Wednesday, November 4, 2015
Monday, October 19, 2015
Sometimes, I feel like I don’t have any friends. It's a deep-seated gremlin I’ve dealt with since childhood, best friends (ha ha) with Self-Doubt: you're alone because you don’t have friends, you don’t have friends because people don’t like you, etc. etc. We often talk to ourselves in ways usually reserved for Internet trolls. I've been thinking often on this theme for the past few months.
The trouble with this particular gremlin is that there’s some truth to it: being a traveling dance instructor has brought me friends around the world, but they’re a certain kind of friendship. I don’t have friends I see all that often, the kind I can always call at any hour to hang out or talk, the kind where there’s a steady and regular connection, the kind that know me completely. Instead, I have friends with whom I’ll connect deeply for a couple hours a few times a year. I want (we all want?) to be understood, to be seen, so perhaps in some small way I blog because I want to be understood, since I don’t have the benefit of having someone to randomly chat with about these thoughts.
Much of building friendships is about regular interaction, the exchange of little tidbits of intimacy. Sometimes, this social exchange can’t be proxied or skipped no matter the depth of connection. Being geographically untethered has been a privilege and introduced me to many wonderful people, but it also doesn’t leave me enough opportunity to build these bonds.
Even if I were in the same place (as I’ve seen myself do more recently), life simply gets busy on both sides of the equation. I lose myself in my programming work and prioritize the next code commit over cooking properly for myself or spending time in the company of others. Programming is fun, addictive, and can seem so much easier than engaging in other enriching activities, much like watching TV or playing games. (Come to think of it, I’m very lucky to have found a profession that enthralls me.) Meanwhile, people in my circles are equally busy. I've been drawn to them because they're driven and inspired, they're doing a lot with their lives, and it means there's not time in the week for regular interaction.
Time with friends usually needs to be scheduled, which leaves me in a conundrum on my days with nothing planned: I find myself craving social interaction, but only once I’m in the middle of a block of free time and everyone already is occupied. One solution might be to more proactively schedule my evenings with others. Generally my weekday evenings are left untouched, so I’ll find myself working late “for lack of other things to do,” but if I more proactively booked my evenings in advance this problem would not arise as often.
But, there's more to it than simply not having much time. I have an aversion to interrupting people's workflows, or catching people off guard. I'm loathe to call people on the phone, lest they feel pressured to say “yes” to an offer to hang out, yet sometimes this kind of synchronous communication is necessary to turn hangout plans into a reality. If I'm feeling down or craving human connection, I can’t (read: won’t) just call them up without warning and emotionally dump all over them. For this reason, it feels like I can’t reach out to anyone when I get stuck in a negative thought spiral. I've always envied those whom can call up others on the fly for emotional support. Aside from romantic partnerships, I don't have really have that. Well, I know I do, but I can't imagine myself exercising that privilege. It speaks to another trope of my life: "don't be a burden.” The potential for others to view me as needy strikes me as so noxious that I rarely reach out for support. (The negative feedback loop here is not lost on me: the desire to not be a burden reduces the frequency and intimacy of my interactions with friends, which does these friendships no favors at all.)
In the vein of “reaching out,” I even find it difficult to do it when I’m feeling great. Inviting people to “hang out” does not come naturally to me, I never have the courage for it. (You may find it amusing that I would think it takes courage to invite people over, but for me it does. I don’t get it, but it does.) I’m bizarrely uncreative when it comes to thinking of activities. I’m utterly incapable of organizing groups of friends for a gathering; at best, I can arrange 1:1 interactions. Besides (I think to myself), it’s more fun to be here by yourself and just do some more work, isn’t it? I convince myself that I lack the energy for small-group social interaction, despite consistently finding these exchanges to be renewing. It feels like I missed this lesson in childhood, I never learned how to invite groups of friends, and now there’s this huge segment of valuable information missing from my knowledge base.
Being a recurrent theme in my life, I've made it a new life project to address this feeling of not having any friends. During my journey at Burning Man, I set a new intention: to deepen connections within my friend sphere; this intention immediately began manifesting beautiful moments in life.
That night, I went out on my own to see Beats Antique. It was a bitterly cold night, dropping below freezing. At the show, it took a while for me to get into the flow; the music was phenomenal, but there were just so many people there. Taking a deep breath and wading deeper into the throng, I found an ideal spot to set down my adventure pack and get my dance on. Before long, I was greeting others with a more open heart, giving hugs, jamming together a bit. This may seem like nothing substantial — it’s what I do all the time at dance events — but being at a non-social dance event gave it significance, for I haven’t been able to access that side of me.
