I’m writing this on a flight out of Chicago after attending my first programming conference. The experience in and of itself deserves an entirely different kind of blog post, but to say the least it was wonderful, inspiring and so so much fun. The reason I’m even talking about it is because about a year ago was my first time in Chicago. I was also at a conference, but on the sales side trying to attract new business. I didn’t get to see any of Chicago, so en route to the airport, I promised myself that one day I’d come back and get a proper Chicago tourist trip in.
At that point, that simple promise was just another thing I was adding onto an overwhelming and ever-growing list of shit I promised myself I was going to do:
That was hardly the beginning of my list, because it had only been growing since my teens and it seemed as though the only things I’d accomplished ended up being the things I didn’t even want after all. I felt doomed to live in uncompleted to-do list limbo, spending countless sleepless nights thinking about all of the ways I was failing myself. Or at least I was having weird dreams where my guinea pigs were somehow multiplying like that Fantasia cartoon with the brooms and I was failing to take care of all of them. How’s that for symbolism?
But for once, I had a plan. After several years of throwing shit against a wall and having pretty much none of it stick, I had developed a hypothesis that learning how to program was the thing that was going to stick.
Why programming, of all things?
- Good salaries, lots of job openings, past positive experiences working with people in that field – you know, logical shit.
- Lots of funny things come from the internet – to be honest this reason may have been more influential than it should have been.
- If coding jobs sucked as much as regular business jobs I could eventually freelance and work on whatever creative endeavor I’m into at the time which, let’s be honest, by the time I’m 32 it’ll probably be making Cronut performance art in a warehouse in Poughkeepsie.
So the plan was to learn how to code, but how was I going to do that? I wasn’t all that sure yet. I was knee-deep in applying to the Flatiron School and that path seemed a hell of a lot more likely to be successful that buying lottery tickets and hoping that one day my dad would decide that supporting me for life seemed like a cool idea.
Having a plan like that was terrifying. I was more terrified than when I moved to New York with no money or when I quit my job at the Flower Company or every night when I’m taking a shower and there is definitely a murderer on the other side of the shower curtain and if I close both eyes at once he’s going to get me so I just have to let the shampoo burn one eye while I keep it open or else I’m totally dead I’m sure of it and don’t you try to tell me otherwise. The nightmares about not being able to complete the to-do list through the symbolism of ever-multiplying guineas transformed into nightmares about tornadoes and the apocalypse and my teeth falling out while the guinea pigs STILL kept multiplying and for some reason my grandmother was there and I had to get this really expensive block of cheese through Penn station which is basically impossibly because Penn Station. Ew.
But then, almost before I had time to register what was going on, I got into Flatiron School. And I went there and didn’t fail. And I got a job, and I love that job, and the past 8 months have been the happiest of my adult life. Possibly my whole life because not being equipped to properly deal with sticky hands really ruined childhood for me. I get to walk around every day and feel a little like, Fuck yea. I did this shit.
The funny thing, that I didn’t realize until maybe even today when I played hooky from the conference to later finally get my Chicago tourist experience, was that crossing that one thing off my life-long to-do list was only the beginning.
I solved this one piece of the puzzle in my life (at least for now) and all of the sudden the routes to accomplishing the other goals are starting to become clearer. Since the beginning of this year, I’ve been checking things off left and right. I’m getting things I hardly realized I wanted. When did I become the type of person who actually gets what she wants? Normally I can’t even get a decent pad thai off of Seamless.
So this morning, when I played hooky and wandered through Chicago, trying to figure out how a lake could be so damn big, I started trying to think about what has happened to me in the past year. My takeaways might not be funny (I’m trying here) but I hope they’re at least helpful:
It really comes down to making sure you know, deep down inside, that you *can* get the things you want.
I think the reason learning how to program changed my perspective was because I stepped completely out of my element. It felt like I was growing this new appendage(creepy analogy, but I’m sticking with it). That type of experience happens so rarely in adult life. In contrast, most of the things we want are only slightly out of reach. We live under the assumption that one day we’ll have them while never really getting any closer to getting them, and for the most part we’re ok with that.
Programming was different. As I vented on here last fall, the simple act of telling people I was going to learn how to program was a trial in and of itself, because I don’t seem like the “programmer type”. I, along with 40 other awesomely driven human beings, took a huge leap. I allowed myself to feel the thing that is probably the third most uncomfortable feeling in the world — starting over (FYI #1 is moving and #2 is carrying your jacket in a bar. #4 is what my f-ed up tailbone feels like right now because this airplane seat is the worst). So once I’d been through starting over and not failing and realizing that really it’s not that bad being that kind of uncomfortable, it put everything else into perspective. I wanted to get better at running? So start running. I wanted to freelance? So start freelancing. Would I rather be laying on the couch watching How I Met Your Mother for the 87th time? Hell yes!
Onto the second point – I finally realized the distinction between thinking I could HAVE the things I want and knowing I can GET the things I want.
As you know from constant lamenting, Karmin-hating and various other thinly veiled insecurity fueled blog posts, the single point of failure in my life to date was not leaving music school as a musician. I have analyzed and justified and reanalysed and I think I’ve done all of it while John Mayer was just playing on a loop so it’s probably getting pretty annoying to my neighbors by now, but I think I finally figured out the root of that failure. We grow up expecting we’ll HAVE things, which makes sense as we are all born with some natural talents. I used my talents to coast through school, without ever really having to try too hard and by the time I hit college I had let my natural talents form my identity. The problem with not having to struggle, was that I didn’t understand what working hard felt like. Once my competition expanded beyond a small subset of people just like me, I no longer could coast by.
