Excitement, etc

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.

No hablo Español

A little bit before I came back from down south I decided I wanted to learn Spanish. When in was in Japan I decided I wanted to learn Japanese, but I didn’t stick with it. There were a number of reasons, some of which aren’t resolved as of this attempt at learning Spanish, but others that are.

I have been going pretty solidly at it for almost a month now and wanted to talk a bit about my journey so far. I also want to talk about why Spanish, and what I hope to get out of it, and why not Japanese and am I ever going to revisit Japanese?

The why is pretty easy. To quote the great Korben Dallas: “I only know two languages: English and bad English.” I’m actually a bit surprised and somewhat disappointed in myself that I lived in Los Angeles for 9 years, sometimes in very heavily Hispanic neighborhoods, and didn’t pick up Spanish. It could have been very handy. There are a lot of really great people in Los Angeles who speak Spanish but not English and it would have been great to be able to talk to those folks.

As of late I’ve also been doing a fair amount of traveling. Once to a place where almost nobody speaks English (Japan), and once to a place where English is widely spoken but not the native language (Iceland). There are many other places I’d love to go where English isn’t the primary language spoken or even spoken by a significant portion of the people. So I should really pick up another language.

But why Spanish? In short: it’s easier than Japanese and spoken in a lot more places. But there’s some deeper reasoning behind this.

During my trip and since, I’ve been trying to figure out what’s next. For the moment I’ve settled on going back to work, but I also have decided that I need to take a very active role in figuring out what’s next and how to do it, rather than “just wait until I have lots of money and just travel”. If I can work while traveling, my travels will be able to last a lot longer. There are problems with that, though. I am over 30, so I’m no longer eligible for most (all?) working holiday visa programs offered in some countries. I also don’t have a degree. This makes it very hard to get a work visa, even if I am otherwise more than qualified for a position. So the countries I can legitimately work in are very few, and I’d assume that most of those places aren’t primarily English speaking places.

One of the directions I’ve been looking in is getting a TEFL certificate and going to teach English somewhere for a while. There are a good number of countries where I can find work teaching English with a TEFL and no degree, but in some of the cases I’ve looked this usually involves working for cash under the table on a visitor visa which is actually only moderately illegal or not illegal, or illegal but nobody really cares, or whatever, but given that these tend to not pay taxes or provide benefits or whatever, it all feels extremely shady and not something I’d like to do if I can avoid it. I’d much prefer to be above board, even if it involves some hassle.

Another direction is going back to school and getting a degree. This is something I’m VERY interested in, but schools in the US are outrageously expensive, and I’m not willing to go to a diploma mill or something. So to go to school full time would cost me a lot of money and probably make it hard or impossible to work while I do it, at least not for any reasonable amount of money so I’m not completely bleeding cash, and I’m not very interested in taking on large amounts of debt. If I had a very clear idea of what I wanted to study, how much it would cost, and he quickly I could turn that degree into a high dollar job to pay off the loans, I might be more interested, but for the moment a 4 year commitment without much vision is fairly intimidating to me.

There are, however, places in the world with free or inexpensive higher education. Germany, France, Argentina, Colombia, I think Sweden or Norway or Finland or maybe all of them. This goes for foreigners as well. Some have English language programs, or like first year English while you learn the local language or whatever. I’m still looking into these, but I’ve already ruled out Germany, my high school diploma doesn’t fit their admissions requirements meaning I’d have to enroll in what I guess is their equivalent of a GED, but that requires proficiency in German. Colombia and Argentina are Spanish speaking programs (hence Spanish). France has some English programs, and I’m exploring those, they may fit the bill, but I’m hedging with Spanish, too. The Nordic countries are great but expensive and cold!

So, the thing I’m kinda thinking right now is learn Spanish, get a TEFL, go to a Spanish speaking country with inexpensive school, and try to figure out a visa situation. Some places might have Spanish classes I can take for a year to get me qualified for university and also qualify me for a student visa which allows me to work part time. Then once I get the degree the whole world literally opens up for me.

So that’s why Spanish and what I hope to get out of it. If nothing else also, it is something fun to do. And learning something new is good for the brain.

