Adventures In “Consumed” Mode

For the last three nights, I stayed up till an average hour of 5am…working. In fact, working on the finishing touches for the site design which, unless you’re reading this in an RSS reader, is now before your eyes. So you’d better like it. Anyway, the reason this is somewhat noteworthy is that there’s no technical reason I had to do this. Well, a while back I decided to switch servers, which is about a week-long process, and so I set myself the goal of going live with the new design on the day that I’d have to cancel billing for the old server, namely yesterday. It was a somewhat arbitrary goal, but one I knew I would probably need if I was ever going to get stuff done.

As the time approached, it became clear that much more work would be required than I thought. Building an online store is pretty rough, particularly when the API is complicated, uses lots of tools, any of which could break making it very hard to debug, and one is given no specifications at all for how it should work or what it should look like or what will even be in it. Moreover, since I don’t have a working PC at the moment, I was unable to test the design for IE as I was going along (and I didn’t want to in any case). I realized one night at about 1am that IE doesn’t support transparent PNG files (picture files), so all the cool little black-and-white auto-generated buttons you see in Firefox and Safari…well those were not-so-cool little black-and-white-and-neon-green buttons in IE. I tried a million hacks to get it to work, but to no avail with PHP-generated image code. And that was about 4 unplanned and unnecessary hours of wasted time.

So here’s the point: as soon as I realized that I would need to spend a lot of time on this, I went in to what I will call “consumed” mode. In other words, I decided that I would eat, drink, and not sleep coding this site until I was done. Of course, along with that decision came the loss of all vestiges of a healthy lifestyle…I was awake from 9 or 10 am until 5 am, sitting at my computer, not eating anything, like a little hunchback gnome typing away at keys. My right hand was and is completely fried–either tendonitis or something else render it a continual mass of dull pain. I switched over a year ago to using my mouse with my left hand, but it hasn’t really helped.

I realized throughout that, in consumed mode, I actually get a lot of stuff done! I mean, I didn’t read, go outside, make or play music, hang out with people, spend time thinking about life or real issues, or do any of the things that makes mine a well-rounded and satisfying existence…but I was a coding fiend. My work efficiency increased tenfold. It occurred to me how it must feel to be one of those people who really focuses on one single thing in life, and it was kind of cool. It made me wonder if that’s not a way I’m supposed to be…you see there’s something about my personality which makes it very easy to enter consumed mode when I first discover something new that I want to create or excel in. A sport, a class, a song, a book, a hobby, a writing project, anything… The initial moments are intense and productive, but then I quickly get bored or realize that it will actually take a lot of work, and I lose interest and move on to other things.

This habit has meant that I have had an extremely wide range of experiences, have tried many new things, and have the gear/paraphernalia for more hobbies/pursuits than anyone I know or have heard of. What it also means is that I tend not to (a) excel at things to the extend that I have the ability, and/or (b) finish projects that I start. On my computer right now are probably failed attempts at at least 5 novels, and twice as many sets of song lyrics. If it doesn’t happen in the first day, it doesn’t seem to happen at all. That’s typically the way my music writing goes–a blast of creativity, and then, if that spark doesn’t carry me through to completion…the song usually never gets fully written and I forget about it.

So, I have been trying to think differently and grow in my creativity by actually setting aside time to work diligently on songs or writings. I’m working on a song now, for instance, where for the first time I sat down with paper and pen, drew out staves, and worked on a melody line in standard musical nutation, over the course of a whole week. It’s giving me a lot of frustrations and when I sit down with a guitar to work on more of it, I’m always tempted to try something else that holds the promise of being a quick project. However, I’m trying to believe that by actually working on this song, it will be better, not worse, for the amount of time I put into it. We shall see.

I’m very wary, of course, about committing too much to one thing (i.e., being in consumed mode all the time). I mean, I very much feel the pain of not being able to say that I am passionate about one and only one thing. In fact, I felt that pain tonight very strongly, as I went climbing with a group of people who are all vastly more committed to the pursuit than I am. I felt like I very much wanted to commit myself to climbing to the same degree, so that I could do the things they were doing and have the ability to climb so many more routes and types of routes than I can now. But, I knew that if I made that decision, I would have to give up so many more things…and I just can’t bring myself to do that.

Ultimately, I’m not sure what is the most healthy for me. Some people are in consumed mode for work all the time, and others for a sport or a hobby. I can’t seem to want to live there for very long. What surprised me most of all, to tell the truth, was that I was able to force myself into it these last few days at all! It must say something about the type of work that I have that, when my paycheck is neither on the line (that I know of) nor overlarge, I’m still willing and able to pull 4 all-nighters in a row for a project. I wouldn’t have thought it possible in general, but especially for that length of time. Now the task is to re-enter life and to try and find a healthy balance. Finding this balance will be more on the forefront of my mind now, however, as I’ll maybe start to think if there any things I should let go in order to excel in other things I love more deeply. Honestly, I think the problem is that I love so many things to such a deep degree that that would be a nonsensical venture. I’ll be thinking about it, though, especially now that I know that spending a lot of time on something actually produces results–it’s an alien concept to my personality.

By Jonathan Lipps

Jonathan worked as a programmer in tech startups for several decades, but is also passionate about all kinds of creative pursuits and academic discussion. Jonathan has master’s degrees in philosophy and linguistics, from Stanford and Oxford respectively, and is working on another in theology. An American-Canadian, he lives in Vancouver, BC and has way too many hobbies.

1 reply on “Adventures In “Consumed” Mode”

you’re more than welcomed to ordain me with a special initiation, since you’re the webdesigner and all.. or so i heard. but the site looks great! yay for all nighters of all kind.

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