, which I’m proud of. It can’t get much better than that! And spoiler: it doesn’t get better than that throughout the week.

Wednesday 7/3: Overconfident

I had to take care of some paperwork for my apartment that morning. The leasing office won’t open until 9am. Ok! I could do some work from 5am to 9am, then commute to the music room afterward. Or… Since I cannot achieve my peak performance while at home anyway, why not sleep in until 9am? I had 2 productive days before, I deserve this, right? I did the later. Hindsight 10/10: Not good. I felt a bit off throughout the day.

After I arrived at the music room, I mess around with the digital version of Staccato Blues. I added some other instruments and expanded the song. That was something. But it certainly wasn’t the most productive task I could had taken on. It was more on the side of I’m comfortable with what I had created, and procrastinated on creating newer stuff. Later that day, I visited my friend’s place for a dinner gathering. We hung out until 1am. My usual bed time is 10pm at the latest. I slept at my friend’s place

Thursday 7/4: Paranoia

I forced myself to wake up at 8am. Didn’t feel that great. Tried open my laptop. It’s dead. Plug the power cord in. It decided to stay dead. Something is wrong with the start-up sequence. I wrote a blog post on my phone instead to keep up with the pace of the day I set for myself. That’s the best thing I could accomplish without my laptop, though. I cannot compose music while around people. I cannot focus. And it’s odd to do something on my own while others are doing something together. So I watched an Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown episode with friends and fell asleep afterward. Then, we had a July 4th BBQ until 4pm. It was fun, but guilty fun for me at the cost of my week plan.

While I treasure my relationship with this friend group, I could have done a better job myself to keep and communicate my boundaries. In the context of last week, the night of Wednesday 7/3 was probably enough, but the day of Thursday 7/4 didn’t align with what I intended to do. I wanted to do something, but didn’t because of social pressure. This is certainly not my friends’s fault as they couldn’t have known.

I did some reading from 4pm-6pm and went to the SF Symphony Concert at Amphitheater. That was salvation of my productivity. I enjoyed listening to the symphony, indulged myself in music, and once in a while, pick up some technique on composing good music.

10pm, after the concert, since the music room of my company is nearby the theater, and since I felt bad about my productivity during the day, I decided to sleep in the music room. “This way, I could get right to music 5am in the morning”, I thought. Biggest mistake of my week.

Friday 7/5: Defeated

I woke up one time at 3am due to the cold. I moved to a different room and slept in another uncomfortable position near a warm part of the room. I started to doubt my decision of staying there instead of going home. At this point, I just wish I could sleep away the uncomfort.

My phone alarm rings at 5. I tried to move to the piano. I can’t. I kept sleeping until 7. The fear of embarrassing myself when someone walks in in the morning forces myself up. I alternated between composing and sleeping on the piano. It went on until 12pm. It was a miracle that I composed What Remains during that time.

I knew I need some fresh air to press the restart button. Grabbed some Chipotle and meditated outside in the sun for about 30 minutes. I went home afterward. I felt exhausted and disappointed with my result of the week.

In hindsight, I shouldn’t be. I composed many tunes and two complete ones digitally during a 5-day week. That’s more than what I ever accomplished before in such time. I was beating myself up simply because I didn’t live up to the even higher standard I set for myself.

Back to the story. Because I felt exhausted and disappointed, I sought out mindless comics, videos, and porns to ease my mind. That “short break” turns into an all-nighter.

Saturday 7/6: Embrace

I went to bed at 5am and woke up at 1pm. Just then, I found out that my laptop has been hacked in. Remember I couldn’t access my laptop on Thursday? I spent 2 hours calling my bank to reverse some transactions, change account passwords, and reset my laptop.

I reflected on my week a bit and realized I have been too harsh on myself. Many of the time-wasting activities, or activities that lead to time-wasting are the result of me beating myself up and feeling bad about myself. I reminded myself that I need to treat myself kindly and wrote a blog on that topic.

A restart button is due. I watched some videos on music making on Youtube for the rest of the day (hey, hey, this break is justified!). I got some inspiration from a quality video on music composing. Then, I went to bed on time.

Sunday 7/7: Hope

Back to waking up at 5. It’s not magic, just requires us to sleep at the right time the night before. Which is easier said than done, as already seen from my week. I did some minimalism clean-up of my physical belongings since it doesn’t interfere with thinking and reflecting. Plus, cleaning our environment has the effect of clearing our minds as well. At the very least, everything is back in its place, causing no confusion for the next use. I needed that, as a way to signal my unconcious brain that it is a real reset this time.

I took some time to go to the gym and listen to Tim Ferriss’s podcast latest episode with Seth Godin, which is incidentally on the same topic of how to set our priorities in life straight. Right on!

I went out to eat at a comfort Mexican food place, to sit and watch the nature and people for a long time. I reminded myself: everything is fine, and everything will be fine, no matter what. Do our best and don’t beat ourselves up if we can’t reach some set goal. Measure ourselves to our selves yesterday instead. I sat down at the apartment complex’s piano in the main building and went through all the tunes I created, both on paper and online and realized there are quite a number of them. I’m amazed how lopsided my thinking were in the second half of the week.

I ended the day by watching the first half of 2001: A Space Odyssey. So far, I’m seeing the wonderful use of music with visual. At the scene of the weird object, eerie music is played, at the spaceships: as I interpreted as the tools that human created, the waltz song is played, signaling how they work seamlessly, conveying our pride toward the achievements. If we subvert the music choice of the two scene, it weird object wouldn’t be perceived as scary but a fun mystery instead, and the empty space is now suddenly become a place of danger, where an enemy or disaster could happen at any second. The music choice, of course, could varies beyond those two themes. The repeat of the opening theme signaling discovery of the tool (bone).

I am inspired to create again.

***

What a roller coaster of emotion throughout that week. What did I learn, then?

Don’t be too harsh on myself, since it usually leads to paranoia and questionable decisions, rather than a sound solution. The detrimental inner self critiques should be heard and respond to with a calm attitude, not with extreme emotion. Notice how I don’t plan to shut that voice down for good, since it is still coming from a reasonable ground: trying to keep me on track. It is the volume of that voice that should be tuned accordingly.

Constant work doesn’t necessarily means productive work, especially in a creative setting. I need to take a change of scenery more, take a walk, take a bike ride, go to the gym and let my mind rests. It really freshens my mind. Watching other artists’ works is a great way to take a break and gear-up mentally.

Priorities in life need to be ranked clearly. I should communicate personal desire/preference/goal to friends better. If I need to depart after a certain time because of other plans, I should say so instead of letting the social pressure consumes me. This is important since I will have to clock in extra time during the first few years of starting a music career.

The road to a self-employed music career will take more trials and errors, but is possible for me. I’m able to create and motivate myself to create.

And a minor note that applies to me, personally, more:

When food is not readily available from the company cafeteria, my frugality and laziness kicks in. I didn’t want to leave the piano and spend money on food. I’m even too lazy to walk downstairs to grab some water. Or we can go with this version of the story: I’m too in love with making music that I don’t even want to go anywhere else *pat pat in the back*. Nonetheless, the lack of food and water doesn’t have immediate effect, but drops my energy level drastically over several hours. I was wrongly attributing this lack of energy purely to lack of sleep and dropped down sleeping, which didn’t help.

More!

I’m ready for more!

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