Tomorrow I’ll be 28 years old, and for the first time my birthday feels significant.
It’s been just about a year since I quit my job and left New York City to make games and live in a van. As a quick recap: I traveled up and down the East coast and across the South before the van died in Arizona. I then crashed with friends and family in San Francisco, Atlanta, South Carolina, and my hometown outside Philadelphia. I just got settled into a new place to live in South Philly.
It’s been a heck of a year.
Here’s what I know:
The people who love you are everything. Rally to your friends and take care of your family. Tell them every time you see them how grateful you are to have them in your life and how much you hope for their success and satisfaction. Their wins are your wins.
Be a guest everywhere you go. Be courteous, offer to help any way you can, be sensitive to people’s demeanor and empathize. Speak honestly, listen intently, and don’t preach. Know how to cook something well and cook it for everyone you can. Share what you’ve got and don’t expect anything back.
Listen to your heart, because it won’t be ignored. If you think you’re not going to like something, you’re not going to like it.
Understand just how much control you have over your life. You could abandon your every responsibility today, and tomorrow you’d wake up and still be here.
Don’t fear walking away from a life you don’t want. Being broke, alone, and drifting is a lot less scary than comfortably being on the fast track to a nervous breakdown. I worried about money before I quit my job and I worry about money now. I expect to worry about money the remainder of my life, and so should you. That’s what money is. Money doesn’t count for much when you feel like you’re wasting your life every day.
When you find something you love, build your life around it. I found game design when I was five years old, but it took me twenty-two more before I had the guts to go all-in on it. My love of making games is irrational, unexplainable, and core to who I am. It has strained relationships in my life and created external and internal complications. I have never found any meaningful success from it, and any reasonable person would be right to suggest I channel my energies into something else.
But that love has always been there for better and worse, and I’ve finally stopped trying to stuff it into a tiny box so it won’t screw up everything else. I’m embracing the things that matter to me and figuring out the rest.
I moved to Philadelphia, where I always wanted to be. I found a room to rent in a house and I’m doing the millennial thing, living cheap with roommates. I’m paying the bills with freelance work and working on my own games. I’m pretty much living like a college student, and I feel good. I built a bed out of cardboard boxes, and I don’t give a fuck if anyone else has an opinion about that. It cost me $24.
I still deal with things I’d rather not, but that’s OK because it’s part of supporting a life I want. It helps to be able to say that honestly every day.
If you are considering living in a van, I will tell you this: get a reliable vehicle. I will also tell you that living untethered has its ups and downs, and you may not love it. But it will force you to reevaluate everything about the way you live. You can get off the treadmill, take a breath, and look around. You can think about the things you love and the things you don’t, and which of them are dictating what you do every day.
Here’s what I know: the worst way to live is on autopilot.
Be honest with yourself and don’t be ashamed to want things that other people don’t value or don’t understand. Don’t be scared to destroy things that seem foundational. Take a leap and your people will catch you. I’m saying this from a position of privilege, and not everyone has the support network or structural advantages I do. But I put my faith in the idea that you get back the love you give.
Tomorrow I’ll be 28 years old, and I no longer feel like I’m killing time. I’m not waiting for my life to turn into my dreams. The days are good again, and part of me is bummed because I’ve never had fewer left on this earth. I now have responsibilities and challenges that matter to me; I have something to lose.
I owe absolutely everything to the love of my people, particularly: my parents, who always instilled in me the belief that I could achieve anything I set my mind to, and have supported me unconditionally through a journey that often baffled them; my brother, a person of enormous honor and heart, who constantly surprises and inspires me, and who paid for my drinks at the bar long past the point I’d worn out my welcome; my extended family, who always make me feel like the weird one in the best way possible; Salil, Marty, Moog, Sky, Sam, Trifan, the Pats, Kindig, Ryan, Kristen, Lauren, Amy, Graydon, Herm, Ceresko, Farkas, Cayla, Paul, Wesley, Brad, Ray, Alex, Archer, Jack, Brooke, Kyle, Ryan, Zack, and everybody else, who housed me or helped me or just listened to me or shared a beer when I needed it. I’m glad I got to see so much of you, I hope I get to see more of you, and thanks for putting up with me.
Shortly after I left New York, people used to ask me how I was doing, and I’d say: “Still alive.” Nowadays people ask me how I’m doing and I tell them.
I’m doing great.