(Tuesday, a few weeks ago)
I had planned to get up around 8:30am but was about two hours late. My watch was tapping my wrist nonstop, but I was dreaming about having a nervous twitch that wouldn’t go away. I texted Rob from bed: “I can’t think of anywhere to go.” I eventually got up, cleaned up my office from where I left it the previous night, ate half a protein bar and snagged a quick shower. I put on a button-down, which usually helps, and eventually left at 11:30am with my iPad and two plush friends.
Daytona could be nice, I thought. About 15 minutes later I hopped on our daily call. I half-listened and un-muted for long enough to say “nothing for me.” I ended up at Wendy’s: a tiny hamburger, four nuggets, and a diet soda while listening to a podcast. I drove out to the beach to a Starbucks I remembered had outdoor seating and beach view but their lot was closed. I parked a half-mile down A1A and walked back to find the lobby closed as well. Ah well, I need some mileage today. Sun feels pretty good, I thought as I walked back, my backpack sealed to my back with sweat. The wind was heavy and smells were everywhere: seafood, salt, smoke, exhaust, seasoning. I texted Rob: “Why am I out here?” Things weren’t bad…they just felt pointless.
In the summer of 2019, I was weeks away from walking off the job, having just spent a month filming a memoir video around campus with all the free-time I’d had on the clock. I was given nothing to do for months, had no clear objectives and zero accountability. Fortuitously, one of my peers left suddenly and I was able to convince our lead to consolidate our positions and raise my pay to keep me around.
I had a backlog of things I was excited to work through and did, immediately and through the start of COVID. I even fought for fast-tracking a project during the COVID summer, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a more successful project outcome last year in the org, especially given the quick switch to work-from-home and uncertain environment. I then spearheaded an effort to bring our two dev teams together as one and we’ve been reaping the benefits since. The first year of this role was pretty successful.
We ran out of meaningful work by the holidays and were given no direction as to where it would come from next. We experienced turnover in our president, some high-level staff, and our CIO. This spring I was force-assigned to a project to build new custom software for a single-digit number of staff that served less than 0.1% of our student body, all while the organization’s new leadership was championing a strategic move away from low-ROI, bespoke solutions for specific, small cases. Things weren’t bad…they just felt pointless.
Our team’s goal since 2017 was to consolidate development around the organization, but that mission had been abandoned since before COVID. Even units we’ve consolidated are now hiring developers again, leaving us wondering why we are even still here. Meanwhile, we have no answers for grandfathered business processes, the applications that support them, or the blanket approval for all requests from those businesses.
As this new decentralized, low-code direction takes hold around campus, we’ve basically run out of work. Our backlog is empty and our future stance in the organization changes weekly. Even the typical gaslighting of “everything is fine! Patience!” has mostly subsided.
I’ve given everything I’ve had to this job for the past 13 years. I don’t have defined personal goals or a career path—I’ve mostly just adapted to providing the best possible support and output to whatever problem needed me the most over the years—but I’ve run out of viable options here. That leaves me with a clear incentive and desire to move on, but no clear way to market myself or to even know what to look for. I’m not blaming anyone but myself but it’s extremely discouraging.
In the interim, I’m getting paid better than I ever have been and have essentially no work I can even choose to do. I’m sure many would kill for this kind of reality but I can barely get out of bed some days. I want so badly to matter, to contribute, and to be a meaningful part of solutions that make things better for people less fortunate or reliant on me. I know the first step is to start looking, but taking on more emotional losses to get to something better has been extremely tough to actualize.
In the meantime, I can’t check out. I still have to engage with work daily and I can’t know if/when I’ll be needed. And every interaction brings all of these emotions front-and-center every time. Being on a platform like Teams or Slack and seeing peers on other teams in the organization growing, helping, contributing, and pushing themselves with their work while I stare at the ceiling waiting for something to do…it’s toxic. And to hear my teammates (who are mostly married, have kids, have roots in the area, and are paid much more) talk about how great we’re doing…what’s a word worse than toxic?
I leave weekends with an optimism that I won’t fall victim to the despair this time, but when Thursday and Friday roll around I often can’t even find the joy in the privileges of flexibility and agency I have. And it bleeds over to other things like my relationships. I’m trying my best to actively focus on the positive, to journal about gratefulness, and to look for new, creative ways to motivate myself. It’s just been very tough.
I wasn’t doing so hot before COVID either. Work woes had me down in mid-2019, and it led me to decide to sell our house and rent north of the city. In the weeks before COVID, some days I wouldn’t even make it into the office—I would just stop into a Starbucks, do some work, and counter-space-surf until it was time to go home. COVID work-from-home was a shot of inspiration: something scary, something different.
But as I think most of us experienced, quarantine became the new normal. Summer came and went, the election anxiety bubble popped, and the holidays passed without much fanfare. I went into 2021 with no new-year spark or sense of desire for change. So I forced it a little.
