That’s what I really want to shout. Like, all the time, these days. The longer I spend without employment, the deeper into depression I see my internal attitudes slip. But is it “employment”, specifically, that I’m looking for?
I tried this stupid writing thing once. I thought I was gonna “commit” to it. That was kinda dumb. I placed an expectation on myself without backing it up with the type of actions and attitudes required of habit-building. I think maybe I’m the only one disappointed by this, but I have to say it here, because I dunno. It seems a fitting preface.
This time I’m writing to attempt to make sense of the situation in which I find myself.
So, my former employer let me go along with several other folks in a round of layoffs on June 2. Within minutes of that conversation taking place, my world came tumbling down. Access to mail, chat, version control, etc was revoked and the comfortable, encouraging, and trusted environment to which I was party was simply gone.
The first couple days after this happened I was in shock. Immediately I sent off a bunch of emails and messages to folks in my close network. I’ve been pretty good at building up a network of colleagues to rely on over the last several years, and I think my network is pretty strong. I figured I’d have a job in a matter of days, or like a week and a half tops. I avoided putting it out on any sort of social media that I was looking for work. Maybe that was pride? Maybe it was stupidity?
Well, it’s been a month and a half. I’m still looking. There are a couple companies that interviewed me because I had a personal connection there, and they like me but can’t hire anyone right now. Well at least I got my foot in the door, so I’m grateful to my friends and colleagues for that. Thankfully a couple of the initial calls I made netted a small contract, and another extension to an existing contract. So bills are taken care of this month. Heh.
It took me about two and a half weeks to realize that I should probably cast a wider net, so I started to do that. I’ve been pretty diligent about applying and asserting myself, but it’s such a grind. My emotional stamina is fraying.
I’ve avoided committing to freelance or contract work exclusively, because the last time I did that, I was really poor. Now I have a family to worry about. I can’t do that to them. Oh, wait, that was like 6 years ago. I’ve a stronger network now and I’m well more skilled. I’ve avoided taking more students with Thinkful, a wonderful company who pays me to mentor students and help them learn to code and find success as a developer. I think I’ve been avoiding these things too much. I’ve been letting fear run rampant in my head for the last month and change. I’ve avoided them because I think that “a new job is just around the corner!”
What a crock of shit.
And my great friend impostor syndrome shows up. Well, I never was really good at what I did anyway (bullshit) and maybe I didn’t even like it (equally noxious lie). And then depression, as mentioned before, just likes to sap all of my motivation. What’s the point anyway?
I had this idea in my head that if I stayed employed at my current salary level or higher (the trend for me over the last five years has been only up, so why should I expect anything different for my next transition?) I would be able to start really chunking away at the bigger debts (cars, mortgage, student loans) once my wife got a job. Well, she is starting her new career as a high school science teacher next month. We find out about that, then I get canned. Fitting, isn’t it? What’s that saying… when life hands you lemons, you squeeze them in your eyes and run around in agony?
I’ve been trying to make lemonade out of this, but my FEAR keeps getting in the way. What if I don’t make enough to cover costs? (nonsense, her job at least keeps us out of poverty) What if my financial goals go out the window? (who cares? I’d still have a roof over my head, food in my belly, and the love and support of my family and friends) What if I really am not good at what I do? (here’s that garbage again — now I gotta prove, again, that I can do what I’ve been doing successfully for over a decade) What if I can’t find a contract to make it work? (yeah, that’d be terrible if I had to fill all my time with mentoring students to empower them to be successful in a career on the web)
Frankly, I’m tired of this nasty, negative, offputting attitude.
So what do I miss about my old job? What of it was necessary? What could I leave behind and not care?
I miss my colleagues. I miss having contiguous work paired with reasonable expectations for completion. I miss conferring with my coworkers — tag-teaming a problem, learning a new facet of debugging, exploring a better method for solving a particular problem. I miss the community of trust. I learned at my last position to FINALLY trust my feelings in the hands of my colleagues. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I could ask ANY sincere question at work and not be sneered at or looked down upon. I would not be less than, I would not be “not a developer”. We’re ALL learners in this field, and what separates really good devs from really bad ones, 99 times out of 100, is experience. I miss having a place that accepted that and encouraged people to grow and learn and make that their primary mission as an engineer.
I miss having direction and guidance. Like, sure I can pick up a contract, but if I work solo on something, who’s gonna keep me in line? Who am I going to ask when I get stuck? Who will tell me I’m stuck and I need to send an update ASAP or else?! (I need that sometimes…) What if I get in over my head, and I can’t finish a contract? To be fair, the only time this has ever happened to me was when I had a full time job and not enough free time to commit to do the work needed. It was about the time availability, not my capability as a programmer. But damnit, colleagues are useful as sounding boards as much as to keep me on track.
What can I dismiss about being an employee, and not care about? Well… being an employee, I guess.
I thought working for someone else meant stability. I think it did… until it didn’t. What if that someone else doesn’t have the best long term plan and can’t support my ass indefinitely? Nevermind that I’m finally at a place in my career where I want to find a place to settle down for awhile. Nevermind my livelihood. Business decisions make that a non-issue. Oh, you want severance? I hope you’re not an “at-will” employee, or the company is not having financial difficulties. So, stability… maybe I can do that better on my own. Maybe I need to accept the illusion for what it is, and try to build my own sense of stability internally much stronger than I have.
This is not to say I’m not grateful for the last place I worked. Far from it. I learned some of the most valuable lessons of my career so far as their employee. I made some truly wonderful connections and am a much stronger engineer today than I ever could have dreamed.
It’s just… maybe being an employee is not what I’m going to do next.