Brian Feeney

Designer & Front-End Developer

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Resident of Brooklyn, NY. Senior Product Designer at the Wall Street Journal.

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August 18, 2013

Free Time

I used to read almost 50 books a year. Now I get through maybe a few a year. In the last two years, how I spend my time has completely changed, my priorities rearranged. This is what happens when you make a dedicated effort towards a new ambition. Life takes off in new directions. The time you used to have for fun, random stuff shrinks away.

I have no regrets, because I love what I’m doing now. These days, I have a Career, but my entire life I had always been a dabbler. I’d be obsessed with piano for a month, then literature, then drawing, then philosophy, then soccer, then guitar, then piano again, then studying art, then something else, and then drawing again, and on and on. I love all the things. It was so hard for me to dedicate myself to just one subject for more than a month or so. I always had my paws in so many jars. My free time was quite literally free, unbounded by any promises.

But at 29, I was a barista in New York, playing in a band, designing things for friends sometimes, doing some writing but ignoring a half-finished novel I had sitting at home. There was nothing central to my life, except for activity. I was never able to sit still. I had so much free time that I floated from hobby to hobby with no end purpose in mind, and it started to feel empty.

Free time is a strange thing. For one, it’s a lucky benefit of first-world, modern life. We must be thankful for the hours in the day we have for doing whatever we want. We don’t deserve them. We don’t have a right to them. But we have them. How we spend those hours is important. The hours we spend at work defines who we are at present. The hours we have to do what we want defines who we will be in the future. We are so fortunate to have this, and it can be so easy to waste them.

In 2011 I made a decision: I would finally dedicate my free time to one hobby and make it a career. I began to think of myself as a designer. Not just a person who sometimes designs things, but someone who is a designer. I began spending all my time reading design and dev blogs, building my own websites, playing around in photoshop with purpose. It was exciting and new. For the first time in my life, I was sticking to one project, becoming a designer.

And then, somewhat surprisingly, it happened; I became a designer (maybe more of a developer professionally, but that’s a minor difference, right?). How I spent my free time turned into how I spent my daylight working hours. It was an amazing feeling. And, of course, I owe so much to friends and colleagues for helping my get here. I couldn’t have done it alone.

Now I’m starting to think about free time again. I still have plenty of it, but by habit those hours are still stuffed with design and dev industry blogs, and my freelance design work. I’m unable to draw a distinct line between my job and my hobbies. They’ve blended together and started to feel a bit muddy. It feels a little wrong, a little bit wreckless, like building a tall skyscraper but neglecting to give it windows. I’m growing as a person, but in one direction, up, and not looking out enough at the world around me.

There are things I miss that I need to get back: finishing novels again, and other books that have nothing to do with design; playing music; taking photos; studying philosophy and religion. These were all things that once defined me. They still do, but it's all in the past. I need to pull them back up to the present. I need to make time for new stuff again, to round out my life with more variety. It’s as important as anything.