We are going to make it through this year if it kills us
May the bridges I burn light the way

Around this time last year, I kicked off a new project called Genderplayful — an online marketplace for gender-variant folks to sell clothing to one another. It was bigger and harder than anything I’ve done before, and we’re still working on it. It will launch soon. Really.

Shortly after that kickoff, I gave up seven years’ worth of freelance clients and got a real job. At an office. Where people work 9-5 and wear pants. It felt like stepping into another world — one I had never aspired to be a part of. It was the right move and it was worth it, but it required a whole new skillset and mentality from me, and I had to pick them up the hard way.

So when I saw this print by Mike Monteiro at 20×200 last March, I bought it and put it right above my computer in my home. We are going to make it through this year if it kills us. Amen.

The other print of Mike’s that I strongly considered picking up read, May the bridges I burn light the way. I liked it partly for its hat tip to the family business, but mostly because I felt like my past and my freedom were going up in flames.

It sounds crazy (most things I believe do), but it’s not an unreasonable view. By saying Yes to huge things, you have to say No to nearly everything else. You kill new opportunities before they can appear because you no longer have space for them on your doorstep. Daydreaming about how you want to change the world stops being a good use of time, because now you have a focused direction. You answer the question of  “What do I want to be when I grow up?” for at least the next year, and it takes the fun out of the game. You lose that hungry, creative edge that helped you survive in constant uncertainty because that part of your brain isn’t challenged anymore. (That was valuable! You needed that!)

But the truth is, I had built that creative life so I could get to this point, and dive full-body into what matters to me. I’ve burned some bridges, but those fireworks were a celebration. Sometimes the only way to step onto a new path is to remove the other paths, and I’ll be damned if those flames aren’t lighting the way. I know where I’ve been and I know where I’m going, and it’s worth it. It’s hard as hell sometimes, but it’s absolutely worth it.

I made it through this year and it didn’t kill me. Thanks, Mike Monteiro.

And thanks, Emma. Thank you Will. Thank you Melissa. Thank you Bill. Thank you Sannse. Thank you Jen. Thanks to all of the genderqueers on Twitter and Tumblr. Thanks to all the staff at Genderfork, and to the new staff at Genderplayful. Thanks to my parents. Thanks to Alan. Thank you, Kyle.

And thanks to 2011 for finally fucking ending and being relatively well-behaved in the process. You did your job exactly right.

Here’s to 2012!

Good morning.

In a couple of hours, I’m going to a wedding in Dolores Park, at which all of the attendees will be dressed in white, preferably bridal gowns. It will look a whole lot like a Brides of March flash mob, except in september, and with a real wedding involved.

Last night, I hosted the six-year anniversary Queer Open Mic with my co-organizer, Baruch, who is an unstoppable force of creativity and community passion. Last night was one of the first nights in a long time that we ran out of time before we ran out of “if we have extra time” performers.  It sucks to have to turn people away from a microphone, but my head was still buzzing from all the art for hours afterward.

The night before that, I went to the unofficial BlogHer Debriefing dinner (reflecting on a conference I actually played hookie from this year, but have a long-standing relationship to). I walked out with a belly full of enchiladas, two work requests, and the firm encouragement from Shannon Rosa and Jennifer Byde Myers still rattling in my head, telling me I can do this. All of this. Telling me I’m doing better than I think I am.

On Tuesday, I’ll fly to New England for a week of rest, work, family, and foliage. (Mostly foliage.) I haven’t seen New England peak autumn foliage since I moved to California 6 years ago, and I know that emptiness has been getting to me because I painted my apartment red, yellow, and orange.  (BTW, if you’re in New England, the best way to see me on this trip is to be willing to come to me. I’ll probably be somewhere in New Hampshire, excepting a few stopovers in Massachusetts.)

Oh, and I got a laptop last week. I’m no longer tethered to the desktop in my studio apartment, working entirely from home. I can co-work now. I can build websites from hotel rooms. I can make the city my office. (I just have to learn to use a PC again is all.)

