It’s Been a While…

Perfectionism… not a good state to be in.

This goes double when you’re in your first six months of your first job out of college as a software developer.

My first few projects were good. I mean, I messed up a few times, but when you’ve only been at work a month and don’t really know your team’s system, it’s more or less to be expected.

I think I got a little complacent.

My latest project, which I’ve been working on for… about 2 months now, is admittedly rather bigger than what I’d worked on before. I’m being handed more responsibility, as you are when you’ve been at it a little while.

Lately, not a day goes by when I’m not sitting on the bus thinking about what I screwed up today, or lying in bed having weird-ass dreams about what I’m working on (and subsequently waking up feeling really confused), or just being generally anxious. (That started manifesting physically at one point. Boy, was that fun…) It’s not a good thing, and it hit a peak about two weeks ago. Not coincidentally, I was working between 50 and 60 hours a week, checking my email at home, and generally feeling that any waking moment I wasn’t working was being ill-spent. Since then, I’ve tried to cut it down to 50 hours a week at the absolute maximum and generally hitting roughly the 45-hour mark, and it’s done me a world of good.

I’m much less stressed and anxious than I was. I’m not checking my work email from my phone so much. (I do check if the message count hits 40 or so in 12 hours because that generally means that something’s going down.) Just taking the time to be able to breathe helps.

But things haven’t gone so well this week. They were going okay for a while… until I found out this morning that I didn’t have a complete picture of what I needed to do to make something work. As a result, I caused more delays in what seems like an endless series of them. Thankfully, this part of the project has more or less come to an end, but there’s still a lot of work to go on the second part of it.

I had my weekly meeting with my manager (not on probation or anything—it’s something we just do as a matter of course) today, and received some good news: someone apparently went out of their way to let her know that I’ve been very helpful and just good to work with. Honestly, I’ve worked to deserve that praise. I know it’s true. And yet, because this project I’m on is going to hell mostly—but not entirely—on my account (or at least that’s how it feels), I feel like I don’t deserve praise. And it’s kind of tearing me up.

Again, I know it’s not untrue praise—it’s definitely true. But I’m exceedingly good at doing the whole “pity, party of one!” thing. Thankfully, I have a good manager who is coaching me out of my mentality of my only options being perfection or failure. I mean, yes, it’s good to get things right, and to get them right the first time. But there’s more than one way to do it right, and I actually have more freedom than I did in college to determine my deadlines. It’s something I’m still getting used to, and I’m still getting used to estimate how long a project will take. But beating myself up mentally for every little thing that goes wrong isn’t going to help. I learn from it, but not as quickly as I could if I could detach some emotional (dis-)satisfaction from my performance.

It’s a challenge I know I can rise to, but the climb is going to be more difficult for the tumble my self-esteem has taken.

I don’t really want to hear that I’m good enough. I really don’t want to hear that I’m perfect already. (I’m human and, ergo, imperfect. I’m okay with this.) What I want to hear is myself saying “I did this, and I did it right.” I want encouragement (and I’m getting it, which is nice). Above all, I want to make myself feel better.

I know I’ll get there. I’ll be fine. And I’m trying not to be impatient with myself while I get there, but I just need to vent sometimes.

It’s not the greatest “back from the void” post, I know, but it’s been therapeutic. It’s something I needed.

And anyway, with Christmas around the corner (eeeeeeeeek!), I’m sure I’ll have wonderful, exciting things (like baking ALL the cookies!) to blog about then.

Until then you’ll hear about more mundane things, like how I’m going to the grocery store to get more bread. Wheeee…

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Why I love fall

I love fall. It is my favorite season by far. Just coming out of summer in the beginning, rolling into winter… it’s amazing through and through. The sunny, warm days give way to the days where the sun, warm on your back or your face or your toes, cuts through the brisk breeze that brings the crisp, leafy scent of autumn swirling around you. Those, in turn, blend into the blustery entrance of winter. I would say that we get snow, but living in the Pacific Northwest… well, we got about two feet of snow 5 years ago. It was nice… until it sucked. When you live in a city that isn’t entirely prepared for that, keeping from going stir-crazy is a little difficult. (And, on a technicality, this was, for the most part, during fall. Winter doesn’t begin until December 21st!)

