The amazing adventures of Doug Hughes

Archive for January, 2012

Talking To Myself

I finally figured out why the heck I’m writing this blog. I’m talking to myself.

You see, over the last week or so I’ve publicly spilled the beans on various challenges I’m working through including depression, ADD, business, etc. But I haven’t really been sure why I’ve been doing this.  There are some things I’ve talked about on here, where anyone can read, that I have a hard time talking to anyone, even my wife, about. Yet, I’ve felt compelled to write. But, why?!

Yesterday I wrote about the low I hit in my depression earlier this month. I explained the feelings of worthlessness, apathy, and a lot more.  I’m not exagerating when I say that I’ve never been that candid with anyone about how I’m feeling, ever.

There was a part of me that was hoping it would be a widely read article.  That didn’t happen, which is ok because I also didn’t really want people reading my private thoughts. There was also part of me that was hoping the few people I consider close friends would see it and tell me they care. (I suspect my close friends don’t spend as much time online as I do, which is OK.) I did, however, receive long emails from a family member and guy I worked with years ago.  Both messages were very kind and understanding, and described some similar challenges they struggle with.

These two emails had one unifying detail, they both extended an invitation to call them if I ever felt like talking about this stuff.  I can pretty much guarantee that’s never going to happen, and I’ll tell you why. If I call someone, especially someone I don’t talk to very often (everyone except my wife and parents), and start spouting about being depressed and frustrated, I’m putting them on the spot.  And I’m putting me on the spot too.  Frankly, I don’t even know what I would say to them.

I imagine myself in their shoes, feeling awkward. Of course, I’d be willing and happy to listen and talk, but it’s hard to know what to say. I’d do my best to be a good person and a good friend. Frankly, I don’t think there’s a thing anyone could say that would really make me feel better. I simply don’t want to put anyone else in that awkward position.

In the end, it’s a lot harder talking to someone about this than it is writing it. When writing, I can go back and revise what I’m saying.  I can edit, remove, leave out, add, and revise my thoughts.  I can come back later and delete an entry if I feel it’s too personal or raw. In the end, I actually get what I need out of writing these entries, introspection.  And, the people I care about and who care about me can read them and offer support (or awkward silences) at their leisure.  Or the whole damned world can ignore it.  It doesn’t matter,  I get what I need.


Clawing My Way Out of The Metaphorical Grave

When I started my blog I was at a low point.  As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m afflicted with ADD and depression.  And, I have seasonal depression on top of it all. I don’t remember my SAD being so bad the last few years, but this year has been murder.

Perhaps this is because over the summer I felt pretty good and decided that perhaps I didn’t need to be on meds any more.  I had been taking a cocktail of Dextroamphetamine, Zoloft and Wellbutrin.  Oddly, I felt fine.  So, clearly I didn’t need that stuff any more and tapered off it.

I felt fine for the next few months, though looking back on it now I can see that I wasn’t doing well at all.  My ADD, which I had only discovered the year, before came back with a vengeance (not that it ever really went away).  I pretty much did as little work (that I was supposed to be doing) as possible.  I spent much of my time working on various side projects and sleeping in the middle of the day.  Don’t get me wrong, I still got things done for clients, but it was as infrequently as possible.  In fact, I hired a contractor to do much of my billable work for me.

The side projects I’ve worked on are actually pretty cool, but I haven’t finished any of them yet.  I’ve followed my traditional pattern where I start something, get it pretty far, and then drop it when it gets tedious or I get another brilliant idea that just can’t wait.

So, here I am, not really making money and not really getting any of my personal projects done – certainly not to a point where I could make money off of them. As you can imagine, this is rather stressful and depressing.  Any logical and reasonable person would, perhaps, redouble efforts to do billable work and/or maybe buckle down and get one of these side projects to a point where they could start making money.

I. Just. Couldn’t. Do. It.

And then winter came in and smacked me upside the head.

I was at a real low point a few weeks ago.  Laying in bed, curled up in a fetal position, nearly in tears.  It’s really hard to explain this to people not afflicted with depression.  There’s just a weight hanging on your soul.  It’s hard to move.  It’s hard to think.  It’s almost hard to breath.  And you can’t stop it.

