Two words to describe my 2016: keep going

Man, it’s been a year.

This month marks the finish of year number two of this phase of my life: my second chance. In December 2014, I committed to chasing a decade-old dream of becoming a web developer and starting my own business after my ex-wife had a health scare. In the few months that followed, I lost my marriage, a dear friend died, and then my Dad died within 1.5 months of each other.

It has been a journey. 2015 was unbelievable. 2016 has proven no less unbelievable.

The theme throughout this year has been simple: keep going. No matter how many bumps and bruises you accumulate. No matter how hard it is or how physically and emotionally drained you are: keep going.

When you get knocked down, get back up.

Taking health and fitness to the next level

I started running and boxing last year and took both to the next level this year. My running saw the most dramatic change. I ran my first half-marathon, and my mother and boxing trainer were both at the finish line to congratulate me. My mother lives in Hawaii, and I’m in Philly, so that’s no short trip!

Then I ran the ten-mile Broad Street Run and miraculously came in at just under 90 minutes. Then I finished a 5k in October in 24:03. When I first started running in the summer of 2015, I was elated whenever I could finish multiple miles in under ten minutes per mile. To think that I could finish a 5k at a 7:45 per mile pace a year later was unbelievable.

I ran socially. I ran for my health. I ran for my life.

I built strength and confidence through running. It has given me an incredible gift: the ability to keep going.

Giving back

I found a wonderful organization called Back On My Feet through one of my friends in the running community. They help combat homelessness through running, training, and education. Running helps the shelter residents build confidence, and volunteers run with them on early morning runs three times a week.

When you build confidence and community around people, it helps set them up for success when they receive job training and other resources to help them get back on their feet.

I started my volunteering with the Philly chapter by running with Team Center City once a week. Then I started running races with them, basically keeping the team members company and giving them support and encouragement as they fought to cross the finish line.

Then a new team, Team Point Breeze, popped up. It was a team made up of residents of a recovery home. I jumped at the chance, and I now lead Wednesday morning workouts. I’m in South Philly at 5:30am every Wednesday morning leading them in warmups, running with them, and leading them in the serenity prayer.

If my presence in their life helps them stay clean and sober and ultimately get back to living independently, then I need to be there. I don’t know how it’s going to turn out for them. I don’t know who will succeed and who will relapse. The challenges are many.

But right here, right now, I can help them achieve one more day of sobriety. All we ever have is right here, right now. As long as there’s work to be done, then I’ll be doing it. I will be there to help them do the thing that I’m helping myself to do every day: keep going.

My work with WordPress

2016 was the year that I got my first major WordPress client. I had done small jobs for friends and associates over the years, but this year, I got my first major project. My boxing trainer needed his website redone. So, I built him a brand new WordPress website with a WooCommerce store to sell t-shirts.

This was the first time I actually got paid what I was worth. I charged what I was worth, and he didn’t blink. Shortly thereafter, the new Marratto Boxing was born.

I still kept up my involvement in the WordPress community through going to meetups, WordCamps, and otherwise connecting with people. I still kept that dream alive of starting my own business and going freelance.

Taking responsibility for my career satisfaction

March 2016 marked the completion of my ninth year at the company I worked for. I became the go-to person for everything tech. I knew where all the bodies were buried (not literal ones, mind you!), and I was generally the go-to resource for most things.

However, I had also peaked, and there wasn’t any higher that I could go. I wanted to be more involved on the tech side of things as a developer, but the tech stack that our website was built on (enterprise-level CMS written in .NET) wasn’t ideal for me or my skillset.

This was my third or fourth year working in WordPress, and I loved it because it was accessible and I could play with it in my off-time. I had been furiously teaching myself how to code since 2008, and WordPress helped me satisfy my hunger for tinkering.

Ultimately, I couldn’t get what I needed to grow at my job. It wasn’t them; it was me. I’m responsible for my own happiness and satisfaction.

So, I decided to stop putting off what I had been wanting to do for quite some time:

I took the leap

I gave my notice in May, and my last day was in June. I took the leap and started my own business. Deliberate Media Solutions, LLC was born.

