Once upon a time, I was a teenager with ambitious goals. Goals that were not necessarily based in reality. However, I felt pretty invulnerable. At the time, it seemed like I could accomplish anything I set my mind to.
It was not until my senior year of college that I got bitten by reality for the first time. I decided that I wanted to live in Berlin, Germany and I was going to get a job there after graduation. It was going to happen. I had chosen it had I not?
After two months of applying to as many jobs in Berlin as I could find for a Junior Java developer position, I had gotten about three interviews. By the end, I had applied to over fifty jobs. This is actually a realistic ratio.
I am going to avoid talking about the interviews in-depth, because there is nothing to say that will sound like I am not just complaining. In summary, two of the three companies rejected me after an interview and a coding challenge respectively.
The third company liked me. I knew Haskell at the time, and was pretty excited to find out that one of my interviewers really liked Haskell, as well. The interviews were enjoyable and it felt like a perfect fit. They told me to build a URL shortener and turn in the code. I built it and even decided to host the website for extra credit (note: this probably was not worth it).
Then, they said they would hire me. As I was not done yet with applying to jobs in Berlin, I asked if I could have a month to decide. I thought this as a reasonable request and they allowed me the time. A month goes by and I give up on applying. I was satisfied with the offer I had.
I email them back and say I would love to take the job. They respond they would get started on the paperwork, but the person in charge is out of town and it will be another week. No problem, I think.
A week goes by without response. I send a follow-up email. A shorter reply, they still have not gotten to it yet. A small seed of worry is planted in my mind.
A week goes by again. Another follow-up email. Another short reply. Another hangup.
A month goes by. I email them again.
I did not have a job lined up in Berlin. I did not have a job lined up at all.
The thing is, I did not really feel tremendously sad or hurt at the time. I think that since I was never outright rejected, it was something that I slowly had to accept. So I did not even notice how much it affected me. It was not until much later that I realized that it had really torn me down.
It was March before I sent that last
hopeful hopeless email. I was mad and so I lashed out. I decided not to apply for any more jobs until after graduation. This was a form of punishment. This was also a form of testing myself. What would happen? I decided I did not even want to think about it until I graduated.
I make it through the rest of the semester. I skip the ceremony.
I was living with a friend and he said I could stay until the end of the summer if I wanted — but I didn't want to. I needed to change something. I stayed in Columbia, if only to stay near my girlfriend — whom I thought would be on the other side of the globe by then.
I decided to apply for jobs. I started with companies that I had already worked for: Union Pacific, Asynchrony. I also applied to the company where my friend was working. To be completely honest, I did not really want any of these jobs. I am not sure that I wanted any job I found at that time.
I immediately changed my mind with Union Pacific. I told them I did not want to move forward. I interviewed with Asynchrony. I flew out to San Francisco to interview with my friend's workplace. Immediately following that interview, I am called from Asynchrony. They want to offer me the job — at the top end of the salary range that I specified. To my surprise, I felt excited.
I was called back to an additional interview with the SF company only five minutes later. I went, but I clearly was not present. I knew I would not accept an offer if they gave me one. I finished the interview. I went home.
I worked for Asynchrony for a little over a year and a half before I quit without a job lined up. Again, I am going to gloss over details. I was never truly happy there. It was nothing to do with Asynchrony, really. The company is actually really amazing. The problem was me. I was no longer full of life and ambition like I was in college before being rejected from Berlin. I felt like I had lost control of my life. I was not driving anymore.
It ate at me so much that when I got home at night, I had no motivation to do anything except play video games. I felt like I was losing my edge. I felt like I might get stuck in that state — the thought haunted me.
I was on a trip to see a friend in North Carolina when I finally felt a hint of inspiration to be proactive in life again. I was complaining about how confused I felt and my friend's sister said she would quit her job if I quit mine. Somehow this silly dare was enough to push me over the edge.
Note that inspiration often comes for me when I do something out of the ordinary — like travel.
When I got home, I felt like I had the courage to leave my position with Asynchrony. I stand outside the office of a higher-up, hands shaking. He has a visitor.
Oh. I guess I'll come back later.
Wait. Am I going to give up again?
