My Main Professional Goal

I was talking with Will Hindmarch about this idea last month, and decided it’s worth talking about on my blog. We were discussing, among other things, my approach to working with Evil Hat Productions.

I strive to be unnecessary, on my terms.

This might sound weird, but when I come onto a project, it’s because my skills are needed. Same reason anyone comes on board something, ideally. Some of my jobs at Evil Hat involve figuring out what resources we have for our Fate & Dresden projects, project a publication date, and then figure out deadlines to get to that point (or revise the publication date because the deadlines are unreasonable). I talk with writers & editors to figure out how the hell we do this thing. And I talk with Fred about what his needs as a publisher are.

That was my job when I came on board for Dresden, because that didn’t exist. Amanda Valentine was attempting that, but she was fighting a hard battle, between gaining rapport & trust with the crew and Evil Hat growing as a company & learning to, well, be something more than a three-man band, it wasn’t working. At one point, I said “okay, my turn” and I started coordinating with everyone. I had a decent rapport with most of the people involved, and I have the sort of personality that worked in that moment to get the project moving.

Today, Amanda’s that person on the Paranet Papers, and I’m happy. Why? Because I made myself unnecessary for that role. (I am, of course, still doing that for Don’t Hack This Game.) I don’t just want to bring my skills, I want to transfer them. I want others to learn from whatever I’m doing — good and bad — just as I want to learn from them. And in doing so, a really cool thing happens:

I become free to grow and try other stuff.

I grew up in a world of people who became necessary, became core to the place where they worked. That is, until they got laid off, and then they struggled to find relevance in a job market that changed on them. As a third-generation software developer, I grew up in this world, watching us move for jobs or struggle in unemployment, vague memories I don’t quite understand because I was young. When you become too important to a place, growth is stifled. When you work 50+ hours a week, the time & energy to develope professionally for the future is cut short.

So, I try to make myself unnecessary, on my terms. I still strive to be useful & highly skilled, but not so core to something that I am lost when life happens and I’m suddenly out of a job. And not so core to something that if I’m hit by a truck, people who depended on me are now totally fucked over.

That’s what I mean when I say “on my terms.” When I’m in control of how I keep myself from becoming to necessary to something, then I have the flexibility to adapt to life changes. I know many people who fear this state of being, because they see no security there. But having worked in government service, I see such security as an illusion; no one can provide security to you but you.


This is likely a ramble to most people, but it’s been on my mind since I’ve re-entered unemployment.

– Ryan


5 Responses to My Main Professional Goal

  1. Thoroughly enjoyed this (and I didn’t see it as a ramble).

    As a software developer, it would be good of me to keep this in mind, as I fall into trap of being indispensable. I find that it can become a convenient excuse to be shoddy or lazy.

  2. EZ says:

    So very yes. I’ve been trying to move towards this, in a way, as well. It can be very scary being there, but so much less stress, too.

  3. Evan Franke says:

    Not a ramble, a very cogent discussion.

    Second, “. . . it’s been on my mind since I’ve re-entered unemployment.”


    I have obviously not read the blog closely enough. I am very sorry to hear that.

    I’ve been blessed/cursed with an almost totally unplanned career, which arose after my carefully planned (but entirely naive) original career got flushed by academic politics. I think I follow your model more now, but there are lots of pressures to try to at least look “essential” at times. In my heart, I know that I am not, and that I am doing my best to pass on what I can of my abilities and knowledge to my colleagues.

    Keep up the good fight.

    • Ryan Macklin says:


      Thanks :) I’m lucky in that this was a more-or-less planned unemployment that started this week. It wasn’t a surprise — my recent social game contract was short-term — so I’ve been able to make plans. I’m working on small projects for Evil Hat, myself, and others right now. I have my resume in places and am networking.

      – Ryan

  4. Paul Tevis says:

    This resonates pretty strongly with me. My guideline is “The team should be better with me, but capable of succeeding without me.”