When I first started building websites as a kid, I loved the creative outlet it gave me. Probably because I was never your typical creative type.
While I enjoyed writing, to this day I have still never written anything other than the practical articles needed for my business.
I couldn’t draw to save my life, playing an instrument was a struggle, and I have never written music or poetry. I really wasn’t ever interested in those things either and can’t say I am today.
Computers, however, always had a pull to them.
They were complicated and mysterious, yet simple and comprehensible. They were different from the traditional creative outlets where most parents longed for results with their children.
I was born in 1992, so I was too young to understand the dot-come bubble but I got to ride the wave of enthusiasm and excitement that followed.
At the time, I was busy playing PC classics like Starcraft Brood War and Counter Strike 1.6. I didn’t know it then but computer science would eventually become my niche, in large part due to gaming spawning an interest in web development.
I wasn’t much into programming at first, I mostly modified existing HTML templates and didn’t dare code from scratch. Nevertheless, I could create static sites pretty easily. My small and limited projects were brought to life using only tools and resources freely available on the web.
My first website was a clan management system for an online gaming team I played with regularly. We needed something to organize events and feel powerful in our lives with militarized ranks.
What really peaked my interest was when I later learned about digital marketing. I discovered there were genuine ways to earn an income and drive revenue from websites, even my small hobby sites. Monetization strategies like Google Adsense, affiliate marketing, and selling your own products or services.
I started researching how to get more website traffic and that’s when I discovered SEO, Google Adwords and paid advertising. Google was still in its relative infancy at the time and ranking organically was much easier than it is today. There was less competition, Google’s algorithm wasn’t as smart and there were people making full-time wages from their sites.
I was only 12 or 13 years old but I remember feeling this thrill of boundless opportunity. I placed some ads on our small clan site and and got so excited when I made a few dollars from the clicks.
That thrill would later keep me hooked like an addict, as I grappled with the ups and downs of a self-employed online career.
I always envisioned using the Internet as a tool and a way of expression. My plan was to create websites that shared valuae information, laid the foundation of a business, and helped create financial security that otherwise wouldn’t be possible. I wanted to build websites that helped people and were a genuine resource.
I had tons of great ideas. While all of them involved hard work and daily self-discipline, each project was designed to eventually pay off.
Once the foundation was set and the development phase completed, things would get easier. That effort would be lucrative for years to come. I could hire help and bring other talent onboard. Surely, this would take the business further than I ever could on my own.
I saw my role as both architect and developer. I wanted to create things, help them grow, and build them into long-term assets, but I didn’t want my life to become the projects themselves. I always wanted to maintain a sense of freedom and distance.
As life’s challenges continued to press me, I became more comfortable hustling for cash than I did building a financially stable future. I was young, I thought, so I had time for that later. I held a similar perspective on investing in a 401k or saving for a down payment on a house.
I had two choices. Work on projects that might pay-off several years later with no guarantee, or pitch my services to a startup with an upfront invoice and get money coming in today?
The answer seemed obvious at the time so I went all-in.
What happened is I could no longer tell the difference between working for myself and working a 9-5. I was now a full-time digital marketing freelancer helping clients drive traffic to their website. What’s worse is it seemed like the logical path to take. Things were getting expensive and I didn’t have enough in savings to even consider another route.
Each contract had promise but what I was doing no longer resembled the goals I once had. Now I was envisioning big paydays and more clients. I wanted to go further.
I put my personal projects on hold and I plunged into a world of daily consultations and Skype meetings. The only thing that mattered was turning prospects into clients and providing a return on investment that kept them coming back. I helped them run ads, optimize landing pages and run content marketing campaigns for better search engine rankings.
Much of my time was spent bogged down fulfilling the services themselves. This took away from prospecting and closing sales. While I was starting to become a pretty good salesman, I didn’t have the time. I outsourced some of the work but always found myself doing the bulk of the tasks or overseeing something that wasn’t done correctly.
Scope creep on projects was a real concern and I felt like I was stuck in the rat race indefinitely.
Although I was paid on a per-project basis, I could have calculated my hourly wage at anytime because I had to stay busy, diligently working for my money. There was no time to get sidetracked or delay on a workday. I felt productive, but behind it was a lot of stress and a constant sense of urgency.