And this is all a long-winded way of telling you that I feel awake again.

There’s a poster in my kitchen that Hugh MacLeod drew on for me at at last year’s CrunchUp party. (That’s how he signs those posters. By drawing on them.) I told him, I feel stuck and stagnant and I don’t want to get up in the morning. Draw something that makes me feel awake. He drew this:

It took a year, but I’m feeling it now. I like getting up in the morning again. There’s stuff to do.  I have a team. I like my work. I have a new baby to feed, and it still has a long way to grow, but it already embodies everything I spent the last year trying to articulate.  I have a path now, and it’s not based on what people told me I should do. It’s what I found when I went looking for the things I care about.  And as far as I can tell, this direction didn’t even exist before (at least, not the way I want to do it). I made it up. That’s how I know it’s right.

And something completely freaking spectacular is happening to me because of this shift: I want to meet people again. For the first time in years, I’m interested in being social. I want to dance with everyone, to find more people to be close to, to listen to stories, to connect ideas, to engage.

When I felt lost, I disengaged from others quite a bit. On purpose. I couldn’t afford to fall into someone else’s agenda.

But now I feel unshakeable, and I want to keep walking.

See you soon.

Love,
Sarah

It’s here — the holiday of all holidays — Geek New Year.  The intersection of the end of SXSW Interactive and St. Patrick’s Day, when everyone who made the annual pilgrimage to Austin, TX is wandering home, rubbing their eyes and thinking a thousand new thoughts about how the coming year will be. And drinking.

I skipped SXSW this year, and didn’t miss it much.  But apparently, 2009 Me took some steps to keep 2010 Me in the loop just so I wouldn’t feel left out.  I woke up this morning to an email I’d sent myself a year ago using FutureMe.org. The subject line read, “listenupmotherfucker.” (And I’m such a nice person to everyone else…)

If you’ve watched me twitter on New Years, you know I make a grandiose attempt to discourage everyone in the world from making resolutions.  Resolutions are often about picking something really hard that you feel guilty about, and throwing yourself at it drunkenly with all your might, only to fail in about a month. What does that really do, besides pull a few muscles and prove your incompetence?  We need better traditions.

Mine is writing a letter to myself a year in the future.  I include reminders, predictions, ideas, requests, and stories I want to carry forward.  It’s me having an ongoing, ritualized conversation between the past, the present, and the future, and I love it. I love watching my own story unfold in a correspondence with myself over time.

Except last year I fucked it up.

Last year I forgot to write myself a letter on New Years, and it bugged me for months.  So on March 17th, St. Patrick’s Day and the end of SXSWi, after two weeks of traveling, I decided that despite being too wrecked to move, I could see the whole timeline of my life Very Clearly and had a LOT to say about it.

Here’s the letter I received this morning (with a few light revisions to make it more bloggable):

From: Sarah Dopp
To: Sarah Dopp
Date: March 17, 2010
Subj: From me to me, listenupmotherfucker.

Dear FutureMe,

It’s the last night of SXSW and I’m a fucking zombie. I’ve been traveling for two weeks — first a week in Portland and now this. Roomed with Melissa, Boffery’s a madman of vision, and Genderfork is exploding with passion. I want my Dopp Juice voice back. Queer Open Mic is getting its sea legs again, and occasionally I think about book deals and self-publishing. I’m speaking soon on gender and sexuality ambiguities, and in general, my life’s pretty fucking cool.

So why am I so stoned on exhaustion that I can’t even pack my fucking suitcase?

Okay, listen up. I skipped the letter from New Years so this one’s a few months late. Here’s the deal. You’re reading this in 2010, right? Shut up and keep talking. That’s my brilliant plan. Just do that, and you’ll be fine.

No, seriously, though. Here’s what you need to know:

1) Stop calling yourself an entrepreneur. It’s bullshit.

