Radical Honesty

General / 04 June 2018

Usually my first blog after wrapping a personal project is a Post Mortem on that project. I wrapped up The Park Bench: A Diorama roughly two weeks ago and I plan to do a very in-depth Post Mortem as well as some small tutorials that focus on my use of GameTextures assets. I’d expect those tutorials to be hosted over on the official GameTextures blog once they’re ready.

That is not what this post is. Today I will be sharing some recent trials and tribulations; and how it is bringing forth personal growth and great discomfort. I think this blog post is a part of that growth. In doing some reading on the idea of the “Shadow Self” (Carl Jung), I came across a few videos that delve into that idea. A few of them were by the controversial Psychologist Jordan Peterson. One video I found fascinating is where a reader or viewer asks him about how to “confront your shadow”. After a minute or two of his trademark rambling, Peterson distills his thought on “confronting the shadow” to a simple phrase: Radical Honesty.

Radical Honesty it is. Last month (and a little bit of April too) was a cesspool of varied emotion, and this entire year has been a constant stream of bright lights that reveal themselves to be freight trains. I wrote to start the year that I didn’t know what 2018 would bring, but that it would be a year of choice. All I had to do was execute. I wasn’t necessarily wrong. I made a few choices alright; most of them have backfired and caused me financial pain, incredible stress, immense anger, and a sense of insecurity in my place in this professional world.

Choice 1: Chasing Money

I don’t believe chasing money is a bad thing. It shouldn’t be your primary motivation for any decision you make if you can help it, but it should be an important factor. Statistically, as a graduate of the class of 2009, I’m going to have a lower net worth than many of those who graduated college just a few years later, in say 2011. When you factor in my family and their general lack of financial literacy and rather iffy financial well being (lower middle class), it makes it easy to understand how I can drift into some poor decisions when money is involved.

When I closed 2017, I did some work for a foreign client I will call DERP. DERP paid, and the project was cool, but it was obvious DERP didn’t really know what they were doing. I figured that I’d be done with DERP after that.

January rolled around and DERP needed a new artist. So they reached out to me. Or I them, I’m not positive. Either way, DERP had a number of red flags that came up from from my prior work with them. I was also privy to some information from a fellow freelancer for DERP, so I figured that I’d ignore the red flags and work with DERP on their project. I wasn’t getting paid my usual rate, but if all worked out it’d be a decent rate for an indie title.

The biggest problem when working with DERP; DERP requested we have no contract as they were “hurt before”. I have never worked without a contract before, but as DERP seemed well funded and the project and team were cool, I ignored this.

I plan to tell the full story one day, but the short version is that DERP and I had a falling out, and in all fairness I was also a bit to blame. Using their “financiers”, they filed a PayPal dispute and easily won despite clear evidence provided by me. This has caused me to have a negative PayPal balance that, if I wish to continue to use their services (and avoid bill collectors), need to pay off. It’s a fairly substantial sum of money for a freelancer like myself, and it’s going to hurt when I finally decide to pay.

I haven’t paid yet, partly because I’m just as angry at PayPal as I have been with DERP.

I ended up working out a deal with DERP to finish up some work I was in the middle of doing in exchange for being paid roughly 2/3 of what I owe PayPal. The problem, is that I’m no longer motivated to work on this project. I have to force myself to drudge through and wrap it up. Due to this entire situation and the transition I’m attempting partly due to it, I haven’t even had much time to wrap it up. There isn’t much work left to do on it, but there also isn’t any motivation to squeeze it in to my free time.

The worst thing though, is that this ordeal with DERP and PayPal has left me angry, bitter, and defeated.

Choice 2: The Life Raft

I started teaching at Drexel in 2015 in part because my freelance business wasn’t doing well enough to sustain me in Philadelphia. While cheaper than Boston, the increase in cost associated with more expensive rent and splitting utilities with less people meant I was feeling the pinch pretty badly. I saw teaching as a way to earn some extra money, and hey, maybe I’d like it. As it turned out, I did.

I really do enjoy teaching overall, and Rob and Nick at Drexel are very cool guys who let me have a decent degree of freedom with my classes because of my experience.

