Why do we let self-doubt stop us in our tracks?
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 I 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.)
- 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?
OK so I know that two posts ago I was all “I’m going to split my year into 4 educational phases,” but as I struggled to finish yet another self-paced online course while continuing to cut my teeth in Ruby at work, I realized that even this plan of “focus” was perhaps not focused enough.
Last week, the floodgates of self-doubt and bigger-picture anxieties burst open yet again. Only this time, I found myself at a more clearly defined crossroads–to write? Or, to code? That, ultimately, became the very clear question.
UX work, front-end development, data science–all have coding (to a certain extent) in common. Writing, though, would require a whole different set of career steps.
Thus, I have instead decided to shorten this year of 4 exploratory phases into a solid 365 days of coding. By July 2018, I will have spent a full year of 40 hrs/week, full-on programming at work, and will theoretically have learned quite a bit through it. I have also decided to take on some CS-courses at the local community college starting in the Fall, to supplement and deepen my at-work experience with some CS fundamentals. First up is an intro to CS course, and after that, hopefully a data structures class and a semester in algorithms. My Instagram feed is chock-full of and ready to go with badass lady programmers and coding motivators. If I’m going to give myself a year to do this, I sure as hell am not going to half ass this.
Hope you enjoy following along! Or not. Whatever. JK. Heart<3
Ok. So, many many many more career thoughts to report. Sometimes I feel like I’m being redundant with these posts…but figuring out your life’s work is neither linear nor straightforward. I think we’re allowed to go in circles a bit. So I present to you, another right turn.
I got my shit together this weekend, as promised! Did some laundry, cleaned the — out of my desk, and even bought a new [used] office chair. If I can create a comfortable, ergonomic desk area, then in theory, I will actually sit at said desk area. Once at said desk area, we might as well learn some code, no?
Say hello to my new chair friend, a used Steelcase Leap. This chair has an apparent cult following, and has been described to me as the “Rolls Royce of chairs.” This thing better be good!
Yesterday after work, I randomly got to talking to boyfriend about all the different career directions that I still find myself deciding between. Last week, I found out about a scholarship through Women Who Code Portland for a bootcamp in SF, which got me thinking about programming boot camps in general, which got me thinking about development as a career. Simultaneously, I was officially moved off of our customer support team and onto our data team (finally!). After a week hiatus, I got back on the HTML/CSS course horse, and started reading Principals of Beautiful Web Design by Jason Beaird in my free time. And now I’m writing about it, and posting respectively and consistently on my Instagram account (follow me @raql_ita!).
Web developer. Web designer. Writer. Which one is it? Which one will it be?
And then, just as I thought I had tossed away the idea forever, boyfriend brought up the UX Researcher possibility. Just what I need—another potential track. ugh
I mean, really this isn’t a terrible problem to have. I should only be so lucky!
So, while talking through some thoughts out loud, it became painfully clear to me that my problem lately has been focus. I’m so easily distracted by the prospect of 4 different career directions, and I’m so eager to try out each one as quickly as possible, so I can get on that track if it turns out to be it.
But how can you know it’s the right one, if you only devote 5 seconds to it??
I always always always do this. I get really excited all of a sudden, go full force into 8 different activities, and quickly become burnt out. Then I fall into a dangerous “I’m so bad at this, I can never be good at this, I can’t even bring myself to finish this!” spiral.
Now, as of yesterday, I have unofficially decided that by July of next year, I want to have picked a track. Which means, I have one year to fart around and see what interests me most.
Here’s the difficult part. I am going to (tryyyyy) and force myself to focus on just. one. thing. at a time.
Here’s the tentative trajectory I’ve come up with. Perhaps 2-3 months for each phase?
PHASE 1: Web Design
-First things first, I will finish this CSS/HTML course. This is the web design portion—yes? And I will complete my friend’s wedding website, whether it comes out shitty or not.
-continue reading Principles of Beautiful Web Design.
–follow up with The Design of Everyday Things
PHASE 2: WEB DEVELOPMENT
PHASE 3: UX RESEARCH (??)
After that? Not sure yet. I’m thinking probably a UX Research course. Any recommendations out there??