2) Don’t go back to school, even if you know you can. It’s bullshit, and you have better ways to spend your time.

3) If you forget the different between following your heart and doing what seems right, go read XKCD’s Fuck That Shit again.

4) If you get stuck, go read the Cult of Done Manifesto again.

5) Genderfork Book. Build the community. Meetups, volunteers, whatever.

6) Go talk to [redacted] about representing a community that you don’t see yourself as a complete representative of.

7) You can do this. You have to. You don’t know how not to.

Stay alive. I love you.

Sarah

p.s. I really like The Squeeze right now.

I must have been very tired, because I have absolutely no recollection of writing this.

I’m particularly fond of the line, “Shut up and keep talking. That’s my brilliant plan. Just do that, and you’ll be fine.”

And aside from that… yeah… this is how I talk to myself.

Go write your letter now.  It’s a new New Year.

The other day, I was talking to a friend of mine who’s immersed in academia.  She’s halfway through a 7-year Masters and PhD program and working as a teacher’s assistant in the midst of it. I admire her commitment, and ended up telling her a bit about my own experience with academia… and why I got out.

The Chronic Dropout with the 4.0

I don’t want to say I chose the easy classes — that’s not fair. I chose the classes that interested me. The ones that matched my skills. Linguistics, Mandarin Chinese, Logic, Religious Studies, any kind of Writing… these were things I had some connection to, and wanted to learn more about. But across the 6 schools I attended as I bounced around the country, I rarely found myself feeling more engaged than a teacher’s assistant would, sitting in the back of a classroom, grading papers (and that’s a pretty fair analogy, since it’s what I set myself up to be treated like most of the time, anyway). Whether it was in helping everyone else on their homework or providing the Example Paper that the professor could use as a model, I wasn’t there to be a student. I was there to be fulfill some obligation to the world that I couldn’t quite name.  And for the first few years, I did it cheerfully.

My brain’s a quirky creature. It’s exceptional in some areas, pathetic in others. I grasp new concepts quickly and I can memorize things well for tests. I seem to understand structures and logic better than most people. I listen attentively, and I write clearly. But here’s the catch: I’m terrible at reading. My mind wanders too much to stay on a page unless I’m focusing very, very hard.

It just happened to work out that the listening, logic, and writing parts of my brain are exceptional enough that throughout high school and college, nobody seemed to notice that, no really, I can’t read. I survived all my social studies and literature classes by scanning a few chapters, listening well in lectures, and choosing paper topics that only required me to analyze small portions of the text.  I got A’s every time, and was treated like one of the best students.  Every time.

This, coupled with sheer boredom, is probably why I stopped respecting academia.  How does someone end up getting straight A’s at a prestigious liberal arts school without being able to get through a single book?

I attended six schools, I’m about 4 classes short of a degree, and up until my last semester (which I didn’t complete), I had a 4.0 GPA. I am a chronic college dropout, and I have no desire to keep going. I’m done.

Will I Eventually Give In?

But that’s not what I tell my family. My official line is that I dropped out because it stopped mattering to me.  And I’ll go back if it starts to matter again.

It will matter again if I ever want to…
Read the rest of this entry »

Hey Everyone,

So here’s the situation. I’m the founder of Genderfork.com, a community expression site about gender variance, and I’m out as “queer.”  I also live in the gayest neighborhood in San Francisco and I host two events: Queer Open Mic and Deviants Online, both of which serve sexual minorities and other beautiful creative weirdos.  I also sometimes speak about gender and sexuality.  It’s kind of a thing in my life.

But then again, in a lot of contexts, I talk about Non-Queer Stuff: I build websites, manage online communities, and try to be a good cell in the living, breathing organism that is Silicon Valley.  This whole Gender and Sexuality association seems to be prompting a lot of questions that I need to catch up on, though, so let’s dig in…

Q: OMG, I’m so sorry, I just referred to you as “female,” and you run that website, so that was probably a really stupid insensitive thing to say. Sorry. Sorry. What do you prefer?

