by @mcknco

Year Zero

TL;DR: I’m a loser.

Starting a blog — becoming a blog “artist” — I couldn’t help but think of Rossellini’s mesmerizing classic Germany, Year Zero. It’s about a German family struggling to survive during the Allied-occupation of Berlin. At the cusp of world domination just a few years prior, Germany was completely trashed, everything blown to rubble and its people deeply humiliated.

From nothing, they had to start from scratch, from “year zero”, to rebuild the glory of days past, to regain their sense of pride.

That’s how I feel today. Broken, once glorious, but having to start anew and give it another go. Not just one aspect of my life, all of it. My career, my finances, my social life, my private life, my public life, the whole nine yards. So what happened? You may be curious, or not at all. Either way, I’ve decided to record it now so I don’t forget these feelings as a long and distant memory.

The comparison to near world-destruction may sound a tad melodramatic, but allow me this first, solitary post to sulk.

The beginning

My early life was dominated by academic success. I wasn’t a prodigious child by any definition, but I was good, very good. I skipped at least a third of high-school, opting to stay home one or two days a week. My mother’s endless “sick notes” were tolerated by school officials because my academic performance was so rock-solid, so there wasn’t much to complain about.

To cut a long story short, I was an extremely motivated student and driven to academic success. I graduated from UCL in computer science, was awarded numerous corporate-sponsored prizes (from Deutsche Bank, Microsoft Research, etc), including one for the best graduation thesis in the entire UK. Afterwards, I went to grad school at Caltech and got my Master’s in CS.

How I fucked up

The cracks began to appear while in California. Caltech is a phenomenal school and everyone is brilliant. But no matter how brilliant they are, by definition half the students at Caltech are below average, even if they’re working on autonomous cars or Martian rovers. Think about that. Although rarely criticized for my efforts, condescending looks of contempt from my German professor and endless self-comparison to past students made me identify as belonging to that group of underachievers.

Objectively, I’m smart. But to someone whose entire identity is tied up in being an excellent student, it’s hard to swallow being in the bottom half. A tough sell. Subjectively I was better off at a lesser school where I’d still have the inflated ego of someone who could win bigly.

A few years in, I dropped out of the PhD program with what’s lovingly known as a “consolation” Master’s. Awesome.

A decade of drifting

What follows is over a decade of drifting from one topic to the next, across multiple industries, trying desperately — despite ever eroding confidence — to find a place in which I could excel and in which I could feel a sense of belonging. I tried investment banking, the film business, film school, gym, self-improvement, game, software startups, tech behemoths, in multiple countries.

Nowhere could I find the cogitative “click” I’d experienced during undergrad. Like a train off it’s tracks, it’s not going anywhere. And that’s where I find myself today, at the end of a long road of stops and starts.

Right now I’m 34 years old, 15k in debt, living with my mum in the apartment I grew up in, single, working 12 hours a week at a minimum wage job stocking shelves in a warehouse while recovering from severe suicidal thoughts. That’s the baseline.

Towards a brighter future

The beauty of rock bottom is low expectations. Just about anything’s an improvement over my status quo. It’s not hard to make me happy. If I earn $20 online, that’s massive. That’s huge. That’s a glimmer of hope right there, not to mention a movie ticket or a Christmas present for mum or something else that’s really worthwhile to me.

Here’s my plan to climb out of the gutter. I’m going to become an independent maker. I’m going to make websites, apps, webapps. Things on the internet. Things people like. Things people will pay for. That’s my path. It’s not going to happen today, tomorrow or next week. But if I stick with it, good things will happen.

Join me on my adventure. It all starts now.

Tweet me your thoughts.

November 28, 2017, @mcknco

Want updates as I navigate my way through the emotional ups and downs of online solopreneurship? Get on my private email list. A few mails a year, max. No spam!

Have feedback?
Thanks for your message! We'll get back to you shortly.
A suggestion? Or a bug? Say hi!