David Heinemeier Hansson

February 9, 2023

How it started / how it's going

A picture of my home office in Malibu went viral last week. Some two million people gawked at that lovely Catalina Island-facing view that forms the background for work when I'm there. Here's another shot of that same office from the early morning:


It really is my dream office. But at the same time, it's also just an office, and the most enjoyable part of that is the creative work that happens on the 27" glass rectangle. The relationship between the two is epitomized by Coco Chanel's wonderful quote:

The best things in life are free.
The second best things are very, very expensive.

The best thing about work is getting the opportunity to exercise your human capacity for creativity, ingenuity, progress. Having a nice view is one of those "second best things", and the gap between the two is existential. I would never contemplate to give up "the best thing", a work life filled with engaging, challenging tasks of meaning, for more, or any!, of those "second best things", like a nice view.

To illustrate, here's another photo of a home office. This was mine from 2004-2005 while working from Copenhagen. This is where Ruby on Rails was created. This is where Basecamp was written. This dim room holds claim to some of the greatest intellectual achievements of my entire career. AND I LOVED IT! Not because of the room – it was just as dim and cluttered as it looked – but because of what happened in that room.

cph home office.jpg

Nobody is going to look at that office with envy because its allure is entirely internal. But I look at that office with at least as much fondness as I do the present one in Malibu. And I kinda wish that more people would find as much inspiration from this as they do the other. For one, it's far more achievable, but more importantly, it's the essence of a good work life: A place of calm for interruption-free pursuits of interesting projects. A portal to the state of flow.

Again, this isn't a rejection of "the second best things". Life is good if you are so #blessed as to enjoy both, but lose sight of the first, or worse yet, trade it in against the second, and you will have squandered Chanel's insight. Your first mission in life ought to be to ensure that all those free, best things are solidly in place before caring to chase the rest of the list. Because if that latter chase doesn't yield the spoils, so what, you'll still be #winning at life from a hand flush with aces.

About David Heinemeier Hansson

Made Basecamp and HEY for the underdogs as co-owner and CTO of 37signals. Created Ruby on Rails. Wrote REWORK, It Doesn't Have to Be Crazy at Work, and REMOTE. Won at Le Mans as a racing driver. Fought the big tech monopolies as an antitrust advocate. Invested in Danish startups.