“In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity” ― Sun Tzu, A Arte da Guerra
When your kingdom is under siege and you can no longer fortify the perimeter, sometimes the best thing to do is exactly the opposite of what your instincts tell you to do. You may want to surrender. You may want to flee. Or you may arm your troops, fill them with bloodlust, and send them to what is certain death as the final line of defense.
And sometimes you achieve greatness.
It was one and a half years ago that my wife, kids, and I were in a car accident. Everyone in the car survived but my wife ended up with chronic back pain. The kind of back pain that prevents you from being able to live a normal life. Without a doubt it has affected our lives. Our two sons needed to be enrolled in full-time daycare. I need to come and go from work to take her to doctors appointments and help her if she loses her balance and falls. She can no longer do the things she has come to love. As one would expect, it has caused a great deal of distress in our family.
A little about my background: I worked for 10 years in the financial sector for the MIS department at a company providing web based Business Intelligence solutions. I have had a successful career that has offered me the opportunity to learn new technology, manage people halfway across the world, and build enterprise solutions. With this tragedy that befell my family I was unsure what the repercussions would be to my job. Obviously I am needed at home to care for my wife and children, but I have an obligation to my job.
I wrestled with this for some time. I love technology, web technology in particular. Back when I was in Polytechnic University before I started my career I was building websites and applications as a hobby. Even during my career I have helped friends and family build their web presence. Throughout my life I have taught myself everything from Basic to C++, PHP to ActionScript. So what is stoping me from starting a career as a freelance web developer?
A lot apparently.
To start with I have become a cog in the corporate machine. I forgot what it was like to have real competition. In an large corporation you have HR Generalists, ombudsmans, and others who are there to make sure the company acts in your best interests. Out in the freelance world it is every man (or woman) for themselves. The only authority you can appeal to is the client.
Additionally I hadn’t realized how much changed since I last designed a site. Most of the software I was working with was customized off-the-shelf software and it had been quite some time since I had built a product from the ground up. A lot of the tools and techniques I had used previously (Flash, table-based design) had become passé. And it seemed like there was a new ‘hotness’ every week.
But I didn’t let this deter me. I loaded up my phone with podcast after podcast on web design, start attending meetups for Drupal and WordPress, began blogging and creating screencasts as I learned new tools, and attending conferences. Before long I found my list of clients expanding. First it was clients through sites like eLance but eventually people started finding me through my YouTube channel, Twitter feeds, Facebook, and Google search results.
Granted I have not reached a point where I can support a family of four this way, and I still have a broad range of skills that I need to develop, but I can start to see the forest through the trees. By focusing on some specific tools I am creating a niche for myself. This niche can serve as a way for me to build a reputation and become valuable contributor to the web community. As time goes on I am starting to draw some parallels between the corporate and the freelance world that is allowing me to make sense of it. I may not of achieve greatness, but I am not ready to stop fighting.
Often times we become so complacent in our daily lives that we grow fearful of any disruption. Even the slightest change to our daily routine can fill us with anxiety. Sometimes, however, when things become overwhelmingly chaotic you are forced to rethink your priorities and make dramatic changes. Those challenges become opportunities that can serve as the foundation for a new life. So pick up a book, learn something new, and challenge yourself to embrace chaos, and achieve greatness.