On Authenticity And What's Worth Doing

I am just a poor boy, though my story's seldom told
I have squandered my resistance for a pocketful of mumbles
Such are promises
All lies and jest
Still a man hears what he wants to hear
And disregards the rest


I'm somewhat frequently asked how I write. Here's the secret - I sit down and write, write until my fingers cramp, until my back aches from focus eroding my posture, until I have nothing left to say, and that's that. If there's anything secret, it's that there is no secret - every word I write is simple Markdown into a fairly ugly text box. Get rid of everything extraneous, including the voice in your head that says it isn't good enough, and then you can write.

Picture of the ugly Mataroa editor

For the past few weeks, I've been overflowing with ideas for things I want to write about - but nothing felt right when I sat down to type. My mind would inevitably stray to a titled but blank post.

What Comes Next?

On the 27th of February, 2023, I was recovering from severe burnout having found myself slowly ground down by spending all of my daylight hours in open floor offices replete with harsh lighting and executives (who kept private offices for themselves) and on trains. My time was filled with shuffling Jira cards around on a board to desperately contort hideous systems into deliverables for distant people hiding behind rictus grins of false positivity. Many seem to have no problem with this, and go so far as to say my problems are irrational - you work to survive and it isn't supposed to be fulfilling - but something about the situation was unbearable. Each time some venom-teared jester asked me to make another sacrifice of Care at the altar of Business, leaden tongues soiling words such as "innovation" and "vision", something vital would slip an inch at a time. I ranted about it and now we're here.

Where here is - well, that's unclear. I have a vague notion that a few thousand people read the blog regularly. A few thousand intelligent, competent, empathic people taking the time to read long-form content is, I suspect, a lot more meaningful than getting a million hits on TikTok, which I am convinced is giving me a lot of job security via rotting the next generation's brains. And while the community is near invisible (it exists in my inbox - no forum, no Discord server, I don't even turn comments on here), I assure you that we do nonetheless have a community. If someone needs help, it is available. I've had a close friend employed through this blog, and have had 300 or so people write in to vent or say that a post resonated. I could write essays every day for the next two months with nothing but the best quotes as inspiration. I've received a lot of help with my business, had sincere conversations with great people, and I've been working very hard to pay things forward. Didn't get any hatemail though, which I'm a little bit sad about.

But I haven't been able to write because I've been stuck figuring out what to do next. Deanonymize immediately? Partially? Start a podcast? Tour the U.S? Get on the speaking circuit? Who am I to do any of those? What comes next?

Then this morning, I woke up to a short message. At my very first job, I worked with a man named Asyraf. At the time, he seemed very old, wizened, and serious - but of course, he would have merely been in his early 30s or late 20s, and I was just very young. I wish I had stayed in touch with him, but all I can say is that he was a very pleasant man, who had clearly not grown up with the sheer luck I've had, but nonetheless had infinite kindness and compassion for a surgeon's son with an inexplicably Western accent in Malaysia. He passed away last Sunday. Likely heart failure.

So I'm here writing, a year and a day from the start by coincidence (mythic!), because I don't think that I've got enough time to delay or be timid. And I'm not going to worry about "what comes next?", but instead, "what's worth doing?". Below are my thoughts, next steps, and all are open to feedback.


It might seem from my writing that I'm fueled entirely by a blinding hatred for corporate insincerity. In actual fact, I'm filled with an entirely aware hatred of the hideous things our systems do to people, which is more general. I am out of patience, and have been for some time. More importantly, I suspect the patience is never coming back. Behold the field in which I grow my fucks. Lay thine eyes upon it and thou shalt see that it is barren.

The only things I see that are worth doing are those things that are absolutely necessary to live, that make life worth living, and that help others. Each time my writing resonates with someone or helps them, I am incredibly happy... and unexpectedly, I think that just makes me more aggressive in my denunciations instead of calmer. I expected the abatement of cynicism to bank the flames of rage, but some dangerous (to me) part of me thinks, "Why stop when it's working?".

I don't have to compromise to live - I'm confident I can pay my rent even if I get fired. I have the gene that lets you earn money solo in just the right quantity to stop immediately short of being a monster. Symptoms include my friends consistently rating me as Lawful Evil, the youngest kids in my family saying that I am Disney's Jaffar, and my girlfriend saying that I am the antagonist of Wish when I took her to Melbourne's Moonlight Cinema, down to the facial hair and maniacal ranting about ungrateful people. I'm not entirely sure if the latter two are because I'm that evil-adjacent or because Disney doesn't make enough brown characters, but I'll take it.

