So I just got rejected for a job. In seemingly large part due to my last blog post. From the feedback provided (which is totally awesome that they did this, btw, because it’s not just a “good luck in your future endeavors”, it gives me something to think about):
I just didn’t have confidence that you’re excited to come back to systems work. Uncertainty in your description of why you chose to leave your last job left me doubting that you knew what you wanted, and were committed to and excited for the opportunity to join our team.
Hmm. So, I can totally see that. I left NationBuilder because I was completely burnt out. My tenure at Stripe had many things stacked against me, and the recovery I wanted to have happen just didn’t work out.
But I’m not sure I agree that I’m not excited to go back to work. I would absolutely love to find a job where I can be happy and feel like I’m contributing to a team and maybe helping make the world a better place somehow and helping to provide people with a product that they enjoy using. A lot of my time on Te Araroa was spent trying to figure out what was wrong, what was missing. And I learned a lot about myself and what I wanted and what indeed was missing.
In this job search I’ve been focusing solely on jobs in the Portland area. I moved to Portland while I was working at NationBuilder and was remote with them for the rest of the time I was there. It worked out ok. I had been introduced to some people up here by mutual friends and was enjoying myself. I got super burnt out from work and lost the passion that had me going to meetups, various things happened and some of my friends drifted away, and combined with my usual shyness and social anxiety, I ended up becoming extremely isolated and lonely.
I started at Stripe super excited about the job. I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited about a job. And to some degree, that was the beginning of the downfall. But one thing my time at Stripe taught me is that I actually enjoy working in an office with people. My visits to the SF office were invigorating. Talking to people in person, socializing during meals and after work, etc. But I can’t stand San Francisco. It’s just not somewhere I could ever live, for a lot of reasons. So I got this taste of awesomeness, but it was tainted with sadness that it couldn’t be all the time.
On the trail I thought I’d be fine by myself. I was the last 2 trips I’ve done. And surely I won’t be *that* lonely, I’ll probably be meeting plenty of southbounders and we’ll probably have some overlap at huts so we can hang out there. And I had some of that. What I wasn’t expecting was the “trail family” that came together out of a handful of northbounders who happened to be pacing roughly together for a week or so. At first I was afraid, afraid of judgement, so I kept them at arm’s length. But eventually they sucked me in and I felt like part of a group. It wasn’t until the group split apart with some people doing side trips, some people staying back, some people forging ahead, and I was alone on the trail again that I realized what I’d been a part of and just how much I enjoyed that.
Later on I’d reunite with a couple I’d met very early on in the trip and we’d spend a week together in the Richmonds. It was then that I found out that I still did like being alone sometimes. I would often intentionally get up later than them or whatever so they’d get a head start and I could have some alone time on the trail. Eventually I’d either catch up to them or I’d see them at the hut at the end of the day. It was great to find that balance.
What all of this told me is that one of the big things that was missing was working in an office with people. Maybe if I had a well established local social life outside of work I could work remotely and be fine. But I don’t have that. So I think I need to work amongst people again.
The main reason I’m also exploring other things is that for a good portion of my time at Stripe I was really struggling, and trying to figure out what I could change to improve my life. What was missing? I’d been wanting to ride my bike across the country for years, and my spontaneous decision to travel to New Zealand and walk around for 4 days got me hooked on backpacking. My “fallback” then was “I’m just going to go walk somewhere or whatever.” However, I also wanted to make that a thing that I actually did for more than just 1-2 weeks while on vacation or something. So I then worried about things like when am I going to have the time? I need to save super aggressively so I can do a mini retirement or extended sabbatical (read: 1-2 years), or whatever.
So while I was there I was worried about my work performance, super lonely, and afraid of alternatives. But I wasn’t doing anything to solve any of those problems, I was just stuck in a loop of worry.
The Te Araroa trip helped be break that loop. It also helped me figure out what I was missing. Or at least some things I can try, as opposed to just recognizing that something is wrong and worrying about that. So, if anything, I’m actually more excited about the idea of going back to work than I have been in a long time, maybe even as much as I was about going to work for Stripe. Now, that’s not to say I am as excited about any particular company, but I *am* excited about going back to work, meeting new people, learning new things, and seeing if my changes make a difference. A best case scenario would be finding fulfillment and happiness that keeps me in Portland, with the occasional bit of continent hopping of course, but one that helps me make a connection with a community, be part of something.
One of the other things the trail taught me I was missing was a creative outlet. Sure, building stuff with computers is creative, sure, but there’s a difference between creative for work and creative for fun. I’ve tried lots of things. Knitting. Learning a new programming language. Trying to build a website about interacting with friendly cats around town. Ham radio stuff. Whatever. And none of those things has really stuck, for various reasons. Knitting and programming because while I could learn the basics, and did, I never could figure out what I wanted to do with that knowledge. Other things had other forms of Resistance which contributed to the project or hobby ultimately resulting in failure. And because of those failures, I am hesitant to try something new, afraid to add another failed idea or project or hobby or goal to my long list of those. But the trail taught me that it didn’t matter. I needed something. So I’ve been exploring a bit. I’ve been trying to explore something that can be practical in a “Plan B” sort of scenario. Hence, Spanish. And my “Plan B” is actually the creative outlet itself. Not only am I learning new things, figuring out logistics of whatever, thinking wild thoughts like “maybe I could get someone to pay me to write a book about trails in Japan” or whatever, but I’m instead of *worrying* about what my Plan B might look like, I’m actually creating the Plan B. During my NET training one of the things they taught us was giving someone something to do, no matter how trivial or seemingly unimportant, can help them handle the stress of the situation they’re in. The act of exploring possibilities helps me focus my energy on creativity or problem solving, rather than just worrying about what if.
The idea of going back to work, with all of this newly gained wisdom, and testing the results is extremely exciting to me. And if it doesn’t work out for whatever reason, well. There’s always Plan B.