Protected: I decided to give up on programming.

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Why Do We Stop Ourselves Before We’ve Even Begun?

Why do we let self-doubt stop us in our tracks?

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Photo by Sam Burriss on Unsplash

I’ve considered myself a “creative” person ever since I realized that being creative does not necessitate being artistic. Writing has always been my primary medium of expression, but most recently, I’ve begun considering the world of audio.

A few weeks ago, I decided I wanted to start a podcast. There’s something I find so fundamentally interesting and inspiring about the narrative of people’s lives, especially when it comes to their careers. I wanted to create a career podcast, and I wanted it to be in interview format. I started telling a few people close to me, and the response was generally positive. So, almost as soon as the idea was born, I went to work feverishly planning it out.

After two days of unfiltered excitement, the echo-chambers of self-doubt and “reality” started to settle in.

As it was, my “side-project” time was already pretty full. I had been writing more consistently for the past six months, and was chipping away at an online Computer Science course in my continuous journey of learning to program. Two weeks ago, after a much needed Instagram break, I announced to the world that I was back, I was here to create, and I was going to self-promote.

Was I starting to stretch myself too thin?

Additionally, I knew that if I wanted the podcast to be remotely engaging, I needed to get the audio right. As I dived into researching all things podcast gear, I calculated a total of about $550 to get my show rolling with decent quality. Now that this silly side project had a price-tag on it, the questions I was asking myself became all the more harsh.

Are you really going to commit to this? Do you truly have the time to round up guests, then schedule and conduct those interviews? Is this going to socially exhaust you to the point of quitting?

So, then, I started thinking — why do we stop ourselves before we’ve even begun?

My head was spinning with all of these questions and anxieties, so I decided to write about it. I came up with three guiding thoughts that would help me to stop doubting myself, and to just do the damn thing. If you’re finding yourself in a similar state of creative paralysis, I hope these will help you too.

Just buy the damn equipment.

If your side project requires any sort of equipment, software, or tooling to get started, and you can financially afford it, just buy the damn things. You’ve already got self-doubt going against you — you don’t need the lack of actual tools to block you as well. Plus, if you add in a financial stake in the game, maybe that will motivate you to see it through.

If you ultimately decided against your project, you can always return the gear, or sell it elsewhere. If it’s software you bought and never used, you will be out some funds — but hopefully not to many.

Focus on why you thought of the idea in the first place.

In the midst of figuring out the logistics, planning a course of action, and wondering how you were going to make the time for it all, you may have lost sight of the reason you even came up with the idea in the first place.

In my case, my writing wasn’t checking enough of the “I’m helping others” box. Maybe it’s the nature of the things I was writing, but the content I was putting out there felt more self-serving than anything, and that didn’t feel great. As I was reflecting on what I was missing when I was writing, I came up with the idea for this podcast. I don’t want to reveal too many details yet, but it’s something I wish I would’ve had as I was soul searching which career to jump into. So, maybe if created this, I could help be a sounding board for others facing similar confusion.

Remind yourself of why you are doing what you want to do, and let that be your guiding light. If it doesn’t work out, at least you would’ve given it your best shot. Plus, you’ll never look back and think, “Well, what if I had gone for it?…”

Actually try it out.

If there’s one thing that jumping into programming taught me, it’s that you really don’t know you’ll enjoy something unless you try it yourself.

So, how do I know I’ll enjoy and commit to this podcast? I don’t. But I won’t ever have that answer unless I dive in head-first.

What I Learned After Two Months Without Instagram

Photo by Hans Vivek on Unsplash

That was enough. I had had it.

I couldn’t take another Boomerang of clinking cocktail glasses on a Friday night. I couldn’t see another countdown to the day Carol ~*~gets to marry her best friend~*~. If I saw one more casual coder seated against a minimalist backdrop with only the glisten of their Macbook Pro to break the foreground … I was going to explode.

It was time for me to take a break from the Gram.

This wasn’t my first off-the-gram rodeo. I had completely deactivated my account twice or thrice before. At some point, I completely neglected my first account in favor of a new and improved one. I re-built a “following” from scratch, and intended to make it more cohesive and “branded.”

What made this time different from the others, was that I didn’t completely deactivate my account. I knew that psychologically, if I didn’t have the freedom to peek back and see what I was missing, I would effectively ruin the whole thing. It’s for this very reason that my previous deactivations only lasted a few days. No — this time, I could access Instagram from any browser if I wanted to. All I had to do was delete it from my phone.

So. Here’s what I learned:

First comes the honeymoon phase, then comes reality.

Those first few days were absolutely liberating. Free of the knowledge of what everyone and their mother was up to at the moment, I felt a peace of mind and a lack of pressure that I hadn’t felt in a long time.

