“Oren has so much potential. If he were to sit down and invest in his abilities, his grades would soar.”
That recurring comment from my high-school teachers is the bane of my existence.
That ‘flaw’ accompanied me to college as well. When I received my Computer Science degree, I had recognized I could have done better than to finish my degree with an average score of 76. Hindsight is 20/20.
Now, I’m 32 years old. I feel like I haven’t accomplished much in my life to date. I don’t know if it’s true, or I have high expectations of myself.
I’m walking towards a crossroads: do something meaningful with my life or die a nobody. The choice presented to me going forward reminds me of a saying in Judaism:
“Know Where You Came From and Where You Are Going.” — Rabbi Akavia, Mishnah ‘Avot’
I don’t want to go over the mistakes of this decade again. The 2020s should be my decade to shine.
So, today, I paused my life. The phone is on silent, I’m not at work, I even don’t have music on, and I’m going to let myself write what comes and review my life’s journey. I will reflect on where I came from to make an informed decision of where I’m going.
Be sure to look for the sparks of light in my darkest of moments.
The start of a new decade is always a good motivator. I got released from the army at the beginning of 2009, and I planned for 2010 to be the start of my academic journey towards a degree in Computer Science.
You know what they say about plans.
Instead, I had found myself leaving a job in Customer Technical Cellular Service after a year of pain. I had no money to start a degree. What can I say? It wasn’t easy to start my days with people shouting at me over the phone and complaining that the company I work for sucks or that my mother is a whore.
But I had to make money somehow, and that job didn’t have any academic prerequisites. I took it because I was curious about how cellular companies worked. They also advertised the job with a free Simcard-powered laptop upon joining, which was a factor, too.
In September 2010, I left after 13 months. I only waited that extra month to clear a penalty on the computer if I had left before one year had ended.
The following month I had started working for a popular Pharmacy chain in Israel as a cashier. My employment there would last 4.5 years.
2010 like a lot of years in this decade, would see me spending my days playing video games and accumulating more debt.
The most notable games of 2010 that I played were Mass Effect 2, StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty, and Civilization V. I loved (and still do) games that put me in charge of a city or base, or games with a rich story.
I wish I had looked ahead and seen the problem that excessive debt would become for me later.
Also, 2010 was the year I became a friend to someone of a different race than me. An Arabic one, to be exact. As a person living in Israel, that friendship taught me a lot and opened my eyes to see people instead of labels.
Becoming a fully-fledged writer wasn’t something I considered in 2011. I did need to write and express myself. I didn’t know how to do it yet.
I wrote about my journey to acknowledging myself as a writer before. That isn’t the focus of reviewing 2011 today.
The focus is that 2011 was the first time I went and did something for myself. I opened a website for reviewing video games and share news from the industry. I called it Alive2Play. A company or an official business seemed too much, so I managed it on my own. I wasn’t ready to become an entrepreneur even though that is what I was attempting to do by opening Alive2play. I see that in retrospect.
Alive2Play went on to live for only around two and a half years.
Its most significant moments — for me — came during 2012. But for 2011, I had some games to play and review. One of the main games I played at that time was The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings. Other, less frequent games, included Dungeon Siege 3 and From Dust.
Career-wise I felt pretty comfy at my job in the pharmacy. More than getting to know cosmetics, toiletry, and hygiene products on a level I never thought I would, I also learned to observe people.
Every day I sat on the cashier seat and saw how people acted, how they talked, how they bargained. Not only did I observe them from a quiet perspective as they were perusing products at the store, but also in first-person interactions when they were coming to pay for their purchases.
The following years would see me promoted to shift manager and interact with people on a whole other level — leadership.
Education-wise, 2011 was also the year where I enrolled in TAU (Tel Aviv University), and they rejected me. I then applied for an introductory course on Computer Science in The Open University in a bid to then transfer to TAU. I got a grade of 77. The requirement was 80, and that idea went to the trash, too. I looked forward to my next destination — Tel Aviv College — in 2012
I had high hopes when 2012 came along. As usual, I didn’t make any significant changes in my life before it arrived.
I had been trying to open a forum and also progressing with Alive2Play. But, no one told me that dreams needed persistence. I wanted people to come, but I was posting once or twice a week. It wasn’t enough.