Freelancers are probably familiar with this time-for-money exchange that mediates your life. It’s that mind numbing scenario where your dream of working for yourself becomes a lot like working a normal job. You’re even starting to see that traditional employment would be a lot easier. It wouldn’t come with the headaches of a fluctuating salary.
They call this the feast and famine cycle of freelancing. Sometimes you’re feasting, times are good, and the money is flowing. Other times there’s real scarcity and fear.
What was supposed to be a scalable and limitless business now had enormous limitations.
I needed a way out and a change of pace. Maybe I even needed a break from self-employment.
This is where my struggle deviates, becomes a full blown existential crisis, and takes a bit of a left turn.
I started researching the military and before I knew whether I was thinking straight.. I was in Marine Corps boot camp going through what would become a 9 month training process and a 6 year contract in the Reserves. It was a hastily made decision but boy was my recruiter happy to ship me off before I changed by mind.
A major derailment from regular life and pretty intense, this was not something I could have predicted myself doing.
Once I got back home and the reality of the Reserves not being a full-time gig set in, I realized I still had to make a change. I couldn’t go back to doing what I had no longer could stomach.
Fortunately, in the few years that followed high school, I had previously received a computer science associate’s degree from a small technical college.
I never really thought I would need the degree and I always considered it more of a safety net. College was where I had learned to code and it had been immensely helpful but I couldn’t see myself climbing the corporate ladder. I wasn’t sure I had the emotional maturity for that.
The more I thought about it though, the more promising that degree started to look. Maybe I could stomach the indecency of working in a cubicle, with micro-management coming at me from every angle. Or maybe it wouldn’t be that bad and I would actually enjoy it. It was worth a shot.
I decided to go back to school for software development, an area of computer science I enjoyed. I figured if I could code, I could start an engineering track and make some good money. I had dabbled with a few projects as a programmer already and I felt more confident drilling down on this skill-set than anything else.
I took extra classes, dropped everything else in my life, and graduated in just over a year with an undergraduate degree.
I didn’t have much left at all in my savings at this point. Between paying my bills while I was away at training and a year of not working while being a full-time student, my finances had really taken a hit but I was lucky enough to secure a job shortly after graduating.
There I was, working in a team writing code for Enterprise software in a fortunate 500 company. I wasn’t rich but I had a job I was proud of, the paychecks were finally steady and it felt good.
People seemed to respect what I was doing and that helped too. Between joining the Marines and getting a job with a recognized employer, I had seemingly done something that made family and friends start to notice.
This was a first for me and although rewarding, I still remembered that thrill I had felt as a kid and it wasn’t quite quenched. I didn’t have a fulfilling sense of relief yet. I certainly hadn’t found the perfect path to follow. While I liked my job, I still wanted to explore other things.
Although dampened and less prominent, that thrill was still tempting me to try my luck.
Productized services were an approach I had heard before and something I always wanted to try.
The idea was simple, you take a digital service and turn it into a product. Rather than a custom proposal for every client, you sell the same product to everyone.
It’s a take or leave it offer and there’s no haggling over price or items of delivery. No propositioning whatsoever. Everything is predetermined and defined in the product description.
It was a way to do what I had done before but without all the mess.
If I were still a freelancer, it would be a very scary transition. You know intuitively that many clients would pass on it. They want someone they can mold to their needs. Productizing eliminates that power and would scare clients away.
However, that’s the luxury of productized services. The clients you get are forward thinkers, happy to onboard a quality service that has been refined and perfected. It offers just what they need, without the bloat and confusion. They know they are paying a lower price compared to hiring in-house or dealing with freelancers. They are the ideal customer.
This setup also allows you to create a system and build a team. Sales calls, projects, tasks and customer support no longer have to rest on your shoulders entirely. You can implement processes that systemize the business and run with or without your involvement.
This is when I founded Brand Roshi, software that helps run a productized service business. There was significant need for an app like this with its competitors being more expensive and often lacking features. My exposure to programming came full circle here. I saw from this that the value of an experience can take time to show, something I had begun to recognize with many other life experiences as well.
I also launched Content Roshi, a productized content service for online brands.
Both are B2B products but are very different in terms of how they operate.
Brand Roshi is web-based software that requires continuous development (coding) and customer support for existing users.
Content Roshi runs off that same software but is an actual productized service with a team of writers and editors. It requires consultations with clients, customer support and delivery of the service itself.