Writing will, of course, be interspersed throughout, as I will continue to document my thoughts and struggles on this blog. A part of me feels bad for saying it, but writing is kind of a “come back to” path for me at this point. In part, because I am working in a tech job, and would have to drastically change course if I decided on this route, and likely find a job elsewhere. But I know I am a good writer, and I know that I can start moonlighting on freelance sites like Upwork.com if I really wanted to build a portfolio, so this seems like the path with the lowest barrier of entry. And before I arrive at this point, I want to really have given Phases 1, 2 and 3 a fair try.
Cool! So, we have a plan. Plan subject to change, as always.
Oh. I will try video editing in my fre-er time, when I have the energy and patience, lol. So, you know, maybe never. And I have given up on the idea of fashion blogging. In reality, I don’t have the desire or discipline to be consistent about taking fashion selfies. That doesn’t meet I won’t lace this blog with some clothing posts every once in a while…but in reality, I don’t quite have it in me. Plus, despite the lack of that type of content, I feel like I’m still building an exciting blogging and Instagram community, and it’s been interesting to see what’s come about from that after the first 2 weeks or so of participating. (I’ll write a different post about that later!)
Thanks for listening!
This is a topic I’ve struggled with quite a bit.
Let’s backtrack a bit.
I went to networking event last night, organized by Women Who Code [Portland]. The last time I was at a Women Who Code event, I became so inspired and so fired up about the tech industry that a few months later, I had landed my very own job in it.
Fast forward to two years later. A similar event on a similar kind of night, and I’m struggling to ignite that same mission-centric, life-purpose-fulfilling fire.
Is it because I’ve become desensitized to the “disruptive” mission statements that are so commonplace in the tech industry these days? Have I heard one too many proclamations of “making the world a better place” through innovative product design? Have I just become hardened about the workplace with age, and with more varied work experience? Or does this mean that I’m not meant to be coding?
As hard as I try not to, I always compare myself to my boyfriend, who is a fervent, hyper-competent, self-taught full stack developer. He lives, breathes, and eats code (lol). He reads up on different programming paradigms in his free time for funsies. He lives on the programming sub-reddit, and actively participates in that community. When he talks about the ultimate magic and beauty of the development community, about the importance of making tools and systems and building software that can help thousands upon millions of people, his eyes light up in a way that’s reserved solely for this facet of his life. It’s adorable, endearing, and inspiring to witness someone speak so passionately about the very essence of what they do on a day-to-day basis.
And it’s also extremely intimidating.
We live in an age where, for many, the purported end goal of one’s career should be to “find your passion, and do it for a living.” You’ll never work a day in your life, they say.
Now, I believe there are a lot of positive consequences that arise because of this theory. I think it’s caused many in my generation to refuse to be complacent with their work situations, and believe it has livened up the job market as a result. Gone are the days of working at the same company for 30 years, hoping you’ll get that promotion soon (unless that’s what makes you happy!!). It is very much a privilege that we even have the option of selecting our careers (in many cases) based on “passion.” But I also think it can be debilitating if it becomes your sole credo.
Because, for instance, take my case…well, if this isn’t what fires me up to my very core, then I shouldn’t pursue it, should I? Am I perhaps missing the chance to discover my true passion elsewhere? If I don’t eat sleep breathe coding with every fiber of my being like I see in the example sleeping next to me, does that mean that I shouldn’t participate?
Personally in this moment in time, I find myself in a position where I can transition from customer service to a bona fied junior-ass data engineer within my own company! It’s an opportunity of a lifetime–I would be changing career paths to something more lucrative and more mentally engaging than what I currently do, and I would be learning an invaluable and hugely marketable skill that can launch my career in many different directions…(right?). I’m definitely excited about it.
Still, much to my chagrin, it’s something that I couldn’t get my significant other to get too excited over. Now, to be fair, he was trying to act as a mirror for my own desires and aspirations, and he could sense that data and scripting were not what “lit my eyes up”. He found his “passion”, and he wants nothing less than that same career fulfillment for his lady. And, he’s right–data is sure as hell not what gets me jumping out of bed in the morning.
But if I don’t even know what makes me feel alive, then what am I supposed to do?Should I pass up a learning opportunity like this, if it might deter me from ultimately finding the “right” career?
