Burnout & Broken Things

As 2016 wraps up, I’ve been waxing nostalgic about the past few years. I moved back to Cleveland from England on August 15, 2014; my divorce was finalized December 15 that same year, and I graduated from bootcamp on December 12, 2015—almost a year later. The disastrous culmination of my first tech interview process on December 30, 2015 taught me enough to fully recover for the next one, which resulted in a job offer from Hyland with start date of Februrary 22, 2016. I’ve been able to pull all of those dates right off the top of my head, somehow, even though I literally have to stop and think before telling people the date of my child’s birthday (March 3, May 5, same thing—right?).

The thing is, there’s a lot out there about how to live your best life—how to get a decent job, how to ditch your abusive partner, how to de-stress, eat right, exercise, meditate, how to dress for success, how to wing your eyeliner, how to clean dog puke out of upholstery. There’s all sorts of ways to get there–Google it, and you’ll find it. What no one seems to have is any advice for it what comes afterward… when you’re sure that you’re fierce and independent and capable, and suddenly, you’re sitting in front of an auditorium full of people with a microphone in your lap, and someone in the crowd raises their hand and say, “this is a question for Tori,” because they’ve decided that they want their best life, too, and they think you have the answers they’re looking for.

In a nutshell: 2016 has been both extremely rewarding, and utterly terrifying. I got a job—a full-time job, at a company that hired me for reasons other than that I’m capable of showing up on time and speaking in full sentences. After two years, I was finally able to pack up and move my kid, my dog, and myself out of my parents’ spare bedroom and into a house. I don’t worry about making my son’s school tuition payments, let alone worry that I’m not going to be able to afford medicine or food.

I’ve done this with the realization that if I hadn’t had my parents’ patience (and their spare bedroom), at least one good friend (hi, Dave), and someone to loan me $9,000 without even checking my beyond-terrible credit score (thanks, WCCI), this might not have played out so well. Even with the advantages, I still had to ask Hyland to move my start date up two weeks from their initial offer, because I had run out of money to keep putting gas in the car. Truth is, there are many, many people who had it far, far worse than I had it—which is exactly why I need to have answers when someone says, “this is a question for Tori”, because hard is hard, and I’m going to offer whatever slivers of hope and strength I can.

An apprentice at We Can Code IT contacted me recently and offered to take me out for coffee. If we do end up going for coffee, she’s not paying for it. She’s paying nine thousand dollars already; there’s no way she needs to spend an extra two bucks on buying her mentor a cup of coffee. I’ll buy my coffee, I’ll buy her coffee, I’ll buy pastries if she wants one. I’ve realized that you don’t just get out what you put in—once you climb the mountain, the good thing to do is to turn around and reach down to help the next person.

2016 has been humbling. I’ve also spent the last few months of the year fighting with a bout of anemia brought on by switching out one of my medications, which is its own special version of terrible. I’ve had to drop projects I was excited about, and push myself to finish others while exhausted. Good news, though—I’m a month into taking iron supplements, and I almost feel ready to try out some short hikes again. Strapping on a pack and putting down substantial miles is still a bit far off, but getting the boots on for a couple miles in the park is beginning to sound appealing again. Some of the things I had to drop off in 2016 should see new efforts in 2017, which I’m finally excited over (instead of exhausted just thinking about).

The title? Burnout, obviously, from the anemia—trying to do too much while my body wasn’t getting what it needed. I spent a couple months insisting that I was fine, and that my elevated heart-rate and constant fatigue were from stress and not having time to hike on weekends. In retrospect, that was ridiculous, because I had plenty of time to hike on weekends, I just wasn’t able to make it out of bed. I did force myself to Philadelpha for Ela Conf, which was very much worth it, and to attend a few events and start a couple of projects, but the physical cost was pretty great. Thankfully, I shouldn’t have to deal with it very much longer. Broken things, though—that’s a little more introspective. I’ve spent a long time identifying myself by what was wrong with my life—no money, no job/bad job/low-paying job, bad relationship, etc. There is still plenty wrong with my life (debt up my eyeballs, I live in a bad rom-com, my dog likes to eat things she shouldn’t), but I’ve quit defining myself by it. This has been the year that I finally started defining myself by the things I’ve accomplished and the things I enjoy, not the things that I don’t have or the things I’m not good at. That’s a lesson I want to share with people going forward.

There’s 2016 wrapped up neatly, let’s put on a bow on it and move on.