Work in Progress

I’ve been through a lot of major life changes since I started my blog a couple years ago. My main intention for writing that blog initially was to share one of those big changes from inception to completion to help other people who were contemplating that same change. I wanted to give people a roadmap from start to finish. Leave breadcrumbs…

But it didn’t go the way I planned it. And my feelings throughout much of the process were pretty negative. I didn’t want that to be part of the roadmap, so I didn’t write most of that. And later I felt like it was my duty to write it. And I started to… But it never felt right. And ultimately I deleted my allusions to those posts.

And then I did that a second time. These posts are mostly career-related. I read another post this morning that brought a lot of this home for me. I want to stop deciding for everybody what part of my process is worthy to put out there. Life — raw, honest and true life — is never neatly packaged and a straight line from point A to point B. It’s difficult and full of obstacles. A constant struggle. It’s also amazing, miraculous and beautiful all at the same time. It is our perception and our perspective that changes. But that is not merely all that changes. When our perception and perspective changes, that literally changes us and our world around us.

So this is me changing my perspective. This is me deciding to give you my truth as often as I can. Messy. Unfinished. Unpolished. But honest. Me.

Because ultimately, it’s not for me to decide who and what I am to you. That is your perspective to cultivate. I might bring you hope. You might relate to something small I said that seemed insignificant to me. That tiny thing might be enough to shine a light into your world brighter than I ever could’ve imagined when I said or wrote it. I might upset or frustrate you. Or you may just feel indifferent. That’s all up to you. But what’s up to me is getting myself out there. Not waiting to see if the story has a happy ending before writing its beginning and middle. Not waiting till I’m “done.” Not waiting…

I started this post when I got on the bus to work this morning. I finished it about halfway there. I’m going to post it as is. And I’m going to make a habit of this.

Just Need a Belt

I noticed something simple a couple weeks ago. And though it was simple, this thing made me question the way I think about the world I live in and the way I perceive and interact with it. It’s not all that important in and of itself, but it sparked an avalanche of ideas in its wake. What else is like this in my life? What else is there that is not what I’ve taken it to be at face value? How many of my other perceptions are just… wrong? Curious…

I worked from home the last couple years until I quit my job in January. Then I went from working from home to just BEING at home. My wardrobe has gotten quite relaxed in those years. I went from having casual Fridays to “Oh, I’m going somewhere today, so I should probably put on some clothes.” On one of those days when I went somewhere, I put on my pair of brown corduroy pants. They’re kind of stretchy and fit me comfortably with a belt. I went about my day and my pants went with me. It was a long day, and I was really tired by the end of it. So tired that I fell asleep on the couch still wearing my clothes.

I groggily made the five step journey from my living room to my bedroom to get some proper rest. But in my foggy state of being half-asleep, I did something new. I just yanked my pants off without first unbuttoning them or unzipping the fly. And they came right off. I don’t think I cared much about it at the time or really even noticed. But the next morning, I picked up the pants to throw them in the hamper and noticed that the fly was still zipped and buttoned. I left it that way and pulled them on. Huh! There was no struggle. They went on fine and just conformed to my waist as they usually did. Pulled them off again, and again there was no struggle.

I’ve had those pants for about three years now. My body shape hasn’t changed very much in that time. So how long has this been true? I have other pants that are similarly made with a little stretch to them. I tried them all on. SAME THING. I didn’t need to touch the fly on any of my pants to be able to get them off and on easily. Most of them just need a belt to keep them where they belong during the day’s many standing ups and sitting downs. Revelation!

How much time have I spent dealing with a vestigial structure on my clothing? It adds up, surely. I can remember some pants I’ve worn in recent years that were form-fitting enough and lacking stretch that this wouldn’t have worked with them. But I hadn’t even TRIED before. The thought never even crossed my mind. Button, zip, buckle; unbuckle, unbutton, unzip. Over and over for years.

Perhaps what’s more interesting is that even after making that discovery… Now that I KNOW there’s no need to fiddle with those fasteners… I STILL DO IT. It’s over 30 years of autopilot at work. It’s hard to rewire those neural pathways to stop myself from doing something that is so habitually ingrained. But still, the new way is more efficient, so I’m going to retrain myself. It’s not that it takes a lot of effort. It’s more that I have to be more mindful of something I haven’t thought about since I was a little kid.

