I decided to take a small break from my recent wave of tutorials to talk about some lessons I’ve learned as of late. I wanted to share these lessons with others as someone who is still “young” in the tech field ( less than 5 years working professionally ), and as a growing developer getting to know herself.
It’s never too late to start doing things you want, never stop trying to figure out what it is you want out of life
— Chris Hartjes (@grmpyprogrammer) March 24, 2015
I’m just going to throw this out there before I get farther into this post. Ready? This might freak some people out, but here goes…
Everything is more important than work. Or more accurately, your health, your family, your loved ones, your “you” time, your very life – are all number one priorities over your job.
Up until March of last year, I was just like other developer worker bees, working 40+ hours a week and ignoring the telltale signs of burnout. I let impostor syndrome control me and kept myself from seeing outside of my current life for fear of what was out there or what I was actually capable of. I stopped doing things I enjoyed outside of work, I was checking my work email on my phone during off hours, and I barely had time for anything aside from the necessary chores that needed to get done ( wash clothes, pick up groceries, etc. ).
I probably would have kept going this way, accepting that this was part of the “real adult” life others had warned me about growing up – just a necessary evil. Living to work, rather than working to live. That all ended in March of last year when I found out that my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time – stage 4. Nothing has been the same since….
The past year has been a roller coaster ride, and I feel like due this wake up call, I’m becoming someone new that I have to get to know all over again. Or it might be more accurate to say I’m looking for an old self where I had time for hobbies and enjoyed what I was doing. In the process of this soul searching, a few months ago, I did the one thing most would caution against.
I left a comfortable, “safe” job that I’d already been established in for a few years.
That’s right. Family and friends were telling me I was off my rocker! In spite of the encouragement (or criticism), I did however, take a chance. This was my first major step in overcoming my fears, and fighting for the life I wanted to live. Then I started this blog, I started writing novels, I returned to poetry, and I renewed my FFXIV account so I can actually play. Ah so many things!
The other day I hesitated to go into the mysterious bookshop for the first time. As much as I love books, book stores overwhelm me. I feel like the shop employees are following me with their eyes, waiting for me to buy a damned book rather than flipping pages through twenty of them and leaving empty-handed. I almost kept walking, but then I stopped, scolded myself with a “Yolo” and went right in. I thought, “I could get hit by a truck tomorrow and I don’t want to regret not having been in this book store at least once!”
Of course I didn’t buy anything, but that’s besides the point. I went in. That’s the point. Something scared or intimidated me and I faced it. There was something I wanted to do, and I pushed past my excuses and did it.
This is me now, doing all of these things, some old, some new, all on this quest to happy Rachel. Part of my quest is happy Rachel career-wise as well. Now while it’s not clear to me what the end goal is, that’s part of the journey, these are the things I’ve discovered about myself up until this point. I’m hoping that these lessons will help shape my future until eventually that end goal in my career is crystal clear.
I am not the White Rabbit.
If you’ve watched Disney’s Alice in Wonderland, then you know that most of the movie, the white rabbit is rushing with a giant clock in his hand saying, “I’m late” over and over. Apparently ever since the working world became so fixated on dividing work days into hours, there’s this trend of hours controlling people’s lives! What I mean by this, is that hours have become so important, they prevent us from living our actual lives. This is what my life looked like before the life altering quest began:
- Morning: Rush to get ready while checking the clock constantly. Rush through breakfast – eat the quickest and least nutritious thing ever so I can get out the door.
- Commute: Run for the train so I don’t miss it. Then walk fast to work.
- Work: Begin working as soon as humanely possible, heaven forbid someone interrupt me or that will cost me 10-15 minutes of productivity.
- Lunch: Rush through Lunch. Or hell, eat and work at the same time. Go out for lunch? Hah – ain’t nobody got time for that!
- Work: Rush to finish work so I can leave.
- Commute: Repeat step 2 except in reverse.
- Evening: Look at the clock all evening as I settle in, cook, complete whatever evening tasks I have. Oh yeah, check my work emails while I’m at it. Too tired to engage in anything other than chores. Waste time on Tumblr until bedtime instead.
- Night: 6 hours of sleep or less.
Now this took me some practice, or it could be a result of what I’m going through that I just naturally stopped stressing over trivial things, but this is my life now:
- Mornings: Wake up and have enough time to enjoy a filling and cooked breakfast as well as get ready. Even if I’m “late”, I don’t rush out the door. My work isn’t going anywhere. 5 to 15 minutes is not the end of the world. If it is the end of the world where you work, might want to read this article about clock watchers.
- Commute: I don’t run for trains or speed walk anymore. Ever.
- Work: Accept that I’m human, not a machine. I don’t think I need to elaborate on this. My body/brain know and I listen to it.
- Home: Plan ahead where some days are chores, some days are for fun. Try to take care of chores during lunch for more time after work. Sleep at a reasonable time at least three times a work-week. I slack on this a few times, but in general, I try to make sure I generally sleep well to get a minimum of 7 hours.
I also don’t look at the time, ever, during my commute. Looking at the time and cursing isn’t going to get me to my destination any faster. I’ve reduced my obsessive clock watching throughout the day. I also do not have email on my phone. If the world is crashing down, my job has my number. Take my time. Enjoy life. I’m not the white rabbit.
Be the Mountain that Doesn’t Budge.
