Parsing the challenges of producing useful social content as a newbie web developer, and my efforts to overcome them
I’ve been going through a tough time lately. I’ve been feeling very overwhelmed—like I’m just coming to after spinning out. Things I used to enjoy are starting to feel very stressful and anxiety-inducing to me.
This isn’t a wholly unfamiliar experience to me. I went through it once before when I was learning to code on the back end, and started losing my interest in favor of the front end.
That turned out to be a very wise decision for me in the end, as switching to the front end offered me an opportunity to gain valuable confidence and context for the back end.
This time, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s because I’m spread too thin.
How did I get here?
See, I don’t work the typical 9–5 grind. There are a lot of reasons for this, but primarily, I love the flexibility and ability to call my own shots.
It is also the greatest challenge I’ve ever faced—and loved—in my life.
A lot of newbie web developers, after beginning learning to code, choose the path of the Junior Developer. Hell, I did it, in some form or another.
While I did learn, I found that I wasn’t learning anything I couldn’t learn from engaging in my online communities. Furthermore, being in an office environment has never felt comfortable for me.
I’ve done remote work, but found that same lack of fulfillment. After a few months, I realized that it was because I wasn’t working on my own projects, like I had when I was learning to code.
Since embracing my future as an entrepreneur and freelancer, I’ve taken on a lot of individual projects, and—like many bright-eyed and enthusiastic newbies like myself—not factored in the complexities of life. After losing my grandmother in January, I’ve effectively had a dependent in my grandfather.
Being in an office environment, I likely would have had to quit my job. But thanks to the flexibility I’ve afforded myself, I can keep myself afloat while meeting the demands of life, and the needs of the people I love.
It sounds great, right? So what happened?
Well, I’m a pretty engaged person, and a natural leader. If a solution doesn’t exist to a problem, I tend to volunteer myself, and rally others to support the cause. But, being engaged is exhausting, especially for an extroverted introvert.
For those who don’t know, I:
- Do front-end freelancing and contract work
- Learn and practice PHP, WordPress and React daily
- Have been in the early stages of planning a women’s tech retreat
- Am writing and recording my first e-learning course for people who want to teach themselves to code, and/or are transitioning careers into web development
- Am going to be on my first panel at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing in October (hopefully the first of many conference talks)
- Care for my 85-year-old grandfather
- Live with generalized anxiety disorder and still-to-be-diagnosed mood disorders, which provide a daily struggle
- Am learning piano and bass guitar
- Mentor other women in web development, and in life
Apparently, as well-meaning as the intentions behind them may be, I don’t do as well when I have a lot of things on my plate!
Looking at everything I have going on right now, I decided that I needed to enact a 3-step plan to get myself back in the game. Not everything was going to come with me, and my mindset definitely needed to change.
Step 1: Re-prioritizing
I have been learning a lot about myself in the past two years, as I’ve faced some of the most difficult experiences in my life. And I’ve always come out on top, somehow.
I channel whatever energy I have into what needs to be done. But somewhere over the past year, I started feeling badly if I wasn’t doing a bajillion things at once.
My anxiety told me that I always needed to be doing more, even if the things I was doing weren’t even getting done. Then, it would make me anxious about the things I wasn’t getting done, too. 🤣
And why am I doing so much, anyway? I like to help others. It’s really as simple as that.
I get deep personal satisfaction out of sharing my personal experiences and thoughts, and the experiences and thoughts of others, in such a way that others can learn from them and improve their lives.
But one major thing I’m learning is that I seem to be more happy when going in-depth with topics I enjoy, rather than trying to do a lot at once.
I need to be prioritizing my projects more, not spreading myself so thin, and allowing myself to focus on just a few things—and one at a time. Furthermore, I’ve talked about the power of “no” before, and feel like I should be telling myself “no” more often!
I really shouldn’t feel anxiety about this at all. It’s a good thing, right? At last, I’ve found my “happy intersection”: technology and education. I just got a little too excited and overcommitted myself, and there’s no shame in that! Live and learn.
But now, I need to clean house and focus in again, because life is pretty much about how we recover from our inevitable mistakes.
Step 2: Making plan changes—and cuts
My scheduling style
The first thing that’s going to change is my “horizontal” schedule.
To allow myself to focus fully on one task for the entire day, I’ll dedicate an entire day to tasks of a similar type, rather than switching throughout the day.
Somewhere over the past year, I started feeling badly if I wasn’t doing a bajillion things at once.
Our brains don’t do so well with “multi-tasking”, which really isn’t even a thing. When we “multi-task”, we’re really just switching our focus rapidly between tasks, never achieving deep focus (nor deep understanding).
My first e-learning course
Right now, getting this course up is my first priority. The sales site will be up soon, and I’m in the process of writing and recording pretty much synchronously.
Over the past 18 months, I’ve been participating in discussions on Twitter surrounding the challenges that new developers face. This course is going to provide so. much. value. to the students who enroll, because it’s been built from the questions and concerns of actual students I talk to every day. It’s the course I wish I had had when I first started.
