2017 has taught me that I’m only just beginning.
Buckle up. You’re in for a hell of a ride!
My dream finally came true
I started the year essentially unemployed. I may have had one or two small freelance projects that I was working on, but nothing even close to paying the bills.
I quit my old job in June 2016 to be a full-time freelance WordPress web developer. In September 2016, I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to make the business work before I ran out of money. In November 2016, I was let go from my freelance assignment because they found someone else to hire for the full-time position.
The anxiety of that experience, financially and wondering if I had made the right decision with taking the leap, landed me in a hospital crisis center.
In December, I re-dedicated myself to becoming a better web developer.
In January, my dreams came true.
I was hired by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia to be their chief website manager and WordPress web developer.
A ten-year climb to change career paths
I obtained my undergraduate degree in communications with a focus in radio broadcasting. My radio career did not pan out, so I had to start over and find something else. Nonprofits and tech always appealed to me.
Starting in 2007, I worked for the Project Management Institute and grew my position into a nonprofit tech/digital marketing communications guy. I managed our website, transformed our scholarships program, and started our social media and email marketing programs.
I got my MBA in marketing and two project management certifications. I taught myself web development. I networked at conferences and meetups and on social media. I listened to podcasts.
I spent ten years grinding it out and going after my passion. I eventually quit my job so I could start working in WordPress full-time. I knew that’s what I wanted to do.
Jewish Federation picked me up after ten years of grinding it out and gave me my dream job.
No time to waste, get to work now
We were four months away from launching our brand new website, and they needed a technical project manager and content manager to work with the digital agency that was building our website to get this thing to launch.
So, that’s what I did.
I used every skill that I learned over the last ten years and successfully launched a brand new, beautiful website that will help us meet our mission.
It was stressful. It was anxiety-provoking. It was wonderful. It was the chance for me to fully do what I’ve always wanted to do.
It was me playing my game.
I’m the only one in the Jewish Federation that has a deep knowledge of web. They depend on me to make the right moves. They give me the autonomy and trust to do what I do.
And I deliver for them.
Since the launch of the website, I have continued to build on it, launched a new email newsletter program, and am building out some really cool things for new marketing campaigns.
I love what I do, and I no longer live for the weekend or dread Mondays.
Back on the dating scene
My divorce was finalized in November 2015.
I had to take some time to heal. Even though the divorce process was very simple since we had no kids and not much in the way of assets to divide up, it still rips you apart. It was extraordinarily painful.
So, I took some time to heal and be by myself and with myself. Yes, I patrolled the dating sites and reached out to women much earlier than I should have. Thankfully, I didn’t get any bites. I was an emotional basketcase that just needed time to heal.
In March of this year, I decided I was ready to give dating a try. So, I donated my wedding ring to my favorite nonprofit organization so it would no longer occupy my space. I wanted to make room for someone new.
I re-did my profile on Tinder, Bumble, and a few other apps and got myself back out there.
Over the last several months, I have been out with nine women. It’s been fun, interesting, and anxiety-provoking all at once. None of them have wound up sticking, but I sure have learned so much about myself and what I’m looking for in a long-term partner.
It has also given me a chance to experience the Philly bar and restaurant scene, and go to my first Eagles game, so that’s always a bonus!
I’ve been on a bit of a dating break since November, just to get my head back together and re-strategize on certain things. I am now employing the services of a Jewish matchmaker (Judaism is a preference, but not a deal-breaker). Using apps and swiping left and right is a good source for dates, but I’d also like to try using referrals.
If you know anyone who is single, local to Philly metro, and high-quality, feel free to let me know! In the meantime, I will continue to live and love life.
Running and community-building
My passion for running has increased ten-fold this year!
I ran the Philly Love Run half-marathon in March. I was on pace through mile 11 to finish in under two hours. At mile 11, I was overtaken by calf cramps due to lack of hydration. I had to sit on the side of West River Drive for ten minutes because I couldn’t walk.
I eventually got back up and ran/walked (mostly walked) to the finish line. Everyone congratulated me on finishing and told me what an accomplishment it was. I didn’t think I had any other option unless I was physically incapacitated.
What was I gonna do? Sit and complain that I had cramps and not finish???
I ran the Broad Street Run with my Back On My Feet folks and raised money for them. I regularly run with a team of guys who are residents at an addiction recovery home, and I helped two of them finish the ten-mile race in under two hours.
They were proud of themselves. They knew that if they could accomplish something as hard as a ten-mile run, then they can accomplish anything else in life.
Running really does build strength and confidence. It did in me, and I’m so glad that I could do that for them.
Over the summer, I decided to train for a fall half-marathon so that I could try to finish in under two hours. Family plans ultimately prevented me from running my scheduled half in September, but I suddenly ran the half distance on the roads during a training run and finished in under two hours.
I know many runners don’t think that it counts unless it happens during a race. Me personally, I don’t care. I was happy to finally do it, because I knew that I could. That suited me just fine. Then I did it again on the roads. I’ll eventually do it during a race.
I switched to the Philly half in November to raise money for Back On My Feet. However, I was feeling so good and running longer distances more frequently that I pulled the trigger and switched from the half to the full.
My first full marathon
I made this switch fairly last-minute, so I had only five weeks to train for my first full-marathon. Crazy? Sure! Doable? Thankfully, I was in good enough shape so that the answer to this question was a resounding YES!
My long runs during those five weeks of training were 16, 20, 21, 14, and five miles. The 16 miles were a fast, easy cruise around Central Park in New York City. The 20 miles were hard but made easier since I ran most of them with friends. The 21 miles were a slow easy cruise from my apartment to halfway around the Kelly Drive/West River Drive loop and back. The 14- and five-milers were nice runs to keep my legs fresh but not overworked.
