HeroPress: Begin at the Beginning
With this story, as with most things in my life, I never really know where to start. Because of that strange sense of time and action I’ve always been quite fond of the quote from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland
“Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”
But where, for this story, is the beginning?
It was a lifetime of choices and serendipitous encounters that led me down the path to WordPress and eventually Automattic. And those same types of choices and encounters that keep me here.
Begin at the Beginning…
I was a youngish mother of a youngish child and a full time stay at home parent. I didn’t work outside the home; I was raising my kid. That was both a privilege and a problem. I realized that, as a mother consumed with caring for this new human, I was beginning to lose the very strong sense of identity that I’d always had.
This was my first experience with not knowing who I was. I always knew who I was, even if I didn’t know who I wanted to be. As a mother though, most of who I am was sucked into caring for my family. Not sleeping. Not taking proper care of myself. Not taking time for my interests. Putting the others in my house before me and saying that it was what I wanted.
Narrator: It wasn’t.
There was a pivot point. A moment before my daughter turned three. When I realized that if she were to choose to become a mother I would not want her to go down the same path of self denial that I had. I would want her to be who she is first and a mother second so that she could be the best self and mother she could be.
And I realized that was something I could only show by example. But how to start? I’d always been a writer. I often say that I only learned to read so that I could write. Journaling, short stories, poetry. Sometimes just long strings of thoughts and observations that wouldn’t leave my head until I wrote them down. I would write out long “stories” on MySpace about my experiences and realizations. I would scrawl poetry on scrap paper laying around the house. None of it was enough.
Also, as I understand is fairly typical for a stay at home parent, I had no one to talk to most of the time except for my small child. And while she was super awesome and receptive to any conversation I may want to start, they all tended to transition to discussion of My Little Ponies or a request for ice cream or screen time. So I looked for something more. For a place to discuss the mommified version of myself with no one and everyone. I started a blog.
But it wasn’t on WordPress.
I wrote and I wrote and I wrote. My experiences, my kid’s experiences. Dreams and hopes and bad poetry. And I found a group of people who shared with me their struggles and dreams as they dove into mine. A web of women and men who got me. Who got what I was going through. Who got what I was doing. A community of individuals, not all like minded, but all understanding.
And then one day I was asked to write for a city blog, and then another. And as my writing began to expand I found other communities. My sense of self was first preserved but then invigorated and it grew and I stretched my arms and I stretched my wings and I realized I was beginning to feel whole for the first time in a long while.
But using multiple platforms for my blogging gave me the understanding that the platform I was using was restrictive and unsatisfying. Clunky.
And that’s when a friend mentioned WordCamp Portland. It was this new thing. We were doing it for the first time. A bunch of bloggers getting together to talk about WordPress and blogging and stuff.
I had no idea what WordPress was. But my friend said they needed some volunteers to help out, and I’m always one to support my friends, my community. So I asked what I needed to do to help.
“Move your blog to WordPress”
And so I did. And something clicked. Once I had moved to a WordPress site I found my passion for blogging was something more. I played with themes, I made headers that felt like art pieces, I helped others transfer their content, set up their sites. I introduced them to a community that I was just beginning to get to know.
And then there was a cascade of activity. More blogs, podcasting, events, community, and every year there was WordCamp Portland. And I continued to learn and grow my skills as a writer, as a blogger, as a podcaster, and as a WordPresser. I continued to volunteer, and then to speak, and to help organize.
But life changes. Sometimes for the better sometimes for the worse. But change is hard. People change or stay the same. Relationships change. Life changes. Sometimes all of the above. So I ended a marriage and found myself stumped. I knew who I was, but who I happened to be was a stay at home mom who hadn’t worked outside the home in eight years and had no marketable skills that I could find that would also allow me to continue to be home for my kid.
And I panicked and I procrastinated and then I found an opening. A small startup I knew through my interactions with the community needed a customer support person who also knew WordPress.
A light went on. And I had a job for the first time in eight years. And I knew what I was doing. And I was good at it. And I continued to blog. A little. And I stuck to the little tiny fringes of the WordPress community I knew. Still not realizing how big the rest of it was.
The Portland WordPress folks were like a river feeding into the ocean of the worldwide community. But I’d only ever stood on the shores of the river and dipped my toes in. All that was about to change.
Till You Come to the End…
But as I said at the beginning, it’s not that simple. There is no end. There is just more. More stories, more people, more learning, more community. And that’s where we begin the part of the story that tells us where I am today.
This part begins with an email from a community friend with a link to a job posting. And a new beginning.
I was working happily at that small startup, spreading my wings. But starting to feel a little bit like my passion wasn’t being put to use when that email arrived. A link to a job posting working as a sponsored volunteer within the WordPress community and question. It was a simple question. “Do you know anyone who would kick ass at this job?”
DID I? I was reeling from the possibility and doubled over with imposter syndrome and fear. Fear that I wasn’t good enough. Fear that they wouldn’t like me. Fear that I’d be leaving my boss in the lurch.
So I did what I always did at that time. And what I still do to this day. I procrastinated. I talked. I thought. I woke up in the middle of the night in a panic thinking I had forgotten something. Thinking I had done something wrong.
But as I sat there one day tinkering on the startup’s site, scheduling posts, checking in on our customers all while getting my daughter ready for school that morning I realized that it was time to set aside those fears. To look that imposter syndrome right in the eye and say “not today” and I started putting together my resume and working on the cover email.
No one was more surprised then I when I found myself two months later starting my first day at Automattic.
It’s been about 5 and a half years since that email landed in my inbox. It’s been more than a decade since WordPress landed in my heart and I’m proud to make my living in the wide wonderful world of WordPress. As I write this story for all of you to read—not a cautionary tale I hope, but an inspirational one—I’m just a few days away from the end of my three-month sabbatical (a benefit that all Automatticians are eligible for after 5 years.)
It’s been a time of rest, readjustment, relaxation. Of edification. But it’s also been a renewal. A time to look back at how I got where I am and remember how lucky I am to be here today. And I owe it all to a little bit of gumption and to the amazing community of WordPressers who opened their world to me. And also to everyone else who is willing to be a part of this great big community founded on open source. On WordPress.
With this story, as with most things in my life, I never really know where to start. Because of that strange sense of time and action I’ve always been quite fond of the quote from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland “Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end: then stop.” But where, for this story, is the beginning? It was a lifetime of choices and serendipitous encounters that led me down the path to WordPress and eventually Automattic. And those same types of choices and encounters that keep me here. Begin at the Beginning… I…