Well, you bet your ass I’m not passing this up.
Anyway–back to last night. All of those insecurities and doubts had a resurgence, on Women Who Code night, of all nights! This was supposed to be the event that motivates the shit out of me, much like it did 2 years ago! Why am I feeling so blasé about it?
Well, ok, that’s not entirely correct. I know that a lot of the panelists’ roles were backend heavy, and were perhaps more traditional CS careers. From what I understand, the tech industry is so much more varied these days, so even if I don’t choose to be a full-on developer (or even if I do!), I’m sure that I can find a place within it. Yes, even as a not-so-passionate-about-programming-languages-but-still-competent-and-interested-in-other-related-things. Tech is inevitably the future, and everything from software to fashion to food will have a place in it for those who speak the language.
The panel ended with a strong message of encouragement to advocate for yourself, and, in classic Nike-worshiping Portland fashion, to “Just Do It.” So, even if I didn’t find my life’s mission last night, I did leave with a profound sense of motivation to keep trying, and a resounding, “fuck it, let’s see where this goes.”
Even if I don’t get giddy when thinking of algorithms or want to talk for hours about functional programming.
Even if I don’t stay up late into the night reading about the intricacies of different programming paradigms.
Even if all I end up learning is how to make a rinky-dink website a-la early 2000s.
Fuck it. Let’s see where this goes.
I can feel the creative juices flowing! Unfortunately, they are flowing at work, when I have other things I don’t want to do, to do.
On this episode of Raquel changes her career path..again: I have decided to be a web designer. lol.
Ok, well maybe not yet. I have decided, however, to very seriously consider that as a path, and to take concrete measures to kind of get there…or at least to go in that direction. Learning Ruby has helped me to define more practically how to approach learning web development, so despite this being my third time attempting to learn HTML and CSS, I feel eons more ready than I did when I first tried 2 years ago.
Thus, I’ve started to take this HTML and CSS course on EdX. I’m documenting here to hold myself accountable, and will hopefully continue to document my learning journey.
So far, week one is done. On to week two! That’s already better progress than the first time I tried taking this very course.
AND, I have what every learner needs—a project to work through that directly uses those skills. Two of my closest friends are getting married [to each other!] in May 2018, and I just know they’re aching for me to create an amateur and shitty wedding website for them.
No, but seriously. I offered, they accepted, and I am being very honest about the potential for this to just completely fall through the cracks. But, I’ve got until January to get my act together. And the handy website The Knot is available to catch my web design fall. So, here we go!
What could possibly go wrong? 😱
It’s 8:35am, and rather than being in my car or on a bus headed in to work, I am sitting under my covers with a cold brew in hand and a new purpose in life.
Ha, just kidding. Mainly, it’s Friday, and I don’t care to be early to work today. I’ve also got a lot on my mind, so..it’s blogging time.
Yesterday was a momentous day in my career. A career breakthrough, if you will.
My direct manager flew in from HQ, and set up an hour long one-on-one session with me, which would normally make me nervous, ha. But we’ve got a good relationship, and subjects like title changes have been in the air, so I had a feeling this would be a good session. Turns out, it was the best one-on-one I’d have!
Intense career overthinking and angst is a daily part of my life, and I’ve been trying to put together a career path that would fit all of these random interests I seem to harbor–the visually sensitive part of me, that thrives on beautiful aesthetics and design; the mathematically-focused part of me, with an affinity for picking out patterns in data; even the writing piece, to a certain extent…is it possible for all these things to align somewhere in one nicely wrapped career box?
I’m starting to think…possibly?
The main discussion of our 1:1 ended up being about long-term career development. Music to my ears!! “Have you thought about where you want to go, long term?” She asked. “I’ve had some thoughts about this, yeah,” I replied. What I meant to say…ONLY EVERY DAY OF MY LIFE DO I THINK AND OBSESS ABOUT THIS I AM STILL VERY CONFUSED BUT I THINK I HAVE SOME IDEAS
Ultimately, she brought up a career path that I was too imposter-syndromed to even consider. “What about UX Design?” she asked. “I think you’ve be really great at that.”