But it’s not just the weather.

It’s the scarves and hats and long-sleeved shirts. Is the jackets. It’s the boots, the shoes, the socks… all these warm clothes—fresh out of the dryer or no. (And when those fail, the layers. Oh, the layers!) And then there are the blankets. There is nothing so wonderful as wrapping up in a blanket, or throwing another one (especially my lovely fleece-y thing) on the bed. And cozying up to the fire… especially with someone else! :3

It’s also the food. Chili and soups, hardy salads, mashed potatoes, pies, squashes, apples, and so much more are all raining down from the sky, it seems. The weather is perfect for baking, by the way. Unless it’s pie crusts… bloody difficult things. They’re a pain to make, but well worth it. And then there’s the stuff I don’t make for myself. No, I am not a “pumpkin spice ERRTHANG!” girl—I’m more partial to my salted caramel hot chocolate and my caramel apple spice. Also, maple bars. To me, they are inherently autumnal. Doesn’t hurt that I love maple.

And the scenery… oh, the scenery! (Hey, it’s not weather!) I love all the colors of the leaves. And the sunrises and sunsets are glorious. Even the fog and mist are amazing. Just this morning, fog banded around the top of the moraine I work near, and it was stunning. There’s the corn mazes (city girl, but within reasonable driving distance of some really fun farms), the hay bales, the sunflowers, the pumpkins, and all the bountiful harvest. But it doesn’t stop outdoors; oh no! There’s the fire in the fireplace, the table cloths, the low lights, the throws…

But, even more simply than that, it’s the family. Fall brings us together. The other seasons do, too, but there is nothing like bundling up together to sit around and chat. It’s the time of year when I get to see my brother most reliably. (Like I said, December 21st is the official start of winter!) It’s the time of year when the family sits by the fire eating cheese and nuts and drinking wine. It’s the time of year when we all come together because it’s too short to go elsewhere. (That makes it sound like we don’t love each other, but we do!)

Fall is, to me, the grand wrap-up of the year; the bountiful harvest that gently maneuvers out the old and parades right in with the new. It is glorious. It is beautiful. It is the season I feel most comfortable in.

I can’t name every reason why I love fall; some things are just mysterious like that. But I love it just the same.

The Last 4 Years: a Contemplation

Well, I’m done.

It’s strange. I feel like a mix of an a-bomb, the “Hallelujah” chorus of Handel’s Messiah, floating just under the surface of a body of water, and David Tennant’s heart wrenching “I don’t wanna go” as the tenth Doctor are all going off in my head in turns, but I’m more or less utterly calm on the outside.

Maybe it’s just that I’ve freaked out about it so much over the past few weeks—the past year, really—that I’m more or less done. I’ve come to accept it: I’m a big, important computer scientist, and soon, I will be unleashed on the world to wreak utter havoc with your online retail experience. I won’t be a student anymore.

Well, not really. I mean, I won’t be attending a school, but you can bet money, food, or various parts of your body that I will keep on learning. That’s who I am; I love knowledge. If I could just walk into a library and soak up all its knowledge, I would. So, I guess that nothing’s really going to change, other than what I do during the day. Like I said, your online retail experience will never be the same. And now, you’re going to be forever paranoid. (This is probably going to be made all the worse by the recent Big Brother leaks that have rocked the U.S. news. I’m sorry.)

Looking back, I can’t say I have many regrets. A few, but none that keep me up at night. If nothing else, I do what I feel comfortable with—that was one of those lessons I learned early on—we’re talking kindergarten, here.

I’ve been a student for the past 17 years. 19-ish, if you count pre-school. I did learn a lot there. Like how to make paintings with colored shaving cream. And how to duck and cover during an earthquake. And that I really, really hate fire alarms. REALLY.