Actually, that’s wrong.  You can manage depression, but it requires you to do something.  And then to not stop doing it.  For example, (real) exercise is a great way to improve depression.  Eating better will help too.  Vitamin D and getting outside in the sun can make huge differences as well.  Let’s face it, anytime we successfully make changes to better our health, we feel better.  But you have to keep doing it.  And even those without depression will attest that making these types of positive changes in your like, and keeping them going, is nye on impossible.  And failure just adds to feelings of worthlessness and apathy.

I spent the last couple months trying like hell to make some of these changes.  I stopped eating intentionally sweet food and lost 20+ pounds from that alone.  I also built a desk for my treadmill where I can walk and work.  (I’m typing this blog entry on it right now!) I find I can often walk for 90 minutes and get work done at the same time.  These things helped to a degree, but it wasn’t enough to pull me out of the depression.

And then I hit my low.  I was feeling so worthless that I would often fantasize of dying.  I would imagine getting cancer and wasting away.  Or getting run over by a bus.  Or, well, just getting so damned low that I just shut down and fell over dead.  Psychologists call these passive suicidal thoughts.  I wouldn’t have jumped in front of the proverbial bus, but I might not have jumped out of the way.

Additionally, I had been hiding the true depths of how I was feeling from my wonderful, loving, wife.  But she knew. I suppose it’s simular to what Paul Simon sang in his song, Graceland:

And she said losing love [depression]
Is like a window in your heart
Everybody sees you’re blown apart
Everybody sees the wind blow

I decided at that moment I really, really, had to get back on my meds.  My wife happens to take Zoloft as well and so I started using some of her pills while I waited for an appointment with my psychiatrist.  I also took my last few remaining Dextroamphetamine pills.  I started walking and working on the treadmill every single day (except yesterday when I was doing some heavy lifting work outside).

So now I’m on Zoloft and Ritalin and a couple of weeks have passed. I feel human again.  I feel like I have a big part of my brain back that had been missing in action for quite a while. And, I have a little bit of perspective on what I did to myself over the last half year.  It’s not perfect, but I swear to myself that I’m never again going to let myself get the way I was just a couple of weeks ago.

Phoning It In

As someone with ADD, it’s incredibly easy to get knocked off course.  The phone rings, you get an IM, you’re connected to the internet in any way, etc.  Or perhaps like me this morning, your little girl wakes up at 5am and proceeds to throw up.  And then your cat does the same thing 20 minutes later.  Not a good way to start out the day.

There was a part of me that really just wanted to say that the day was ruined and that I should go lay in bed all day and read, or something.  Truth be told, I did go back to bed and sleep for a couple hours and I feel much better now.  It’s times like this where I can’t tell if I’m lazy, being a prima dona, or if I would actually do better by resting.  Today I’m leaning towards it making me do better.

The reason I say that is that I’ve been putting off sending in my first proposal to KickStarter, even though there’s no real reason to.  The Alagad team has been working on a new nonprofit which shall remain unnamed for just a little bit longer.  We need a little cash to push us over the finish line and help it get going.

Honestly, I’ve been putting it off for a few reasons.  Firstly, before you can submit a KickStarter project you have to go through a page where they explain their submission policies.  One of the things they don’t support are donations to charities, causes, etc.  Our nonprofit probably falls under that category, but I emailed them earlier this week and asked for clarification and they asked me to submit a proposal.  Unfortunately, this rule has put me in somewhat of a “why bother” frame of mind.  Another reason I’ve been putting this off is that I’m intimidated by the submission form itself.  I wasn’t sure what rewards we should offer supporters and I wasn’t sure what to say about the project.  The other major reason I hadn’t been doing anything is probably due to wanting to avoid rejection and disappointment.  If this proposal is rejected I’ll feel bad about it.  If I never submit it, it can’t be rejected.

