The following is the script I wrote myself for a speech given to a group of 5th-8th grade girls at the culmination of their time at Camp Infinity coding camp, put on my the Michigan Council for Women in Technology. I can say the actual talk was only about 70% on script, but these are the points I raised. After the presentation I led an activity databending and creating art through hexcode manipulation, using trial and error.
Two short years ago we bought the house we live in now. We went from just the two of us, living in a two bedroom apartment, to owning our own home, in a much quicker span of time than I ever expected.
I have a confession to make. I still haven’t seen The Avengers: Infinity Wars. I’ve been going to Marvel movies since the first Avengers movie came out (at which point I went back and re-watched all the movies that had already been released) and we typically plan outings with our friends to each new showing.
Now that the weather is turning warmer, life is returning to some sense of normalcy. The major holidays of the year are over, the school bus has returned to the neighborhood to pick up the children huddled on the corner in the blowing wind.
One of the things that I get the most passionate about is giving people a chance to do something with their life that they want to do. In an ideal world, I would want everyone to be able to spend their days doing the things they are the best at, the things they enjoy, the things that make them value themselves.
I am motivated to do my best to make life better for others. When I can accomplish something that makes a positive difference to someone else, it I feel like I matter to the rest of the world, like I have an impact. I have a job that allows me to make a difference on a small scale, and that job gives me fulfillment. My job is not the only thing that fulfills this desire in me, but I wish everyone were able to have a career where they do feel fulfilled. It’s part of who I am to want to help fix other people’s problems (even if I need to practice healthy boundaries when doing so). It comes from my protective and empathetic nature.
A lot of people I know spend their days in jobs that are not healthy for them. I wish I could change that for them. No one should have to be in a job where they are subjected to unwanted stress or are doing a task that they take no pride or pleasure in. Not only that, but I wish people could do the things they value, that add value to the world, even if it is not a traditional job. Whether that is something like being a parent, traveling, or volunteering.
Some people (especially at the college I attended) like to use the word “vocation” to describe this type of calling. The thing that drives or motivates a person can change over time, but because a vocation is the thing that gives them a sense of accomplishment and meaning, it seems wise to pursue it. Perhaps we might not always be able to spend time on our passions, but it always drives us in the background of whatever we do. We work hard to afford the trips we want to take. We study hard to afford the jobs we want to have. We use our gifts to benefit the things we value the most.
I’m in the middle of combining two jobs where I get to fulfill my calling: being a software engineer, fixing bugs everyday, and being a mother, solving problems for my son. I’m glad that I’ve been given the opportunity to spend days and nights doing something that I love. Now the challenge for me is to balance between the two, but nothing else could be more fulfilling.
Regardless of what it is you love to do, just the fact that you are passionate about it should be motivation enough to put your whole attention towards it. Even if you are having an off day, putting your best foot forward in a task you were made to do compounds that feeling of fulfillment. And if you aren’t doing what you love for a living, take a look at how to make that happen, or focus on how your job empowers you to do what you love.
As I mentioned last year, I like to make myself a list of events throughout the year as a tradition on New Year’s. This year I barely paused to recognize that holiday, due to exhaustion induced by our newborn. Suddenly we’re a month into the new year and I haven’t had the time to reflect on the one that is past! Most of last year was wrapped up in preparation and anticipation of his arrival, but there were plenty of other things to enjoy along the way:
- We took a big trip to Florida in the end of January, beginning of February. We had planned a visit to Universal Studios for the first time in over a decade, bought season passes because of how many days we were staying. The passes got us discounted reservations to stay in a hotel on property for a few nights. I felt like a real tourist, since it’s been two decades since my family had last stayed in a hotel in Orlando.
- March was a little bit mixed. My sisters were on Spring Break so my Dad flew up to visit and we had everyone at our house again. But that same week we had the dog fixed and my husband got food poisoning.
- We found out we were expecting in April, but didn’t tell anyone until May, so we spent an awkward Easter dinner trying not to react to jokes that we would be the ones in the family to wind up with twins (since my grandma was a twin) and at that point we didn’t know it wasn’t twins!
- We took a relaxing trip with our friends over Memorial Weekend to my favorite campground. It’s the place I go when I need to get away from what’s going wrong around me and just focus on the beauty of the beach. It was so much fun catching up with everyone and getting to tell them we were expecting.