A: I appreciate you trying to be sensitive, but female, woman, and she are fine for me, thanks. If you ever call me a lady or a chick, I’ll probably look at you like you’re smoking something, but that’ll be the end of it. I do identify as genderqueer, but as long as you don’t expect me to fit a stereotypically feminine mold, we can stick to what’s familiar. It’s cool.

Q: Okay, so is that probably true for everyone I meet who seems like you?

A: Nope. People can look similar from the outside but feel differently on the inside, so it’s bad form to assume these things.

Q: Got it. So when I don’t know how a person identifies, I should always ask?

A: The Easy Answer is “yes,” but I’m not going to give you that one right now, because I think you can handle the Real Answer. The Real Answer is that in a lot of situations, the most respectful thing you can do is not need to ask.

Outside of Queer World, we know a lot about people just because they fit the same story that we’re telling. If Jane gets pregnant, we can assume it was from her husband, and if it wasn’t there’s probably a scandal to gossip about. If we meet a man named John in a suit at a party, we can usually assume that John has a penis and that he likes girls with vaginas. There’s nothing wrong with these assumptions when everyone fits the story. They stop being okay, though, when some people don’t.

Inside Queer World, we try to stop assuming. We still do it (a lot — call it human nature), but we try to remember that the stories we’re making up about people are just stories, and we try very hard not to say them out loud until they’re confirmed. The most respectful way to get someone’s real story is to listen, not to ask. If you meet someone new, and you can’t tell what their gender, sexuality, or relationship story is is right away, ask yourself how much it really matters right that moment to know the truth. Find a way to sit with the idea that maybe, this identity is a personal matter that they don’t want to talk about right then. Find a way to be okay with that. We don’t get all of these answers from each other, either, and we’re okay with that.

Then again, if it’s genuinely relevant, or if the person in question is ready and willing to field questions, go ahead and ask. Just be prepared to accept whatever they tell you, even if it doesn’t quite make sense to you, and be very respectful about it all.

Q: Sorry. I shouldn’t be asking you these questions, I guess. Do you want me to stop?

A: Naw, you’re fine. I called this blog post “Frequently Asked Questions,” remember? Keep going. This is helpful to people.

Read the rest of this entry »

I believe that some communities need managers (or facilitators or moderators — there are a few different flavors to this role).  I also believe there are ways to hold that space respectfully, in a way that takes care of everyone, while still being very strong.  As promised, I want to offer you some of the “moves” I’ve learned over the years in this role, with hopes that you can use them to help guide your own community spaces.

There’s just one problem.  Every time I try to write this blog post, it keeps growing to the size of a book.

So here’s what we’re going to do: we’re going to let it be a series. Last week I gave you the prologue.  Now here’s Part 1: “Aikido Moves for Online Community Management: The Basics,” complete with even more intro material for context.  There will be a Part 2. I promise.

My Training

I’ve been building websites since ’97 and have held the reigns on a number of community-rallying projects.  There are two in particular, though, that I can attribute most of my lessons to.  They are:

The Writ – An online writing workshop and publication that had 2,000+ members and an ever-changing staff of volunteers. It started in 2003 and was just officially closed a few months ago, because it was time.

Genderfork – A community expression blog about gender variance that has 10,000+ readers a month.  It’s run by a staff of 10 volunteers who all have clear responsibilities for maintaining the site. The broader community contributes through submissions and response comments. It’s been around since 2007.

I built both of these spaces from scratch, with the help of friends and community members who wanted to see it succeed. And it’s important to note that in both of these communities, our goals were to:

  • make as many people as possible feel welcome and comfortable, especially newbies.
  • stay focused on a specific topic.
  • collaboratively create something bigger than we could build as individuals.
  • nurture and encourage quality storytelling and art.
  • inspire and guide community members to support and help each other.
  • represent ourselves in a positive way to the rest of the world.