However, after resetting myself with a nap this morning, I decided it’s time to stop talking about it and just do it.  So, just a few minutes ago I submitted my first project proposal to KickStarter! Go Me! I don’t know how long it will take for them to review it and get back to me, but I’ll try to keep my blog updated as I hear things.

Truth be told, I really don’t expect them to approve this project.  And that’s OK.  I’ve got a bunch of other ones up my sleeve.

Wish me luck!

If You Are Not Doing What You Love, You Are Wasting Your Time

I woke up this morning to see this lovely inspirational quote in my twitter feed:

If you are not doing what you love, you are wasting your time.
– Billy Joel

Don’t you just love quotes like this?  The implication, of course, is that you can always do what you want to be doing.  While I believe this is essentially true, it’s just not that easy.  There’s this pesky thing called “life” which has a tendency to get in the way.  And one also needs to account for self doubt and more practical roadblocks like money and time.

Over the last few days I’ve written about how I want to switch up my life somehow.  Essentially, I want to make a new job for myself as serial entrepreneur.  I am always having ideas for businesses and some of them actually seem good.  Even better, some of them are doable by me. I love developing these ideas and making something out of them.

My question for myself is, if I love doing this stuff so much, why don’t I just freakin’ do it?! My wife would argue that I do.  I spend way too much time in my office working on my idea du jure.  Why don’t I ever feel like I accomplish anything?

I have a particular pattern I follow when it comes to this.  I suspect I may not be the only one who has this pattern.

My Workflow

Basically, something happens while I’m working to make me have second thoughts about whether I should be doing this work or not.  Someone might have a negative opinion that hits a nerve.  Maybe there’s work that I don’t want to do.  For example, pretty much anything not-technical.

Once you run into something you don’t want to (or can’t) deal with, love begins to fade.  That may well be one of the most cynical things I’ve ever written, but there’s truth to it.

So, what can I do about this?  Are all my various ideas and projects doomed to failure, half done?  I sure as hell hope not!

I have to remind myself that it took me about seven years to figure out how to make Alagad, my consulting business, into something worth talking about.  I spent years flailing around more or less randomly until something actually worked.

My wife has a story she likes to tell that probably came from Dr. Phil or someone simular.  There was a man who was lamenting falling out of love with his wife.  He used to love her, but he just didn’t have the feeling any more, though he wanted to.  What did Dr. Phil (or whoever) say to this man?  He reminded him that love isn’t just a noun, it’s a verb.  Love isn’t just a thing you feel, it’s a thing you do.

Since I’m no Dr. Phil, I’m going to have to simply say that in my case I’m going to have to try to love what I’m working on, even if I run into self doubt, naysayers, or whatever.  From experience, I can say this is easier said than done.  I’ve always been a doubter.  Without evidence I am always skeptical.

The thing about patterns, especially behavior patterns such as the one I outlined above, is that they’re hard to break.  Those who have ever struggled with weight loss or addiction know what I mean.  To break a behavior pattern you have to do something different, which I’m trying to do.

Yesterday I announced a goal of mine publicly:

I will publish 12 KickStarter projects in the next 13 months, one a month, starting 30 days from now, until all 12 have failed or one has been funded successfully! I will have my first KickStarter proposal submitted by February 16th!

This publicly stated goal (any actually following through on it) is the first thing I’m trying to do to break my patterns.  I’m hoping that if I work publicly, talk about what I’m trying to do and the challenges I run into, that I’ll find a way to keep working and reach my goal.

I’d like to end this article by updating the Billy Joel quote above with a few edits of my own:

If you are only half doing what you love you are truly wasting your time.
– Doug Hughes

What are your experiences in this area?

So…. What Now? -or- KickStarting Myself

One of the main reasons I rebooted this blog was to help me work out what I should be doing with myself.  I have a lot of individual goals, but no specific strategy on how to accomplish them.  Right now I’m flailing around randomly, doing a bit here and a bit there, but not making much progress in any direction.

