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Why I quit my software engineering job to make a game

This is the first part of a series of posts I’m writing about why I quit my software engineering job at Microsoft to make a game. I mostly talk about the revelations that I had during a time period of introspection before I could make that decision.

grassfield

Right next to my office at Microsoft, there was a nice shared space we used for our daily stand-up meetings. It was right at the corner of the floor with big windows on both sides overlooking a big grass field that was probably just an undeveloped lot for more corporate buildings in the future. A trail at its far end separated it from a wall of trees at the background. Beautiful nature rarely escapes you in the Pacific Northwest, especially during summer, when the green field would get full of small white and yellow summer flowers, and it was hard not to look at during the stand-ups. Every day, I would look out the window multiple times and plan how I would go for a relaxing walk later in the day, and I never did. For some reason, the thought would escape my mind as soon as my eyes were off the view until the next time I was looking at it. After a while, I knew I wouldn’t go, but I still entertained the idea of going for the walk as I watched the view. In a strange way, I could elevate my experience of watching the view by that imagination even without any real intention of ever going for the walk. Over the long run, this habit led to a lingering taste of self-disappointment and regret. Even if I was sure I wouldn’t enjoy the walk that much, the fact that I never tried made me unhappy.

Escapism and the growing shadow

I think this is a pitfall we so often fall into. We sometimes like the idea of something or someone more than the reality of them. It’s a familiar concept, but I think it is more prevalent in our life than we realize. We use the powerful gift of human imagination as a means for entertainment much more often than for planning. There are rare moments of self-honesty where we realize this, but they seldom pierce through the self-defense mechanism of our mind against discomfort. Some of us go into cycles of self-pity and self-deprecation, some start passing blame, and most of us simply flee to our favorite type of escapism. The choices for escapism are endless nowadays. Though some forms of escapism are destructive, some can be benign and even healthy in their own right. Drugs, gambling, social media, Netflix, video games, work, books, even fitness; pick your poison; regardless of their core benefits or harms, their function in this context is to provide an escape from those moments of self-honesty. Moments where a voice in our head is telling us something, but it’s too uncomfortable to deal with right then, so we seek comfort in something familiar and pleasant. Every time we do this, we lose an opportunity to have an honest introspection and get a step closer to our truth, and worse yet, we get better at our own brand of escapism, making it more likely to repeat the cycle. Over time, we become the prisoners of our own comfort zone, and those moments can dissolve into our subconscious and mesh into a constant undercurrent of regret and resentment in our day-to-day life — a shadow that affects how we see the world and everything we do.

One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.

— Carl Jung

When you’re supposed to be happy, but you’re not

For the past few years, I have been playing with the idea of quitting my job to work on a game. I spent hours of my free time to prototype, test, and refine the idea and I knew I have something worthy of further effort. The idea of publishing my own creative project always sounded exciting, but I found it extremely hard to pull the trigger and just do it. Initially I thought that it’s just a question of financial risk, but I realized what’s stopping me is more psychological than financial. On paper, I had a great job and I liked it. It was what I once dreamed of, planned for and worked hard towards. It checked a lot of boxes for me and it paid well too, but it was getting increasingly boring and I was losing focus. I knew I could do it better and accomplish more, but I just didn’t want to. I had no reasons to give it all. Something was missing. I was not inspired. I started blaming myself for not being able to feel happy with what I had, even when it was a dream-come-true. This mental space can be very exhausting. You can feel a mild but constant sense of unhappiness emerging in the back of your mind, and the shadow slowly but steadily grows larger. I knew I had to do something about it; something better than suppressing it. I started do a lot of soul searching to figure out what I’m really after and what my values are. That finally led to me pulling the trigger with more confidence and peace that I otherwise could. Now that I have quit my job to start Gerdoo Games, I decided to write down my thoughts for my own future reference and to share with others. I will explore my ideas about happiness, success, money, career, responsibilities, inspiration, creativity, and risk-taking and how I had to sort through my thoughts and emotions before I could make up my mind.

Since this is too long for one post, I have broken it up to a series and will explore each aspect of it in a separate post. This is not really a guide or practical advice. This is not “10 things to do before quitting your job”. It’s about sharing a very subjective and personal experience that hopefully is relatable or insightful to some. Anyway, I hope you stay tuned in the coming days for the next part.

Next Part: Dealing with financial dilemmas of quitting my day job