So pretty much all of my advice comes from advocating for this culture.  There are lots of other community cultures that are just as relevant, but I can’t speak about them from experience.

What’s an online community and when does it need a manager?

I’m happy to report that I answered this question in detail last week.  If you’re not 100% clear on what I’m about to talk about, please go read it.  What follows is the beginning of an advanced discussion.  Last week’s post is the 101-level introduction.

Why Aikido?

Aikido is a martial art that involves a lot of rolling around on the floor.  I’ve taken a few classes, I’m not an expert, and if you’re interested in going deeper than the light metaphor I’m offering here, I encourage you to — there’s a lot to learn from it.  But for our purposes, let’s just look at a few basics.  When practicing Aikido, you…

  • blend with the motion of your attacker and redirect their force, rather than opposing it head-on.
  • protect your attacker from injury as you defend yourself.
  • stay in control with minimal effort.
  • remain balanced and focused.
  • roll with the punches.

I find this an incredibly useful metaphor for online community management.

And a few more disclaimers…

1. The thoughts below are limited in scope and context.  They are not comprehensive, and you should not assume they will all apply to your situation. They might not. Sorry.

2. I wish I could tell you I’m coming at this from a place of stability. I’m not. Even as I write this, a discussion is underway in the Genderfork community that might push to have my curation guidelines and original mission statement completely restructured.  This is actually okay.

3. I’m also aware that a lot of people will have plenty of reasons to disagree with me on some of my points.  Go for it — I’m always up for hearing how things can be done better.  (Just, you know, be nice about it please. Thanks.)

“The Basics”

Okay, ready? Here are what I consider to be important foundational moves.

1) Don’t punish people for stuff they haven’t done.

Be careful about comment and moderation policies, and make sure they’re addressing real needs rather than pre-emptively striking against imagined ones.

I anticipated that Genderfork would get a lot of hate mail, and I strongly considered turning on the “you have to be pre-approved to leave comments” setting to guard against it.  If you’ve ever left a comment only to see a “now waiting for moderation” message, you know what a slap in the face that setting feels like.  Fortunately, I decided to wait and see if I really needed it.  70,000+ total visitors later, we still don’t get a single shred of anti-queer hate in our comments.  ZERO. NADA. GOOSE EGG.  (Okay, well there was that one day, but it was super-isolated, and there was a miscommunication, so I say it doesn’t count.)  I now have it set up so that people can even comment anonymously — no name or email address required — because I know they appreciate the option, and they respect the privilege.  Still no hate.  Magic.

2) Set the tone, and the tone will maintain the tone.

Okay, so lack of hate isn’t really “magic” — it’s the tone we set from the beginning.

Have you ever shown up to a conversation that was already in progress?  What did you do?  You listened to what was going on, how people were interacting, and where they were in the discussion before you joined in.  You drew all sorts of conclusions about expectations and protocol just by taking a quick inventory of the situation, and then you went with the flow, adding your perspective in a way that seemed to fit.

That’s what people do when they show up to online communities, too. They take a brief scan around, they pull in whatever cues they can gather, they decide if they want to join in, and then they do so in a way that fits all the factors.  Think of the quality of comments on Flickr versus YouTube.  Flickr takes community management very seriously, and people have gotten the message over time (whether consciously or unconsciously) that being respectful in comments is important.  On YouTube, the expectation is more or less that people will be idiots.  So people are idiots.

Take note of what kind of conversation people are experiencing when they show up to your site. If you monitor it carefully enough in the beginning, it will begin to (mostly) monitor itself.

How do you set the tone? By contributing in the style that you’d like others to contribute. By offering some simple, clear guidelines on how people should treat each other and why. By suggesting to the people in your inner circle that they engage in a certain way. By showing up and being personally involved to positively redirect things when someone goes off course.

3) Stay detached from emotional conversations.