But at least I had games to review. 2012 was the year when Mass Effect 3 came out and I also played The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (I was introduced to it in early 2012) and Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Playing those — among other less known games like Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning — dominated my time, and I loved every minute of it.
I didn’t think about the consequences of increasing my debt and usually spent more than I earned. My only income stream was a minimum wage salary at the time.
By October 2012, I had started studying in Tel Aviv College for a degree. My grades from school were too low to be accepted traditionally, so they took me with a condition — completing the first year without failing any of the eight courses.
I genuinely believed I could do it.
I couldn’t do it.
Education-wise, 2013, was devastating. I got pulled from my degree for failing two of the eight courses my condition included.
The problem was that I wasn’t aware that I am not continuing the degree. I received the dismiss call only after the registration period had ended in other potential colleges that I could have enrolled in instead. In hindsight, I should have seen it coming. I was hopeful that they would give me a chance. They probably would have if I had only one failed course.
Therefore, my degree was yet again delayed — this time to 2014. Failure was a great teacher.
I continued working at the pharmacy. Eventually, my boss promoted me to Shift Manager. That allowed me to keep developing my understanding of people. Only, this time on the leadership perspective. I wasn’t trained in giving people orders.
My biggest leadership lesson was that I didn’t need to act like a dominating boss. If I genuinely saw the person in front of me and acknowledged them, they would do what I asked. They had to understand the need and not just what I required of them.
Sometime during 2013–2014, I don’t remember exactly when it happened; we received a new worker named Aviva that suffered mental retardation. Physically, she was about fifty years old. But mentally, she was an eight-year-old ready to explore and have adventures.
I didn’t know how to react to that, at first. But as I got to know Aviva better, I thanked God for giving me another opportunity to expand my horizons.
She was only with us for a few months, but those months carved intense memories in my mind. Those experiences taught me that people that suffer from mental health issues may be misunderstood but still need love and warmth and affection. Up to that point, I didn’t have much interaction with mentally ill people, and I didn’t know how to act in the presence of one.
There’s this great quote from Joker that comes to mind when talking about mental illness:
“The worst part about having a mental illness is people expect you to behave as if you don’t.” — Arthur, Joker 2019
And I would say that people don’t know what to expect. I certainly didn’t. I’m grateful for the experience.
On the creative side, Alive2Play had closed during 2013. My writers had to live their lives, and this endeavor was voluntary. One by one, they left to enroll in colleges.
The dream had ended, but I was dealing with a lot of stress in college, so I barely noticed.
Gaming-wise, 2013 introduced me to StarCraft 2: Heart of The Swarm. I loved the Queen of Blades.
It feels like the years leading to 2014 were part of one giant fall. 2014 was the year where I thought I’m finally starting to rise back up after hitting the ground, even if ever so slowly.
In 2014, I started college in HIT (Holon Institute of Technology). Finally, I was accepted unconditionally. I still had to study and get good grades, but I took acceptance without any strings attached as a small victory.
During 2014 I tried to operate Alive2Play on my own. It was too little too late. It died eventually, and I didn’t try any new major creative project.
But that year was also the start of a new adventure. Yes, we had moved to a different city. I had to give up my comfort zone.
Although that city — Petah Tiqwa — was unfamiliar to me, I still saw hope. The reason we left Tel Aviv — my childhood city — was that my parents had sold the house, and the new one was only in its early construction phases. That new house was in Tel Aviv, so eventually, we were going to return once the construction has completed.
I knew that everything happens for a reason and maybe in Petah Tiqwa — roughly translated from Hebrew as Hope’s Opening — I would find the right way to a better future.
2014 was also the year when I had started writing a gratitude journal to God. In the journal, I was thanking them for their help.
Dragon Age: Inquisition was my game for 2014. I loved it so much and I spent hundreds of hours on it. I played Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, too, but I didn’t connect with it as much.
I promised myself that 2014 would be the lowest point of my life — I didn’t know what was waiting ahead.
Is it crazy that 2015 seems so far away now?
2015 was the year when The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt came out. I spend around 300 hours in that game. That count is before the expansions came out. It was also the year when I had started working as a QA Engineer in a video games company.