You can imagine that running a SaaS app or a productized service comes with its own set of challenges. They won’t be an overnight success and they will require a lot of work. However, the dynamic with customers is what’s most important. They are products with clear intentions and at the end of the day, both can function independently provided the right system and team is in place. They are true assets and businesses that can be sold to new ownership should you want to depart from the project.
It’s a vastly different and better position to be in than I was previously. It’s also a business structure that I highly recommend. Stick to products. Whether that be software, courses, digital services or informational items, products are the best delivery format.
At this point, you might be wondering how mindfulness made its way into the fold. I’ve made no mention of it and somehow it’s the basis for one of my digital products.
Mindfulness is something I discovered early in life. I was dealing with various types of anxiety and wanted relief that didn’t involve medicating. Mindfulness seemed to offer that by quieting the mind through a refocusing of attention. It had its roots in Buddhism but wasn’t religious by nature. At the time, this was all I understood it as.
I was 21 when I read the bestselling book “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle. Like many, I found it incredibly interesting and a great advocate for mindfulness. Something bothered me about it though. It seemed to overstate things. It mentioned things like “one consciousness,” suggesting a single consciousness permitted the universe. These were ideas I wasn’t willing to accept because science hadn’t confirmed them. I didn’t like that the author seemed to invoke cosmic understandings that were outside his reach, or anyone’s for that matter. It felt like an indoctrination into something that couldn’t be understood.
However, when I later stumbled upon Sam Harris and his book “Waking Up,” I became much more open to the claims of mindfulness practitioners.
Here was an author that had a similar perspective, although he referenced them as experiential discoveries. He wasn’t saying that “one consciousness” was our reality, he was saying it felt like our reality after his over 10,000 hours of meditation. He wasn’t going to make any claims about the actual nature of the universe but mindfulness had changed his view of life that radically. Coming from an atheist who also held a PhD in neuroscience, it felt convincing and trustworthy.
Sam has been able to write intellectually about some of the concepts of mindfulness as well. Discoveries such as the illusoriness of the self. Much of which is backed by science, suggesting that the mind creates our sense of self and this is a mental construct that can be short-circuited in a way. Sam doesn’t rely on subjective experiences of the mind although he values those greatly. I didn’t fully understand these concepts at first but as I practiced mindfulness and continued following its proponents, it became more apparent that there was something to be explored here.
On its surface, an experience like there is no self, can sound confusing and perhaps scary when intellectually examined. However, most meditators report that this is the most liberating discovery of their life. They report incredible happiness and joy by detaching their sense of self and unidentifying with their thoughts. Similar discoveries are often reported among psychedelic users where there is believed to be a connection.
What made it more convincing was that there are hundreds of individuals that have discovered similar things through mindfulness. You may have heard of Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of mindfulness based stress reduction and a former professor of medicine at the University of Massachusetts. He too, a supporter of these experiential claims and a believer in the uplifting nature of awareness.
The science is also supportive of the positive neurological results of mindfulness. We know that the brain has plasticity and MRI scans of meditators show long-term decreased activity in the default mode network (an area connected to self-referencing) and increased grey matter.
The amounting evidence was just too much for me to standby and wait for science to catch-up and let us all know that we should be meditating daily.
I had to learn more and ultimately, there was only one way to do that. Start meditating and investigate the benefits first-hand.
I am still beginning this journey and I am refraining from making any experiential claims but I have definitely been positively impacted by mindfulness so far. I feel calmer, less anxious and more connected to the world around me. I have started to gain a sense of peace in my body.
It isn’t always easy to sit still and be aware but it’s always worth it. I have enjoyed it enough that I want to share some of the techniques I use to practice mindfulness while exercising. I launched another product, Mindful Muscularity. It includes guided meditations for walking, running, body weight workouts, strength training, lifting and yoga.
This is by no means a replacement to a sitting mindfulness practice. Most will find that a daily sitting practice is still needed.
Mindful Muscularity can be seen as a complimentary component to integrate the practice into your daily life.
Thank you for reading my story. I published this to not only air out my struggles and gain clarity from my decisions but to help others that might be walking a similar path. Indecisiveness and dissatisfaction plagued much of my early career and to save one person from making the same mistakes would make writing this article worth it.