This morning I sat here at my desk for thirty minutes and have nothing to show for it.  Well, maybe that’s not entirely fair.  I did take time to read WordPress’ suggestions on how to focus my blog.  I figured there would be something relevant to me, since focusing on any one thing is next to impossible for me.  Their solution?  Make a set of mind maps that progressively focus you on what you’re interested in and want blog about.  Did I do the exercise?  Nope.  I think I’ve got a pretty good idea of what I want to do on this blog.  That said, I did sit here for 30 minutes before deciding to write about.

Around new years my wife made me sit down and make a combined list of some of our goals for the next year.  The goals fell into three distinct categories: Things to do around the house (make a tree house, shed, etc), travel (go to Alaska), and starting at least two new businesses.  The latter is where I’ll focus for the remainder of this article.

I really like being my own boss.  It gives me the flexibility to work when and how I need to, with a few reasonable limitations.  However, I’ve not been happy with the work I’ve been doing recently I and I feel that I need to move on to something else.  This has become increasingly urgent to me.  Most people who work with me would probably tell you that I have a panoply of ideas that I’ve worked on.  I can think of at least eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve potentially viable ideas off the top of my head.  I’ve already started work on five of them.

My biggest problem here is distractibility and self doubt.  I have at least two projects that are half done because I moved on to other projects that seemed that much more exciting, interesting and promising.  And sometimes a project falls under the weight of self doubt.

Another major challenge is that I’m primarily a technical person.  I understand programming.  So, I naturally gravitate towards technical problems.  I draw mockups, write programs, make web pages, etc, for these ideas.  But when it comes to the tedious or unfamiliar work, I fall down.  For example, I’m not a marketing person.  I really only have the faintest ideas on how to promote and sell most of these projects I’m working on.  Why bother building something new if no one will ever see or use it?  As an example, I released Pan Slam, an very simple iOS app last week. I’ve only sold 18 copies (mostly to friends) so far, which makes me wonder why bothered at all.  If I knew better ways to promote it, I think I would.  But it would be nice to work with someone else who knew what they were doing in this area and enjoyed doing it.

I’ve come up with a long-shot solution to these problems.  There is an awesome website called KickStarter.  KickStarter describes themselves as, “the world’s largest funding platform for creative projects.”  Essentially, the way it works is that if I want to raise funds for a project I can create a proposal to explain the idea, make supporting videos, and then essentially beg the KickStarter community, my friends, followers, and family for a specific amount of money for my project.  If I raise the money I get it all, if I fail I get nothing at all.

I have yet to submit any KickStarter proposals, but I did support KickSat, which was successfully funded!

There are a few things I like about KickStarter.  I love the all or nothing approach.  If the my project is not supported then perhaps it’s not destined to be.  However, if I succeed, then I have funds to pay for the parts of the project that I can’t do (well) myself.  Essentially, KickStarter has the potential to tell me if I really have a good idea and give me the resources to accomplish it if I do.

My latest idea is to throw ideas at KickStarter,  one at a time, until one actually succeeds.  I plan to become a guru of writing proposals and making videos to talk about my ideas!

So, I herby publicly state my goal:  I will publish 12 KickStarter projects in the next 13 months, one a month, starting 30 days from now, until all 12 have failed or one has been funded successfully!  I will have my first KickStarter proposal submitted by February 16th!  Now to decide which one to do…

I’ll update the blog here as I decide which project I’m doing and as I learn more about working with KickStarter.


And Now for Something Completely Different

I’ve decided to enroll in an improv class at DSI Comedy Theater in nearby Carrboro.  There are a few reasons why I decided to do this, but the initial inspiration came from a video clip I watched recently about QR Codes.  I’m working with a few other people from Alagad to launch a new non-profit that will make use of QR Codes to facilitate charitable donations.  While researching the idea I came across this clip from a presentation by a guy named Scott Stratten from a company called UnMarketing about where to use QR Codes.

I give talks a couple times a year.  Mostly these are on technical topics like building mobile applications or the finner points of web development frameworks, etc.  I’ve also given the odd Pecha Kucha talk.  I’ve been known to sneak the occasional one-liner into a presentation and love getting a laugh from the audience.