So why not Japanese? For one it’s significantly harder to learn. Not only is the grammar wildly different, but there’s the added difficulty of Kanji. Hiragana and Katakana only took a few days to learn, and they will be very useful if I return to Japan, but they aren’t even the entire picture. I feel like I’ll be able to learn the language a lot more quickly if I can read it, and Spanish gets me that. Sure, I can learn a bunch of kanji on the side, and would have to, but it’s one more added difficulty that I don’t want to have discouraging me.

Additionally, while I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Japan, and very much want to go back, I honestly don’t think I would ever want to move there permanently. So learning the language would be mostly an academic exercise and be useful for visiting and as a fun party trick, but not all that useful in my daily life. Japan is not a country with free education, and cost of living would be roughly comparable. Plus I likely would not be able to get a student visa for Japanese classes in Japan, and therefore no way to work while I’m there or even stay an extended period of time, and there are no primarily English programs in Japan that I know of.

I do eventually want to learn Japanese and depending how some of these other irons I have in the fire end up, I may switch back to Japanese, but for the moment I’m focusing on Spanish.

One more motivator is I know of at least one company doing tech educational materials in Spanish language, so who knows, maybe I can get a job doing that. There are a lot more Spanish speakers than Spanish speakers who know tech, and I have skills that people would also like to have, so there’s definitely a market for it.

Anywho. This iteration of my language learning is getting off to a good start. I hope to write more about my adventure, and about things I learn along the way and tools and techniques I use and discover. Hopefully at some point I can write a post titled “Yo hablo español”.

Te Afteroa

It’s been a few weeks since I finished walking. A lot has happened. A lot hasn’t happened.

The biggest thing that has happened, however, is I’m back in Portland, sitting on my couch with my cats, contemplating things.

To quote an article a friend linked me to: “life has ceased to be linear”. On the trail I had very few decisions to make. What am I going to eat for breakfast? Well, I had bars and I had muesli, not a tough decision. What am I doing today? Well, I have 2 choices: walk, or not walk. And most days I chose walk, if I’d already been walking the day before. Where was I going to walk? Up the trail. How far? To the next hut. What am I going to do after that? Eat. After that? Read. After that? Sleep. Rinse. Repeat.

Even adjusting to life off the trail while in New Zealand was hard. I’ve often found myself lacking the ability to make a decision about what to do, where to go, when I’m visiting a place. This was no exception. And it reminded me of what I liked so much about my time on the trail. Things were simpler, I just needed to feed myself and walk and everything was fine. Sometimes I’d get bored in a hut if I got in too early, but that’s ok, I can just eat, or sleep. Things I can’t necessarily do when I’m in the real world. I read somewhere once if you get hungry during the day to ask yourself “are you hungry or are you bored?”. 9 times out of 10 the answer to that is “bored”, but on the trail it’s ok if I just eat anyways, because I’m burning so many calories it’s all I can do to eat enough to get me through the day. When visiting places it ends up that I have this dilemma a lot, and I’ll recognize that I’m just bored, but I can’t figure out what to do, what I want to do, and so I’ll spin on that for a while until I end up going and eating anyways. Sometimes I’ll even get stuck on where to eat! That was also easy on the trail, eat what I have or if I’m in a town, eat something cheap or something good. Preferably both, but $8 fish and chips is always there and always good, so if all else fails, just go do that.

But I do the same thing at home. I’ve observed many times in the past that I can’t seem to leave my house without spending money. Like I have to have a destination in mind before I leave, and 99 times out of 100 that destination is “spend some money somewhere.” On a coffee, on food, a museum, whatever. I can’t seem to leave the house if I’m not going somewhere to spend money. On the trail there wasn’t anywhere to spend money, or any need to really. My goal for the day was always clear: walk to the next place. Because it was in support of my overall goal: walk across the country.

So the challenge now is that I’m currently at a major crossroads, with many options and none super clear. I can go try to find a job. Will I enjoy that job? Are there any jobs I would enjoy in Portland? Am I going to have to move somewhere? If so, where? What about a job doing something other than what I’ve been doing? What would I even do? How much would I be able to even make? Enough to support myself? I dunno.

One of the things I keep feeling like I “should” do is engage my creative side. Most of my career I’ve just been problem solving and bashing head against computer, and when not doing that I’m just watching TV or reading or whatever, all consumption and no creation. But there’s the problem of “what creative side?” I’ve never felt artistic or creative at all. I know the basics of knitting, but I don’t knit because I have no clue what to make. I’ve tried to just go make something, but my brain tells me that’s “leaving the house to spend money.” And so many of my ventures (read: all) into hobbies in the past have failed that I’m hesitant to even try.