An extremely evil looking Disney villain

As for life being worth living - I clock out at 5PM sharp these days, and it's up to me to make the best of things outside of that.

So all that's left is how can I help people?

III. Authenticity

When I left my home and my family
I was no more than a boy
In the company of strangers
In the quiet of the railway station
Runnin' scared, laying low
Seeking out the poorer quarters, where the ragged people go
Looking for the places only they would know

I spoke to a reader in the city recently - a professional lawyer who nonetheless expressed sufficiently advanced opinions on writing Go for me to conclude that they're also a competent software engineer, which is pretty embarrassing for the rest of us. They had many interesting things to say:

The first was "I think the risks you run over not being anonymous are low. By the way, this isn't legal advice". Which, of course, means it must be great legal advice.

The second was that authenticity is actually valuable, even though the common wisdom is that it's bad for your career. This deserves a few caveats - your authentic self should probably not be a dickhead, and you also need to understand who you're communicating with because not everyone is a well-meaning agent. The world would be a lot better if people were comfortable being authentic, and speaking out against things that are wrong... but people also have children and mortgages. There's nothing unreasonable about wanting some safety net for your loved ones before opening your mouth to say "Hey, what if this Scrum implementation is all bullshit? And why is the emperor wearing no clothes?".

I get a lot of emails from people who are quietly miserable at work and need to break out of the rut they're in. Life is far, far too short to do anything else.

So to start off with, I would really like to find a way for readers here to find and support each other. The way that we do this at the moment is... uh... hundreds of people email me, then when someone asks for help, I try to remember who lives in their area. This has miraculously worked so far but is also fucking dumb. But I'm not going to set up a Discord server or forum because I don't have time to moderate it - I try not to be a big baby about it, but I am trying to run a business on the side.

One friend suggested a simple online registry where readers can flag the city they live in, their interests, and some system for them getting in touch with each other. There are probably enough readers in Berlin and NYC alone to begin arranging meetups if you're so inclined - every person that has reached out to me has been sane, talented, and I dare say charismatic. Then instead of emailing me for a connection (though you can always do that), you can email me for a code to register and look up people in your area. Or just get coffee with a cool person that I've vetted.

There is one major issue with this. You will have to use software that I've written, which is going to be very embarrassing for me and very painful for you.

The pros are that we will not be a network that relies entirely on my neurons firing in the correct patterns, and I might finally get some hatemail.

I don't have very much hope that we're going to change The Industry writ large. It has been captured by bad incentives and is dominated by the fact that communication is a genuinely hard problem. Smarter people than me have tried to "fix the government" so I'm not tilting at that windmill. But I do really believe that we can create something that will at least take care of everyone in our small community, through a mix of helping us find work at big corporations when that is available, and gradually helping everyone move towards whatever their dreams are. For a lot of readers, that's simply "Make a SaaS that doesn't suck, helps people, then relax". Surely a world where sensible, small companies produce enough revenue to keep their fellow travelers consistently employed is possible. Seize the means of production, not by guillotine, but by building better systems than the empty suits and learning how to do sales.

I've had it up to fucking here watching people live in fear of inexorable death machines deciding that they need to juice their profits because they spent all the money on Deloitte. And I have infinite patience for people wanting to vent and seeking help, but I'm sick of not being able to help them immediately and unambiguously.

I know that sounds a bit of an extreme hope, but I have another story about life being too short.

When I was in my third year of my psychology degree, I took a business elective to score easy marks while I focused on maximizing my odds of entry into a very competitive clinical course. Somewhere around the middle of that unit, circa 2015, I met a kid named Daniel - though I must confess my memory is fuzzy, and it was perhaps James. We only spoke one time, where it turned out that he was planning to visit my hometown over the break. We really got along, and by the end of that thirty minute conversation, I had offered to introduce him to a bunch of people and possibly arrange a place to stay with my family. He was excitedly telling me about a trip he was taking to New Zealand over the mid-semester break.

The next week, our tutor was waiting solemnly outside the classroom door. A student had passed away on a trip to New Zealand. Class was cancelled. Daniel and his friend James had died in a kayaking incident, with one of them dying in a rescue attempt.

