Living The Dream. Or Is It A Nightmare?

Have you ever heard of Etsy? Or Ebay? Maybe you’ve heard of Twitter or Gawker? How about Crashlytics or Airbrake, or Raygun? Of course you have. These are well known names on the internet and in techie circles. I mean, who hasn’t heard of Twitter and Ebay, even outside of the techie circles? Maybe people who don’t use the internet.

But do you know what they all have in common? They all use MarionetteJS (or have used at one point) – the Backbone application framework that I created during my consulting days, a few years ago - somewhere in their projects, products and services.

And you know what? The success of MarionetteJS terrifies me.

Scared of success

The Best Thing I Ever Did

Around a year ago, I turned over the keys to the MarionetteJS castle. I was working for Telerik at the time, loving my job but unable to put in any real time and attention in Marionette. So along comes this random (to me) guy named Sam Saccone. He’s been using Marionette for a while and he wants to help in any ways he can. It starts out with grooming the issues list. It quickly turns in to him fixing bugs. Next up, he’s putting together releases. And before I know it, I’m handing him the keys to the castle. And you know what?

The best thing I ever did for MarionetteJS (other than creating it) was turning it over to someone else.

I have no doubt in my mind that the continued growth and success of Marionette is due to the team that Sam assembled around it. It’s an amazing team and they are doing amazing things. I was actively holding back the project with my inability to get issues resolved, move it forward with significant new functionality, clean up the ugly parts of the API, etc. I may have been good for Marionette when I created it and curated it in to v1.0 land… but it’s obvious to me, now, that I was the one holding it back. 

Living The Dream

Most software developers that contribute to open source projects have the dream of one day working on or building the next big thing. It’s human nature to want that kind of recognition and power and awesomeness. I got lucky with Marionette. I was in the right place at the right time, had the right set of skills and the right circumstances in which I could execute on my ideas. It worked out well for me and for the Backbone community at large. 

For a period of time, I was living the open source dream. I was the man in charge of something epic. I had the vision, the philosophy, the idea… I somehow created an open source community that actively sought to help others, in spite of me. I led the charge and set things in motion. I got to live the dream.

And then I left.

Is It A Nightmare? Cause I’m Scared.

When I look at the success of Marionette… when I watch videos of the guys from Etsy talking about what they are building with Marionette… when I see tweets showing screenshots of Gawker using Marionette… I get a little sad. I think to myself “what could have been…” if I had stuck around and not left Marionette when I did. Then I realize that the success of Marionette now is due to my having turned it over and I swell with joy and jealousy at the same time, at what the Marionette team has done. 

And then I run away screaming. Terrified.

The thought of my code… my projects… my baby that I labored over for near 2 years… knowing the mistakes I made, the dumb things I did… seeing my code in the hands of such amazing companies scares me. 

Here’s the thing… I want all the success and fame and D-List Celebrity status that being the founder of a “big” (ok, maybe medium-ish sized) open source project brings with it. But I don’t want the responsibility. I want to be the guy with the name, and I’ve been that guy for a while now. I want to be known as the one that started it all… and I am… but inside, I’m still a scared little boy that has no idea what to do with this.

On Success

People ask me to help them with projects every week. Every. Week. Sometimes every day. I’m glad I don’t have time. I’m sad I don’t have time. I’m flattered by the shear number of people that are using Marionette, and the amazing opportunities that this project has brought to me.

And I’m terrified of everyone on the internet seeing that I really don’t have any idea what I’m doing – no more than you, or the next person. 

Impostor syndrome? probably. Isn’t that the latest fad, anyways? I need to jump on a bandwagon now and then. Self deprecating? Definitely. “You are your own worst critic”, right? Well I’m a hell of a critic.

The Fear…

Have you ever wanted to punch someone and didn’t because you were afraid of hurting them? Have you ever punched someone anyways and realized how powerless you are, as they laugh at your attempt to hurt them? I think success is similar to that.

Most of us are afraid of failing. But I would bet that more of us are afraid of succeeding, than would admit to it. I know it terrifies me, sometimes. 


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  • Joanne D

    Great post! I enjoyed reading about how your journey started.

  • Fernando Zamora

    Great post. You are becoming my daily dose of entertainment. I mean that in a good way. Entertainment like when you catch the latest episode of your favorite series. Thanks for sharing. Oh and I love the Marionette sketch.

  • http://web-scents.blogspot.com/ Marhamah

    same for me. how little i am to punch someone in the face. I’m powerless

  • Ian Stewart

    Duuuuude. I rarely, rarely, become inspired by a blog post enough to say something. Thank you, Derick, for saying what most are too afraid to say. I imagine this is way more true than most admit, including myself.

  • http://michael.hertzberg.co/ Michael Scott Hertzberg

    I have horrendous anxiety. Although this is beyond the moment, I think it’s completely okay to display weakness. I display weakness all the time. The world is also extremely judgmental, and sometimes it’s just not tolerable and dealing becomes the resort.