It’s hard for us to remember what it was like when we were little. Tiny fingers just starting to figure out how to work things in the big new world. Putting buttons through buttonholes, putting on socks, getting shoes on so the socks aren’t all bunched up in the toe, tying shoelaces! Working forks, knives, spoons, bowls, cups, straws, stairs, everything!!! You work and struggle at each new kind of clasp or fastener until you finally get it to work that first time. And every time after that is practice until it’s something that’s automatic in your muscle memory. Much like I’m typing these words on a little keyboard as a touch-typist… My fingers are in the right place because the letters are coming out in the expected order. There’s an upraised bump on both the “F” and “J” keys. I had to rewire my brain a bit to use this particular keyboard, though. The “;” key has been replaced by a “‘” key. I have to use the Fn key to get the semi-colon and colon now. I would argue that it’s a slight improvement over standard QWERTY, but it has made making emoticons a lot more annoying. And then it’s a pain to switch back to a normal keyboard, so I do most of my writing on this one.

But I digress… Anyway, I’ve been trying to approach many aspects of my life right now with the same level of mindfulness. I do so many things simply because that’s how I’ve always done them. But as I approach things with a higher level of awareness, I hope to find more ways to improve things.

A lot of this thought has helped me to see that though I have a lot of interests, skills and talents, I believe I am a designer at heart. Always trying to make things better, more efficient, work more smoothly… I’ve always been that way. But I feel like I’m taking it to another level now. Not just coming into a field where I’ll be a designer by trade. But also designing my life. Cutting out the things that don’t work, improving on the things that do, but could be better… It’s an interesting, exciting and sometimes scary time in my life right now. Sometimes the changes I make are huge and obviously life-altering. Other times, it’s just learning that all I need to do is buckle and unbuckle my belt. But they’re all making my brain work differently. And somehow, that seems pretty significant when you think about it.

Without a Net

I’ve worked at the same place for seven years now. That’s more than twice as long as any other place I’ve worked previously. I got my start there as a help desk technician. After more than a year of that, I transitioned into a Junior Oracle DBA role. And I’ve been there ever since. The amount of years I’ve occupied that role allowed me to drop the “Junior” from my title and add “SQL Server” and “MySQL” as well. It was a good move to get me beyond phone-in help desk support, which I had been in for about 6 years at various places before that.

I went into a lot more detail about that in my Pre-beginning blog post. Three years ago, I tried to find another DBA job elsewhere. I worked at that for a year or so before deciding that I probably didn’t want another DBA job. This time last year, the winds of change blew me into the possibility of being a Ruby programmer. I was excited about it and felt good about it. I liked the people in the community and it seemed it would be a much better fit for me than DBA work. But I kept my DBA job, because I valued the lifestyle it afforded me. It seemed like the sensible thing to do. Keep the steady paycheck coming, the 21 days of paid time off, the health, dental and vision insurance… After all, I work from home 100% of the time and have for a couple of years now. I had enough flexibility to be able to co-work somewhere else and still meet my expectations at the DBA job.

So I worked hard to make room for Ruby. I delegated off a lot of my DBA responsibilities to capable help desk technicians and often I had very little DBA work to do. It seemed like that should’ve been enough. And it probably could’ve been. The opportunity I had there didn’t pan out very well for me. But I ultimately feel that was for the best. I think that if it had worked out, I probably would’ve done it for a year or two, but I feel I still would’ve arrived at the conclusion that my calling is in User Experience Design (UX).

In keeping my DBA job, I played it very safe. And what I was really saying with that decision was “I really hope this Ruby thing works out, but if it doesn’t, I still have my day job.” And more pointedly, “I’m afraid I might not be able to do this, and I’m not willing to put my security on the line to give it all I’ve got. I don’t believe in myself enough to make a leap of faith here.”

A year later, I have learned from that. I DO believe in myself. I don’t know where I’ll land yet, but I know that I’ll hit the ground running wherever that may be. I submitted my letter of resignation at 11:00am this morning. My boss responded a short time later that he was sad to hear that I was leaving, but that he’d work with me to make my transition out as smooth as possible. He also made sure I knew he’d give me a good reference if need be. He’s a good guy. If it hadn’t been for him, I would’ve left there long ago.

Neale Donald Walsch said, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” And I do believe that to be true. I feel better having made my decison to leave official. I’ve only told a few people at this point, so it’s quite possible that you are one of my close friends and this is the first you’re hearing about it (please don’t be offended if that’s the case). I figured that writing a blog post was the easiest way for me to handle letting people know about this. Good friends included. I only really decided to do it about 24 hours ago.

So what comes next for me? I don’t know yet, but I’m excited to find out! I don’t have any savings or a nest egg. I don’t even have a credit card. So I’m well-motivated to find something soon. If I’m really lucky, it will be a start somewhere in UX. A place where I can start, learn and grow. If not, I’ll figure something else out. I believe in myself. For me, life isn’t about being comfortable and settling. It’s about learning, growing, expanding, and pushing boundaries. I have an exciting new journey I’m taking. And I’m getting started right… NOW!