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On Sabbatical

Four weeks ago today, several of my peers and I were let go as part of a company restructuring. I mentioned it in my last update, but after taking many beautiful, wide-open summer days to process, decompress, and think about my future, I’m choosing to be more explicit about it now.

I’m not looking for a new gig; I’m not looking for contract work. Not yet, anyway.

In the spring of 2020, I was interviewing with a company about a role that would have been a major shift away from the day-to-day that I knew. At the time, my engineering experience was centered on the WordPress agency space, and this potential opportunity offered a chance for something new: working on a product team with languages and tools that aren’t part of the WordPress ecosystem. I was eager for change, and interviewing was going well, so I put faith in myself and gave notice at my then-current job.

The week after my last day there, the entire U.S. economy started shutting down in response to the Coronavirus pandemic. I had a half-day onsite interview scheduled with the new company, which became a half-day Zoom call, which became, “I’m sorry, but our company is no longer hiring for any roles.” I understood, of course. Those were scary times.

Since then, I’ve taken on a variety of roles, always with the larger goals in mind: moving into product, moving toward other technologies, or both. In June, my latest efforts were finally starting to pay off as I transitioned onto our broader backend team and began contributing to our parent product. Then I got the news.

I was so close.

What’s Next?

When I enrolled in the CSCI program at my local community college in 2011, my passion at the time was absorbing all the computer programming information that I could. Then, as now, I saw my future being one where I work collaboratively on a team with really smart people, designing and building really cool software that provides real value to the people who use it. There wasn’t a programming language or a framework that I wanted or felt that I needed to adhere to. Nor did I realize at the time that there would be implications for making a choice, or how difficult it would be to branch out into other areas after that initial decision.

Each subsequent choice I’ve made seems to have taken me further and further from that early vision. What I need is a reset.

My plan for right now? Enjoy the rest of the year. Recharge. Be proactive about putting myself back on my desired path. There’s way too much out there in the world to be typecast to this thing or that. I’m capable of so much, and I intend on demonstrating it.

Until then, I’m on break. If you read this and it resonates with you, let’s grab some coffee.

Burying the Lede

In lieu of concrete goals this year, I instead set three general guidelines by which to live my life in 2023:

  • Be Smarter
  • Be Healthier
  • Be Hotter

Previously, when I’ve set measurable goals, I would wind up feeling bad about ones I didn’t achieve, even if I achieved some or most of what I’d set out to do. With these general guidelines, I’m shifting my intentions to instead ask myself whether and how a given choice or activity fits into the bigger picture. By being intentionally vague, the result becomes a positive feedback loop when a choice I make aligns with a guideline (alright, I finished another book!), and an opportunity to reflect on a choice when it doesn’t (do I really need to eat another grocery store apple fritter?). This is a much better psychological vibe for me than taking stock during the year to find out all of the ways I’m behind, or at the end when I didn’t measure up.

Of course, this isn’t to say that there aren’t measurable goals behind the intentions. After all, I still want to accomplish things! For example, last autumn I purchased the first multispeed bicycle in my life because my partner got really into cycling earlier in the year and, using my single-speed, I couldn’t join her on the long rides she wanted to embark upon. The new bike let me ride further, and riding further meant feeling better because it’s good exercise. I rode 350 miles in September and October last year, so I turned that into a mileage goal of 1,000 for 2023, or approximately 142 miles per month for the seven or so nice weather months we get in Minnesota. I’m currently just above 400, so I’m behind, but every time I go on a ride I know I’m working toward at least two of those goals (healthier, because cycling is good for you, and hotter, because feeling stronger and more capable will no doubt grant me more self-confidence).

In the smarter category, I set a measurable reading goal as I do every year. Last year, I aimed to read 15 books but only managed 8, so I thought it made good logical sense in the spirit of my three guideliness to increase that amount and make up for those missing books. In 2023, I aimed to read 30, and I accomplished this goal in May! I don’t know whether I’m smarter for having read 30 books in 4 1/2 months, but I can tell you that I feel like I know more things and knowing things is hotter, right?

One of the books I finished recently is Imanigable: How to See the Future Coming and Feel Ready for Anything – Even Things That Seem Impossible Today by Jane McGonigal. The author is a designer of alternative reality games and researcher of future scenarios, especially those which may seem far-fetched from today’s perspective. Imaginable comes packed with scenarios to imagine yourself in and exercises to practice to help you prepare for them so that if these scenarios become reality, you are ready for them and are better equipped to take action.

