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2012 – Discovery by Elimination

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Goodbye RewardMe Office

2012 was a year of restlessness and unhealthy work habits. It was also a year of self-discovery (or self-annihilation, depending on your view of self!) and a redefinition of priorities.

2011 was brought to a close in Maui after a month-long trip around SEAsia. What followed was a year of 80-hour workweeks and, to be honest, I can’t even remember where I was, who I was with, or what I did for New Year’s last year. A safe bet puts me at the office or at least within an arm’s reach of a computer.

By the time 2012 appeared on the horizon I was already starting to reach my breaking point. I booked a flight to Maui to stay in my parent’s condo (which I can never thank them enough for letting me use!) and planned to work and surf from January to March.

But 2 days before I left, work chaos would strike again and I would be up for the next 48 hours finishing a pivotal chunk of code that a (self-made-ex) coworker decided to not deliver after a month of work. I very clearly remember the sleep-deprived delirium I was in when I first set foot on the beach and toppled into the water.

I would spend the next month and a half starting every day with an early surf session in Honolua Bay and try to squeeze in another in the afternoon when surf permitted. There are few things I’ve found more enjoyable and exhilarating than riding a wave bigger than you are over a coral reef. After that it was hard to get excited about putting on a wetsuit in the rain to go surfing in the frigid NorCal waters.

Honolua Bay Surfing

The next few months were characterized by even more work and in May, we expanded our company to 17 with the addition of 4 outstanding interns from Berkeley. Orchestrating the efforts of 8 software engineers while still trying to get my own work done (not to mention planning out the long-term strategy of the company!) was a horrible, misguided experience. I learned a lot – but it was not an ideal situation. Not even close!

In June I decided I didn’t want to do it anymore. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was burned out. I mean utterly, completely… damn near ineffably exhausted. I had no idea what I wanted to do – but it sure wasn’t this. I had no idea how I was going to talk to my cofounders (Yu-kai and Jun) about this. Fortunately, I didn’t have to.

On a surreal day in early July, Yu-kai told us we had no money. Silence sat heavy in the conference room and Jun was the first to speak. “Wait. What?” Jun and I never dealt with the money. Neither did Marc, who stood slack-jawed at the side of the table. I flitted between disbelief and relief for the rest of the hour-long conversation. There was no anger or resentment – I think we were all tired and in some way, a little bit happy.

So RewardMe was over and we were all unemployed and directionless. Many games of soccer tennis were played any many ideas were floated around. One such idea (spoiler alert: it doesn’t work out) involved Justin and I starting an import/export company. It went well at first but we failed to find an adequate pipeline for distributor sourcing.

And then I moved to SEAsia.

SCUBA Dive Boat in Koh Tao, Thailand

I covered my trip a lot in this blog so I won’t detail much here. But it was while I was spending my afternoons lying on the roof of a dive boat in the Gulf of Thailand that I realized that not only could I not escape building software – but that I didn’t want to. Creative writing, storytelling, logic, and technology are what I’m built for. I love tackling messy problems and creating step-by-step processes to solve them.

So I made a game and did a lot of diving and traveled until I knew what I wanted – I want to make games that tell stories and help to expand the medium beyond just selling fun. There is so much potential that is largely being untapped. I have a long way to go and what I can make now is not where I want to be – but as Ira Glass noted – persistence will pay off.

Boracay Beach

Now I’m back and have only one big question left to answer – where am I going next? Wherever I go I plan to stay for a while – an exciting change of pace over the last few years! San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles, Boulder, and Austin are at the top of my list – and they all sound pretty great.

This year started off with a bang and I’m positively thrilled about where it’s heading.

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7 Responses to “2012 – Discovery by Elimination”

  1. Nancy says:

    Honey you are the only one that can decide your future and from what I have read, you are doing a damn good job. Stephen you are smart, and know what to do to make yourself happy and wealthy. Keep going the speed your going now and nothing can stop you.

    Remember to take time and smell the roses, and have time for you and your family.

    Happy New Year Stephen and always the best to you.

    Luv ya

    Nanc

  2. Michelle says:

    Hey Steven- this is Michelle your cousin in Peoria. I have really enjoyed reading about your adventures! You are such a great writer too- ever think about writing a book? If you are looking for more places to visit come to Peoria! I am sure your dad would highly recommend it-(haha)! If you ever need a kid to try any new games, I have a 10 year old that would love too! Good luck to you! Love Shell

    • SteveJohnson says:

      Hey Michelle – good to hear from you!

      I think the chances of me coming out to Peoria are about the same as getting my dad out there hahaha Though it’d be great to see you again!

      Hope all is well with you! :)

  3. Jun Loayza says:

    Happy new year!!!

    What will 2013 bring? I got no idea, but gotta keep moving forward.

    Perhaps it’s time for me to venture out. Have to get Kim on board first :)

  4. Sedi says:

    Amazing content. Thanks!

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