Once this euphoria waned, eventually what settled in was boredom. So. much. boredom.

Whenever I found myself in a moment with nothing to do — whether at a red light, waiting in line for my coffee, or watching Netflix, I would instinctively reach for my phone. Now, instead of scrolling through a feed of photos and videos, I was mindlessly swiping between my different screens, with no app to scratch that itch. And, so,… I re-downloaded Twitter.

I replaced one social media obsession with another.

Yep.

And thus was born the revival of Raquel’s Twitter handle 2018. In a lot of ways, I felt more accepting of my Twitter-mania, because most of the tweet-ers on my feed were effectively anonymous to me. Tweets were either political, humorous, or completely mundane and unglamorous. But none of them caused me to subconsciously look inward and judge the quality of my own life.

Now, that covered my mobile impulses. But what about my browser activity? Well, honestly, I did notice an increase in my time on Youtube. It was as if my body was starved of its impulse to be jealous of others’ lives. So I began to soak up more Youtube channels. More apartment tours in NYC. More travel vlogs from digital nomads. More vicarious living through longer form media. (I’m probably misusing that term).

I was avoiding some deeper identity issues.

Whoa. Heavy.

I’ve been asking myself a lot of questions about my life, my career, and, by extension, about my identity lately. I’m in my late twenties, living in a fun, affordable(ish) city, am in a stable and mature four-year relationship, and have a steady and challenging programming job at a company I’ve been at for more than two years. Things are objectively going well in my life. Still, I can’t help but feel as if something is missing. And maybe I was trying to find that something through Instagram.

There was a point in time where I wanted to try out the fashion blogger thing, but was too embarrassed to admit it to anyone. I eventually found that it wasn’t for me, but out of that “dream” arose a different one, still within the “influencer” paradigm. I toyed with the idea of having a role in the women in tech community, or perhaps even in the beginner programmer community. I wanted to start writing more, and to put my words out there, and I knew deep down that this would involve a great deal of self promotion.

But self promotion involves knowing what you’re trying to promote. Or, rather, who you’re trying to promote. And I wasn’t quite sure what the answer to that was yet. And I wasn’t ready to admit that I wanted to be a part of it all.

I will probably go back.

ON ONE CONDITION.

Just kidding. On many conditions.

I’ve been considering reviving my account, now that I’ve pinpointed which aspects were those affecting me the most. There are a lot of positive aspects about the Instagram community that I actually miss. There are accounts out there that post truly thoughtful, poetic captions that I miss encountering. Though minuscule compared to others out there, I was starting to cultivate a mini community of programmers motivating and encouraging each other. I’ve been working on this one computer science course for the past six months, for example, and was previously posting progress updates on my account. I am nearing the final problem set for the course, and feel a little solemn that I wasn’t going to allow myself the celebration of sharing this achievement.

So, perhaps with setting some boundaries, I can come back at a curbed and healthy usage level. Maybe I’ll maintain limiting my viewing-time to being browser-only. If I am not looking at Insta-stories, then I am not comparing myself in realtime. Maybe without it on my phone, I can share a photo and not become obsessive about the likes, or feel the waves of imposter syndrome crash upon me after tapping ‘Post’.

Does A Small Group of Friends Mean We’re Doing Something Wrong?

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Photo by Namphuong Van on Unsplash

I’m not new by any means to my current city. I have lived in Portland for more than three years. I live with my SO, who is essentially my best friend. I have a friend group from high school that I keep in touch with daily through a very active group chat. And, though it took a long time, I have managed to cultivate some new, local friendships throughout my time here in the Rose City. By most standards, my life has been blessed with a bounty of deep and beautiful friendships.

Recently, however, effectively half of my close local friends have moved away to different cities. Both were from different friend groups, and yet their departure dates were less than two weeks apart.

In some ways, this makes me all the more grateful for my remaining friends here. In other ways, I feel as lonely as ever.

Sometimes, when things in my life aren’t feeling quite right, my mind begins to consider overly romanticized life events that might offer (at least at face value) more meaning to it. Usually, this manifests itself in shopping sprees or daydreams of moving to “the big city.” This time, I dreamt of adopting a dog.

Last night, as I was scrolling through Petfinder to find a potential new furry friend, I caught myself amid my mental escapism. As I realized what I was doing, I expressed to my SO that I was starting to feel a bit lonely, and that, though the idea of a dog is often a fickle daydream, I might want to follow through with it this time. Today, he mentioned that he was worried about me, which got me thinking–is it so bad to be a little bit lonely? Is not having many friends really as detrimental as we make it out to be?

