Exactly 10 years ago, on November 9, 2009, I got my first MacBook Pro and I started building apps. I didn't know nothing about anything, but I absolutely fell in love with it. My programming experience at the time was half a year of C (self-taught), and then about a month of learning Objective-C. I was 16, attending a dreaded high school.
App Store was just about 1 year old, and there was this idea of independent app development. You could build something you care about, and then other people from around the world would be able to use it, and hopefully enjoy using it. It felt magical. And in the best-case scenario, you'd also make a living this way - so that you can focus all your working time on it. Becoming an "indie". I fell in love with this prospect. It became my ultimate dream, and something I've been pursuing ever since.
What are the odds?
Exactly. I was a student at high school, with no background in computer science. With time-consuming school obligations, having to memorize tons of facts in Biology, Chemistry, History, Czech, and other classes, which I knew I'll never use in my life. But somehow, I just believed I can do it. That I'll eventually get there. And even if I didn't, I was having so much fun while learning and working on the apps that it didn't really matter.
Even lately, I find this question fascinating and hugely motivating. Who wouldn't want to beat the odds? Yes, when the odds are too low, it becomes discouraging. But when they are just low enough but still realistic, trying to beat them becomes almost addictive.
What is success?
I spent an awful lot of time thinking about this in the first couple of years. Lots of people around me at the time seemed to have been defining success as admiration from others and doing well financially.
But when I finished my first client work at 17 and got paid for it (which I thought was a decent amount), I remember thinking "oh, so this is what everybody is after? It just doesn't do it for me". Chasing money just for the sake of it fell shallow. I realized that no amount of money can substitute for me the feeling of doing something meaningful. Something that I'm passionate about, something that I love.
Granted, at that time I didn't have almost any expenses, so this might seem like a naive way of thinking - of course, as we become adults, we need to be able to make the ends meet.
But even with that, I decided that I won't take money as a metric of value, as a metric of my worth. And I believe that this is the main reason why I've been able to stick with the indie dream for so long; and hold onto it in spite of all the frustrations, difficulties and struggles. And why I was okay with living very modestly, even though I could've been 'milking it' instead, just like so many people around me did.
Freelancing and contracting were just means of covering my expenses and buying myself time to work on my own stuff.
Mountain of regret
This post wouldn't have been honest without me acknowledging this - looking back, I can feel a little bit of bitterness over the huge amounts of opportunity and time that I wasted, for various reasons. One of the big ones - not having enough strength until recently to escape a somewhat stifling environment (but this is perhaps for another blog post). Also - just not prioritizing my goals enough. Not holding myself as accountable as I should've. Don't take me wrong, I'm grateful for what I had accomplished, but I know it could've been much more, and that's a bitter pill to swallow.
On the flip side: there's a big argument to be made for being compassionate with yourself. I've actually read a book on this topic recently that I'd highly recommend: Self-Compassion by Kristin Neff. I realized about the regrets that I have: I behaved, made decisions and acted in the best way I was capable of at that time, given the circumstances back then, both internal and external. There's no reason to dwell over it now. On the contrary - I'm grateful that things have been gradually getting better and better. But I do think it's worth keeping these at the back of my mind, as a reminder to always keep striving for better tomorrows.
One last note on this: I was also realizing lately that I just had somewhat unrealistic expectations of myself, and I'm trying to keep them more in check now. Also: berating yourself for not performing as well as you'd like is not really helpful in any way - it's much better to instead reflect on what causes you to underperform, and what can you do to improve that.
A glimpse of light in the darkness
This is the most important point I want to share today, in my reflection over these 10 years. This indie dream of building apps has been something of a life-saver for me, and I truly mean this, both figuratively and literally.
I've gone through some dark periods, where I was left fearful, confused and anxious. With this building of apps, it's as if the universe had thrown me a lifeline. It said "I'm giving you this chance, this opportunity to prove yourself. This opportunity for a better life. Will you take it?". And I sure as hell wasn't going to pass up on it. Instead, I used the hurt from the past as a catalyst and an almost inexhaustible source of motivation.
Even later on during these ten years, dedicating myself to building apps has always been something I could hold onto, at the time of need. Something that provided a sense of purpose for me. A sense of meaning in my life. A feeling that I'm making a positive difference in the lives of my users. And for that, I'm deeply and eternally grateful.
It's been a love-hate relationship, with lots of peaks and valleys. Sometimes it feels too hard, oftentimes I feel like I suck at this and "what am I even thinking?", but it's a relationship nonetheless; one that is genuine and real, and one that I wouldn't trade for anything.
Here's to ten more years! 🎉