- The summer was spent very busy. We had some home improvement projects with the deadline of completion during that month. Most of them got done, but the pool never stayed clean long enough to enjoy.
- Work was busy over the summer as well. I stepped into a training role and stopped writing code for a while. It was a challenge to balance responsibilities between answering questions for our new hires and critiquing code for our remote team as they all got up to speed. I learned a lot about how to be successful in communicating with my teammates and had a much better experience than training last Sunday. Instead of dreading the task I grew to look at it as one of my favorite parts of my job.
- We got to enjoy a gaming convention in the summer as well. That was a new experience for me as a participant, having attended in my toddler years.
- Summer ended with another trip with friends, over Labor Day this time. We used my parents house as home base to tour them around the theme parks. We escaped the state on one of the last few flights out before the airport closed for Hurricane Irma.
- After all that travel and renovations we ended up needing a new car when our only vehicle (single car household) needed repairs exceeding the amount it was worth, and not guaranteed to fix the issues we were having with it. A new car seemed like a good idea considering the new baby coming in the winter.
- In October I started bagpipe lessons. Fulfilling a dream I’d had for at least a decade. I still end every practice session with a smile on my face.
- November was filled with last minute preparations for the impending arrival and enjoying every “last” thing with just the two of us.
- A lot of that spilled over into December, since it took so long before the Wiggly Little Boy was finally born. He was my obsession for the month of December (and ever since, hence the lateness of this post).
Suddenly the last nine months are gone and I’m joined by a new little responsibility. Being his mother has been easy so far. I’m able to take off a full twelve weeks and spend it holding the Wiggly Little Boy. (And I do seem to be holding him the entire time, he doesn’t like to be put down!)
I managed to wind up projects at work and hand things off before I left with plenty of time. Didn’t have to rush out of the office in a hurry to deliver, which was one of my fears. It felt surreal to walk out and know it would be three months before I need to think about work again.
It’s certainly a change of pace and a big mental adjustment to spend my days thinking about eat-play-sleep cycles and where to get the best deal on diapers instead of coding and debugging. Although you could say that every crying fit is it’s own debugging session. Hungry? No. Dirty diaper? No. Needs to burp? Maybe that fixed things…
I try not to base my identity on things like my job. If I did I would feel more lost right now while I’m not doing any software development. It is still my calling and I plan to continue, but now I have an additional vocation as a mother. Finding the balance between the two things that I want to do my best at is going to be a continual challenge.
One of the biggest hurdles is going to be my return to work. I cried hard enough dropping my puppy off at daycare, I can hardly imagine leaving my kid. Especially right now, when I’ve barely been more than a few hundred feet away from him. It makes me nervous to know I won’t be the one taking care of him and watching him as he grows up, but I’m still his mother.
I don’t plan on compromising my career plans and fulfilling role because I have a baby and I don’t plan on compromising my role as his mother just because I am working outside of my home. I know that there are going to be compromises along the way, because as much as I wish I could stay home and be there for every milestone, I also want to be able to provide him a good future by doing a job I love. It will be a constant adventure of figuring out how to do both to the very best of my abilities.
I’ve been noticing lately that I’m finding myself exactly where I need to be in different parts of my life. Hindsight is 20-20 but I’m even beginning to recognize it in the moment as well.
Last year, when I desperately wanted to grow my family after finally moving out of an apartment, my sister helped me find the perfect little puppy for our lifestyle, in the perfect timing for us to spend glorious weeks off enjoying him.
My new little one will be coming with good timing as well. I’ve been present at work for transitions and training when I needed to be, and even though I’ll be out during an important season for the company where I worry about things changing in my absence, I know that the timing of my parental leave is going to be soothing to my soul. If I’d have been out earlier on in the year I would have missed out on meeting and onboarding a bunch of new people, and wouldn’t have gotten the opportunity to influence our training process. So far I managed to make it to all of the end of year events that I wanted to and now I’m waiting on the actual delivery. It’s hard to be patient without knowing an actual timeline for when I can expect things to happen, but whenever it does, I’m sure it will be more perfect timing.