When I returned to teaching in the fall of 2017 it was an incredibly stressful quarter. Overview of Gaming, a class I taught before, was fine. But GMAP 421, a Unity game art class, became mostly focused on teaching the basics of Unity from an artist’s perspective. I also had to teach a fair bit about general 3d modeling and texturing for games to these students all over again. I put a lot of work into it and wrote the class from the ground up for students that wanted to learn about game art. That took a lot of time.

This only expanded in the winter. I taught three ANIM 140 classes, which are introductions to 3d modeling and texturing, on 3 different days of the week. My travel time to Drexel from my old apartment was probably 20 minutes total. Today, that can range from 30 if I hit the trains right to over an hour in the evenings. Winter 2018 was a long quarter with freshmen students who, as always, struggle through their first quarter of 3d modeling. I spent far more energy and far more time answering emails and staying after classes during that quarter than I ever did before. Perhaps this is because many of my students find me approachable and knowledgeable on the subject. I genuinely want to make sure these students graduate with  the skills needed so they can get jobs right away. Because of that, I spend a lot of time being available to them.

For the current quarter, I was to teach 3 classes again. However, as an adjunct, Drexel staff always have priority for classes (even if I’m more qualified as an instructor). A scheduling snafu caused me to have a class bumped from my schedule, costing me $1000 a month. While theoretically I can spend more time on my own work, I continue to spend a lot of time answering emails, staying late at the school, and continuing my commute than I would like.

Spring will give way to summer soon, and while un-confirmed due to potential job opportunities, I’m slated to teach 3 classes. Two of these classes I’ve not taught before and one needs significant updates. One of them, a motion capture class, is going to be brand new subject material to me. I’ve never worked with mo-cap before and I have barely any experience animating. The good news is that I have been getting help and some training from Nick, and I will attend his class before I teach mine so we can maintain consistency. The bad news is that, if I’m being radically honest, I don’t want to teach this class at all. I’m doing it because it’s the only way to hit a cash flow amount that lets me pretend I’m comfortable.

Teaching, and by extension Drexel, has become a bit of a life raft for me. It allows me to pay my bills and have some cash while I can freelance and try to save (in ideal circumstances). If I was forced to rely only on freelancing like I did in Boston, I’d find myself in bad spots more often than not. On the other side of the coin, Drexel takes up a lot of my time and makes it hard to carry clients full time. I’m always juggling student grades and time versus my own, and while I made it work before, I’ve lost out on remote jobs in recent history in part because of my commitments to the University.

Drexel has become a trap for me. It keeps me afloat financially and lets me help students grow, but it ties me down every quarter with the time commitment it requires. I am not compensated appropriately for my experience nor my class reviews, and I will never be considered for a professorship because I have a lowly Bachelor’s Degree and Academia is one of the most self fellating sectors in existence.

Why stay somewhere if I have no potential to grow?

Choice 3: Philadelphia

Elliott Hulse, a YouTube fitness guru and psudo-philosopher, has a rather interesting saying that has started really sticking with me the last month or so as this series of events has unfolded. “You don’t make the right decision, you make the decision right.” The gist of the phrase is that there are times when there are no right decisions, you just have to choose a path and make it work. For instance, do you take a job that offers you $2 million dollars a year but you never see your family, or do you take a job that lets you work from home but you’re only making $50,000 a year. Each choice clearly has pros and cons and some people will put more value on providing money for the family instead of providing their presence, or vice versa. The point is, you have to choose and them make that choice work.

I’ve more or less been doing that in Philly.

My brother and I argue about location and career stuff all the time. We disagree on many points, but he is not wrong when he says that Philadelphia is NOT a location that is conducive to my career. I knew that when I made the choice to follow my fiancee down from Boston.  So, “how have I made this decision right” from a career perspective.

If I look back at my time in Philadelphia, from 2015 to now, the honest answer is…that I made it right by not being here.