My eyes lit up. ~*~DESIGN??~*~ I’ve always wanted to call myself a designer. But there was always a key piece missing there. You know, the fact that I’ve like never done any actual design ever in my entire life? The fact that I’m really not the most artistically inclined person ever and that like even the stick people I draw are kind of ugly?
The good-ish news is, UX design seems to be a field where many successful folks are self-taught, and did not necessarily come from design backgrounds. UX design seems to be a fairly broad field, and one where my methodical and systematic neuroses might come in handy. It seems to be a lot of human psychology at its core…what makes a user click one button as opposed to the other? Why the drop off from one screen to the next? What minutiae can we change to increase that particular conversion rate?
I feel revived after that conversation yesterday. I feel as if my place is in this company has a whole new layer of purpose. I began our conversation letting her know–listen. I do not want to be a Customer Advocate forever. I am very much looking to jump ship onto something I like better, and hopefully soon. So, I’m extremely pleased to know that they see eye-to-eye with me on this! I didn’t think that was even remotely the case, given that the folks they’ve been hiring at HQ seem to be industry experts. Eventually, though, as we really grow, they’ll start to make space for some more junior people in each team. Enter baby UX designer Raquel??? MAYBE???
I’m going to do a bit of research out there, to find out what a good first step would be to delve into this world. Honestly, any first step would probably be a good step, amirite? Just starting the exploration is really what’s key here. So, here we go! The UX journey begins!
Also, any recommendations out there in the UX design blog-verse are very much welcome 🙂
Today was a sunny day. Which means, in Portland, today was a great day. It really does blow my mind how sunshine can alter your mood so drastically.
The sun, my early arrival to work, (early to rise, early to GTFO of the office amirite). Not too shabby for a Monday.
But, today, the main event was my conscious decision to get back on the Ruby train.
I’m still fairly young in my career, and most of my experience has been customer service-based (which, honestly, is a perfectly fine and respectable career). Unfortunately, it’s not the career I’ve ever really wanted for myself. It just happens to have been the starting point with the lowest barrier of entry for a biology major gone Foreign Language Master’s graduate.
After years of annual and bi-annual (and quarterly and monthly) panics about where I want to be in my career, I still struggle to choose a particular direction and stick with it. I often begin in one direction, following where my skill set and where a reasonable career may lead me, and often drop it, out of insecurity or restlessness, or because of the lure of something shinier and sexier pops up in my head. This has been my relationship with programming over the past two years.
I first played around with a course or two on HTML and CSS, and, frankly, learned nothing. Then I found my current job and got sidetracked from that larger goal. Through this position, though, I did find that I had a penchant for patterns. And data is full of patterns. So, it seemed, tech was a good place for me. I began bonding with one of the engineers I worked closely with, who happens to have a lot of influence over data projects and QA. With her encouragement, I decided to give Ruby a try. So, I started some CodeAcademy; worked on a few problem sets; got acquainted with the basics. And then, I was given my first Ruby-related project at work and realized how absolutely minimal my knowledge in this field was, quickly became discouraged, and shut down. I distracted myself with fashion blogs and online shopping for weeks, neglecting the work I knew I should be doing. And, while I don’t think those distractions are fully vanishing anytime soon, I decided to give myself a little kick in the ass today.
Learning Ruby does not mean a full career as a developer. Learning Ruby does not mean giving up my dream of owning the town’s hippest and most delicious coffee shop and *insert specialty baked good that I haven’t figured out yet*. Learning Ruby does not mean I can never be a writer. Learning Ruby just means…learning some Ruby. (Oh, and also fluffing up my resume with non-customer service related skills, that’s also kind of a big deal). Most of all, learning Ruby, is certainly not a waste of my time. I just have to keep reminding myself of that.
SO. Here’s to all you folks out there, trying to teach yourself how to code. It is hard. And time consuming. And, let’s be honest, kind of emotionally draining. But, hang in there. Just keep going. Just work on another problem…another lesson. Eventually, you’ll get somewhere.
Happy Monday. 🙂
It’s 8:39am on a Sunday, and I am half-awake. My body still seems to be in early rising mode, so after a few futile attempts to force myself back to sleep, I give in, and decide to grab some coffee.