On the dance floor, I found a person to actually riff with. We zeroed in on each other, dancing jubilantly and freely. I introduced the person to partnered dancing and they instantly fell in love with it. I was honored to offer that experience to someone and get them hooked on social dancing. While others would normally lose interest and return to their own internal experience, here was a person who wanted to share and create together. Finding such a person was like a breath of fresh air. It struck me how personally I take it to be in a dance environment where everyone stays internally-focused, even in response to my efforts for play and interaction; I take it personally and question if I’m not engaging as a dancer. (Yes, I realize the ridiculousness of that statement.)
The network effect played its part as my connection with a single person expanded to include four others, all of whom were full of love and joy. As night gave way to day and the party wound down, we ventured out into the playa with wonderment in our hearts: what a truly amazing show that could captivate us and keep us in one place the whole night, what a fantastic gift of the playa to meet all these people with open hearts, and what a beautiful morning it was proving to be.
We visited The Woman (an art installation) for a while and there greeted the dawning sun. We all got to talking about intentions we brought with us to the playa, and each vulnerable exchange was acknowledged and cherished. I heard poetry, stories, and shared intentions that took my breath away.
Eventually, we visited Braccus, a well-known and beloved art car shaped like a dragon. There was a large crowd formed there, so we figured something good must be going on. We stumbled upon a phenomal group out of Australia playing tribal electronic music. We only caught the tail end of it, but the music was profoundly beautiful. After the show's conclusion, we decided to part ways -- hunger was at last besetting us, and it would soon be time for sleep. But we took a quick photo of us before we departed.
With the setting of this intention, other parts of life have begun to fall into place. Everywhere I go, there have been wonderful opportunities to repeatedly connect with others. "Repeatedly" is the operative word here -- my travels have never been short on meaningful interactions with others, but they are typically one-off exchanges. With life moving so fast, I'm grateful for the opportunity to interact with the same people more frequently than once every couple months. I hope that I can continue to hold this intention in my heart and create a new space in my life for people important to me, to always remember what nourishes and sustains me.
I'm deeply grateful for the moments that life has brought me since setting this new intention. Over the past several months, I have been gifted with wonderful opportunities to meet new people and deepen connections with people important in my life. It feels like there's a new chapter in my life, one where I finally get around to addressing this challenging aspect of my history.
The past three dance events, Seattle Fusion Festival, bamBLOOZled, and Blues Muse, have felt like special opportunities to connect with friends. Without having to work at any of them, I could take the time to relax and enjoy time with my people. I'm fortunate to have a growing number of people in my circles who have known me for many years and seen me through many phases of life; there's something irreplaceable about such experiences.
My birthday is just around the bend -- two hours from the time of this writing, in fact. I find myself returning to the theme of friendship around the time of my birthday, reflecting upon the people in my life. Yesterday, my partner organized a special birthday brunch with some my dear friends from Portland. I don't like asking to be the center of attention, but it feels super special when others make it so, which made this celebration all the more powerful to me. When I know I'm surrounded by and accepted wholly by friends, I can open up, be myself, and live vulnerably.
I think the theme of friendship will always be a challenging one for me, as is often the case with deep-seated issues from childhood. But I'm grateful to find the universe offering so many great opportunities to process the emotions and to recognize how I am cherished and loved by many, and how insanely lucky I am for it.
Thursday, August 6, 2015
Sunday, July 12, 2015
Last weekend over the 4th of July, I attended the Portland Blues Experience, a perennial favorite event. Unlike standard dance events, PBEx is an experience unto itself (thus making it aptly named — it is not an “exchange” per se).
PBEx differentiates itself by taking focus away from the dancing and placing it on the music. The event is run in parallel with the Waterfront Blues Festival, the second largest Blues music festival in the country. PBEx only runs late nights and always features more live bands. It breaks the standard form of 3 nights of evening + late night dances. Without the focal point of evening dances, attendees are given free reign to make each day and evening what they will. It’s more about the musical, social, and cultural experience of Portland, shared with dancers. I love it.
PBEx was a very special time for me this year. One of the reasons were the competitions on Sunday.
Rachel Stirling and I decided to join forces for both competitions this year. We didn’t really prepare at all — as would be expected when living in different cities — but have always relished dancing with each other. We went in with the expectation that we’d have a load of fun goofing around. And we did exactly that.
