I have been doing some soul searching for the last six months or so. I have written on my blog about suffering from some massive burn out. I had reached a point a few months ago where I honestly didn’t think I could cut it as a programmer and thought about leaving the industry to do something easier.
I took some time off to regroup and figure out what I was going to do.
During that time I happened to have a lot of conference talks and trips that I had lined up a long time ago. While the constant travel was exhausting, it was genuinely wonderful to see so many members of the community. I got to see old friends and make some new ones.
I also had a chance to calm down and actually see what life was like if I wasn’t programming every day. Honestly, life without programming really sucks.
When I wrote my first shader program and debugged it I felt like I had come out of a coma. I knew that this was something I could do, but I knew I wasn’t approaching it properly.
I thought the problem was that I was programming too much. It isn’t that I was programming too much. I wasn’t actually programming enough in the right way.
Before when I was having emotional crises I would sit down with a programming book and actually work through the exercises. The summer I couldn’t find an internship my ex-husband lost his job. He was home all the time and that along with another situation lead to me having a nervous breakdown.
I went to a friend of mine, Stephen Anderson, and asked if I could squat at his company for a few days a week so that I would have a calm and quiet place to work. He was very kind and allowed me to work out their office for two months.
During that time, I worked through Chris Adamson’s “Learning Core Audio” book. I would come in, set up my computer, and type through all the exercises in the book. Doing that refreshed my soul and helped me learn a lot and get through that horrible period of my life.
I hit a point where I felt like I was too “advanced” to keep relying on tutorials and I tried to transition over to working on projects. But by that point I was working for people full time and working on various books and projects and sometime never came.
One of my goals in 2016 is to release an app. I quit my work at Ray Wenderlich, withdrew from my book obligations, and I put down the podcast so that I could focus all of my energy on this task. It’s May and I have nothing. So what do I do?
First thing I need to do: FOCUS!!!
I named this blog post after a quote by Sylvia Plath. The gist of this quote is that there is a woman who is privileged to have many different futures and opportunities. However, she can only choose one. Choosing one means giving up all the others and she can’t decide. As she sits indecisively she loses her opportunities because she waited too long.
This feeling of so many choices and none of them being real is a theme in many things. This theme shows up in the Harry Potter movies as The Mirror of Erised.
One of the things I have never publicly admitted before is that I do Tarot card readings. One of the cards is the seven of cups. This card symbolizes a person looking at many different goals and interests and possibilities but none of them are real because the person in the card hasn’t manifested them yet.
I talk a lot on here about my various interests. I like electronics. I like graphic design. I like audio and graphics programming. I like Swift.
I can’t do everything I want to do.
I talk about wanting to be an audio programmer or a graphics/Metal programmer, but if I am honest with myself I am not those things. I don’t have the right to label myself as such because I am not focused on it.
It feels good to say you want to do something. It feels good to buy books and put on various trappings of a person doing something. But the only way to manifest what you want is to put in the work and just fucking do it.
All of the things I am interested in require deeply focused effort and knowledge. I had a similar revelation when I was learning programming. I spent at least sixty hours a week for over a year just coding. I dropped all of my other hobbies and interests. I would have fights with my ex-husband because he wanted to go to a movie and I didn’t want to be torn away from my screen.
I miss that. I want to get back to that on something. I want there to be something that is so vitally important to me that I focus everything I have on it to the exclusion of all other things.
I had to step back for a while to figure out how to heal myself so that I can go back to being that person and to figure out how to avoid feeling like I did earlier in the year.
The biggest thing I can do is work efficiently. I need to avoid doing things that feel like work but aren’t. I need to code a lot. I need to make sure my focus is not fractured.
I also need to learn to disconnect from the keyboard. I am doing better in this regard. I bought a bunch of analog books that have nothing to do with programming. I have (mostly) stopped taking my iPhone with me to the bath tub.
I am deeply sad about abandoning my electronics shop in the basement. This post came about because I saw someone on Twitter posting a picture of their new Raspberry Pi setup and I really wanted to go out and buy a new Pi and a bunch of other stuff to do what they were doing. However, I have done this before. I have a giant nest of electronics components and Arduinos and Pis in the basement that are basically untouched.
I keep telling myself that I can work on it as a hobby. I spoke to my teacher Eric Knapp on Twitter yesterday about setting up a wood working shop in the basement. I have a weird obsession about setting up some kind of shop in the basement because somehow I think that having a non-programming hobby will solve all of my problems and life will feel meaningful again.
It’s all just me running away from reality.
I keep thinking there is some easy answer or escape from how I feel right now and there isn’t. Well, there is, but I don’t like where that route takes me.
If I want to go where I want to be, I need to embrace the hard road. I didn’t prepare myself for it last time and I ran out of food and had to go back home to lick my wounds. I know more now and I think I can do it.
I have to simply my life and just pick something and stick with it. I have to know that it’s going to be a long road and that I can’t let myself be distracted by the new shiny thing. One good and bad thing about programming is that there is not just one right choice to make. Someone who chose to learn something like Node.js isn’t kicking themselves because they didn’t learn Swift. There is a lot of opportunity in the programming world for a lot of people with a lot of various skill sets.
I talk to people who feel like they have to know everything because someone might need them to know PHP or Java or Perl.
You don’t have to do this. In fact, there are better opportunities out there if you specialize in something. I guarantee you there is a job out there for someone with deep knowledge of Perl. Choose your own adventure. Pick a path. Stick to it. Make something. Own it. Stop dreaming and manifest.