Marathon day came, and at mile 18, those stupid lack-of-hydration cramps crept back up on me. I made sure to drink my butt off the day before and during the race, but apparently it wasn’t quite enough. So, I slowed down drastically, walked when I needed to, and stopped at every water and Gatorade stop to replenish.
I came in almost 20 minutes slower than my goal time and had a 4:49 finish time. However, I got to enjoy the experience more, finished on my feet, and had enough gas left in the tank to sprint through the finish line.
I not only ran races this year. I also continued building my community. I deepened relationships with my Back On My Feet folks. I continued posting my runs on Instagram. I started running with the Manayunk Beer Runners so that I could get to know folks in my new neighborhood.
I have found runners to be an awesome bunch. They take care of themselves and care about their physical and mental health. They’re positive people and don’t have too many complaints. They’re the kind of folks that support and encourage you and help you move forward.
Moving to a new neighborhood
In October, I moved out of my apartment in Aston into a new one in Roxborough. I had lived in my Aston apartment for 2.5 years. It was the apartment where I moved in with my ex-wife and then she moved out two weeks later when she left me.
I rebuilt and recovered in that apartment but could never fully make it my home. It served its purpose, and it was time to move on and make a new place into my home.
I love my new place in Roxborough. I’m back in the city. Many more people here than in my old neighborhood. Lots of different colors and socio-economic backgrounds. I love being in the mix.
I also have a large back patio where I can fit a grill, a smoker, and a hammock if I really wanted one.
The bus to work stops right in front of my place, so that’s incredibly convenient as well!
I had people over to my new place for a housewarming. It was the first time I ever hosted a party at my place. I loved every minute of it and will be doing it again many times in the future!
Getting to know myself on a deeper level so I could break free
After a particularly anxiety-provoking dating experience, I decided to further explore my communication disorder that I was born with and how it affected me in my life.
I also talked with my mother about it to gain further understanding and clarity about everything that happened.
I came to a full realization that everything in my life that happened, including all of the anxiety, depression, and muck that built up had to happen. There was no way to avoid it. When I couldn’t communicate with others when I was very young, when I couldn’t connect or get my needs met….it must’ve been terrifying. I don’t remember it being terrifying, but it had to have been.
Through the process of beginning to fully understand what happened, I realized that having anxiety was not my natural state. Having depression was not my natural state. Having all of these complications was not my natural state.
This all happened because of my experiences in my earliest years and how they shaped me.
My natural state is being happy. Being excited. Being passionate. Being grateful. Having a sense of humor and being able to dish it out as well as take it. Connecting with others and introducing good people to each other.
The day I said “ENOUGH”
On November 1 of this year, I made the decision to stop being afraid. Being afraid of being myself and connecting with others.
I no longer saw the point in being afraid and made the decision to stop. I had no idea how it was going to pan out or if it would even work.
Let me tell you how it has panned out so far.
I am now able to start conversations with people without sweating. Without having a racing heart rate. Without being self-conscious.
I just talk to people. That’s it. That’s all.
I have experienced one time at a happy hour where I felt over-stimulated. So, without judgment, I talked to someone that I was becoming friendly with about web development topics, said goodbye, and left early. I went to get ice cream at Franklin Fountain for the first time (holy deliciousness!) and then went home.
I had started several conversations with complete strangers at that happy hour and connected just for connection sake. No sweating. No racing heart. No thinking anything about myself as being negative or less than.
I have done that same thing with my Manayunk Beer Runners friends and Back On My Feet folks. I did that same thing at a happy hour with my Dinner Party people, which is a group for young people who have lost a loved one.
Having the ability to connect with people without anxiety is unfreakingbelievably remarkable. It is the culmination of all the work that I have done over the last two years.
This is just the beginning
Life begins at 37.
I talked about 2015 being the year I became the full version of me. Nope, wrong!
I talked about how running helped me reach my mountaintop of mental health. Nope, wrong again.
I have since climbed to even higher heights. I realize now that I will continue to keep climbing. And changing. And evolving. And learning.
I will stop when I die.
Plans for 2018
My only plan for 2018 is to enjoy the hell out of my life.
I’m on an excellent trajectory career-wise. I will continue to make an impact at the Jewish Federation and will help us elevate our digital marketing game so that we can help more people connect to their Jewishness, feed the hungry, provide housing for those who need it, and everything else we do.
I will continue to run and can’t wait to do my next marathon. I’d love to run NYC if the opportunity presented itself!
I don’t have any specific goals for 2018 except to enjoy myself. I am fully playing my game. I am living a life of service and incredible fun. I am me to the fullest right now, until the next fullest version comes to be.
I am me. Andy Stitt. Without all the junk that the years built up. And I am in love with my life and everyone in it.
Thank you for all of your support, encouragement, companionship, and friendship.
I plan on writing a guide at some point that outlines the main steps that I took to get to where I’m at right now.
If you’re happy with where you’re at, then I have no advice for you. If you are where I used to be, struggling and dissatisfied with the knowledge that something better is out there for you but not being sure how to get there….I can help you with that.
I just need to get it out of my head and onto paper in a way that’s helpful.
The self-help gurus have written extensively about it. Information on it is readily available. It’s just that there’s so much information out there, some of it better than others, and it can get overwhelming.
Once I’m ready to write my guide, I hope to distill it into components that are useful, actionable, and relatable.
Once you start reading it, just know that the odds are against you of making a huge change. Humans are wired to maintain homeostasis. We are not wired to naturally change. It’s hard as hell.
Chances are that you won’t. However, if you really want to, you do have the ability to do so. It is possible. On a biological level, I’m the same as you. I’m not special.
If I can do it, you can too.