I did have a new, small flame of interest thanks to Fall Guys: streaming. It was a conscious decision to give it a shot this year to add some structure and sense to my life; if work wasn’t going to provide it, maybe I could provide it myself. And the real bonus I could see was being able to take it with me. If I finally relocate and find a new job, a streaming schedule is fairly portable.
Streaming has been the bright spot for me this year. It’s given me something new to learn, to grow into, and to pour creative energy into. It’s also helped me find friends and be much less lonely. I’ve met many new friends in the Fall Guys community, been mentored by PSO and Myst speed-runners, and have generally felt good about meeting people and showing support to their own endeavors in a way that I just can’t seem to manage on social media.
Everyone is busy, conversations rarely survive a minor distraction, and the allure of putting your thoughts out publicly for views, clicks and retweets disincentivizes focus on individuals. Streaming, for as relatively-smaller the engagement, feels much more valuable as a broadcaster or viewer. Expectations of attention are clear, the mode of communication is fixed, it’s very difficult for any single loose cannon to dominate the vibe, and it’s always opt-in: you only ever see what you choose to watch. It’s very affirming and consensual, as opposed to social media’s norm of pushing content you don’t wish to see and can’t easily opt out of. Streaming can involve plenty of stress and disappointment, like anything else, but I’m very thankful for what it’s given me this year so far.
Our friend (and most importantly, my landlord) Erik found a job in Atlanta in late March and has since moved out. It’s been a big change for me, but the foundation and self-imposed expectation of sticking by my streaming goals has helped me weather the change. Erik is again changing jobs to a short contract position in PA and I’m visiting him this week before his temporary move. This has opened the possibility of moving up to Atlanta on a temporary-going-on-permanent basis, and I hope to leverage this opportunity as a small bit of activation energy to start the tough hike to bigger and better things.
The pandemic, work woes, national politics, and personal demons have left me feeling like I have no idea what I want or what could possibly satisfy me. It’s an old trope—midlife crisis, the one who has it all but isn’t satisfied, take your pick—but some days it feels like it doesn’t matter if I can make it, that these larger forces and attitudes will get to me no matter how my personal matters shape out.
I have been struggling with resentment a lot lately: toward more successful peers, friends that have the stomach for social media and similar online spaces, and coworkers that can benefit from the perks of being able to coast in the fast lane of normalcy. The daily depression of (lack of) purpose has made it difficult to see a positive future or to even feel like I could be a peer of those I look up to.
Relocating to a new city, finding new work and being close to friends seems impossible to navigate, like a triad you can only reasonably have two of. I don’t have a big family or professional network and I’m mostly interested in quiet places, small pleasures and personal projects, so there are very few constraints to my search, making my potentials pool intimidatingly large. Defaulting to Atlanta because of this new opportunity feels promising but random, like it can’t possibly be what I’d have picked.
I’m really lucky to have what I have. Even the ability to take risks to find a better life is a huge privilege. It’s very tough to imagine how most people would let go of what I have now and choose to pursue something else, but all I can do is try to be true to myself.
(Tuesday, a few weeks ago)
Back in Daytona, I decided to stop being so down on myself and just move to the next thing. Here I was, at the beach, with no one yelling at me to get back to work…I’ve got to be able to find some thankfulness here. I drove south to the next Starbucks, ordered a drink, sat outside in the shade, and read the first few chapters of Jason Schreier’s new book, Press Reset: Ruin and Recovery in the Video Game Industry. And a couple hours later, things felt like they made sense, even if for only a moment.
Worry is often insidiously fake. I’m often scared to be alone but thrive when I go out. I was anxious of Erik leaving but it’s all turned out fine. I was even afraid of building a streaming setup—of dedicating a room to a PC where I could disappear for hours and waste time without realizing it—but I haven’t regretted it. Even this blog update has suffered from starts and restarts out of fear of not getting it right, but the majority of it was written in one sitting in about an hour. Once you break through the trepidation and take the first step, it’s rarely the challenge you expect.
I’m sure that will apply to this next test of moving on, finding a new place, and giving up my comfort zone to learn, grow and be better by myself. It’s just very hard to trust that from here. Here’s hoping I’ll follow through on taking those scariest first steps soon. 🐾
Streaming is nothing without awesome people to watch and chat with, so I wanted to call out some of those folks specifically for making my year special.
- My mods: Rob and Erik
- The Fall Guys: Pirauxide, Codysaurus, SpaceRodeo, Breezy, Shade, Slash, Plushel, Friskiest, Quirky, Shaydaan
- The furry fam: Xanecor, Landis, Ruffy, Lykos, Flen, Mitri, Raphiel, Rauch, Cadyr, Rocky
- PSO peeps: Dylie, Verallix, Doctor Oran, Withhelde
- The new faces: Mikelodge, Silver, Jayo, Plum, and many others that come and go