I think it’s always best to approach comps with the mission to have fun. It certainly worked out well this time: for the second year in a row, I took 1st place in both the Jazz and Blues dance competitions.
We were even featured in an article about the dance competition in The Oregonian.
I am so happily surprised and grateful and overwhelmed by this result. I never dare allow myself to believe that I’m worthy of pulling off something like this. Yet here it is. (And for those who are long-time readers, you’re already familiar with my opinions about competitions and the kind of (limited) insight they can give you about dancing.) I recognize that competing is an extremely specific skill set, but it’s one I want to cultivate because it helps me get hired as a dance instructor. The results from PBEx are reassuring to me that I haven’t lost my edge despite my recent heavier focus on software engineering. It was a powerful moment of external validation: not necessary, but so freaking awesome to receive it.
Also, it is just so much fun to bring that energy and magic to the dance floor to inspire other people. We both received praise from non-dancer spectators, saying how wonderful it was to watch us dance together and how in sync we looked. I also received a number of touching and humbling compliments from fellow dancers and judges, all of which make me feel deeply grateful.
A few weeks ago while examining the next year of my life, I set an intention to affirm my presence as a dance teacher in the US. While extremely grateful for my success in Europe, it has come at the unfortunate cost of having lost a lot of awareness about me stateside. The phrase “out of sight, out of mind” definitely applies in the dance scene. Right now, I may be well loved and recognized by fellow instructors and friends, but I don’t have the kind of presence that gets organizers to reach out and hire me. With my new job allowing me to work remotely and providing an income stream to support participating in events without teaching, I see this next year as a great opportunity to train and compete.
I’d say my mission is off to an excellent start. Next up: Nocturne Blues.
Monday, June 22, 2015
Two years ago, I began a journey to teach myself programming, forming a crazy dream to one day travel the world teaching dance on weekends and working remotely during the week.
Today, I am overwhelmed with excitement (and a little nervousness) to announce the start of my new job at Amazon Web Services, where I will be following exactly that same dream.
At AWS, I will be a Web Development Engineer II (i.e. mid-level) as a founding member of a new team within Kinesis. We are building a brand new feature to help users gain better insights into their streaming data. I will be involved with the entire lifecycle, from product brainstorming all the way through shipping.
-- Appreciations --
Bobby: thank you, again, for that serendipitously timed conversation two years ago when you encouraged me to start programming, convinced me that a CS degree was unnecessary, and showed me a path to become a software engineer.
Leo, Brandon, Hugh, Shawn, Michael, Arlo, Jeremy, Joachim, Ian, Stryder, Joshua, David, and countless others: thanks for the random bits of advice, encouragement, or general geeking out about programming that helped me along the way. Also, for the support to follow my dream and help me believe that it would be possible.
Anoakie: thank you for the invaluable mentorship you have provided. Your immense generosity has humbled me and I look forward to a chance when I can do the same for others.
Hack Reactor: thanks for a crazy intense learning environment to round out my autodidactic approach and give me the experience in web development to land this job.
Karim, Jake, and Ruben: thanks for being amazing teammates at Hack Reactor.
Sarah: you connected me to the opportunity, you convinced them to phone screen me when I wasn't sufficiently compelling on paper, and you were my champion and support buddy through the whole process. It is not overstating it to say that I would not have this job without you. Thanks so much.
Sunday, May 31, 2015
The end of this week will mark one of the more significant and difficult decisions in my life: where to work.
I've been so fortunate to have an unexpectedly successful job hunt. More details on that to come, because I find them interesting, but first I want to reflect upon the more pressing question: which company do I join? There are many to choose from, and each have their own strengths and represent a unique path in my life and career.
While there are several different roads to follow, I think there's one obvious division: whether to go with a co-located job or a 100% remote job.
I managed to find a completely distributed team, a small engineering team working together from around the world, that would give me the flexibility on geography and hours that I've always dreamed about. When I say "always dreamed about," I mean that this hypothetical situation was a big inspiration to take programming more seriously as a potential career path; it's hard to find engineering careers copacetic with a wanderer's lifestyle.
Now that it's in my grasp, I find myself questioning the validity of that dream. Will I actually succeed in such a self-driven environment? Will I find myself lacking human contact? Will I be able to juggle the responsibilities of work with the challenges of being on the road? These are large questions to which I have no answers. When I'm feeling down, my responses are far more pessimistic.
