Do your projects serve you, or do you serve your projects?

I've recently returned to employment after a short stint with freelancing. I did this specifically to free up the time on freelance overheads for other things in my life, such as being an indie hacker. My thinking was that if freelancing isn't the ultimate thing I want to be doing, it's actually somewhat of a waste of time in terms of what I'm doing in life.

So the general question is, what do I want to be doing? What gives me passion and drives me? Is it specifically building SaaS and being an indie hacker?

I got stuck trying to find ideas that would fit some idea of value first instead of something I'd actually enjoy. Getting stuck here gave me some anxiety. The realisation I've come to is that even that is not the true answer for me. Building businesses in order to hit some arbitrary level of wealth and "escape the rat race" is in itself something that takes a lot of life focus, so it's the same kind of waste as freelancing if it's not serving how I want to live.

For me then, the conclusion I've reached is I need to explore more facets of life that I enjoy, and keep a very keen eye out for projects to build within those niches.

In my mind, this is more than just "build in niches you like and are knowledgeable about". It's somewhat the reverse: finding out how I want to live and enjoy life first, and then how that can feed into my projects. Not the other way around.

Maybe this idea is obvious to you. I know it's been explored in advice on these sorts of forums before. However, I think these ideas become more valuable once we reach them ourselves instead of reading it.

That's why I made this post - to share my thinking, and to hopefully give you some food for thought.

What do you think? What's your approach? Do you prefer the idea of "sacrificing" time up front for reward down the line?

For further reading around these sorts of ideas, I can highly recommend two books: The Three Marriages by David Whyte, and The Pathless Path by Paul Millerd.

I think we have similar thinking - any business I run needs to operate around my life, not the other way around. Wrote a blog post about it here:…

Not sure how your question about sacrificing time upfront for a reward later relates to the rest of your post, but that's also the approach I've chosen and how I got into indie hacking in the first place (worked big tech jobs for a while, saved money and got passive income, then started indie hacking -- delayed gratification)

Thanks for sharing!

I guess that's part of my question overall - what's the line between delayed gratification and flat out living an unsatisfying life?

I think it'll be different for everyone, but it takes very deliberate introspection to find it.

Good question - inherently, delayed gratification implies some level of dissatisfaction while going through that process. I'm also bad at compartmentalizing things, so when my job wasn't ideal that led to other parts of my life not going so well. So, I always felt somewhat dissatisfied with my life when working in Corporate America. Not to the degree where I felt my entire life was shit (and I did like parts of my job), but that feeling was always there.

It was however a conscious decision to "embrace the suck" as they say in the military and remain at that job for a while and stack money so that I could lead a different life eventually.

I'm with you on not being able to compartmentalise well.

Part of the human condition is always to be slightly dissatisfied with things, so that never truly goes away. Compromise is another word that often comes up here - you can almost never have everything going well at once; sometimes some life aspects just have to fall aside for a time.

True, even with indie hacking there are aspects I'm dissatisfied with (lack of social interaction during the day being a big one - attempting to fix that by moving to a digital nomad hub where I can surround myself with people building bootstrapped startups). There are always negatives with each decision, just trying to optimize for a better ratio of good stuff to negative stuff

It's an interesting question, and I'll check out those books. I've always wondered about this--I grew up in a rural area and it didn't really ever enter our mind to enjoy life. I started as a writer before anything in tech, and then the products that I worked on just became a creative obsession like an essay or novel.

I totally agree that freelancing too much can kill the soul and make you miss things because you're constantly working toward deadlines and under client decisions. But if you get to know a small segment of customers, that could help for building a product?

I used to spend most of my days just going really nice places, but it wasn't meaningful. Cicero has this book called On duties or De oficiis, and reading it earlier this year for the better or worse made me end up moving back to my home country.

I guess along with enjoyment, what do you find most meaningful? I kind of just stuck with that through thick and thin, but I don't think that's the "right" way to do things--just my take.

I've always thought that programming must be a lot like writing a book - haven't written a book, but I can see some parallels.

I also realized something similar to what you did recently - and it became increasingly obvious after my last backpacking trip to southeast asia a few months ago. Basically, I realized that you can only see so many temples, beaches, waterfalls, cultural sights, bars, and go on so many adventures before it all gets a bit tired and starts to feel pointless. I think a better way to live is to do truly meaningful work and be located wherever is best to do that work and where your community is, even if it means going back to your home country or staying in the same place for a long time instead of being nomadic.

I'm personally gearing up to move to another country to extend my financial runway to be able to do indie hacking as long as possible, but I don't plan to hop between cities/countries every few weeks. ~3-6 months per location at minimum until I find somewhere that works for me, then I'll stay for years. I'd like to find somewhere where I can build a friend group and join a community of people who are doing the same thing (looking at Thailand which has options like KoHub + tons of indie hackers in BKK and Chiangmai), and I think that'll be good for my mental health too.

Great question and it could be explored from lots of angles. Many years ago I wrote a little about trying to build a "good life" in this sense by using a technique that the designer Stefan Sagmeister had outlined in his Happy film. Basically, he lists 12 important things to him that make him happy when he engages in them (or doesn’t as the case may be) and then quickly rates his success with these each week from 1 (good) through 5 (poor). He adds up the figures and divides by 12 to get his average of the week. If it’s a 1 or a 2 he’s had a great week by his chosen standards. Anything else requires some adjustment.

I found this useful in the sense that it forces you to think about the things you value and actively find beneficial to your life. Others find the check-in really useful too. I ended up making a list of 12 (this list included: kind but strong boundaries, capturing or editing photos, being vulnerable, acts of kindness, creating something, writing something, eating from the ground, moving my body outdoors, learning something, loving people). I haven't rated anything since then but it really helped in centering choices and showed me what was important for me to build my life around.

I have no interest in wealth other than paying for the community I've worked with forever in Cambodia + rent, fresh food and slow travel with a small bit of fuck-you money, and I'm with you on finding the things you value in life and letting that feed your projects so I get this and think this helps to keep things healthy.

I've been someone who has easily worked 60 - 80 hour weeks for many years and in that sense "sacrificed" a whole lot and while this was incredible for how much I got to do - and particularly for the work that had some small good impacts - in the last couple of years it proved definitely not "worth it" when I was doing far too much "sacrificing" for things that ultimately were not aligned with the rest of my values because I had no time for those; definitely cost me health and relationships and now that I've reversed into less work, less pressure and way more time for everything else again it makes it all the more ridiculous to look back on. I've crossed a point where I will never do that again and my mantra on this has become "I will not give more to my work than I give to myself."

So, I like the approach to find out how you want to live first and what's truly important - for you and for our communities and world - and then exploring projects that feed that. Will have a look at those books recs as not heard of them!

Thanks for sharing! I'll have to look into the Happy film and that 12 things process.

It's a slower life, and maybe not going to make us mega rich, but that isn't the only desirable outcome in the end!