My home came with perfect timing. I’ve now been living in it for an entire year, which is hard to believe. If we’d chosen differently we’d be living in a different area, or just thinking of moving into a new house. If either of those were the case, we probably wouldn’t have the puppy or the new one on the way. I ended up with a situation I couldn’t have anticipated to be as good as it was.
Even when I was sitting in my parents’s house, worrying about the hurricane on its way toward us, I was there, in that house, and able to help prepare for the storm. I might not have been excited about the fact that I left instead of sticking out the weather, but I was able to be there and do something.
I’ve consistently found myself exactly where I need to be: to learn, to grow, to help, to share. I want to focus on recognizing these moments as often as I can, and using them as effectively as possible.
It’s been another couple of months since the last time I logged in to make a post. It’s been a whirlwind in the intervening time: work, family, house fixes during the good weather…
But enough with the excuses, life is always going to demand attention, and whatever I spend my time on is what I’m prioritizing. I still want to make this one of those priorities. Writing out my thoughts and experiences has made me feel empowered, like I have a voice and a story that matters.
Last year around this time was when I started to kick this idea of my own website and brand into high gear. It was the beginning of many long term projects, including the home improvement projects necessary for us to move into the house we purchased one short year ago today. Somehow I managed to continue to prioritize writing through everything that was going on until it all started to settle down in April. Or so I thought…
The biggest excuse I have for neglecting this pastime since then is that I found out I was pregnant in April. My husband and I will happily welcome our new family member this holiday season, and I’m excited for the prospect that we will be adding that new member one year after growing the family by one puppy.
At the same time as the anticipation of something so wonderful, I’ve been worrying about all the change that comes with it. It feels like the expectation is for this experience to make irrevocable changes to who I am, and while I believe that every experience leads us to the people we are in the moment, I get uncomfortable with the idea that motherhood is the end-all-be-all of life altering events. I’m the same person today as I was one year ago, but I’ve grown through all the experiences I’ve had in that time. My identity isn’t tied up in other people, but in who I am in response to their impact on my life. I don’t want being a mom to be regarded as my crowning accomplishment.
I have loads of excitement about my role as a mother and getting to know and grow the new human joining my life, but at the same time, there are a lot of other plans that are also important to me and who I want to be. I still plan to go back to the job I love, writing software and learning how to improve, at the same time as getting to share what I am learning with others. I still plan to encourage young people to get interested in coding. I still plan to write.
I worry that my voice will change, my focus will change and that my unique perspective will be lost. I want to feel that I am still myself. I’m scared that this is going to change who I see myself to be, and I want to stay grounded in who I am, not who others expect me to be.
This is my life, this is my excitement. I’m as ready as I need to be, or I will be by the time it actually happens. (I hope!) I need to make as much or as little fuss about this as I feel like in the moment. Life should be lived in a balance, and I anticipate this balance will be one of the most important things I ever endeavor to learn. All I can say is I hope I am up to the task.
This post is kind of similar to my New Year’s Eve post, in that a lot of the low points of 2016 are also covered in what made the last two years so rough. While my repetition of the subject feels a bit like complaining, sympathy is not my goal.
I don’t generally like to share how I’m feeling with people around me. If I’m upset about something, I’m more likely to be found hiding than running to someone for comfort. My emotions show on my face a lot more easily than I want them to. I’d rather stuff my feelings down until I can deal with them alone. Instead, I wind up brooding about what’s going on in my life instead of facing it and recognizing that it is OK to not be OK.
Today I am claiming my pain. I’ve survived through it all and become stronger because of it.
I don’t want to play the comparison game, my struggles are just as valid as anyone else’s, and they don’t make me any more or less important than anyone else. I just want to share all the “stuff” that got to me in the past two years. Maybe as an explanation for my behavior. Maybe as a way to put it fully behind me and move on to a place where I can actually have peace.
Two years ago, at Easter time, I lost my first grandparent. That really started me down the rough path that followed. Being very far away from my family while they were suffering was difficult, to say the least.
It wasn’t much later that my grandma moved back to be near my parents and spent the summer in and out of the hospital herself. I wasn’t the one who spent those days with her at the hospital, but being unable to even visit hurt.