I was in my first year of the Computer Science degree, and a lot was going on. Ever so slightly, Facebook had been waking my desire to write again. I didn’t do anything with it until 2016, though.
I felt like my love for Video Games would merge with my day job. It wasn’t a seamless connection but I appreciated the fact that both my worlds were connected. I also met a whole lot more geeks to talk about video games through my office connections.
I felt progress in 2015. My debt was massive. I would soon get the shattering I needed to understand that I can’t live like this anymore. My salary as a QA Engineer was only a small improvement over my minimum wage at the pharmacy. I was a student and in no position to ask for more.
2015–2016 was the rise before the fall of 2017.
It was only three years ago, but so much had happened since then.
I had progressed in my degree, failed some courses, retook them and passed, and got to know many people through classes.
I was working as a QA Engineer testing games.
And then, one day, I knew I wanted to write again. No, I needed to write again. I wrongly recognized my need to spill my guts on paper as the need to review games again. I wanted to revive Alive2Play on a less demanding schedule. Thus, Geekosmos — my blog — was born.
But, what I really wanted was to write from within myself. My deepest thoughts. How do I feel about certain aspects of my life? I needed to unpack that. Geekosmos didn’t take off because I preferred to play video games instead of writing about them.
2016 introduced me to The Witcher 3: Blood and Wine — an amazing, huge expansion to the already massive world of TW3. Pokemon Sun (I didn’t play moon) and Pokemon Go. I also played Dragon Ball Xenoverse 2, Quantum Break, Civilization 6, Uncharted 4, Fallout 4, and last but not least Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. 2016 certainly was full of amazing games.
As 2016 progressed, I started following an Israeli writer on Facebook, who released a book by crowdfunding it. His Facebook followers were his main supporters.
I loved what he wrote and followed him religiously. One day, he posted that he will be teaching in a Writing Workshop. That workshop included ten other instructors and would be an invaluable asset to an inexperienced writer like I was back then.
I decided to sign up.
That writing workshop lasted about three months and completely changed my life.
At one point at the end of 2016, I had been traveling on Thursdays from my home city to work in another one, then from work to class in another and then, finally, to the workshop in a fourth city before coming back home at night.
December 2016 was the month when I was laid off of the company I worked for because it didn’t have enough money to operate.
I immediately started working for one of our customers with the rest of my QA team. They gave us an opportunity, and I didn’t want to sit at home looking for work again.
In hindsight, maybe I should have done just that. Perhaps I could have upgraded my salary and avoid the events of 2017 altogether.
I thought I was ready for what’s coming. 2017 proved me wrong.
There’s a saying that the things you’re afraid of will come true.
My greatest fear was not to have a job and then face the consequences of my colossal debt.
In 2017, I took a month off work to visit my brother in America with my parents. I presumed I could take a small loan the size of a monthly salary to cover the expenses of the trip. The bank decided not to approve the loan and by doing so, shattered my little world.
When I came back, I had no salary for that month. I could have taken the month as days off if I wanted to owe my boss those days.
The problem was that I was miserable at this job. There were so many reasons to leave, and it’s not the focus of this essay. Anyway, I didn’t want to owe my boss anything because I already saw in my mind’s eye that no matter what it meant for me, I would leave soon.
As I broke through the ceiling of my bank account, the bank decided to start returning charges to the credit companies. I had started receiving calls that threatened to sue me if I wouldn’t pay within 14 days at least some of the costs.
My nights were whiter than a model’s perfect teeth.
I did manage to cover almost all of my dues without even letting my parents know. I did, however, ask one friend for some money, and he agreed. That money was the last bit I needed. The salary next month stabilized me even further. The problem was that I withdrew money from my pension plan. That money was supposed to sit there until I’m 67 years old and then serve my needs. But I took a chunk of it to cover my debt.
That was the price I had to pay for bad financial decisions.
I knew then that I would do whatever is in my power to pay my debt. I was not ready to tell my parents yet. I knew that if they knew, it would devastate them.
The break I needed came when one day at work, my manager told us we’re going to get the notice soon because the project is not succeeding.
The word spread to my previous manager as a lot of us came from the company that shut down, and he called me.
During that call, he asked me if I’m interested to hear a job offer. I said, yes.
By mid-September 2017, I was already working in a new place after a few rounds of interviews.
