That’s a bit of a mouthful. So let’s zoom-out and go back in time to 2015. I’d like to tell you the story of a foundational life event, and how it transformed me as a person.
At the age of 22, I sold my technology blog CupertinoTimes.com for $25,000.
Even after dividing it in half, this was an enormous sum of money for a Software Engineering student living in Pakistan.
$11,235 was an enormous sum of money for a 22-year old student in Pakistan. I quickly realized money alone wouldn't make me happy. This started me down the journey of regular life experiments.
Eager to fulfill my material desires, I bought a MacBook Pro, a Kindle Paperwhite, a PlayStation 4, a nice pair of Nike running shoes, and… that was it!?
I had no reasonable material desire left. I gave the remaining sum to my parents who wisely invested it for me.
This caught me by surprise because money is what drove my 22-year old self to start my own blog in the first place after years of blogging for others. I had seen several blogger-friends become millionaires, and I wanted a piece of that cash for myself.
It got me thinking: if money doesn’t make me happy, then what does?
I realized I couldn’t just keep thinking about the answer. I had to take risks, run experiments, and keep exploring until I found the answer.
Select Life Experiments
2016: What if I earned even more money?
I still wasn’t entirely convinced I had realized my earning potential, so for a while I continued pursuing more money. I thought: maybe it would broaden my horizons and offer ways to turn money into a fulfilling life?
I tried that with two more blogs with my co-founder, one centered on user experience design that we scrapped after 4 months, and another on Windows tips and tricks that we sold again for a hefty amount. I did not derive any additional happiness from this.
My CupertinoTimes.com and PriceOye co-founders Adnan and Adeel Shaffi.
2017: What if I tried spending less money on things?
Inspired by Mr. Money Mustache, I decided to try the opposite: reduce my expenses, be more intentional about my purchases, get rid of unnecessary possessions, and think long-term about my finances. This was a successful experiment.
Today, my wife and I enjoy finding ways to minimize our expenses, maximize the value of our purchases, and invest our savings. Frugality, minimalism, and intentionality is inherently satisfying. We are now on the long road to financial independence.
2015-2017: What if I became my own boss?
Early in my career, working a 9-to-5 felt boring, and I just didn’t like being at the mercy of my boss to plan most of my waking hours.
To this end, I worked freelance for a while, and later co-founded a price comparison startup PriceOye. I quickly realized business owners have multiple bosses holding them accountable — customers and clients, users, investors, employees, and co-founders. I grew immensely from the experience, but found it ultimately unfulfilling still. There was something missing in the work itself…
2016-2017: What if I pursued my interest in UX Design?
In my university days, I enjoyed semester projects the most when they involved front-end development. But I also disliked coding. I thought then: what if I went all in on design?
I was too scared to take the leap right after university, so I took on a hybrid engineer / designer role in my first job to test my hypothesis (such a designey thing to do in hindsight!). It was a success! I enjoyed my work most when I was designing.
So, I doubled down on transitioning to design in 2015: pursuing online courses, reading books, and taking on freelance design projects. I quit my hybrid design/engineer job to pursue design full-time. This was a successful experiment and led to my career today in Product Design. I love-love-love my work. I love reading, writing and talking about it so much that I started a community to spread the love, and to find like-minded people to gush over design 24/7.
I'm incredibly lucky to have found a passion for all things product design. I love-love-love my work.
2017: What would happen if I "fixed" my work-life balance?
During the years 2014-2017, I aggressively pursued the goal of becoming an Product Designer, while experimenting with entrepreneurship. While I accomplished a lot as a professional, it eventually led to burnout. At one point in time, I was working a full-time job, working part-time on a technology blog and a startup (bad idea), and working on side projects.
Burned out, I decided to reduce my involvement in everything except my full-time design job at KeepTruckin and community work at UXDP. Even within these, I pursued minimalism—to a fault. I was taking on projects selectively so I could spend more time on meaningful personal growth activities. Soon afterwards, however, my sense of contentment plummeted with my productivity. I was butchering my free time on meaningless activities. The worst of Parkinson’s law was in full effect.
This short-lived experiment taught me an important lesson: to stop believing in the dogma of “work-life balance.” There is no universal definition of it. Everyone has their own, and mine certainly wasn’t minimizing design "work" and maximizing “life”, because I enjoy design so much.
It led to my next experiment.
2018-2019: What would happen if I pursued growth itself, and let go of the indirect achievements that spring from it?
This was a breakthrough personal insight that drives much of my happiness today.
Growth itself is immensely rewarding, not the indirect accomplishments that spring from it.
Growth is fastest when you're working with smart people. I'm lucky and happy to have that in my life.
Growth as a designer, researcher, and manager. I love reading design books and resources and applying their lessons to my work. I love working closely with more senior designers and learning 1:1. I love mentoring juniors and growing by teaching. I love sharing my experiences through writing and speaking.
Growth as a person, a husband, son, brother, and friend. I love becoming increasingly mindful. I love strengthening my relationship with my wife, my parents, my brother, and my friends. Each time I think I’ve become close to someone, I discover a new layer to our relationship, and we go deeper still.
Accomplishments that are an offshoot of this pursuit of personal growth only make me happy for a few days. It is actually the constant sense of growth itself that drive long-term happiness and content.
Today, I regularly ask myself three questions to continue this cycle of growth and reflection:
It’s the dance between these questions that drives me forward.
I strive to live intentionally, thinking deeply about all the decisions I make on a daily basis, as well as longer-term ones that have a big effect on the course of my life. I think about it all while considering the values espoused by the philosophies of stoicism and the financial independence movement.
I reflect on my actions regularly to learn from success or failure with the same forward-thinking attitude so I can keep improving, and deriving the deep sense of satisfaction that comes from continuous self-improvement.
The journey is truly the reward. Onwards!