In many ways, college is supposed to be the culmination of our learning. But, thinking back on it, I don’t know that that’s necessarily true. We start general in grade school and go specific in college. Sure, there’s distribution requirements, but it’s easy enough to mold those into what we really want. Not that that’s a bad thing—we need to come into who we are as naturally as possible, and focus on what we want. These four(-ish) years are incredibly crucial, but then, you could make that argument for almost any other moment in your life. I am who and where I am today because I went to college, and a lot of things would definitely be different had I not chosen this path. But I didn’t learn what life is all about. I didn’t learn everything I wanted to—there’s just no way I could do that in four or even ten years.

What I have learned (on a more serious note than a few posts previous) is this: Life is learning. Life is scary. Life is exciting. Life is experiencing ups and downs. Life is unexpected. Life is constantly changing, and even when it isn’t, the world keeps on turning.

I think a lot of this can be summed up as follows:

Des’ree–“You Gotta Be”

What I’ve Learned In College

You learn a lot of things in college. Some of them will (hopefully) be pertinent to your future career. Some of them will make you a better person. Some will make you feel like you’re the worst person on the planet. Some seem like they’ll never be useful, but really will be.

In honor of my time at university drawing to a close, here are some things I’ve learned over the past four years.

–Food is a valid bargaining chip and can be used in place of money with the average college student. This is also more or less true of alcohol, but food will by and large make you far more friends, at least in my case.

–There are about 12 types of people you will meet in college, but each one of them is an individual.

–How to avoid La Rouchies.

–You’ll meet a lot of people who are just big high schoolers, or even big middle schoolers. At least one of them will be a professor or TA.

–Long weekends spent avoiding studying will allow for a lot of self-introspection. You will not always be happy with what you find, but you may also learn how to make peace with who you are.

–The quickest way from one end of campus to the other, excluding buildings that aren’t on campus proper. Like the ceramics studio. (Never had class there, and I’m thankful.)

–Everything you know is wrong, if only slightly.

–One does not magically become an adult by living on one’s own.

–How to get drunk neighbors to shut up/how to stand up for yourself when your neighbors will not shut up at 2 AM during finals week.

–How to manage with communal showers.

–Relatedly, that there are such things as paper towel dispensers and they produce these magical sheets of recycled wood product that can be placed between your hand and the hair clogging the drain.

–How to have fun on a budget.

–Dorm wifi sucks.

–Off-campus wifi really isn’t any better, and you have to pay more for it.

–How not to set off the dorm fire alarms while cooking.

–How to not be that jackass who sets off fire alarms at 2 AM sending everyone else out into the snow and ice in their goddamn pajamas. (Still haven’t gotten over that.)

–I can’t pull all-nighters.

–I can, however, talk until 3 AM with friends while trying to calm down from a panic attack.

–How to not live in an isolated bubble so that the real world seems like only a dream.

–How to cut coupons like a madwoman.

I would conclude with mushy stuff about how I have awesome friends I never want to lose touch with. This is very true, and while some of us are scattering to the four corners of the earth (or at least the southwest corner of the U.S.), we already know we’ll be staying in touch, so I’m not going to write sappy comments that would make me bawl my eyes out. There will be enough of that after I get my wisdom teeth out.

A life lesson from Tetris, turned on its head

A life lesson from Tetris, turned on its head

I’ll start this out by saying that I love Tetris. My brother found an emulator for an old version a few years ago, and I was hooked for the better part of a month. I am spatially challenged—especially when it comes to gauging distances, but also with rotation—so I’m not the best at it. But, much the same with standardized testing, that didn’t stop me from trying. The only difference is that my parents didn’t get a yearly score report/analysis from Tetris saying “Your daughter’s pretty cool, but she has exactly zero spatial skills”.