Now, not all is doom and gloom. One of the biggest positive changes that I’ve noticed after the trail is I feel a lot less wired. I feel like I’m more able to stop spinning on something and if not find a clear path to go forward and execute, at least stop the spinning. Break out of the loop. It helps me be able to think more rationally and less anxiously. This means the fretting I’m doing about “what’s next” is at least feeling somewhat productive. I’m coming up with lots of ideas, and lots of them are really good. Each of them has something to be fearful of, anxious about, but this break in the cycle of my life, this exploration of what else is out there, is making me think more seriously about those things, and look at them with less “why won’t this work” and more “how could I make that work?” I feel like this in itself is a great change, and if I can continue that line of thinking, will be extremely positive for me overall.

In the mean time, I’m facing a bit of a financial snafu at home. I spent a lot more on this trip than I probably should have, and now my cash reserves are on the lower end of the spectrum. Nothing terrible, but it means I’m going to have to do some belt tightening. Eat out less (which is something I’ve been wanting to do forever anyways), spend less money on stupid crap (also something I’ve been wanting to do forever), probably sell some stuff that I’m not using or don’t need anymore. But it also means I have a bit of time pressure to take action, which is honestly a good thing. It means I can’t just sit around and do nothing, at least not all the time, that I need to get moving and do research and search for what’s next. Easier said than done, true, but it at least should help me focus my actions. I can’t just sit around and do nothing, or do effectively nothing all day, so that at least narrows the scope of my decision making process a bit!

Ok, I’m rambling, I’ve been rambling. It’s ok, but I’m going to stop rambling for now. I’m going to spend some time cuddling with my kitties. I really missed them a lot while I was gone.

Waiau Pass anxiety

I’m so anxious about this walk. The last 2 days have been super easy. Tomorrow is supposed to be just as easy. And then super hard up over the pass. For some reason I was dreading this whole section as though the whole thing would be as hard as the pass. But really it’s just distance. The pass itself is tough. There’s another tough section just before blue lake hut. But the rest is straightforward.

I have been anticipating this for so long and it’s nearly here. I even remember thinking to myself it was crazy that I needed 8 days worth of food for this section! And now I’m carrying all this food and it’s not even a big deal. The next section, 10 days of food. Nervous about that. But even then that’s probably not going to be that bad. The next section is definitely harder. Way harder. But I feel less anxiety about that than I do about this pass.

I think some of the emotions I’m feeling right now are a not wanting this to end. That after it is over I’ll think back about all of the things I regret about how I did, or worrying that I went too fast and didn’t take it in enough. I’m really glad I have this blog to look back at, despite the posts getting a bit more boring lately. Honestly this last week or so I’ve been kinda on autopilot. I’m a bit discouraged about the skipping bits thing, despite it being the right thing to do, I feel like I missed some things or wasn’t complete enough. My inner purist is coming out, methinks.

The lost art of sending postcards

You’ve seen them everywhere. Every convenience store. Every museum gift shop. Every little cafe on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. But how often have you actually sent or gotten one?

Of course I’m talking about postcards. In this modern era of literally being able to make a video call to a friend who is on a train under the San Francisco Bay while standing next to the tracks of a bullet train in Japan so they can see the train whoosh by at full speed along with you, one might ask what is even the point of a postcard?

A couple of years ago my friend Bronwen was laid up at home for a while after breaking her leg. Another friend Megan was working on a postcard project and was over at Bron’s filling them out. She put out a call on Twitter for people who wanted a postcard to send her their address so I did. A few days later I got a postcard from the Capilano Suspension Bridge in Vancouver (sorry, no pic, it’s 8000 miles away in a box), BC and a handwritten note even mentioning something about the photographer and just other fun stuff. It was fun. Ever since then I’ve enjoyed sending postcards. I don’t do it very consistently, but I generally at least pick some up from a shop with the intent of filling them out and mailing them, even if I never do! Maybe some day I’ll have a postcard frenzy like Megan’s!