I go home that night and research tips to quit your job. I ignore pretty much all of them, except one. I scheduled a dentist appointment.
A week later, I talk to my team lead about wanting to leave the company. This was a much better idea than going directly to man-in-the-office. She was incredibly understanding
and even gave encouragement. A week later and it is my last day with the company. I leave on good terms.
What do I do now?
I was putting away a lot of my money into retirement while I worked at Asynchrony. However, about three months before I left the job, I stopped making the deposit. I started storing it in my Savings account instead. So, I had about six months of living expenses covered, plus an additional six months of savings that was in my Emergency Fund.
So what do I do? I take a break.
Yep. I did nothing — for two months. I woke up late. I got on my computer. I made lunch at 4pm. I played as much StarCraft II as I could handle. I was okay with this, as well. I am both a workaholic and an extremely lazy person. It seems that I shift in between these two modes. I knew I would want to do something eventually, so I let myself binge on games and get it out my system. I allocated two months to this behavior.
With about a week left before the two months was up, I started growing tired of gaming. I wanted to start working on something. Too bad. I forced myself to play video games for another week (I am not kidding).
The week finishes and I am tasked with facing a big decision. What do I do now? As usual, I start making a list of companies for which I could imagine working. Before I even send out a single application, I decide that another job is not what I want. I was curious if I could try freelancing. I did not have much of a network, but I was up for the challenge.
I finally felt motivation again. I felt like I was on the brink of feeling control over my life — after two years without this feeling.
I hesitated for about a day, not knowing what to do. Still too scared to make a move towards freelancing. I was afraid to overcommit. I was afraid to be the only one responsible for taking a project to completion. What if I am a fraud? What if I promise something that I can't finish? What if I want to go camping but a customer calls me because their website is down and I am nowhere near a computer and I can't fix their site and now they are going to sue me and I will go to jail and...
My mind is an active one. Again, I am faced with taking the first step towards my future. Again, I am afraid of failure. Will I take the step or will I shy away out of fear? Will I ever amount to anything? I hate these paranoid thoughts.
The next day I walk to the closest café with my laptop. I order a soy mocha latte. I sit down. I pull up the website for the coffee shop that I am in. I find an email address somewhere on the contact page. I copy it into the recipient field in Gmail. Almost two hours later, I have an email with about fifty words in it. I read it at least ten times before hitting send.
I have done it.
I took a step. Not much of one, admittedly, but I felt a little bit of relief. Also, I felt joy. I think I only managed to send three cold emails that day, but it was a massive success in my mind.
As it turns out, cold emails are incredibly ineffective. However, I did get my first client from a cold email. Confession: I found her email address from a whois lookup on the domain for her business website.
This first taste of success was all I needed. My life had changed. Motivation crept back in. My existential crises were put on hold. It felt like I had found purpose again.
In retrospect, I had not found purpose — only a short-term goal. This is plenty fine with me.
Since my first freelance client, I have had exactly four other entities pay me for freelance web development. I am not sure I am finding enough work to sustain myself, but only time will tell. I have already come to terms with the potential of needing to find a full-time salaried job again. In fact, sometimes it excites me.
This is where the story ends. I am here now trying to be more proactive. I have started blogging. I have signed up to volunteer for LaunchCode. I plan on sending out emails this week to local non-profits, offering to redesign their website for free. I am working on redesigning my portfolio: nickpierson.name. I have already redesigned my pet project Sound of Text and started a Patreon page.
I am not sure there is a moral to this story. I just felt like sharing it. I did not exaggerate the story. I do experience this much anxiety. I doubt that I am alone in that regard.
Lastly, a note on name-dropping. I am incredibly careful about name-dropping online, but I did not see any point in hiding my last employer. One quick look on my LinkedIn and it would be obvious. I want to reiterate that Asynchrony is a fantastic company. They gave me a lot of flexibility and I imagine I would not have made it a year and a half at most other companies. In fact, I owe them quite a lot. They were the only company (out of 32 applications) that believed in me enough to offer me an internship after my first year of college.
If anyone reads this article and wants to reach me, I am always available on Twitter: @NickOnTheWeb.