I never anticipated being in this predicament. The predicament of being unemployed, that is. Unemployed and desperately searching for a sure path to success. I didn’t want to be wrong again. I couldn’t afford that. I was wrong the last time, and the time before that…I’ve been wrong for 8 years.
I used to identify myself with my accomplishments. Success was important to me because it defined me. I was a painter because I created paintings and won awards in art shows. I was a tennis player because I was #1 on the team. I was smart because I won the Spelling Bee, graduated Salutatorian (trust me, I kicked myself for not being Valedictorian), and got into Wharton. I always played to win rather than for the pure enjoyment of playing, learning or creating. If I couldn’t win, it wasn’t worth pursuing.
It sure does sound like a bragfest in here, but here’s the thing. None of it matters. None of it ever mattered, in fact, but I’ve only now just realized it. All of these accomplishments merely served as additional layers for the real me to hide behind.
Imagine yourself clad in a heavy suit of brass armor. You’ve got a helmet, many protective layers, and a shield. You’re untouchable, impenetrable and unbeatable. You could go through your entire life in that suit and always be protected from defeat. It feels nice to be safe, though somewhat uncomfortable and tiresome to always lug that heavy armor around everyday.
That’s how I began to feel walking to work in my suit everyday. I was an investment banker for two years after college. I hated wearing suits. They aren’t even designed for women. I never felt comfortable in my work environment, with the people around me or with the material I was supposed to be learning. I spent 16 hours a day making powerpoint slides, printing pitchbooks, dotting my i’s and crossing my t’s. What was the point of all this paper-pushing? I began to imagine a different life. One where I felt free, where I was happy and excited about work, where there weren’t uniforms and so many nonsensical rules. Then I quit.
I wish I could tell you how successful I’ve become after taking such a big career risk, and to show you that it’s easy to follow your passion. But that’s not what I’m here to say. In fact, I’d like to warn you, that it can be a very dark, lonely and treacherous road at times. It’s not for the faint of heart.
The thing is I had no idea what a big risk I was taking. I was smart and ambitious, so I assumed everything would work out. I was jumping off a professional cliff, but I was equipped with a Wharton degree and a solid resume. Everything was supposed to magically work out for me because it always had.
Add three years of trial and error, failure and rejection, and all those protective layers begin to strip away, one by one. All the preconceived notions of who I was, misconceptions of success, and naive expectations of what ‘should be’ began to crumble.
I had a brief stint at a job I didn’t care much for and soon after went on to spend a year (and most of my savings) working on my own startup. I loved that year. It was full of obstacles, failures, successes, and pure creativity. I picked up new skills and committed many days and nights to imagining and crafting the details of a business to be. It was fun and challenging. Until one day I had to made the difficult decision to shut it down (a story for another day).
I started learning to code as a hobby. It was only a hobby because I wasn’t a programmer, I was a business person. Sure, I enjoyed it. I lost track of time when I coded. I felt an indescribable sense of accomplishment and happiness when I created something, even the simplest of somethings. But I got a degree from Wharton and all these other programmers have CS degrees and years of experience. I’ll always be behind so…it’s just a hobby. While I have some free time, you know.
And so I spent the following year in what seemed like a tortuous game of self tug-of-war. Months dedicated to the study of Ruby on Rails day in and day out were followed by freak-out moments of “where is this going? what am I doing with my life?”, followed by an urgency to line up as many interviews as possible and jump back into the real world, followed by rejection and frustration, followed by “Hire me! I’m good at a lot of things, not just finance,” followed by “Eff this, I don’t need to go back to that. I have better things to do with my time”, followed by months of dedicated study of Ruby on Rails day in and day out, followed by “shit, I have so much to learn, can I really do this?” And repeat. A couple of times.
Until finally, all the protective layers I had previously worn and all the identities I had assumed have unrelentingly been torn down, and I stand free and vulnerable. I’m not the successful Wharton grad, or the enviable investment banker. No, that was the past, and this is now. There are no more job titles or labels. They’ve been stripped away.
I’m just me. And all I want to do is create things. With pure imagination and my bare hands. This is what the very essence of me wants to do.
Then it hit me. This predicament isn’t really a predicament at all. It’s a miracle, that despite my repeated, stubborn attempts to escape it, I remain unemployed. Free to code, to plunge in. It’s all about creation from here on out. The pure joy and beauty of creating something from nothing.
You can follow my coding progress here.Comments