I accomplished quite a bit very quickly. I started doing tech support work for an agency, supporting both WordPress products and services. Then a few months later, I landed a gig giving post-launch support for a media company.

These first two gigs helped level me up as a developer like nothing else had. Self-education only gets you so far. Jumping into the fray and getting my hands dirty with real clients in real websites was quite the education. There was the time where implementing a security plugin wasn’t going well, and the site went down while people were trying to register for a conference two weeks before the conference.

Then there was the time when I didn’t make a backup of the client’s site because I thought “what could go wrong?” when I did my work in there. All I was doing was switching out slider images. I have no idea how some of those images got deleted from the media library entirely.

Whoops!

Things like that happen. Thankfully, I also had successes ­čÖé I replaced social media PNG icons with FontAwesome ones and made them look like the PNG’s using CSS. I implemented a Bootstrap modal window announcing a site launch. I made custom templates in a theme built on Underscores using Toolset custom fields and displayed them using conditionals.

At my old job, I always wanted to be on the development team. Now, I was. Because I took that leap and took responsibility for my own satisfaction.

The second development team that I worked on added me to their Git (version control) repository in Beanstalk. I still remember the first time I committed a change to that repository, and the team lead merged the changes from my branch into the master branch. When he confirmed that he did that, I literally jumped out of my chair, screamed for joy, and started running laps around my living room!

While I was doing these jobs, I also took on smaller one-off jobs and on-going consulting clients. This all happened within the first few months of me starting my own business with nothing. I couldn’t believe it.

Rounding it out with starting a website and podcast dedicated to teaching nonprofits how to use WordPress was the icing on the cake. Oh, and being interviewed on the Driving Participation podcast as well as giving my first talk at a WordCamp was also amazing.

Tough lessons in learning about yourself

In the wake of my divorce, my job was the only sense of stability I had left. I was incredibly grateful for it, and my supervisor and coworkers were wonderful to me during that time. I can’t thank them enough for their support.

So, when I took the leap, I took away that last bit of stability I had left. All I had was myself. Of course I have a support a system in my family and friends, and I lean on them for sure. However, in my day-to-day life, it’s mostly only me.

When you only have yourself in your daily work, you learn quite a bit about yourself. I certainly did.

All of the jobs that I worked were done 100% remotely. I showed up in person for the first day of my second gig to establish rapport, but otherwise, it was just me every day at home, in a coffee shop, or in a coworking space.

I know a lot of people, many of them in the WordPress community, who love that lifestyle. I hate it. I love the ability to work from home when I need to, but not every day. When I lost my marriage, I lost the most intimate connection I had. As the months passed since I took the leap, I realized that I still need connection now more than ever in the wake of the divorce.

I also didn’t realize how much self-doubt had built up inside of me. I’m an entirely self-taught developer. I’ve spent hours and hours tinkering, watching videos, taking classes at Codecademy and other free online resources, managing┬áthe static HTML website at work before it was converted to the .NET CMS, etc.

I never considered myself to be a natural developer. My natural talents were in writing and music. However, there was something about developing websites that just kept me coming back over and over again.

So, I kept coming back, but my thoughts about myself not being a natural developer turned into self-doubt. They turned into comparing myself to others who I knew were great developers and thinking that I wasn’t as good as them.

I still got the job done at the gigs that I worked, but some days, it made that work infinitely harder. Especially when I would get stuck at certain points. Instead of just asking for help and learning from it, there were times where I would ask for help and be left thinking “dang, I have a ceiling as a developer. Maybe I’m not meant to do this for my full-time work.”

I got the help that I needed when I asked for it, so my self-doubt had nothing to do with my colleagues. It was all me.

This thinking was aggravated by the natural instability of freelancing and the financial pressures that come with it. Starting your own business with absolutely nothing is hard. Once I started realizing what it would really take for a sustainable pool of clients, and how long it would really take, that’s when I knew the path I was on was not going to set me up for success.

Changing course

One thing that I’ve learned is that I absolutely have the ability to have a successful business. However, now is not the right time to simply be out on my own killing myself trying to make this thing work. I’m still in transition. I’m still rebuilding myself and the support systems around me.

I need connection. I need more face-to-face contact. I need mentorship. I need friendship. I need normalcy.