Why do I like sending postcards though? I think it’s because I like receiving them! Even in this modern day of ultra connectivity and social media and such, maybe even especially in this modern day, stopping to write a postcard, figure out how much the postage is, find somewhere to buy stamps, realize you don’t have the recipient’s address so you have to text them to get it, is such a hugely intentional act that when I receive one it’s like getting a big hug from an old friend. Especially since, despite the ultra connectivity, I really don’t keep as good of contact with my friends as I’d like to. There’s that cliche “wish you were here” that I so often want to write and usually resist, but despite the cliche, honestly, I usually do wish whoever it is I’m sending the postcard to was here. I travel alone, not as an intentional thing, just because I haven’t yet found a travel buddy, so sending a postcard to a friend is kind of a way to deal with homesickness, something I definitely get. For instance, I’ve been in New Zealand now for 5 days and I miss my cats a whole lot. But on the train here yesterday I wrote up some postcards and that helped a lot!

Receiving postcards is fun because it’s cool to see what friends have to say about whatever is on the card. I tend to try to only get postcards if I’ve been to the thing on the card, and share an experience I had, especially if that experience reminded me of them! So receiving one is like getting to live vicariously through someone else’s experiences, and due to the time investment in sending the card, it’s an intensely personal and intimate connection. At least for me.

I also send postcards to myself while I’m traveling. I can’t tell you how fun it is to come home to a stack of postcards of all of the places I went on your travels, along with notes I wrote to myself. It’s like reliving the memories all over again! Even better when you make it home before the postcards do and they start showing up in the mail!

Sure, I can quickly snap my own photo and text it to a friend and they’ll have it seconds later. Or post it on $social_media for everyone to share with. And I do those things. I really did video call with a friend while next to a bullet train in Japan. I post pictures on social media. I’m working on blogging and journaling more about my travels to try to capture more than simple snippets at a time about my experiences. Those things are all valuable! But there’s just something special about a postcard that those other things don’t replicate.

Kickoff Entries

A thing I’ve been doing in my journal is what I call a “kickoff entry”. If I take on a new thing, or add something to my routine, I’ll write a little blurb about what, why, goals, and some thoughts about what conditions I may decide to end the experiment.

These really help to solidify the intent around the action, and help me be realistic about what I want to get out of it. Also, as someone who frequently jumps from one new thing to the next, it helps me pace myself a bit. If I sit down and write an entry, I get an opportunity to ask “do I really want this?” And “what am I sacrificing to make this happen.

I have a tendency to be very “oh this is going to be awesome!” And 3 weeks later have totally forgotten about things. This has been helping with that, some. It’s definitely fun, at the very least!

Journaling

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Each blue square is a day I made at least one entry.
For the past several months I’ve been making a concerted effort to write in my journal every single day. I’d heard lots of great things about it in the past, but never really got into it. One of the big road blocks I ran into in the past was thinking that every journal entry had to be some insightful, well-written, moving piece of prose. This is actually one of the reasons I have never really had a blog take off and be something I do, too.

I’ve been slowly working my way through Search Inside Yourself (SIY) for almost a year at this point, and one of the mindfulness techniques it mentions is journaling. SIY is very much in the camp of “write for the sake of writing.” It even goes as far as to say that even if all you end up writing is “I have no real idea what to write about but this thing says I need to keep writing for 3 minutes regardless of what’s actually coming out”, then it was a valuable exercise. I’d like to add my support for that statement as well. Usually after about 2 sentences of nonsense, something comes to my mind and I end up writing for way longer than the prescribed 3 minutes.

Combined with an app I’ll discuss in another post that aims to aid in habit formation, I now not only write in my journal nearly every day, but it often ends up being my default location for brainstorming or thinking about things, and there are many days where I will write multiple entries. One of the wonderful things about writing every day is discovering what sorts of broader themes crop up in my journal.

One of the most valuable things I’ve gotten out of my journal is seeing the progress I’ve been making in my life. I’ve really been making significant improvements in my life in the past several years, and journaling gives me a way to look back in time at what things used to be like and see the progress I’ve made. I honestly can’t wait for 5 years from now when I look back at entries I’m writing today.

I have lots more I can say on this topic, and will say on this topic in the future. For now, I invite you to join me on this journey, and if you’ve been journaling yourself, I would love to hear the techniques you use and the value you’ve gotten from your own exercises.