Everyone has years in their life that stand out. I've had years where I've looked back and thought, "Wow, what an amazing year." I've had other years where I've looked back and thought, "This is the hardest year of my life. How did I go so wrong?" 2012 falls into the latter category. It wasn't not the hardest year by any stretch, but it was a tough year.
I served four years in the Marine Corps infantry. While serving, I was fortunate to visit Japan and fell in love with the country. I had always wanted to return and in the spring of 2012, my girlfriend and I moved to Nagoya, Japan, an urban center on the east coast from which Toyota dominates the car market.
I've long wanted to use Blue Bridge as a base to build products and in May, after working on it for six months, I launched Mail In Vote, a poll over email extension. I had been preparing for that moment for two years, slowly getting the product site Code Haiku built and then building and testing Mail In Vote over vacations and on weekends. Sitting on the floor in a tiny empty apartment in Japan I was elated to finally cross that line.
So far, so good.
In early summer, I reached out to another Joomla professional in Japan and, through networking with him, landed a great opportunity for ongoing work with his company, a high profile client. As soon as I started, I developed burning pain in both arms and had to stop. I returned to the states for summer weddings and saw a specialist while I was there. She diagnosed me with medial and lateral epicondilitus. That's doctor speak for tennis and golfers elbow. She thought that with rest, rehabilitation, and stretching I should be significantly better in a month or two.
Then, before returning to Japan, my yellow labrador Sunny almost died (he's been staying on my parent's farm.) It's hard to see an animal or person you care about in pain and without work, a bank account in a downward spiral, and repeated trips to the vet without a solution, I was pretty depressed. Sunny lost quite a bit of weight, but after $1,500 and five trips to the doctor, we finally figured it out and fixed him up.
Back in Japan, I realized that my regular consumption of coffee coupled with the lack of fluoride in the water here and in Portland had gradually stripped off my enamel. I had to quit the bitter stuff. For me, coffee is an essential enjoyment of life. Some people wake up and think about someone special they love. I wake up and think about coffee.
My arms had healed only marginally after five months. Mail in Vote had sold around five copies in six months. The only work I was able to take on had been small projects. Additionally, Nagoya is the 10th most expensive city in the world. Without a substantial income and living in one of the more expensive places I could have landed, I spent a lot of time staring out the window with my hand cradling an invisible cup of coffee and thinking, "There is winning and there is losing. This is losing."
By winter I had been able to swing things back around in my favor. Though my arms were still healing, I hired on two capable developers part time, fired myself as a freelancer, and hired myself back on as a senior developer and project manager.
Finally, in December, my girlfriend and I took a long planned two week vacation to Vietnam with some friends to finish out the year. On the first day of 2013, I ate some bad food and got violently ill (Exorcist ill: channeling demons, head spinning, the whole deal.) Hopefully that's not an omen of things to come.
What I Learned in 2012
I learned that I'm very fortunate. Our families and friends were very supportive of our temporary expatriation. Sunny is old, but still alive and, with any luck, we'll get to have some more fun before our time is up. I was also thrilled to be in Japan doing simple things like grocery shopping, talking to kids in the park, or having tea with the neighbors. In addition to the simple pleasures, I got to go camping, train MMA with Japanese partners, get drunk and sing karoake, visit castles, break into a traditional hotel, get served beer by a machine, and learn how to cook several Japanese dishes.
This year I also learned that I need to continuously challenge myself. I adapt quickly and without a goal or routine to push myself against, I can evolve and grow bored without realizing it. Losing is not so bad, it's neither losing nor winning that poses an issue.
Perhaps the most important lesson I learned was that being a freelancer is a brittle position to be in. Though I've always advanced my professional education both as a programmer and business owner, I haven't given the business side as much focus as it requires. If I hadn't developed tendinitis, I would never have realized this. In 2014, I may look back and think that dealing with it was the most important thing that happened for Blue Bridge in the past five years.