I was still studying but in my last year of college. I only had two more courses to finish, so I decided to take an extra semester to study in peace.
Gaming-wise, Mass Effect: Andromeda was my most played game for 2017. Other mentions include Divinity: Original Sin 2, Tyranny and Baldur’s Gate 1 that I had never played before. I quickly passed on the latter because the graphics frustrated me. Strangely, though, I also played Jones In The Fast Lane, which is a game from the 80s and loved it!
Things finally looked up again. I expected good things in 2018. It didn’t disappoint.
I felt like 2018 was a year on the rise. I got promoted within the company to write business code instead of automation code, I had been sharing my writing online, and I had even considered writing a book.
I was still hugely in debt and didn’t know how to fix it.
By the end of 2018, I decided I would record a Udemy course. I did that, and it went live in early 2019.
It was the first time I had made money from something I created on the internet. But remember that ‘unused potential’ thing from the beginning of this essay? Yeah, we’re circling back to that now. I hadn’t created any other courses, so I didn’t see any considerable profit from Udemy.
Also, 2018 was the year where I finally earned my Computer Science degree. A dream I worked so hard for was becoming real. But then I got my first job in the industry and discovered someone earning more than me without a degree.
Still, I would count everything as a bonus. I don’t regret my degree. I met many people that are an integral part of my life today because of my time in college.
I didn’t have much time to play video games in 2018. I did play a few, however. Dragonball FighterZ was among the main ones. I absolutely loved Detroit: Become Human. Its graphics and branching storylines didn’t disappoint. Countless hours were spent on Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire. I supported that game on Kickstarter. And lastly, I played some DLC modules for Dragon Ball: Xenoverse 2.
We finally arrive in 2019.
As previously mentioned, 2019 was the year I published my first course on Udemy. In February, when I realized that making money from courses online is maybe a little too much for me at the moment, I decided to invest more in my English writing.
I took Jeff Goins’s course about becoming a blogger on CreativeLive. It was his interview with Shaunta Grimes that allowed me to look her up and join her amazing Ninja Writers group. Later on, I found out through one of the posts in the group about Medium’s MPP and joined. The rest is history. Now I’m here, ten months, and almost a million words (counted by Grammarly) later.
But my writing wasn’t the only aspect of my life that improved tremendously in 2019. My finances also saw a boost when I had committed to paying my debt, told my parents about it, and made considerable changes in how I manage my money thanks to their help.
Overall, this year has been good to me.
My gaming time was mostly non-existent this year. When I did have time to play, I played Pathfinder: Kingmaker. As of writing these words, I only have 55 hours into the game. I have it for more than a year.
You know what? I’ll even go as far as saying that I didn’t actually accomplish nothing during this decade. I may not have a book out and I may still have a huge debt but life is a process. There’s no black and white. perhaps I’m in a shade of dark blue now. What’s important is to keep walking.
In less than 20 days, we will find ourselves in a new decade. Now that I know where I’m coming from, it’s time to realize where I’m going.
I honestly don’t know what the future will hold. I do know I have some pretty important goals I want to achieve as soon as possible. Also, I have some other goals that will stretch across this decade:
- Become debt-free ASAP — This will change my life. I yearn for a day when free-will would dictate my decisions and not the weight of debt on my back.
- Get married and have kids — One aspect of everything you read so far was that I did it all alone. It was only me against the world. At 32, I’m becoming lonelier than usual, and I think it’s time I settled down and found my half. She would be my partner in all goals to come. I also want kids so bad. I have nieces and nephews, and frankly, the only reason I wouldn’t have kids right now would be my financial status. Kids are expensive. But, as mentioned, eliminating debt is also a priority.
- Get my fantasy world published — I already have my first preorder set up on Amazon. I have an entire series just waiting to happen. I prefer to get some books published in the early years of this decade.
On the longer-term goals, I want to have some passive income streams that will allow me to focus on writing, creating, and reclaiming my gaming time that dwindled over the years. I’ve seen many examples so far of internet income changing people’s lives. The only thing stopping me from getting there is me. Consistency is the key here.
These income streams could be many things. I’ll figure it out as I go.
This time, at the beginning of the decade, instead of its end.
Good luck to us and cheers for the 2020s!