In light of that, I don't really see what my excuse is for not taking a big swing at actually changing many lives for the better. Getting forced to work at McDonald's for a bit because I said the word "fuck" one time too many on the internet? It would be disrespectful to let that stop me for a second.

IV. Deanonymizing

Now that I have received Not Legal Advice that it is totally and unambiguously safe to reveal who I am, right here, and that the lawyer in question has accepted all the legal consequences of that advice being bad... I still can't do it.

Firstly, I basically tell anyone who emails me straight away these days, so it doesn't mean that much. The only real benefit at the moment is that this blog doesn't turn up when my real name is Googled, which is a tiny benefit at best. But there are no takebacks, and so there's no immediate rush.

But more importantly, I thought of a really funny way to do it, and it also requires some programming time.

V. Podcasting

I've finished setting up everything I need to create a vaguely listenable podcast, and will begin recording in the next two weeks. The list of guests are largely friends and readers, though I am very interested in getting David Marquet on if possible. While writing is fine as a medium, I have great conversations with people, and it seems a shame that I'm forced to write so many posts on one simple theme at a time.

I've also been invited to two podcasts, but I don't want to name them so that they can change their minds after listening to me talk without receiving their own hatemail. I've been in Australia for a long time, and swear like it. I used to be so respectable.

VI. Selling Out

And finally, the thing I've struggled with the most.

I was (and am) still incredibly paranoid that money somehow corrupts everything as beautiful and pure as this platform irrevocably. In my head, you take money and then you somehow end up selling testosterone pills to crypto-fascist idiots. In retrospect, this was absurd puritanism because I don't see any possible pathway from "doesn't like Scrum" to "MAGA". Plus in conversations with readers, literally no one has cared at all, even though in my head it was some major ethical commitment. They just want to make sure that I don't do something actually corrosive like running ads or selling email addresses, which you'd have to fucking torture me to make me do.

It has also quickly become apparent that there is no way that I can really isolate myself from financial gains through my blog, though it wasn't for a lack of trying. I had a wild dream that my company could serve as a blueprint for anyone else hoping to have a gradual off-ramp from a day job into being self-employed. Which, you know, means that the first step can't be "Be #1 on Hackernews twice" because that's simply not replicable.

I've had a handful of people express interest in keeping me employed if something goes wrong at my day job, which... well, I actually wanted that support but in retrospect, that's immediately financial gain, right? Each expression of serious support in the event of unemployment probably has E(V) = $100,000 which alters my behavior, even if I never take it. Yes, I am the type of person that actually ballparks my finances in E(V), which makes me simultaneously very effective in some situations, and extremely weird in all situations.

Furthermore, my company's website has gone from 0 hits a day to 20, which is probably going to shoot up to a few thousand because it isn't very hard to find me and we have quite a bit of writing that's about to come out there over the next few months. It's the same as the writing here, but aimed at drumming up some business and giving disgruntled people a source of common-sense that looks authoritative during meetings, which means the Venn diagram of the readership there and here is going to be a perfect circle no matter what I do.

Moreover, the time investment of writing (and shortly podcasting) is becoming difficult because I'm starting to behave more responsibly with my writing hours for the sake of my relationship. I strictly only write between 6AM and 5PM on weekdays, and won't do any over weekends. Plus, you know, I'm trying to run a business during those same hours. So all my writing now cuts into business time.

And finally, the same lawyer I mentioned above noted that there's a lot to say for the fact that transparently knowing where money comes from builds trust. It would actually be vaguely suspicious if I kept spending all that time - eventually people will ask, where is the money coming from? So I'm going to set up a Liberapay and Patreon (barring extremely strong protestation from the gathered masses) to justify spending more time writing, community building, and paying for the servers that run whatever we use to connect the community. I understand if that sounds awful given my prior commitment to keeping everything totally unmonetized. If it helps at all, I'm only expecting around $200 a month maximum (10% of 2000 readers doing $1 a month is already a very aggressive estimate), and I'm going to do everything even if it turns out $0 because I'm unhinged.


Well, that's everything. Some of this is mundane, some of it is silly, some of it is very serious. I'll catch you for our regularly scheduled writing soon.

In the clearing stands a boxer
And a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminders
Of every glove that laid him down
Or cut him till he cried out in his anger and his shame
"I am leaving, I am leaving", but the fighter still remains