Big Changes

After 8+ years of teaching guitar as my main occupation in terms of income, I am finished. This isn't a rash decision. I spent August through the end of November studying the ubiquitous web design language known as javascript. Most of the websites you use, especially the fancy* ones have javascript behind the screen as the electronic cogs that make clicked buttons and form data entry work. And as of yesterday,  I was accepted into an internship program at a company in Iowa called Banno a banking software company.**

Why computer programming? In no particular order:

1) I Enjoy It: It taps into my creative side believe it or not. The book that got me into coding in the first place is called Hackers and Painters. 

2) Eventual tripled salary: My goals with money have been simple, pay the bills, have time to create things, and get the occasional beef brisket sandwich from Goshen Brewing Company. Okay maybe get several beef brisket sandwiches (I have a behavioral weakness for good food). My priority hasn't been getting as much money as I possibly can. Though I've always tried to be smart about finding things that make more hourly and are flexible. But the fact that programming is flexible, mobile, and pays significantly more (eventually) than my current work has potential to do isn't a horrible thing. 

3) Remote Work: Although the company is in Iowa, we will be staying here in Goshen. Like much programming, I will be able to work remotely. Also, so long as I'm at set meetings, I can also put in my time whenever I want so long as I am accomplishing my projected goals and doing good work. Overall this is about as close as any job can be to working for yourself while working for someone else.

4) The Music: Programming was a very strategic move for me. Working remotely and having a flexible work schedule brings me back to the primary reason for the switch once I knew I would reasonably enjoy the work. Working from anywhere means that I can hop on a train to Baltimore, work on the train, work at a coffee shop during the days, play some shows, hop on the train back working on the train, etc. The world is my oyster folks.

So that is the what and why, but because we all go through these transitions (or at least we all want to at some point) I figured I'd included a bit of the how—things that I learned form this transition and from others who have gone through it that I will definitely keep in mind when the next transition comes. I hope they are helpful.

1. If you refuse to ever transition in the work you are doing, you will become toxic to yourself and to the environment that you are in: I sat with a group of retirees a couple of weeks ago. I asked them what they were glad they did during their work career and what they wish they would have done different. One gal mentioned the importance of being ready to grow and change over your career. You will be hired in for a position. If you do your job well you will move the organization forward and you will get better, meaning that you will both inevitably change and need different things.

The trick is to recognize and communicate with the organization about those changes and transition appropriately. Failure to do this and staying in a spot too long is bad for you and bad for people around you. I've seen teachers, coffee shop employees, pastors, sales people, you name it. I've seen people stay for too long. They get bitter and burnt out and toxic. When they moved into something else they marveled at how great the new thing was and how they lost weight and started saving money, and people were so much nicer. They blame the old job for being inherently 'bad' when really they should have just recognized that they had outgrown it, or it had outgrown them (often times thanks to their good work). 

2. Be smart about the path you choose, but don't look for magic beans, there are only hard ways: Growing into a new thing is tedious and difficult. If someone comes to you selling you an easy switch with a huge payoff, don't believe them.*** They are either stupid or lying. Don't believe me? Before taking on the idea, pitch it to the 5 smartest people you know and see if they think its as obvious as you do. Certainly there are better choices than others. I chose to go into a currently lucrative field with an immense amount of openings that values self-learning rather than just traditional education. Had I decided that I was going to make my fortune as a traveling clown, I would have had a far more difficult road ahead of me and perhaps a few visits from the police.****

2b. Learning completely new things is immensely difficult for anyone: While learning programming I had weeks in a row where I would spend the day trying to solve a problem that now seems simple but at the time amounted to hours of try and fail. In each situation there was a lot of mental pain. At one point I remember being so frustrated that I wanted to cry—a feeling I hadn't felt in over a decade. Pain is not a sign of stupidity or inability, it is a sign of learning.

3. You will always have reasons why you think you can't do such and such: I thought I understood what coding was (detail oriented, mundane work) and at one point figured this didn't 'fit my personality'—that it took some special acumen I didn't have. After some exploration I actually realized I was dead wrong. You don't know what something entails until you actually start digging in. So instead of assuming you can't, start digging through it to see if you are correct about that.

4. Have a more general goal for what you want, but be flexible with it: Mine was more flexible and mobile work that as a bonus paid a little more than what I was making. Computer programming, and more specifically the internship I was aiming for was a more specific version of that goal, but not the end game. That more specific goal gave me a target to aim for that helped me move forward, but in the back of my mind I understood that I might have to make a course correction or learn from a failure. The people I see who aim for these more general goals and don't get caught up on the specific path to that goal tend to do better. Maybe I would love getting a job doing computer programming for Bob Dylan doing work that saved starving clubbed seals in Africa and paid $100,000 a year, but there are a lot of different options for me if I keep that specific goal a little more flexible.

5. People helped me break through hard problems:  I had a couple good teachers. One hired, and one a volunteer. I recruited these people during a small window of clarity in October. I had felt like bringing people in was somehow cheating, but at this point cheating seemed like a wonderful break from being stuck, so I contacted them both and was immediately unclogged emotionally and intellectually. A good teacher gives you breadcrumbs rather than answers. No one is going to do the work for you, but it's arrogant to think that you are going to be able to do the work well without help from other people. 

6. Stop waiting for a perfect way forward and just find a way forward: I used an online course from Udacity that I haven't even finished yet. It was great, it was horrible, it was a way forward. The important thing is that it kept me wrestling through code and gave me projects so that I couldn't bypass things that were uncomfortable. 

7. Think in decades: Or if not in decades than in two or three year chunks. There is a lot that you can do in two or three years if you continue doing the same thing for that long. Thinking in three year chunks allows you to be smart about it. Maybe quitting your day job right away isn't the best idea, but maybe keeping your day job, saving as much as you possibly can, and then quitting your day job a year and a half in to pivot into the next phase of life is a really good idea. 

8. Save money for transitions you don't know about yet: Priority #3 (not everything can be #1) in this next season is going to be saving up 'pivot money' for the next inevitable shift. Having money in the bank gives you options. The people I see stuck in places they don't want to be and shouldn't be in are typically stuck there because of money. If they had spent the past several years they hated their job saving a small portion of that, they would have either more or better options to choose from. So even if you aren't at the place where you need to make a switch, even if you just did make a switch—set some simple habits that prepare you for the next one. 

 

Footnotes:

*Technical industry term.
**So basically I found the most boring field in one of the most boring states that I could.
***A caveat is that you might have spent years developing a skill that you haven't implemented yet—but this was still hard work, you're just to the easy part now. 
****It boggles my mind why clowns are still a thing. The most notable clowns in our culture are a serial killer and a demon. Also, at my friend's fifth birthday I kept hitting Taco the clown in the butt with a balloon sword until he yelled at me.