There is, however, a good chance that I’ll be pushing out the pre-sale to early August, and launching the course itself in September. As with doing anything for the first time, it’s been tricky estimating the amount of time required when you’re doing everything yourself.
Stay tuned for more details on that one.
I’m still currently accepting clients, but now being very selective about the types of projects I take on. This is mostly due to having to limit my generally-lengthy R&D phases (read: learning on the job 😉).
WordPress projects have been easiest for me to commit to, because I’m quite comfortable with theme development there, and thus they require less research time.
This year has been extremely rough for managing my time, due to the urgent nature of a lot of my family issues. But, I’ve gotta pay the bills somehow, right?
My hope is that the course will take over eventually in that arena, so I can begin working on fewer, but more challenging web development projects.
La Vie en Code Podcast
The LVEC Podcast is staying. New episodes will still go up weekly. Honestly, I’m proud of myself for even being able to get 8 episodes done, while caring for others, freelancing, and spinning my own wheels! I’m going to keep fighting for my podcast.
I’m getting a lot better with editing and producing my own episodes, as well as conducting interviews, so it’s taking less time to produce each episode than it used to. But, editing my own episodes is still time-consuming, and not my strongest suit. Overall, I’m hoping to spend roughly 10–15% of my time on the podcast.
To shift the onus of production off of me, hand-in-hand with my commitment to post more episodes, I’ll be seeking out sponsorship opportunities for the podcast.
If you are or know of a company looking to support new web developers sharing their experiences and spreading knowledge, please leave me a message in the comments, or hit me up on my Contact page!
La Vie en Code Blog
I’ll still be posting on the La Vie en Code Blog, perhaps even more frequently. You’re just going to see some major differences in my writing style.
I love writing, and feel that the written medium allows me an easier (read: less production effort) way to help new coders navigate the world of web development.
My biggest obstacle has been my own mind, of course. Do my readers actually care about this topic? Can I provide enough value to be worth the read? In other words, I’m not taking my own damn advice. 🙃
What’s super ridiculous to me is that I started this blog with the purpose of sharing my coding journey, not being an expert or even necessarily providing advice. Because I’m not an expert. Again, somewhere in the past year, my thinking shifted to needing to play an expert role, when nobody is expecting that of me.
Writing informative pieces requires extensive research. There’s really no way around this. Even without being a perfectionist about it, I don’t want to deliver incorrect information to my readers. But there’s got to be middle ground.
What you’ll be getting moving forward is a lot more of my original, experience-based content. Since I’m not just practicing coding anymore, but actually putting it into action, you’ll be seeing more posts outlining my process and thinking. I wanted to see more content like this when I was first starting out, because adapting our thinking helps us understand coding naturally.
Women’s Tech Retreat
… is going to be postponed until 2019.
This just makes sense, because it was in such early stages that I can postpone without any complications. I also feel really confident that I can make it a hell of an event, given enough time.
But I’m certain that the amount of time required would increase until it squeezed out other projects, so I’m making that call now.
My first Grace Hopper panel
This is definitely happening, and I’ll have more details soon. We just submitted the abstract.
I can tell you that it will be a panel of 5 Native American women in the tech industry, debunking the myth of the “unicorn” as pertains to women of color, and sharing our perspectives. There will be a powerful call to action for anyone who is looking to assist with the challenges our communities face, ranging from internet access to workplace awkwardness.
Step 3: Jumping back in
One of the worst parts of “spinning out” is trying to get back in the race.
I love Mario Kart, and I guess one of the best analogies is the frustration that arises when you’re hit by a shell, and knocked out of the running. Everyone is blasting past you while you’re just sitting there making ridiculous faces and flailing about, and then once you settle down, you have to build your momentum and acceleration back up.
Plus, anxiety has this great way of making everything seem like it’s going to be the worst, including the things you should actually be doing.
Unlike many aggressive social media folks out there, I don’t spend every moment on Twitter, nor do I schedule my posts past 12–24 hours in advance. So, I’ve effectively been radio silent for the past 2 weeks.
When I poked my head back into the Twitterverse today, I was afraid that being out of the loop (sick and burned out) for two weeks would have branded me irrelevant.
People are very understanding, and all that matters is what I do from this moment forward. I haven’t let anybody but myself down by not producing new content! And even then, we all need some time to gather ourselves and consider new approaches. It’s all good.
Of course, people who choose the 9–to-5 route often don’t face these kinds of obstacles. They tend to be unique to entrepreneurial spirits, of which I am most definitely one.
I want to make this work. And by following those three steps above, and regularly checking in with my obligations, I think I’m on the right path to avoiding burn-out again.
Are you a new (< 3 years in) coder starting your own business, introducing creative channels to your online presence, and/or otherwise bucking the 9–to-5? I’d really like to hear from other tech entrepreneurs on how you choose the projects you take on, and the lessons you’ve learned through experience. Please share your thoughts in the comments!
Until next time… peace, love, and code.