I waffle back and forth in my confidence about the suitability for remote work in the next stage of my life. Whether I want to keep living the way I am now, out of a suitcase, or whether I need to take a break and set down some roots. Living nomadically presents unique challenges, the most pressing of which is that the consequences can be much worse when you get swamped or overloaded. I've managed to generally avoid it (happily), but it's critical to be on top of where I am staying next. When on the road, I have to keep swimming hard to keep afloat, and I'm concerned that the new career will be enough that I lose my endurance.
I suppose it would be possible to work remotely and still be based somewhere. That could make sense, although at that point I question if I'm better off just picking a location and sticking with it. I have lots of big dreams about being able to tour around the US and Europe. I could go to various cities and train with teaching partners, no longer limited by where I'm getting dance gigs. I could attend events around the country for the fun of it, to network and compete and train, without worrying about not working a dance event that weekend. It could be a new era of focusing on training and building my presence in the US. And of course, the flexibility to visit Europe is massively appealing as well. Given my objectives in dance, anything short of working 50% remote would not allow for enough time and flexibility.
When I'm in a good mood, the choice seems clear: go with the remote gig. When I'm tired or underfed or under-cuddled or who knows what else, that certainty waivers. My mind is highly opinionated about whether I can handle it, and neither side seems to have won the debate.
Aside from fears that I can't cut the tech-dancer-nomad life, there are two other considerations that draw me toward the other path.
First, large brand-name corporations -- the kind that can gold-plate your resume -- don't accommodate remote work, so if I wanted a classic route through software engineering then I'll have to give up my hopes of traveling for some time. This consideration may not be a big deal; my achievements will speak for themselves, regardless of the company they are for. There may be some benefit to brand recognition, but it is not crucial to succeeding in the tech industry.
The second consideration is that the sustainability startups that I've spoken with all are co-located and want to keep it that way. (Which is reasonable: hybrid teams are tough.) While the remote team has an excellent social mission to improve the world, it is not specifically in the domain of sustainability, something that has been my passion for eight years. When I started my job search, I hoped to find a company that would explore the intersection of software and sustainability. I have found a handful of said companies, all of which are fantastic, but suddenly I have reservations of joining on account of the remote work consideration. If I step away from the sustainability industry right now, will I ever be able to return to it? Will the increasingly divergent "story of my life" become too unwieldy to convince potential employers that I'm big on the sector? I recognize the mentality of lack here, but it's a tough one to shake.
Every single opportunity is wonderful in its own right, so now I'm left struggling to choose between fantastic options. It may seem hard to believe that so much emotional angst could be generated from such a choice, but there you have it. This is not the first time I've experienced significant turmoil when choosing between two appealing paths. It probably won't be the last. These represent pivot points in my life, the kind of points that clearly indicate when my life became one thing and not another. I am in a world of constantly shifting ideas, balancing qualities, and huge uncertainties. Every hour brings a new consideration, a new conviction of what path to take. These life moments are very difficult for me to navigate.
Tuesday, March 31, 2015
[This is a backdated post, one I never got around to publishing.]
Two weeks ago, I finished Hack Reactor. Six days a week, 14 hrs a day, I lived and breathed code for a long, long time. I did little else -- feel behind on emails, on exercise, on reading, on journaling, on spending time with lovely people. I chose willingly to live out of balance for a period of time in order to grow immensely as a software engineer.
I'd say the gamble paid off. I'm able to build real stuff now. My job search starts in a month, but recruiters and contacts are already bookmarking the opportunity to interview. It's humbling and I'm deeply grateful for the positive job market -- such a shocking difference from my search as a construction engineer. I feel confident in my talents and ability, while equally excited for all the things I have yet to learn, the vast ways in which I can grow.
Immediately after graduation, I departed to Europe for another teaching tour. But before hitting the road in earnest, I spent a relaxing two weeks in Scotland with a dear partner. The time was exactly what I needed -- respite from my breakneck pace of life.
Even before HR, I was on the move constantly. I had been on a six-week tour of Europe right before heading to HR. The tour came on the coattails of a particularly inspiring (and consuming) internship with Carbon Lighthouse. Immediately before that, I had been on a three-month tour of Europe. My transitions from one life phase to another, as you can see, are generally non-existent.
While grateful for the fullness of my life, it does wear me down, particularly these past 6 months. Just no time to relax, to read a book, to have an entirely open schedule. This is mostly by design -- too much of the above makes me feel uninspired, even depressed. Like a shark, I have to keep swimming, even when asleep.