That jarring realization hit me at music school and I didn’t understand how I couldn’t just HAVE the life I wanted. And at the very least, if it wasn’t going to be given to me on a silver platter hand-delivered by Justin Timberlake, my future husband, then everyone I ever met should have been standing alongside me, cheering me on and clapping for me every time I made even the tiniest bit of progress.
I didn’t magically HAVE that success and I didn’t HAVE everyone rooting for me, so I gave up. For almost every reason I’m glad that happened, but when I think about it too long and hard I get sad for baby Tiffany because I know how badly she wanted music to be her life and I almost can’t fault her for not really understanding the different.
You can get the things you want if you just work for shit. And I don’t mean the work all night don’t sleep lose your life be a non-human human so you can get things, because that’s a pile of crap. I mean work slowly, realistically, dedicated-ly(not a word, apparently, but it should be) towards the things you want. I will never pretend and say to you that I stayed up all night working on something because I have a vested interest in getting our society to admit that sleep is good and we should all get a lot of it because I am a very sleepy person and I’d really like to bring the Siesta to America (FYI that would totally be my presidential campaign platform if I ever got into politics. So smart).
Ok so how does this really apply to you, the person reading who feels lost and has read a million of these type of posts on FastCompany and none of it has really helped you?
To start, you’ve gotta know what you want.
I can’t remember if I’ve ever blogged it before, so I’ll blog it again, but a couple years ago when I realized that I was very unhappy and didn’t know how to fix myself, my boyfriend said, with the best of intentions in mind, “Why don’t you write a life plan?” So I went to a quiet little bar after work, I pulled out a note pad, I started googling “How to become a famous blogger” and then “How much do famous bloggers make” and then “How much do bloggers/yoga teachers make?”, and finally “How to get a job for 100K or more if you hate working and/or want to blog.”
As I tried to take notes, my pen died. And I had no more pens. And so I showed up at my boyfriend’s doorstep, sobbing because how could I come up with a life plan if I couldn’t even keep a second pen on me?
It seems as though there’s no magical formula to figuring out what it is you want in any area of your life, but I spend a lot of time thinking about if and how we could create a formula for that(that isn’t one of those personality tests that always tells me I’m PERFECT for customer service). If I ever do figure it out, you better believe I’m gonna make a bomb ass website that like shows you a cool puppy gif the second it identifies exactly what will make you happy.
So in light of my not knowing what to tell you while also feeling all of your feels, I will tell you this and what I think of my not-knowing period now that I’m no longer in it –
I’d liken the way you feel to be most like how you feel in a breakup. Because you’re kind of in a breakup with your life in its current form. There’s something magical about the period after a breakup, once you’re no longer there and can look back, because all of the moments where you felt relief were so heightened.
I think it was like that for me when I hated my job and didn’t know how not to. The glimmers of hope I found through getting a blog post on Thought Catalog or thinking maybe I could become this totally different type of employee were the only things that pushed me forward. I look back now and romanticize the first time someone emailed me about the Flatiron school. I have an epic story in my head about how I was at a business meeting in the diamond district and had to sprint down the street afterwards under the guise of “leaving for a doctor’s appointment” when I was really rushing to find reliable wi-fi connection for my admissions interview.
And all of the failed attempts, like music school and customer service, to find what I want gave me a wealth of experiences and a lot of new friends. Also, I’m an expert at bathroom/stairwell/subway crying. That’s a resume worthy skill… right?
If you feel like the Jackson Pollack of trying out careers, or relationships, or even trying out different kinds of Yoga but you keep ending up in the one that’s just about breathing and not even a workout, that’s ok. Do you see what I did there with the Jackson Pollack thing? Throwing stuff against a wall? If it was a good joke I’ve completely ruined it now.
My whole point is that the most productive thing you can do is break emotionally. More people than not are going through what you’re going through in some form. And if they’re not going through it right now, they will be at some point in the future because that’s life. Even Beyoncé’s gotta have bad days (Is it weird that saying that about Yoncé makes me feel blasphemous?).
So I’ve just preached at you for too long, but now it’s time to level up –
One of the things I want is to have this blog alive and well and I’ve been avoiding that for some time. Because of all the reasons I stated above:
- What is this blog even about? (Late night food ordering, I think?) What do I want it to be? It’s been three years and I still have no idea.
- Sometimes I find writing on the Internet really, unbearably scary. Especially once I got the tiniest bit of attention via an eBook it got way scarier because I was worried I’d fuck it all up or say something dumb on twitter like, you know, everyone else ever?
- It’s really hard to think of something to write every week and there are so many episodes of Scandal I haven’t caught up on.
But having it, for scarier or for less scary, is something I want because the conversations it lets me have with people make the Internet (and in turn my life) a friendlier, more connected place for me… and hopefully all of you.
So I hereby declare that I will post on here once a week again, and that if I don’t PleaseI’mBeggingYou harass me via social media or comments or call up Seamless and tell them to blacklist calzone serving restaurants until I post again. Because we can get the things we want. And we absolutely should.
Peace, love and I’m back bitches,
PS – I recognize that I totally owe you all a post about how I lit my hand on fire or something to balance out all the touchy/feely-ness of this post.