Work was stressful, we had some big projects that were not staying on track and some personality clashes that added to the strain. I’m very team oriented, so having all of us on edge and sometimes at each other’s throats was unsettling. At one point I was given a lead role on a project in the absence of some of the more senior employees, but even that trust and responsibility made me more on edge.
I remember at the end of that summer I was nearing the end of my patience with everything. I escaped. I took a trip to a campground at a state park with a beach. I unplugged and had no choice but to ignore all the stuff at work clamoring for my attention. I didn’t even talk to my family. I came back with enough peace to continue on. I credit that trip with stalling my tailspin.
Stress was its toll on my whole family. My sisters had some of the worst semesters of their lives. At times I didn’t even recognize them. When I finally got the time to go see my family it was to say good-bye to my grandma. I’m glad I was able to see her, but she had changed so much in the months since Grandpa’s funeral.
While I was home my mom was in the middle of finally getting her diagnosis. Through all of this I had my husband by my side. Through a blessing in disguise, he was laid off from his job a few weeks before this perfect storm of crazy hit its craziest. That’s not to say that him being without a job was easy. In fact that heightened the panic for a while. Being downsized is never a good feeling, but it gave him the opportunity to take off as much time as needed to be with me and my family. It also meant he could be home to pick up the slack while I was reeling from Grandma’s death and Mom’s diagnosis.
Another way I ended up benefiting from the job change situation was that when he was eventually hired into the department I work in, he could be there for me at the office when I got bad news phone calls, like the one for the death of my other grandmother in the early spring.
My husband lost his first grandparent a few short months after that. I hated how I knew what the pain felt like and how I knew there was nothing I could do to make a difference. Everyone grieves in their own way, and I believe everyone should be left to do so in the way they want to. By this point almost every one of my group of college friends had had a grandparent die that year. I wasn’t always able to be there for them because of my own struggle to stay afloat in the throes of grief and fear. I was deadly afraid I would soon be attending my own mother’s funeral.
My Mom’s surgery was in the summer, and my youngest sister came today stay with me while Mom recovered. Being with both of my sisters during the most nerve-racking part of the whole treatment plan helped, but also made me feel responsible for how my emotions were reflected in my behavior. I tried to keep my crying to behind closed doors. For the more than six months leading up to the surgery I couldn’t go even a week without a good cry, but I still tried to hide it when I did.
Even after it seemed Mom was out of immediate danger I kept making trouble for myself. I managed to stress myself out at work again with coworkers who both quit and got fired, both of whom I was feeling partially responsible for. I put a lot of energy into worrying over friends’ job situations as well as my own family’s.
We bought our house while Mom was still in the hospital, and the associated responsibilities did not make the already busy summer any easier. Towards the end of crunch time on the house we weren’t getting the right amount of sleep anymore, putting in 8 hours at work then another 8 on the house before turning in for the night, and I do not do well emotionally with lack of sleep.
The middle of no sleep brought me to some difficult positions with respect to people I care deeply about. A place where I had to step back from the relationships for the sake of their maintenance. I struggled a lot with guilt over severing ties, but my own self-preservation won out. This is one of the lessons I learned in the middle of all the pain. I have to make sure I’m OK before I can worry about what my perceived attitude is doing to others around me. Otherwise I’ll be in no position to do anything for either of us.
Another camping trip to my happy place put me right again for a while. I smiled the most that I had in a year, and finally felt my jaw unlock after being clenched for over a month. I wanted to keep wandering down the beach forever, but had to return to normal life again.
The months since have been a blur, they’re filled with moving ourselves and then my mother and sister into the new house, to say nothing of the craziness the puppy brought with him. Even with Christmas and a vacation I still don’t feel like I’ve had time to breathe in a long time. I managed to say “no” to a lot this winter, but even so, I was only home maybe one night out of the week. Now that most of my extracurriculars are wrapped up for the school year, I’m trying my hardest not to get overwhelmed at all the things I’ve put off in the meantime.
I’m starting to learn that it’s OK to feel feelings and let others know about them. How else can we grow other than through vulnerability? I’ve been feeling run down, put out, and just plain upset. I don’t want to be, but that’s the truth.
It’s been a long time in coming, but I think I’m due for a break. I’m calling it now: I’m ready to stop running and I’m ready to stop hiding.