I was incredibly excited by the idea of being a full-time freelancer and working my way up to becoming a digital nomad. No wife, no kids, no responsibilities except for myself. That whole lifestyle looked so cool to me.

Now, I’m dying to get back into an office. I’m dying to plant roots. I’m dying to live a normal life while still chasing after my dreams and goals.

So, I am looking for a full-time job or long-term contract position as a web developer using WordPress.

Once I was able to objectively evaluate my skills as a developer instead of letting my self-doubt run away with me, I realized that there were gaps in my education. Being self-taught for eight years will do that to you. I don’t know why I didn’t seek a mentor years ago!

So, I signed up for Know the Code. I had heard lots of great things about it, and they were all true. Tonya Mork is a wonderful teacher, and I’ve already become a better developer for it.

I’m starting to more openly work on projects and blog about how I’ve done them. I wrote my first plugin, and it got accepted into the WordPress plugin repository. I’m now working on a theme named in memory of my father that I plan on submitting to the theme repository.

An ideal gig for me would be working full-time on a team of developers building awesome things in WordPress. A place where I can take my marketing and front-end development background and contribute to the team. A place where I can level up, receive guidance and mentorship, and challenge myself.

I’m also still open for business and am happy to take on freelance projects. I haven’t given up the dream. I’m just adjusting to realities and taking what I’ve learned and changing course in a way that does what’s best for me.

Looking back to see how far I’ve come

Historically, I have been painfully shy and insecure, and I have let these things stop me from pursuing opportunities. I’ve let my fear keep me comfortable and complacent.

I’ve also had fantastic accomplishments as well, so it’s not a case of “woe is me, I haven’t done anything with my life.” Just an honest assessment of how my life has gone up until now.

My anxiety always presumes that someone will give me a negative response to something I say or do. So many times, I haven’t said or done much.

In the five years that I was married, I wanted to be a better person for her. So, I made myself a better person, getting better every year. Once our time ran out, that better person stuck with me.

I honestly don’t recognize myself anymore. I regularly network and sell myself. I’ve given several talks. I’ve landed clients. I’ve taken on volunteer leadership roles. I started running half-marathons. I’ve made new friends who have been wonderful to me.

I gave myself the job of web developer, people hired me for it, and I was able to deliver.

I’ve certainly had my difficulties over the past two years. Transformation, and I mean true transformation, is incredibly difficult. It is ugly. It sucks. It forces you to look at yourself and all the opportunities you’ve missed because you held back. It forces you to grieve for lost time and then forgive yourself for it, because you can’t move on without forgiveness.

Transformation forces you to confront your demons, one by one, and keep working to shed the layers that no longer serve you so you can become the person you were always meant to be.

My one goal for 2017

I only have one goal for 2017:

Keep going.

All I want to do is keep going. I’m continuing to write my own story. This next chapter is off to an unbelievable start. I can’t control what happens, but I can control how I react to it.

I don’t have any takeaways for you. I don’t belong in the business of giving advice or life-coaching. All I’m doing is winging it and doing the best I can with what I have.

The best thing I can do for you is continue to share my journey, and you can take whatever parts apply to you and implement those lessons into your own life.

I’m going to keep going. I hope you do too.

 

2 Comments

  1. John Locke on December 22, 2016 at 11:55 am

    Wow, Andy, I am genuinely moved by your post. Fellow musician here, and just married again for the third time (don’t worry, we’ve been together for ten years already).

    I love how you articulated your transformation. Because working for yourself or making any of these improvements to your life IS a transformation process.

    It is very tough to work for yourself, but also very freeing to realize you can do it. You have definitely unlocked this power. I also understand your desire to be part of a team. We all need some sort of camaraderie.

    Just want you to know I feel you on a lot of this stuff, because I’ve been there myself. I admire what you’ve done so far, and I’m sure it is just the beginning.

    \m/
    John

    • Andy Stitt on December 22, 2016 at 12:00 pm

      John, thanks so much for the feedback! It for sure is just the beginning. That’s a great point about it being freeing to realize that I can work for myself. Never thought of it from that angle. It is true.

      It’s freeing to realize I can do anything I want as long as I have the guts to pursue it!

Leave a Comment