Anyway, onto my response:

I would argue that accomplishments make the errors disappear, but that’s probably because I interpreted the blocks (as opposed to actions that don’t put them in the right place) as the errors when I first read this. But even if you have stacked-up blocks, you still have some degree of control as to how you arrange whatever is thrown at you next, leading to you being able to take back control over your earlier “failures”. What seems like a bad situation at the time may be a windfall later. Yes, there is a good chance it will cost you the game, but how do you know if you don’t play?

Also, if you don’t “play Tetris” (i.e. live life, perhaps slightly dangerously), you won’t make any mistakes, but the blank board you’ll have to show for that isn’t nearly as impressive, given that your score will be zero instead of elebenty bajillion… or slightly less if you still have stuff stacked up. AND ONE THING MORE: No matter how many times you lose in Tetris, you can always restart. I’d say that’s actually pretty optimistic.

And really, if you play Tetris, even if you make mistakes, you’ll have a brilliantly-colored array (okay, 2D array) to show for it. And maybe, at what seems like the last minute, you’ll get lucky and start being able to pare it back down.

It’s all in how you look at it, really. In any case, Tetris is a really good metaphor for life, albeit one that I may have turned on its head just now. Like Tetris, life takes practice. I’m willing to play.

It Is What It Is

I’m starting to think my dad’s family’s motto is “It is what it is”. To my mind, it’s the secular equivalent of “God has a plan for everything, and we don’t know what it is until it happens”. It’s a mantra that sees us through tough times. It makes us recognize that some realities cannot be changed, and that we must make the best of what we have and are in the moment, or at least move on or persevere through, if nothing else.

It’s hard enough moving past a personal upset or tragedy, but bad things don’t end there. I choose somewhat realistic optimism and say that the world is not cruel, but there are cruel people living there, and that is a problem when they act on that cruel nature towards others. (I know, I know, free will, people need to be able to do for themselves as best they can, but when that starts interfering with others’ rights to enjoy and live their lives to the fullest, that’s really not okay.) Bad things happen, and how we move through and past them shapes our character. Sometimes, it takes only a minute or two, but sometimes, we may never completely come to terms with a tragedy. Why, you ask? Exactly. Why?

I am one of those people who, when faced with a new fact, often start asking “Why?” Why did it happen? Why is it that way? Why can’t it be another way? If it could have been/be another way, why wasn’t/isn’t it? “It’s God’s plan” or “we may never know” simply doesn’t cut it for me a lot of the time, especially the former explanation, as an agnostic. Honestly, though, there are some tragedies I don’t want to know the why for. I don’t want to hear some crappy excuse for the taking of a person’s life or, ahem, chastity against their will, and, betimes, I don’t want to hear “Just because” or “I had nothing better to do” or “They wanted it”. I don’t want to hear that a person thinks they’re justified in committing an unjustifiable act.

I guess another part of this is the sensationalism of modern media. Have you ever noticed how we often hear about the bad things, but the good often goes unnoticed unless it’s on par with superhuman feats of generosity or defense? We don’t celebrate the little things enough. We aren’t reminded often that there are good things that happen in the world, too, and that’s kind of heartbreaking. I suppose that some might consider it insensitive to celebrate the good with so much bad going on in the world, but when has anger led to more good than bad? I do not advocate for not taking the time to grieve; just the opposite, in fact. But nobody can go it alone. We need others to be the wind beneath our wings sometimes, and, other times, to be the voice of reason that says “let it go and be at peace”.

Justice is important, and it’s a topic I don’t feel qualified to handle completely. I cannot pass judgment on everyone accurately. I cannot dictate to people I have never met before what kind of person they are after asking them only a little about themselves. I don’t think we can ever completely know someone’s life story, because there’s always some little detail, some small thought, that goes unmentioned.

Humans can do horrible things, it’s true. But they can also rise up and move past these things, even if it takes a while. And maybe, if everyone was a little more selfless; if everyone took the time to smile at a stranger or help out in a soup kitchen; if everyone just stopped and thought every once in a while, things wouldn’t be so bad. I don’t know; I can’t say. But what I do know is this: I can do those things, and I will, because I firmly believe that it helps. The future is what it is, but only if you let it be that way.