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.

Motivation, Part I: Find Yourself, And Be That.

It is weird being a software developer with a MA. It is super weird being a software developer with a MA in art history.  And it is super ultra weird being a software developer with a MA in art history whose research interests lie almost entirely in twentieth-century German sociopolitical propaganda.

It’s been seven months since I started my programming bootcamp.  In those past seven months, I have had to explain to a lot of people how I came to be a developer with a graduate degree in one of the most degraded humanities subjects available.  We’ve all read it or heart it, and probably some of you have said it: “if people didn’t spend thousands of dollars getting art history degrees and studied something that would get them a job, we wouldn’t have a student loan crisis/an employment crisis/war in the Middle East/child hunger/fascism/the threat of nuclear armageddon”.  What people don’t realize is that art history is, in fact, really freaking hard.  I’m not going to go into detail, but art history is basically requires a lot of very twisty thinking, attention to detail, and the ability to put together tiny bits and pieces to make a compelling argument for a whole conclusion.  Anyway, I don’t think anyone should get ripped on for going to college, so when people try to pick this fight with me, I shut them down as quickly as possible.  It’s not just because I’m defending my major, though–it’s because I’m defending me.

When someone picks on my choice of degree, what they’re really doing is calling me an idiot.  Why would any smart person spend ten years of their life and go into an un-payable amount of debt for an art history degree?  I’m obviously not that bright if this is the path I’ve taken, right?  For those people, I have three words: oh, hell no.

This is the point of this post: in order to really find yourself, you have to tackle your hard truths.  It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are (e.e. cummings’s words, not mine).  One of my hard truths was the realization that I was letting people make me feel stupid, and that’s when I decided that no one would ever get to call me an idiot ever again.  I was in a relationship with a person who didn’t respect me and kept me dependent on them by making me feel stupid and incapable.  In an effort not to displease all of our mutual friends (who I realize now were not my friends) or my parents, I kept my mouth shut and continued feeling like an idiot for way longer than I should have.  It was only when the dichotomy between who I was when I was in class and who I was when I was at home reached crazy levels of different that I realized what was going on.  I mentioned to one of my friends that my partner was having yet another episode where they’d refused to acknowledge me for the past day and a half because I’d done something they didn’t like, and my friend just said, “Tori–that’s not okay.  What the [expletive] is going on?”

If you don’t like the place you’re in, go somewhere else.  I don’t physically mean pack up and move–that’s time-consuming, very expensive, and probably a last-ditch effort; not everyone can afford that.  What I mean is that you can’t afford to be a victim of your circumstances.  Getting away from that relationship cost me a lot, both literally (I had been out of the employment game for awhile) and figuratively (I lost friends, my parents yelled at me, etc)–but I am so much happier now that even my crummy days are better than the good days I had with that particular person.  Sometimes, you have to accept that you are spinning your wheels and not getting anywhere–and after you accept that, you have to get out of the car and keep going on foot.  It’ll be hard, and sometimes it will seem as though it’s not worth it, but things will only get better if you make them get better.

I had to reconsider my entire life after getting out of that relationship–but I’m glad I did it.  The best thing you can do for yourself is find what excites you and defend it wholeheartedly.  Think about where you are and where you want to be–and then make a priority to get where you want to be.  I filtered myself down to “I really love making cool stuff and sharing it with people,” and that’s how I got to be a software developer.  I moved back in with my parents, worked retail, updated the coding skills I already had, then pulled the trigger on going through bootcamp in order to get my first job.  In my spare time, I draw My Little Ponies, because I like My Little Ponies.  I go hiking with my dog, because I like hiking and dogs.  I like to have bacon and avocado on my cheeseburgers, and never again will I put myself in a situation where someone makes me feel like I can’t get a bacon avocado burger because bacon and avocado is an unnecessary expense.  I like bacon avocado burgers, dangit, and I will spend an extra two dollars and forty-nine cents of my money on burger toppings if I want to!

Once you determine where you want to be, it’s your responsibility to get yourself there. There’s no room for hand-holding; you’re ultimately the one responsible for your own happiness. This doesn’t mean that there won’t be people along for the journey (more on that in the next post), it just means you have to take responsibility for everything you do—which includes success as well as failure. You are the only real constant in your own life–and you’ve got to own up to your own imperfections and stop trying to be flawless. For me, this meant accepting that I have a tendency to become frustrated and overreact.  It’s still something that I struggle with (especially if I’m desperate–I totally did this during a job interview when I was totally broke and really needed the job, and bombed the interview), but I’m getting better.  That’s another lesson: it’s okay to fail, so long as you learn from your failure.  This can be just as hard as picking yourself up and moving on from things that don’t benefit you, because it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking all you can do is fail.  When that happens, it’s okay to give yourself a break–go get a bacon avocado burger, sit out the next round, and try again when you’re ready.  The important thing is that you eventually get back up and try again.  When I want to give up, I think about how I’ll feel if I let myself give up: lousy.  You’ve got to determine that the hardness is better than feeling lousy–you’ve got to decide that you want success more than your’e afraid of failure.

Here’s my point: so long as you’ve got yourself, no one can stop you.  There will be people who are not interested in your success–but guess what?  You don’t need those people in your life.  Love yourself enough to really go after what you want, and the right people will find you.  We’ll talk about that in my next post. 🙂


If you’re looking for a little motivation, I’ve made a Pinterest board to go along with this post.  You can visit it by clicking [here], and feel free to follow it on Pinterest as I’ll be updating it as I find new material!