But, improve is supposedly much more than that.  Here’s how DSI Comedy Theater sells the classes to business people:

You won’t survive the business world unless you are able to communicate and collaborate in the workplace. Key improvisation techniques help business people to think on their feet, creating new ideas effortlessly, actively listening to others, and working productively inside team environments. Workshops will help you learn to read any audience and will heighten your professional flexibility, making it easier for you to accomodate clients, customers and manage conflicts in the workplace. You will make more money.

And that’s… The Bottom Line!

I like to think I’m pretty good at thinking on my feet and coming up with new ideas and interesting connections between not-obviously related things.  But it can’t hurt to practice and learn more.  And, maybe this will help improve my presentations.

Beyond that, I’ve been a bit of a cynical curmudgeon lately and avoid doing anything out of my tiny little comfort zone.  I used to pride myself on doing things I wasn’t comfortable with.  So I’m hoping I can find a way to let down my (remaining) hair and relax a little bit and have some fun.

I’ll post updates here and rehashes of the classes here as I take them.

Transition Point

Hi, I’m Doug Hughes.  This is a reboot of my personal blog at  I used to have another blog here a few years ago where I wrote about personal and technical topics.  This was back in a time when I was still getting my company, Alagad, off the ground and a lot of business and personal content was mingled together.

A while back I moved most of the content from onto the Alagad blog and simply pointed to  That was fine and dandy, but it is now time for me to reclaim my own personal space on the internet.

The reason I’m doing this is because I’m going through a bit of a mid-career crisis.  I haven’t really talked about this publicly before and, honestly, I’m not quite sure why I’m going to start now.  Perhaps it’s so I can talk through the challenges I’m having.  Maybe I can get useful feedback from those people who read this.  Maybe it’s a narcissistic ego thing.  I don’t really know.

The problem I’m having is this: I don’t really enjoy the work I’m doing (contract web programming) as much as I used to.  There, I’ve said it out loud!  The world knows!  That at least that’s off my back!

There was a time when Alagad and programming was all I could think of, but these days I’m really longing to do something else.  A while back I hired my father in law as a program manager for Alagad.  Over time he took over many of the tasks I didn’t want to do such as collections.  This continued until we decided he should formally be the CEO of Alagad.  So at this point my role in Alagad is as a technical leader and programmer.  This has enabled me to luxury of thinking about doing something other than just Alagad.

In fact, in late in 2011 I quietly handed my resume around to a few companies but I didn’t really find anything I liked (that also liked me).  My idea was that I would take an extended leave of absence from Alagad, get a developer-level job with a startup company that I found interesting and use that as an opportunity to meet new people and learn new things.  It didn’t really pan out.

For those who are familiar with Alagad, please know that Alagad itself isn’t going anywhere, even if I do.  It’s being operated by capable hands and works is done, as always, by Alagad’s excellent employees and contractors.  If I step away from the company nothing will change.

Also, over the last few years I’ve brainstormed business and product ideas on an almost daily basis.  For a while I was trying to tweet one new business idea a day at DougsIdeas, but that petered out after a while.  I didn’t really get much feedback or interest in what I was trying to do.  However, I think some of my ideas are actually pretty good!  I even started work on a few of them, but I haven’t yet had any success taking them to any meaningful completion.

To complicate matters, I’ve learned that I have Depression and Attention Deficit Disorder.  I’m trying to treat these, but they sure can make it harder to do what you want to.  This has been very hard to admit to myself – or to anyone else, really.  I feel like I should be able to pick myself up do something, but it’s not really that easy.

What this all boils down to is this:

There are lots of things I want to do with myself.  By this I mean there are lots of businesses I would like to start or jobs I’m interested in.  I’m a curious person.  However, I don’t have a ton of time or money to invest in these businesses.  And depression and ADD often stymie me.

So, on this new blog I’m going to start trying to think verbosely about some of these challenges, things that I want to do.  I’m going to try to strategize ways to do these things.  I’ll also talk about other more personal things as well like family, friends, etc.  I’m going try to lay it all out for the world to see.  I hope to get some good feedback and support.  We’ll see where it goes.

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