It’s a routine I’ve come to love, to expect, and to depend on. While bae is fast asleep, and will likely remain as such for a few more hours, I sneak off on a morning walk for a latte and some alone time. Recently, however, the walks have transformed from being a peaceful, pensive period to a hurried and annoying errand as my thumping head demands its daily dose of caffeine.
This morning is different, however. It’s Sunday morning early, which means that most folks are tucked away at home, asleep, or just waking up. Perfect for an isolated stroll through my neighborhood. At about 9:08am, I make my way out into the wild. It is calm. Peaceful. Cloudy, and cold, but not rainy.
There are two places I could set off to. One, with consistently better coffee, but as a result, with a more consistent stream of people. I don’t want that today. In my leggings, worn out oversized Urban outfitters military jacket (equipped with a ridiculous fur hoodie), and headphones connected to a phone that isn’t playing any music, I want to be unseen. Thus, I choose the less popular shop. And I choose the longer backroads to get there.
I had been needing a change of scenery these days. Something about my life doesn’t sit quite right with me these days. Maybe it’s my career. Maybe it’s that constant longing for a larger group of friends. Maybe it’s the weather? Maybe they’re all intertwined. Whatever it is, it’s been weighing heavy over me. Maybe it’s the unexciting routine I’ve set up for myself these days. Go to work, work out, come home, lie in bed the whole weekend, scouring pages and pages of online shopping and envying the lives of the bloggers and reality tv stars I flood my free time with. Either way, I do not want this morning to feel routine.
So I begin walking. This new, unfamiliar path somehow starts to spark the nostalgia within me—the nostalgia of walking the unknown for the first time. I am taken back to a morning very similar to this one, two and half years in the past. I guess it’s right around 2 and a half years that I’ve lived here, now. Curious.
I feel like I’m in the same place now than I was then. Up early before Ryan, cold and cloudy, surrounded by beautiful trees and flowers, yet no sunshine, in search of my morning beverage. Strolling past beautiful Portland homes, inspiring a sense of homeowner envy as I gaze upon the quaint and quiet porches around me. I think about the girl whose room we rented out that first month I lived here, and how I deeply admired her at such an unstable phase in my career. She had short, pin-straight hair, beautiful brown skin, and was sporting an oversized, white sweater. Her movements were sharp and quick, as she clumsily set aside a rack of her clothing to make space for our bags. She was headed out to New York shortly, and she would be gone for the month. Was she working on a movie? Maybe it was something fashion-related. It didn’t matter. She was off to jet-set and live a fabulous life, here and there between Portland and New York. Meanwhile, I was starting a lame, front desk museum job in a few days, and all I had to wear were the ugly pewter polos they had assigned me and some old, very out of date khaki pants. And those horrible glasses I had hurriedly picked to replace my favorite hipster tortoiseshell frames that I had recently lost.
Effectively, I feel like I’m in the same place now. Which is very much not true. I am at least better off financially, and I certainly have more of a career path laid out than I did then. Still, it’s hard to convince myself of that. I feel like I have just as many questions these days. I find myself stuck again in a spiral of fickle interests and ideas. One week I’m on CodeAcademy, ready to get down and finally do some programming. The next, I’m buying a copy of “The Principles of Beautiful Web Design,” which is inevitably destined to lie on top of the “HTML and CSS,” book that I will never open. The next moment, I’m taking embarrassing selfies with messy and unappealing backdrops, trying to make a fashion blog that I know isn’t going to happen, happen. The following, I’m searching for freelance writing clients. (That attempt, at least, has been successful! Maybe that should tell me something).
I guess the good news is that I’m doing something rather than nothing, even if it’s only bites at a time, and in many wavering directions. Eventually, something will stick, I suppose. And in the meantime, I know I will continue to lose myself in jackets and dresses and blouses, oh my! And in early morning walks with lattes and cold brews, oh my! And, while it’s difficult to know that there are still weeks upon weeks of this depressing weather to be had, I know that summer is gradually making its way to Portland; and when it arrives, it will be glorious and beautiful and will spark a sense of life that I have been missing for a long time. And I have to keep in mind that I am lucky that I can even have these kinds of career anxieties; that I have the luxury of even making these choices. So here’s to today–another day, another beautiful and cloudy and cold Sunday.