I had a manager once who, after he was eventually laid off, was referred to with the same air as the “he who must not be named” guy from Harry Potter. He was not known for being a great guy. One winter evening, he demanded that I stay until the wee hours of the night to work because he made a promise to a client without consulting with his
machines human developers first. I live in the Bronx, I’m a woman, I ride public transportation, and there was not an inkling of concern for my safety from him. His only priority was that the client gets his absurd request done at the snap of his fingers.
I went home that day at the same time I intended to leave. I did not give in. I’m willing to work with others so long as they’re willing to work with me. If not, I’m immovable – a mountain.
I use mountain as my example because humans don’t try to move mountains. In other words, be strict with myself, be strict with others. Know my limits and don’t budge. Here are some limits I’ve placed on myself that have improved my work-life balance thus far in an hourly based salary job:
- Work the minimal hours I’m expected to work. I’m going to repeat this – minimal. So long as my work meets deadlines and in good quality, there is really no logical reason this should be any different. Read Five Things You Owe Your Manager and Five Things You Don’t for more clarification.
- Go home. Putting in extra hours for no reason won’t benefit me in the long run. Check out this slightly nsfw-ish video that really pulled my heart strings from Pam Selle.
- Only complete tasks that are clear. Vague tasks without clear direction and/or designs drive me batty. If I don’t know what it takes to complete a task and put it out of mind, then something is wrong. So I make an effort to ensure my tasks are clear. Ask questions all the time. You’d be surprised how little we actually understand about a request from a client until questions start being asked for clarification. It’s definitely worth it every time.
- Work stops during lunch. I can be lenient with this, but for the most part, if a task can wait a few minutes so that I can enjoy lunch, then it’ll wait. Someone asks me to do something, I’ll make a note of it and let them know that once I’m done eating, I will carry out that thing. Most of the time, people are pretty understanding about it. After all, we do need to eat, right?
I am More Capable Than I Think I am.
I remember having a heart to heart with a co-worker during one of our lunch breaks. I’d just told her about my mother so she was the second person to know aside from HR. I remember the way she looked at me, and she said these words.
Me? Strong? I laughed it off. I felt like I was falling apart and yet, to someone on the outside, I appeared like I was holding it all together. Even though I dismissed the significance of her words back then, I realize now looking back that she’s always encouraged me. We’re still friends today and whenever I tell her about something that I’m not confident about, she’s there cheering me on.
I’m super grateful for that, and it turns out I’m learning that she was right. I am stronger than I think I am. I’m more capable of facing these challenges in my life.
If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.
The challenges in my life are changing me. Change isn’t always bad. I can’t fear change. Facing things that intimidate or scare me help me grow both as a person and as a developer. So I went into that bookstore, I took that job, I started this blog, I’m learning a new technology, I went to an event I was interested in. I’ve stopped letting fear keep me from seeing what I’m made of, and so far, I’ve been surprising myself. I’ve made it this far after all.
Everything is More Important than Work
I can’t tell you how many doctor’s appointments I’ve put off, how many weekends I wasted, and how many evenings went down the drain all due to me throwing all on the back-burner for the sake of “work”. I’ve gone to the office in blizzards, while I was sick, while I was deprived of sleep or just in general, not mentally well enough to properly carry out a developer’s job. I’ve had both asthma attacks and panic attacks at my desk.
After my mom got sick, I realized I couldn’t keep going that way. Turns out I really missed spending time with my family, being with my significant other and our dog, and taking the time to have fun too.
I visit my mom or she visits me about every other week. Also trying to keep up with my appointments. When my body is tired or I know the weather is going to compromise my health, I either take a day off or work from home. I’m also learning to take “mental health” days. Sometimes you need a day not because you have the flu, but your soul needs a bit of rest too.
My mom is doing good so far, but the experience has made me stop taking things for granted. I’m probably no longer the “perfect cog” in the working world anymore, but I’m definitely more driven. I actually want to do things at work now. I have ideas I want to share. I’m learning on my own free will and becoming a better developer as a result.
While I’m still trying to figure out where I fit career-wise, if there’s one lesson I can take from it all, it’s to enjoy my life. After all, nothing is more important than life itself, even work…
In closing, here’s a few people/articles that are changing my life for the better. Maybe they’ll change yours too.
- Liz Ryan is the CEO/Founder of Human Work Place. Her writing always strikes a chord with me every time. There were times when I felt something was wrong in my workplace and I couldn’t put it to words until I was exposed to her writing. She writes on a few places: LinkedIn, Forbes, the human workplace site to name a few.
- Kathy Caprino is a career success coach all about empowering women. It was her newsletters that jumpstarted my soul searching and eventually encouraged me to change jobs. You can find Kathy on LinkedIn, Forbes, and her personal site KathyCaprino.com.
- James Clear formerly ran a site called Passive Panda that’s now jamesclear.com. He writes about freelancing, transforming your habits and in general, doing what you love as a living. He also has a freelance bootcamp course on TutsPlus.
- Boone Gorges‘ WordCamp talk, Free Software, Free Labor, and the Freelancer is pretty much what made me stop putting off this blog and start it already. Before I was so focused on building everything from scratch, including the design, that I used it as an excuse to not move forward. After this talk, I realized if I ever hoped to gain credibility in my field, I needed this blog. And here it is. 🙂
- Further Reading:
I’d also like to credit two developers, Shauna Gordon and Kayla Daniels for being inspirations. I debated for a long time how honest I should be on my blog until I discovered these two women. I’ve made up my mind to be me.
That about wraps this up! Have a wonderful Monday, everyone, and remember to eat lunch today.