Looking back on the decade as it comes to a close and finding peace in the wild extremes of life.
You are capable of more than you know. Choose a goal that seems right for you and strive to be the best, however hard the path. Aim high. Behave honorably. Prepare to be alone at times, and to endure failure. Persist! The world needs all you can give.
— E. O. Wilson
I’ve always wondered why we put so much emphasis on the year as a time frame to set our lives by. Much better, I think, to set our compass by the decades. Years come and go: They can be cast adrift by a tragic event or unexpected turn of circumstances; unusual bounty in one year might spell tragedy in the next, or vice versa. But decades are more enduring. They are the invisible rivers that weave a slower, calmer path through our lives. And because they are so rare — we’re lucky if we get seven or eight of them in total — they’re also precious, as well as epic.
It’s the reflective equivalent of spending most of your time rushing around during the day, then walking outside on a clear night and looking up at the stars. It gives you a unique perspective.
One of my goals for the upcoming decade is to blog more regularly. So with that in mind, it seemed fitting to spend some time to reflect on the past decade and all that’s happened.
Graduating in 2008, at the height of the Great Recession, was rough. I moved to Knoxville, TN straight out of college and spent months trying to get a job — any job. I found myself working at restaurants and delis to make ends meet, a trend which continued until Jonathan and I moved to Nashville.
It was there that I heard rumor about an independent bookstore called Parnassus Books that was getting ready to open. I applied to be a bookseller and got the job. While there I discovered what it was like to have a job that I truly loved, with people I admired and cared about.
Seeing my boss on The Colbert Report was an experience I won’t soon forget, and the feeling that job gave me will always stay with me.
It’s funny to think about it now, but in my teenage years I didn’t think much about technology. I had a computer for typing up school assignments, a flip phone for emergency calls, and a disposable camera in my car in case I got into an accident and needed to take pictures for the insurance claim. I didn’t follow the tech news or developments very closely.
That changed rather quickly after I started at Parnassus Books. Jonathan’s love for tech got me interested in it, and soon I found myself learning HTML & CSS, building sites with WordPress, getting my first iPhone, and delving into all of the exciting developments happening around me.
I started doing remote support during nights and weekends for a WordPress studio called Theme Trust, and when I left Parnassus Books so that we could move back to Knoxville in 2013, I ramped up my time there. I fell in love with the joys and quirks of remote work, and have worked remotely ever since. I consider this to be one of the more remarkable transformations of my professional life.
In 2011 my oldest brother Paul passed away in his sleep. It was the most painful time I’ve ever gone through in my life, and still something that haunts me to this day. I wish we could have spent more time together, but I’m truly glad that I got to know him, first as an annoying older brother and later as a brilliant and deeply thoughtful human being.
Paul’s twin loves were philosophy and writing, and I often find myself wondering what conversations (okay, fine, arguments) we’d be having now if he were still around, what books he would have written, or what philosophical insights he might have come up with. I have no doubt that the world is poorer for his absence.
My grandmother Sabine passed away at the beginning of the decade at the ripe old age of 94, and my other grandmother passed away just a few months ago. I’ve never had a particularly large family, but it’s a strange feeling to have an entire generation gone and missing from my life.
Buffer was a quantum leap in my career and opened my eyes to what it’s like to work on a growing product with a larger team. Before Buffer, the largest place I’d worked at had 9 team members. When I left, Buffer had grown to nearly 100.
I also learned a lot about what it’s like to live the values of transparency and the challenges and opportunities of remote work when it’s distributed all over the world. I transitioned from customer support to product research and had the great joy to help build out the research team there.
I also met many amazing people. Nicole Miller and I started doing bi-weekly masterminds together in 2014 and kept going through countless life events and role transformations.
Jonathan and I met during my senior year of college (he was a junior). We met on The Internet, which was still a rare enough occurrence back then that people tended to raise an eyebrow when we mentioned it. But online dating was one of the few, best options for LGBT people, and we were lucky to find each other half a continent away.
After dating for several years, and living together for almost as many, Jonathan and I finally tied the knot. Having a husband who’s also my best friend, who’s there for me during the best times and the worst, has been such an amazing experience.
We got married in a municipal courthouse in Santa Fe, NM. We chose that venue partially because it’s where I grew up, and partially because it was one of the only states where same-sex marriage was legal at the time. (Our marriage wasn’t recognized in Tennessee until the Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court case a year later.)
Shortly after I got my job at Buffer, we decided to build a house in a new subdivision that was going in just down the road from our two bedroom apartment. It was a fast-growing part of town, with brand new schools and good resale value, so we figured it was a sound investment. We lived there for about two years before we decided that owning a home made our lives more complicated than we wanted at that point.
We hired a good photographer, listed the house ourselves, and sold it in five days. We immediately moved into another apartment back down the street, and haven’t looked back since.
Jonathan and I sometimes joke that we’re living life in fast forward. After selling our home, we had an itch to try something new, and when the opportunity to buy into a gym franchise came up, we decided to take the leap.
I watched and cheered from the sidelines as Jonathan managed the construction of a gym in our part of town, launched it, and grew its membership. It was a lot of fun but also very hard work. It was our first exposure to the pitfalls of owning a bricks-and-mortar location, and we decided that being tied to one location was not our dream. We sold it to someone who could take it much farther than we ever could and moved on.
We learned a lot of lessons from that one. Figuring out marketing, deciding on equipment, building a community…it was a huge, all-consuming challenge that left little room for anything else in our lives. That said, I still feel a little bit of pride when I drive by the gym, because it’s still open and healthy and making a difference in our community.
My little niece Ellie was born a couple of years ago, and it’s been a joy getting to know her. Becoming an uncle wasn’t something I’d have put on my bucket list before then, but now I can’t imagine life without her in it. She’s a joy to be around, and it’s surprisingly great to be the fun uncle who gets to spoil her!
Though I’ve felt very sedentary at times, I actually managed to do quite a bit of traveling. I visited New York City, Disney World, Brazil, Australia, Iceland, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Jamaica, and the Bahamas — all for the first time.
I was lucky to get a long-term contract with Flinto to help them squash bugs and improve release time as a QA Designer. It was a unique role, and a challenging blend of designing and technical testing, which I loved. The team there is world-class, and I’ll miss getting to work with them!
A little over six months ago, I joined the team at Over as their first user researcher. It’s been a blast getting to know the team, the product, and our users, and I feel like I’ve learned so much in the past few months. The ramp up period in a new job is a wild ride! I still feel like there is so much left to explore and learn. I was attracted by their mission of helping people realize their creativity, as it’s something I think will be incredibly important in the upcoming decade.
It’s easy to forget just how much can happen in ten years.
The 2010s were full of extremes for me: Extreme heartbreak and extreme joy, extreme setbacks and extreme progress. Which is the point, I think, of looking at my life in terms of decades, not years. You get to see all the messiness of life, but it also becomes possible to see the gossamer string that connects it all together, and that bewildering, exasperating pendulum swing of life starts to make just a little more sense.