Imaginable resonated with me, I think, because I felt that it validated the sort of thing I already intrinsically know: anything can happen, and it can happen to us. By imagining yourself in these particular scenarios and thinking about what steps you will take when actually experiencing them, you take some of the panic out of the situation. You’re ready for it, almost because you knew it was coming.

It’s been almost a year now since the tech industry has been signaling signs of a recession. It seems that I can barely go a couple of days before I read news about another big company cutting staff, or someone I know or someone they know finds themself stuck looking for their next gig. Because it’s all around, and because it’s so possible, it’s extremely easy to imagine that the bad news will come around.

Last week, unfortunately, it was my turn to receive the news. Thankfully, because I could imagine it, I’m prepared to tackle whatever might be next.

In the short term, this means focusing on my mental and physical health. Smarter and healthier. There’s a lot of summer left, so I should have an easier time catching up on my cycling goal, and maybe I’ll just take a good book along with me and read it in a park or by the lake. I can be more intentful about keeping my Duolingo streak alive (98 days!). I can take more walks and spend more time connecting with my friends, loved ones, and community.

Longer-term, I have a lot of studying to do. Toward the end of my tenure in my last role, I was finally getting to do development work outside of WordPress. I want more of that. It’s time to dig into personal projects and side gigs and other networks to prepare for my next role, in whatever form that takes.

I don’t know what’s going to be next for me. I do know that despite the circumstances, I’m grateful for the opportunity to become a smarter, healthier, and hotter version of my current self.

Two Points

The relative distance between
Two distinct points
The questions we ask
To whom we direct them

Better Luck Next Year

Yeah, so maybe a mulligan on 2022?

When I wrote about my intentions in January (I won’t even link to it because it’s one post ago), something I’d considered would be a part of regular blogging was that I’d be increasing my cadence of technical posts. What I hadn’t considered was just how constraining it feels to write about one’s work when one works for a publicly-traded company. There’s definitely plenty I could write about, but it feels… I don’t know if precarious is the right word, but tip-toeing around the specifics of the types of problems I work on day-in and day-out feel like a game I wasn’t and am still not ready to play, and it’s greatly hindered my interest in opening up this post editor throughout the year.

And, speaking of specifics, I didn’t do so hot on most of the rest of my intentions either. Going forward, it’s probably best for me to spend time here when I have something to share versus pre-announcing things I might be ready to share at some point. Even if it’s one I’ve already instrinsically known, I’ve learned a lesson yet again.

That said, this year wasn’t a total bust. By far the biggest highlight was riding bikes all summer with my partner who purchased a new one in May after not having one for many years. She wound up riding longer distances frequently enough that I too bought a new bike – the first multi-speed bike I’ve ever owned. In September, we rode in the St. Paul Classic, an annual event that takes cyclists around the edges of St. Paul, and we even rode to and from the event, logging over 40 miles in total. I rode over 300 miles in September, slightly less in October no thanks to the weather (including our first snow of the season), and only one day in November, but I’m already looking forward to next year and I’m thinking about some attainable mileage goals based on those numbers.

Better still, I got to spend some quality time with family thanks to those bikes, including a taproom crawl with one of my favorite cousins and his wife, and a long ride with my partner to visit my grandma, whom I hadn’t seen since before the start of the pandemic. As someone who’s more or less averse to the outdoors, it was a most wonderful time of year to be out and moving around.

As for everything else on my list of intentions? Well, I tried, but not intently. I wrote a few poems and I read a few books, but I didn’t hit the numbers. I sketched here and there, but I didn’t work on animation or try and put music to it. Every time I opened a code editor on my personal time, I’d groan and turn off my computer. Worse still, I didn’t send a single thank you card even though I thought about it all the time.

I’m not without accomplishment, though! We launched a Roku app in August that took me through some real challenges. I traveled for the first time since 2019. Next Monday, I’ll be playing drums for the first time in six years (whaaaat?)! I learned how to make deviled eggs. I quit Rocket League cold turkey and finally played another game start to finish (Metroid Dread, which I completed today).

Is any of it noteworthy? To me, it is. We get just this one life, and we’re all doing our best. And I know that even if I’m not hitting my stride, at least I’m pushing forward in whatever way I can. I’ll get there. I just gotta keep moving.

