In each of my jobs, there has been an antagonist that has, at one time or another, made me feel small and incapable. They are hyper-critical, condescending individuals with ever-changing expectations, and who only accept a task is sufficient if their unspoken personal preferences are met.
In my last job, I found myself reaching a breaking point when I realized I was working with not just one such negative personality, but three.
As strong-willed and outgoing as I was, I could not overcome the feeling of smallness that came with months of constant insinuations that I wasn’t smart enough.
It didn’t matter that I was being trained by someone who kept all information in her head rather than create a manual; I was supposed to remember every single passing comment — “I told you already.”
I didn’t matter that my laptop was a dinosaur; it was my fault my screen froze- “Well, what did you do?”
It didn’t matter that the Jive developers could not solve the rendering issues on our website. Since those issues only started after I took over the task, “Well, you must have done something wrong.”
Six months into my contract, I started to question my own work history.
How I did I help a business owner get organized so she had breathing room and sanity back in her life? I can’t even remember the steps I need to take in Salesforce for these different scenarios.
How did I handle so much responsibility and earn rewards in the Navy when here they keep taking responsibility away from me?
How do I keep making mistakes in this entry-level position when I’ve learned more complicated jobs in the past? Do I just not have it in me anymore?
When layoffs hit, it was a blessing in disguise for me. Not because I got laid off and went on to find a new job or start a business.
The blessing was boredom.
My job relied on handling expense reports, time sheets, travel arrangements, editing documents, and updating information in Salesforce. Those who had given me my tasks had been laid off.
I found myself twiddling my thumbs and wondering why I was still there.
After a few weeks of creating my own instruction manuals for aspects of my job (so anyone after me would be spared the nightmare of relying on my supervisor to download her brain), I asked my supervisor what else I could do during downtimes.
She said, “I used to read a book.”
Mmh. Read a book on company time, says my supervisor.
Okay. Read a book, I shall.
But not just any book. I was ready for so much more.
I chose front end web development. Web development was going to serve me in two ways.
First, I wanted to be able to fix the formatting and rendering issues with my company’s Jive website. Not because I wanted to do a nice thing. No. I wanted to show them I was capable of so much more than they realized. I wanted to do something they were not able to do in spite of how smart they thought they were. I wanted to shut them up.
Second, after fixing their site, I wanted to take on a new career that would essentially flip my haters the bird. All of the haters:
- The hiring manager who told me I’d never earn more than $9 an hour without a degree.
- Everyone who has ever dismissed my work history and expected me to start all over again.
- That guy who suggested I stick to what I’m doing.
- Every recruiter who has looked at my resume and said, “I’m not sure your skills transfer.”
With renewed vigor and explicit permission to entertain myself at work, I set up my workspace and got to it.
Every morning I’d start my computer and set up my split screens with VSC in one window, a web browser in the other, and tabs for Github, Codepen, and whichever Udemy course I was currently working on.
I learned basic CSS, inline CSS, advanced CSS, SCSS, CSS3, Sass, Bootstrap, Flexbox, and CSS Grid. I learned file naming and how to manage projects with Git and Github. I learned how to use Dreamweaver and fell in love with Visual Studio Code. I experimented with 3D and animations, colors, shadows, and of course, all things responsive.
Just when I was ready to pull my hair out because (insert any of the bazillion things that go wrong and haywire with coding, integrations, commits, and browsers), I’d unlock the secret solution and literally jump out of my chair and do a happy dance.
Much like how I became more of a luthier than a violinist when I bought a cheap violin that kept falling apart, I learned how to fix the instruments of web development.
Before long, I was a whiz at searching out solutions, deciphering similar answers to accommodate my specific problem, and I developed some kind of 6th sense for knowing where the real problem with my project, even wrangling out solutions to issues not yet tackled on the forums.
My brain was having fun. There were endless problems to solve, endless creative possibilities, and I knew there was an endless demand in the industry on the other side just waiting for me.
I felt great again. My days had a purpose. I reveled in my isolation as I pecked away at the keyboard for hours on end, undisturbed and able to explore my learning and imagination to my heart’s content.
Then I went to New Orleans and everything changed.
What had been a friendship turned into a relationship. My discipline disappeared and my body became slow and soft. Worse, I lost interest in web development.
Thinking I was just a bit burnt out from hitting the ground running for so long, I rested my brain.
My fingers would rest on the keyboard while I stared at the screen. Then I’d open up Reddit and spend an hour looking at puppies and political headlines.
Panic set in.
Did I just waste months of my time on something I’m not going to finish or use?
Am I giving up because I’m scared of failing or succeeding or other such nonsense?
What was the point of all of that if I was just going to walk away from it?
What’s WRONG with me?
Something in me refused to keep going and I was helpless against it.
I felt disappointed with myself.
Each week that went by made me more anxious and more let down.
Then, out of nowhere, a series of thoughts struck me:
I AM smart. I CAN figure stuff out. I CAN teach myself. I CAN learn something that others struggle with. There’s no way my manager would have been able to create a website from scratch, he didn’t even know how to create a hyperlink.
That’s when I realized the real gift of learning web development. Sure, I could make a career out of it, but a new career was secondary.
What I needed most, and first, was my self-confidence.
Be teaching myself the complexities of web development, I had reminded myself that I am intelligent and capable in spite of the opinions around me. That is what will make the difference no matter what career I have or who I work with.
P.S. I totally fixed my company’s Jive site issues before I left.)