It’s pretty strange, isn’t it? Logically, I know that I’ve been surrounded by friends for most of my life. I have moved various times throughout my twenties, and have always managed to find a group of friends. Yet, despite all this, the fact that my local friend count these days is greatly diminishing makes me feel a strange mix of guilt, pressure, and loneliness. So much so, that I can’t tell if I feel actual loneliness, or loneliness because I shouldn’t be this alone.

Humans are ultimately social beings. And we heavily rely on community, whether we realize it or not. These days, our friend groups have replaced the more traditional “communities” that our modern world has phased out. In this sense, I know I need to put myself out there, and foster a closer sense of community. Sometimes, though, especially in the age social media bragging, it’s as if I need to go out and make friends to prove to others that I am, in fact, not incapable of being a functional social being. Because if I do not socialize, then there must be something wrong with me…right?

And, yet, in an age where people are moving so often and increasingly living in isolation–I can’t be the only one who feels this?

In Defense of Not Following Your Passion

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Photo by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash
“Follow your passion,” they said. “You’ll never work a day in your life,” they said.
It seems to me that these words have become the credo of our modern working world. I can’t even recall where I first heard them, but, from a very young age, they would become the crux of my career philosophy for years to come.
They’re what pushed me to give up going to medical school three and a half years into a biology degree. They’re what encouraged me to head to grad school for a degree in Italian Studies. They’re what led me to conceive of this pipe dream of owning my own coffee shop/bakery one day. And they’re what’s making me anxious about choosing a career in programming, rather than in writing.
As a long time member of the “find your passion” club, I’m here to say: it’s not all it’s cut out to be.
Let me be clear here: I am not saying that this phrase is devoid of meaning or truth. Undoubtedly, it has helped shape lots of careers for the better, and has given many the courage to find success doing what they love for a living.
Still, for a lot of us, this philosophy can at times be more of a oppressor than a motivator. Because, if we’re not “following our passion,” then, are we really living?
I spend hours upon hours soaking up entrepreneurship podcasts, blogs, and Youtube videos. I take in success story after success story of folks who are “living the dream” following their creativity. And, despite the parts of this philosophy that I take umbrage with, I will admittedly continue to absorb these stories with as much hunger as ever. But, as long as I continue to do that, I will also face enormous amounts of self-induced pressure to find what it is I’m meant to do, and to stop wasting time not doing it. And, this, I believe, can be an unhealthy frame of mind, due to the following considerations:
  1. These stories are highlight reels, and they often paint a pretty portrait of what was likely a long, laborious and confusing road. Some stories are honest about this caveat, but others seem to casually disguise it. This is, in part, because a lot of this content comes from folks who have made it their business model to encourage others to do what they do. And, while I’m sure they’re well-meaning and want to genuinely help others pursue their dreams, it does behoove them to make their successes as shiny, accessible, and “repeatable” as possible. But, this often comes at a misleading price.
  2. Many of these stories assume that you have one single and obvious “passion,” and that your sole purpose in life is to see that passion through. But, what about those of us who seem to have many, divergent “interests”? What if we aren’t truly fervent about…anything? Are we, then, destined for a life of unfulfillment?
  3. The underlying message in many of these narratives, though perhaps not deliberate, is that your passion likely lies outside the traditional 9-5 job. Thus, if you’re stuck in a 9-5, you must inevitably be limiting yourself and your life. But, there must be some people out there loving their traditional, corporate jobs, right? Where are their stories? Where are their motivational plugs? (Side-note: podcast recommendations for these stories are much appreciated–please feel free to leave a comment below if you have any.)
  4. Even if you know what your passion might be, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you are ready to quit your job to “just do it”. What does “doing it” even mean? Do you know precisely what skills you’ll need in order to set yourself up for success? Do you have a financial security blanket to catch you if you fall flat on your face?
Ultimately, I do still believe that many out there have a “creative calling,” so to speak, and that most can be successful pursuing it, when the time is right. To those that have decided to take that leap of faith–I greatly admire you. You’re courageous, bold, and are light years ahead of where I am. But, for those of us who carry this self-induced pressure of finding what our life’s purpose might be, and who beat ourselves up for not following the examples in front of us, I’m here to say that it’s OK. You don’t need to quit your day job right now. Your time spent there is not without value. You are learning skills and strategies that might even be invaluable when the time comes to be on your own. You don’t need to know exactly what you’re meant to do at this moment. It’s ok to keep searching, to keep chipping away at what you think you want to do, and to stay at a job that doesn’t check every box in your dream job checklist.

 

A curious case of people liking my Medium article

 

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Photo by Max Langelott on Unsplash

A curious moment of happenstance occurred to me today.

I was listening to a podcast episode feature a comical guest I wanted to find more about on the internet, so I decided to look her up on Twitter.

