Where the Paths Diverge 🧭

Ten years ago this month, I started a new job, where I’m still at—and a well-known creator in the retro community quit his. To me, the diverging paths are too interesting to ignore.

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This week, I celebrated the tenth anniversary at my current job, which means I’ve worked for the same employer since 2012 in some way, shape, or form. Sure, I’ve had a lot of extracurricular activities in that time, but when it comes down to where I was filling out the timesheets, I’ve stuck with just one employer.

I think in part it happened this way because of a promise I was made early on by the person who hired me—a promise that I wouldn’t have to give up all the stuff I enjoy doing on the side for sake of this 9-to-5, which was a genuine concern. A place I had interviewed six months earlier had promised the opposite.

And so, here I am, at a job that I’ve been able to grow and evolve within. Despite arguments to the contrary, I think the stability is worth keeping around, and if I were to ever leave this job, it would most likely be to go freelance.

But one always wonders—what might have happened if I decided to take an alternate road way back in 2012, and let my side project work win out? Last week, I spotted a nice parallel experience to my own in the form of Pat Contri, the creator of Pat the NES Punk, who decided ten years ago this month to quit his day job because of the level of stress it was creating him and focus on his work in video games.

I’ve been following Contri for a while—he runs a popular podcast on retro gaming and collecting called the Completely Unnecessary Podcast with his friend Ian Ferguson—but I had never gotten a full feel for his story. Essentially, Pat’s work with gaming had gotten attention at the time he chose to quit his job, but it was by no means enough to live off of. But sticking around was untenable.

“Really, the first eight to ten months was recovery. It was getting over the job sort of like stomping on me constantly, every day, and wanting to squish me into the ground,” Contri recalled. “I felt insignificant. I did a lot more at my position than what I got paid for, and I like I said, I wasn’t appreciated.”

So how’d he find his path forward? Essentially, it was a series of small things that eventually built up to a couple of big things. His work on YouTube wasn’t even monetized when he started, but he was getting the chance to go to conventions. Eventually, he came up with an idea that proved financially lucrative: Create a book that reviewed every single NES game in existence, with full-color photos, with an academic level of depth. Building this project took years, and it wasn’t an easy process—Contri at one point restarted the process, realizing that the reviews needed to be more in-depth than what they had already created—but eventually led to a Kickstarter that earned six figures in crowdfunding fees.

“I didn’t know there’d be that much interest in it, I didn’t know it would do that well,” he said. “It basically got me the downpayment eventually for Castle Contri. I mean, I didn’t use it right away, but that money went towards the house.”

Contri created a Super NES version of the book a few years later that did equally as well—though he had more outside help with the second book. Nonetheless, Contri was able to make this all work and build a comfortable life for himself because he was willing to work hard for it and take some big risks.

I remember when I was at the job before my current role and I was deeply invested in my side project, and I just remember being so passionate about the work I was doing. I was telling my friend about it, the paper’s IT person, and he pointed out something to me which I had not allowed myself to realize up to that point: Many of my co-workers at this job had their own side projects, too, that they were all doing on the side in an attempt to make something happen. They were looking for their opportunity, too, and this particular paper was a good position to have a side project. The challenge is, executing on a side project as your main source of income is immensely difficult.

At the time I took my current job ten years ago, I wonder what might have happened had I tried to go freelance or make this thing work as a career, only on the back of my reputation. And honestly, I don’t think I could have squared it. But I look at Pat Contri’s story and think, hey, maybe there was a narrow window through which to pull it all off.

Nonetheless, even if I didn’t take that road, I deeply respect the road Pat took. It was a risk that paid off big.

Time limit given ⏲: 30 minutes

Time left on clock ⏲: 22 seconds

Ernie Smith

Your time was just wasted by Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the editor of Tedium, and an active internet snarker. Between his many internet side projects, he finds time to hang out with his wife Cat, who's funnier than he is.

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