“How does that work” you may wonder. The easiest explanation for this sentiment is that 2016 and 2017 were my best years of work ever. My income increased year over year by substantial margins while I was working on new and challenging projects, both AAA games and VR”ish” experiences. The main driver of that was self employed income, although Drexel was helpful as well. The majority of 2016 and 2017 income was earned out of state in New York City and Austin, Texas respectively. I made quite a lot of money compared to my previous years during both periods, and it’s no coincidence that I wasn’t home during that time. Philadelphia doesn’t have many game studios, it doesn’t have Manhattan money, it doesn’t have offices for top tier creative agencies, and Gary Vee doesn’t live here.

I have been working like hell to make Philadelphia right. I thought I had been doing a great job of that. Now I see that I’ve been fooling myself. If I’m doing good work and making great money, but I’m not physically here in my home with my fiancee, am I really making this work in a sustainable fashion?

Forty Six and Two Just a Head of Me

That is a handful of the questions I’ve been having to ask myself. It’s been tough. I’m not one to sit idly by and wallow in my despair, at least not long term. This time around, I’ve taken the tactic to examine my own weakness and attempt to be radically honest and clear in my thoughts and intentions. Again, this was inspired by the idea of the “Shadow Self” by Carl Jung, and the reason I even thought to look there was because of the Tool Song Forty Six and Two. I heard it for the first time in probably a year or two last month and it’s lyrics just clicked, and I needed to know more about it’s subject matter.

I need to step through and confront my personal weaknesses and come out the other side a new me. The last time I did a version of this, I was in therapy for a year learning to deal with chronic personal negativity (I’m optimistic by nature, except for myself #Rosecurse). This time, it’s about examining my career and no longer letting it define me. At the same time, it’s about accepting my current reality.

  • The past experience with DERP, as well as the general slowness I’ve experienced since returning from Bluepoint, are pushing me in the direction of wanting to exit the freelance/contract world.
    • Along the same lines, I’m ready to have stability. I’d also like to not have to leave home for months at a time to make money. I genuinely love Philadelphia. I’m finally growing a friend network here. I want that network to grow, and I want a professional network to start growing too.
  • I’m ready to take a break from teaching so much. It can be exhausting, and I put far too much of myself into teaching my classes. Part of that is my honest want for my students to succeed more than I have thus far. Part of that…is that I think I want to be liked. I need to get over that. I get anxious when I feel I’ve made someone upset with me, but with my students that shouldn’t be an issue at all. I need to find a balance between accommodating their situations while exercising discipline.
    • With Drexel, the life raft needs to become a fun way to earn some extra cash. As it is now, which is a part time job with full time hours, it’s becoming a hinderance. Additionally, Adjuncts aren’t paid according to professional or teaching experience and I’m done with that. I should be paid more than a fresh graduate. Any adjunct with experience should.
  • I’m going to continue to try to “make Philadelphia right”. Part of that process is an interview I wrapped up at DreamLine last week, and reaching out to local production and VR companies in the area. I plan to create more in-depth asset kits and explore the current trend of offering mentorships via Gumroad or other store fronts (perhaps my own site) as well. There are options that abound in this day in age and while I have hit a pretty fucking hard bump in my career, I haven’t lost all hope.
    • While working in New York isn’t ideal in this context, New York does have more opportunities for someone like myself than Philadelphia does, and those opportunities are also being explored. Is it making Philly right? Probably not. It is however much better than if I had stayed in Boston.
  • I’m taking this time as well to meditate more and try to step away. It’s difficult when I still have various different types of work to do, but I can tell this is as much a self care issue as it is the fuckery of life.

I need to also mention my fiancee, Kelsey. She has been incredibly supportive during this time. She’s seen the stress, anger, and frustration first hand. I’m not easy to be with sometimes, with my general financial instability, occasional moodiness, moments of stubborn determination, and fear of bees. The last month has kicked some of those elements up to 11, and she’s been there to help me brainstorm, laugh my ass off, or just be reassured that everything will be ok.

Coming Out the Other Side

This, hasn’t happened yet. I’m still in the weeds, though I feel like I’m starting to emerge. I need a few more days of ‘self care’ (I hate the term even though it’s quite important) and for my potential employment situations to clear up. Once that’s done, I’ll know where I’m headed in the near term. In time, you will too.

It’s all just ahead of me.