Happily, I got the perfect dose of rest in the past couple weeks. I read books, ate nothing but home-cooked meals (after three months of eating out twice a day), played badminton (a surprisingly popular sport in the UK), slept a lot, practiced yoga, did programming when I felt like it, cleaned out my inbox, and completed a slew of tasks that had been neglected for a long while.
I feel restored, reset, grounded once more. Clean and refreshed, I'm ready to take on the world. Good thing, too, because life is about to resume its usual intensity.
There was one tragic casualty during my time in Aberdeen. My travel mug broke from thermal shock (despite never having trouble before), the bottom popping cleanly off as I poured in boiling water.
My mug, a memento from a particularly meaningful event called the Chautauqua Retreat, has been with me on my adventures around the world. It has seen me become a full-time international dance instructor, caffeinated me through late nights of dancing and programming. It has been my wake-me-up black tea mug, my breathe-deeply jasmine green mug, my lets-get-silly whisky mug, my all-purpose water mug. But most importantly, it was a mug that reminded me of home, the home created by me existing in the hearts of wonderful people, my family, my tribe.
It is merely a Thing, and I've grown quite good at letting go of Things -- a necessity when you live in a suitcase -- but the few Things you always have with you gain even greater significance. They go with you through a lot. So the death of my mug was sad, even heart-breaking.
Happily, I can still carry Home with me, even without a focus symbol. So I move forward, on in my journey in life, walking along a path not frequented, designing my own life and loving the adventures I find myself on. And now, with my spirit fully restored and my body on the recovery, I am ready.
Tuesday, February 10, 2015
Roughly five weeks to go. Life continues to move at a breakneck speed. Over the past two weeks I have build two full-stack webapps, learned a ton about project automation, practiced using tools that improve collaboration on a project, and cut my teeth on testing techniques. I've traveled to Portland and back, visiting friends and family. I've made a new résumé for the programming world and customized my website's template to include extra links about me. And those are just the high points.
The second half of the course is far less structured; as seniors we're mostly left to our own devices while the attention of staff shifts to the new crop of juniors. We're not totally abandoned, of course -- access to guidance and technical mentors remains the same -- but we don't have the same relentless pace of learning some specific new technology every two days. Our learning is now largely guided by our own choosing. The world is our oyster.
I've been thinking long and hard about ideas for the thesis project, the project that will occupy our attention and drive for the next four weeks. I want to do something innovative and useful, to solve a meaningful problem. (Then again, who doesn't?) I think it would be amazing to find a project at the interesting of building design and programming -- somehow incorporating Revit (the industry's de facto software for building modeling) perhaps. Or maybe take a more frivolous route and create an integration with my Myo armband, build an entirely new curated experience of interacting with the web.
We learn about our project teams for the first time today, we'll meet and begin hashing out project ideas. The choices of this week will weigh significantly on the direction and -- possibly -- success of our team. It will chart the course by which we will sprint for the next four weeks.
Right in the middle of it, I'll skip off to Seattle for the weekend to teach at Rain City Blues. I'm excited for the event -- had a wonderful time last year. It'll be a lot of work, as I'm skipping an entire day of HR, working through the weekend, and taking a redeye flight to make it back in time for Monday. For all the work it'll be, I have high hopes it will prove grounding as well, since I will be back in my community. Through the course of Hack Reactor, though it has been a mere 1.5 months, I am already feeling degrees of disconnect from the world of dance. It's surprising how quickly it seems possible to fade out from the scene.
After graduation from HR, I immediately return to Europe for another tour of six weeks. Copenhagen, Spain, and Stockholm. It'll be less intensive by design -- squeezing in a few weeks of break (which will likely still include a healthy dose of solo programming) will be a welcome restoration. I look forward to actually being a tourist for a bit.
Then it's back to the US to initiate my job search. The whole world is open to me. Maybe I'll find a dream job doing programming in the sustainability sector. Possibly I'll search along the west coast to find a gig that lets me work remotely. Maybe I'll broaden my search to include Europe. Right now there's a whole lot of unknowns that will dramatically shape my next (at least) couple years of life. That seems to be par for the course with my life, though.
Tuesday, February 3, 2015
The link I provided previously was incorrect -- copy fail! It’s now fixed.
I wrote (what turned out to be) a short essay about an experience at Hack Reactor. It was an emotionally powerful experience, one that shook me up but ultimately proved valuable. Hope you enjoy it.
Thoughts and discussions welcome as always.
Monday, January 26, 2015
By Max Ehrmann.
Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others,
even to the dull and ignorant; they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter,
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals,
and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be.
And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life,
keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.