By most measures, I’ve had a pretty damn successful career. I’m not at “I can retire today” money and nobody’s erecting statues with my visage on them, but only the first of those holds any interest for me, and I’m not expecting it any time soon. (At current rates of saving and investment return, I should reach that state… right around the traditional age of retirement, actually.)
Of course, I’ve written a bunch of books that earned me some royalties, but books are not a way to become wealthy, unless you’re crazy lucky. Yes, you have to put in the work to write the book, but in the end, whether your book makes you coffee money or high-end-chrome coffee machine money is down to forces entirely outside your control. Certainly outside mine. When I wrote my first CSS book, nobody expected CSS to be more than a slowly dying niche technology. When I wrote the second, CSS had been declared dead twice over. When I wrote the third and fourth, it was just starting to revive.
I invested tons of effort and time into understanding CSS, and then to explaining it. Because I was lucky enough to put that work toward a technology that turned out to be not just successful, but deeply important to the web, the work paid off. But think of the people who put that same kind of time and effort into understanding and explaining DSSSL. “Into what, now?” you say. Exactly.
Similarly, when Jeffrey and I set out to create An Event Apart, there was no assurance that there was a viable market there. Nearly all the old web conferences had died, and those few that remained were focused on audience very much unlike the one we had in mind. Luckily for us, the audience existed. We worked really hard—still work really hard—to find and speak to that audience with the topics and speakers we present, but it would all have come to nothing if not for the sheer luck of having an audience for the kind of show we wanted to create.
For most of my adult life, I’ve been keenly aware of the incredible amount of luck that goes into success, and the awareness only grows as the years pass by. Just putting in a lot of hard work isn’t enough. You also have to have the sheer good fortune to have that hard work pay off. You can sink everything you have, money and soul, into building a place in life, only to have it all sabotaged and swept away by random chance. You can invest very bit of your life and fortune into an outcome that blind fate renders impossible.
So yes, I worked hard to understand the web, and to explain the web, and to write books and talks, and to create a conference series, and everything else I’ve done over the years—but I was supremely lucky to have that work come to something. An incredible combination of time and place and interest and birth and a million million other things made that possible.
More to the point, the existence of people interested in what I have to say made that possible. So I thank you, one and all, for all that and still more. Thank you for rewarding and redeeming the work I’ve done. Thank you for being of like mind. Thank you for your support. Thank you for listening. Thank you.
This article was originally published at The Pastry Box Project on 2 December 2015.