As I typed in the (of late) unfamiliar “t-w-i-t-t-e-r” in my search bar and hit enter, I was greeted by four seemingly innocuous notifications. “Probably a few notices about posts some random people I forgot I followed liked recently.”

To my surprise, the first notification to catch my eye was a RT from a close friend of mine, who is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in Biology. She was replying to a few words that I had written in a Medium article I published recently–an article I decided to “share” on my Twitter after publishing it, because, who even reads my Twitter, anyway?

And, then I read her comment: “Learning to be comfortable with being uncomfortable is a skill” yes. yes. yes.

This comment, along with the four likes from people I admire that my post had received, was honestly such a shock to me! Not only was I expecting a grand total of zero people to even click on the damn thing, let alone like it, but that silly listicle managed to provide comfort for someone who may have been experiencing similar impostor syndrome doubts, even all the way in South Dakota. Granted, my four meager likes would be considered trivial at best by most people’s standards. But, to me, it wasn’t the number that mattered here–it was the mere fact that someone, somewhere, was paying attention, and was interested in what I had to say. And it didn’t even occur to me to notice.

So, anyway. Whereas two days ago, I was acting cynical and defeatist about the online writing-sphere, tonight, I see a little bit of brightness on the horizon.

(Also, who knew that I should probably leverage my twitter feed to send out my stuff?… Answer: any one who knows anything about social media. duh.)

Is the rush to push out content killing our creativity?

 

Do you ever have those days where you just want to take the day off, disappear into some remote coffee shop and simply think about your life?

It’s ironic, given that I spent the entirety of my weekend wallowing in self pity and inaction. Now, when I actually have work to do, is when I feel the inspiration to write?

About every four months or so, my mind decides that I’m irreparably unhappy, convinces me to drop every pursuit of my current career path, and pushes me one step closer towards this pipe dream of becoming a full time writer.

However, the more I look into a bona fide career in writing, the more anxious and confused I become.

I’ve been feeling disillusioned about the state of internet writing in our (Western) culture these days. It feels as if this world has turned into a gold rush of pushing content for content’s sake. I’ve listened to dozens of podcasts interviewing successful writers and bloggers that seem to urge everyone and anyone to just “create content”. Content equals engagement equals customers. But, the more I hear this piece of advice, the more I start to wonder: is this encouragement sacrificing the quality of the writing world? Are we losing sight of substantive posts in exchange for a higher publishing frequency?

I suppose content marketing and copywriting aren’t the only kinds of writing out there. But if I’m seeking to be a writer, isn’t that the place where I should start setting my writing free? Or am I just adding more noise to the already oversaturated internet writing arena?

Maybe I’m the only one who has these anxieties. What do you all think out there? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

 

(Photo above by Evan Dennis on Unsplash)

Unhappiness, but not quite sadness

The minutes approach the stroke of noon.

Maybe I’ve never really been happy here.

I lay on my side, on our living room’s couch. Its length spans the entirety of the wall. A couch that was meant to fill this new and spacious home with comfort. A home whose space was meant to fill parts of the voids. And yet, somehow, it feels like it achieves just the opposite.

I stare at the marks on  our coffee table, but I’m not really looking at them. My gaze veers to the left, and is met with the sight of our stout Vitamin D bottle. It stores inside of it little droplets of face-value alleviation for this season of depression–a season that was surely delayed this year, but whose arrival was only a matter of time.

Here we are. Not even a full week of clouds, and already I can’t seem to get up.

Maybe I’ve never really been happy here.

Day 172::CS50::The HalfWay Point[er]

Tonight, I just wanted to document that I am officially more than halfway through my CS50 course! Out of nine problem sets, I have now submitted five.

I was going to try and make a bad pointer pun here, but I’ll restrict myself to exploiting it only in this post’s title.

To celebrate, I’m posting a highly phoned in photo where my Thursday night eye bags are masked by a convenient Snapchat filter.

My goal since the new year has been to devote at least an hour each day to the class–the idea being that on a bad day, I will only spend an hour on it. Most days, (especially when working through a problem set), I will spend 2-3 hours on it.

Additionally since the start of the new year, I’ve been pretty anxious about my life and my choices, which should be shocking to no one. A large part of this anxiety came from feeling like I’ve been stuck on this course for an eternity, and given that I will not allow myself to explore any other online classes or take up other any remotely serious hobbies until I finish the damn thing, I began to feel like I was going to be taking CS50 until I died.

So, slow and steady wins the race. Here’s to chipping away at something big–and to hoping that it doesn’t outpace me with it’s chipping away at my soul. Amirite?

I’m being dramatic. It’s not that bad.