Hamming It Up (Startup Stories 19.01)

Shawki Atassi ,  Saganworks , 2019 Hacker Fellow

Shawki Atassi, Saganworks, 2019 Hacker Fellow

After finishing up school, I immediately felt more responsible for scheduling my own fun. It was so easy to come home from work and feel justified in spending the day doing a whole lot of nothing. I earned it, right? I worked hard, so I’m entitled to a guilt-free movie binge. That’s all well and good, but then a couple weeks of that pass and you’re catching up with an old friend. The inevitable “what’ve you been up to?” question gets popped, and you realize that you’ve become about as interesting as your current LinkedIn profile.

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Enter the quarter-life crisis

In that final leg of school and looking for a job, I was entirely focused on developing my professional side. And not in the sense that I had some sort of Gordon Gekko alter ego, but rather that I wanted to be spending my time on honing skills that made me a better job applicant. Somewhere along the way I stopped doing things purely for fun, and now it was stressing me out to figure that all out again. It felt like I had finished life’s tutorial and was overwhelmed by all of the choices.

So I picked something new that was the most different from my day to day life, which happened to be climbing. There’s a lot of aspects that I love about being a software developer, but sitting in a chair and staring at a screen all day isn’t one of them. And hunting down a bug that’s been nagging at you all day and solving that puzzle is an incredibly rewarding feeling, but sometimes I just need to clear my head. With rock climbing, you just go up. Ok, obviously that’s an oversimplification. There’s definitely a big element of problem solving in rock climbing, but it’s equally as important to be completely in tune in the moment. There are no other factors in play, it’s just you, a wall, and a lot of failure until you make it to the top.

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So I was hooked immediately. It’s good exercise, you can clearly see your progression, and the community is incredibly welcoming. But surprisingly, instead of obsessing over it and sinking all of my free time into climbing, it motivated me into picking up other new hobbies and getting back into old ones again. I joined a soccer league, got back into chess, and tried running again (and confirmed that I still hate running). I also started working on some new stop motion animations, since I felt like I hadn’t had a long term creative project in too long.

And not to be trying to extract value out of everything, but having a more dedicated “fun schedule” also significantly improved my work life. I try to remind myself that the entire point of working is to support a life that I’d like to live (and not the other way around). It’s much easier for me to work hard when I’ve got something to be excited about, and hobbies are a great source of excitement.

But they do throw you some curveballs every now and then. You know that feeling when you catch a cold and your nose is sniffly, and you suddenly regret taking for granted all the other times you could breathe normally? Right, so I pulled my hamstring this week. And as much as I miss not having to walk around like a lopsided toddler, muttering expletives under my breath whenever I use the stairs, here we are anyway. Full disclosure: I’ve injured my hamstring plenty of times, and it’s totally not a big deal, so please excuse me for hamming it up for the sake of this post.

I’m not writing about it to complain and feel bad about myself, though. It’s the opposite, really -- I want to remind my future self to appreciate his two fully functional hamstrings. I guess I just want to document what’s going on in my head right now to motivate myself later. I realize I’m edging pretty close to being weird and preachy so I’ll wrap it up here. So this week, maybe I watched more movies than I should be proud of (highly recommend The Farewell, by the way). It happens. But will I do the same thing next week? Absolutely not. I owe it to my hamstring to get out there and use it.

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Shawki Atassi is a Unity Developer at Saganworks. Shawki is a 2019 Hacker Fellow who participated in our 2018 Internship program, also working with Saganworks! Shawki graduated from University of Michigan with degrees in Computer Science and Screen Arts and Cultures.