Goals for 2022

A collection of scarves knitted by Jeremy Ward.

The end of January is when you’re supposed to start talking about goals for the year, right?

Folks, I think the winter/pandemic doldrums have set in. Since we last left off, I had just completed my reading goal for 2021 and started on Stephen King’s The Gunslinger, which is by all measures a very short book. I’m still reading it in fits and starts.

And you know what? It’s fine. I’ve also been completely heads-down learning the ins-and-outs of the role I took on in September, and having been trying like most of the rest of us to live my life as normally as possible while acknowledging that I just really don’t want to catch the respiratory disease du jour. That means I’ve been spending more time indoors than is typical even for me, and as a result, I just haven’t really had the energy to invest in improving myself.

Honestly, for those who are staying focused and energized throughout all of this, I can’t possibly express just how much I admire you. These last 6 or 7 months have been harder than ever for me, and the one thing I’m learning is just how important it is to set small, achievable goals for myself each and every day. One foot in front of the other, step by step.

Sometime around the time I last wrote in this space, I started craving a hobby – any hobby – that didn’t involve being in front of a screen. I remembered a time when I was little when my grandma gave me a ball of yarn and taught me how to crochet with my fingers. I sat there for hours, making enormous chains of fabric, completely engrossed in the task at hand and losing track of time. I wanted a bit of that feeling again, and I wanted to convert it into a lifelong skill that could be useful both for myself and give me an opportunity to show my friends and family that I think about and care for them. So, I did what all reasonable people do as they near the start of a third year of a worldwide pandemic: I searched for videos about how to knit.

The first website I came across contained an excellent series of videos about how to knit from Sheep and Stitch. Davina, the creator of the site, presents her knitting videos in an incredibly clear and easy to understand way, and the production value of her videos is superb. The how-to series was immediately enough to make me feel confident that I could start knitting right away, and that unlike almost any other hobby I’ve taken on over the years, I could be okay with being terrible at it from the start. Afterall, it’s just yarn, right? If I knit something and it looks bad, I don’t have to give it to anyone, and I will have probably learned a lot from the process.

Friends, let me just tell you that I’m really glad I started to pursue this hobby. Since I started in the fall, I’ve knitted several scarves, most of them with thick, acrylic yarn and your basic garter stitch, just to get a feel for what it’s like. I knitted a coaster, then liked how it turned out, and knitted several more. Then, I purchased the book Knit Stitch: 50 Knit + Purl Patterns by Kristen McDonnell from Studio Knit, and started learning ways to introduce variation to that basic garter stitch. The coasters I was knitting was a nice way to learn a few of these patterns and get something useful out of the process.

In a few months, I’ve acquired a bit of a collection of different knitting needles, tapestry needles, and yarn. Knitting is something I can do for a small amount of time, or for several hours, whenever I feel like I’ve had a rough go at staying on top of all of the things I need to stay on top of while also being regularly aware of that state of things. I’ve even completed a couple of projects to gift to family for milestone birthdays! It’s felt so good to make things for other people that require time, effort, and care again that I’m truly energized by the prospects of improving my skills at this craft.

All of which is to say: I’ve set some goals for this year. They have almost nothing to do with my vocation, but everything to do with re-centering my perspective on being appreciative of the people in my life and on the importance of maintaining a positive mindset of growth.

Here they are:

  • Learn how to knit beanies and socks
  • Finish 15 books
  • Write:
    • 12 blog posts
    • 12 personal journal entries
    • 12 poems
    • Invitations, thank you cards, and letters
  • Create one animated short and compose music for it
  • Finish a personal web or application development project
  • Take more walks and bicycle more
  • Be more:
    • Gracious
    • Kind
    • Generous
    • Willing to help
    • Curious
    • Trusting
    • Considerate
    • Willing to say yes

Some of them aren’t even really goals, they’re intentions. And through the process of setting them, I’ve had some other ideas around what I want to achieve, but it’s too early to write about them right now. What I hope to gain by pursuing these intentions is that ability to get completely lost in the process of creation, because I think that’s gone missing for me for some time now, like a boat’s sail lost in the storm. Thankfully, I’ve landed ashore, taken stock, and am working on finding that direction once again.

It may be 1/12th over already, but let’s make it a great year.