If your job is to keep the community healthy, then your “at ease” stance needs to be slightly above any emotional discussions.  You’re at your most helpful when you’re keeping a bird’s eye view on things and can understand everyone’s perspectives.

This might make you feel like the community’s not really yours.  That’s right. I’m sorry. It’s not. It’s theirs. You are the steward and caretaker, and when you’re hanging out there, you’re on duty.  Like a bartender at a good club, you get plenty of perks from being in the room, but you still need to stay behind the bar.  (And, preferably, sober.)

If you find yourself emotionally involved in a challenging situation, that’s your cue to go find someone else to advise you — someone who understands the community but isn’t involved in the drama. You can’t hold the Smite Buttons and be angry at the same time — that’s just not fair.

But even if you are angry, and you are getting advice from someone more balanced, you still probably need to keep your venting off the Internet. People need to trust you, and blame-heavy ranters are hard to trust.

So go off and kick trashcans, let a friend keep an eye on things while you’re gone, and come back when you’re ready to be sane again.  You just saved yourself from a mutiny.

~~~~

More soon.

Love,
Sarah

Dream:

Last week my teeth fell out.  Not all of them — just the ones on the left side of my lower jaw.  And they didn’t really fall out. They just came loose in their gum casings like a suction force had been broken. I tried to hold them in place like rocks pushed awkwardly into a long trough, but every time I moved my mouth they clunked and crushed against each other, trying to chew themselves to pieces.

It was ridiculously upsetting, but they’re teeth — impermanent little buggers that are dependent on their foundations to stay in place, and there wasn’t a whole lot I could do about it once they were out of their holes.  What bothered me even more was that the whole thing mirrored such a classic dream image.  I actually paused to consider whether this horrifying experience might really be a dream, but then quickly dismissed that as wishful distraction.  I needed to focus on the problem, not escape from it.  So I just vented to everyone around me that it really really sucked that this wasn’t a dream.  They agreed and kept doting on me, frantic.

I dug through my iPhone to look up my dentist, but I have a new dentist, and I couldn’t remember his name. So I just scanned through all the names in the address book as quickly as I could trying to recognize one as him, but none were right. It was the middle of the night, anyway. I’d have to wait until morning.

A little while later, I was halfway to the bathroom when I realized I’d just woken up. Which meant I’d just been asleep. Which meant I’d either fallen asleep with my broken teeth or I had been dreaming the tooth crisis all along. My money was on the former, but I checked my mouth anyway and my teeth were just fine, roots and all.

I was more disoriented than relieved.

Today was weirder. Read the rest of this entry »

On the continuing subject of my pending-but-not-really-cuz-it’s-way-more-complicated-and-a-lot-less-scary-than-that unemployment, I’ve come up with a few more “Aha!”s.

Remember me blogging recently about noticing that the answers show up when I stop thinking — that when I relax my thoughts and let go of distractions, I gain access to the clear mind that lets me see what’s next?

Well, I sat with that for awhile… chilled out and took a vacation from some of my distraction habits, hoping to gain access to that nice clear mind that would help me aim my income-hunting efforts in the Right Direction. And you know what happened?

I realized I was mixing up my “clear serene reflection pond mind” with my “crazy idea-generating waterfall mind.” I had lost touch with both and, though I didn’t know it, I was actually more interested in the latter. I love that waterfall. I missed it.

It’s back now.

Sort of.

A hard truth confronted me as soon as I went swimming, and I haven’t quite finished wrestling with it yet: This part of me that revels in constantly generating new, creative ideas is often in conflict with (what I would call) my more conservative side — the side of me that wants to make a stable living, that doesn’t want my friends and family to worry about me, and that wants to be reliable.

It’s a pretty serious conflict — the kind that takes no prisoners. And somehow, whenever this conflict goes to blows, the conservative side wins and the creative side shuts down.

This is because the conservative side has a secret weapon. All it has to do is call my creative side “crazy,” and the battle is over.

Crazy.

Naive.

Stupid.

Freak.

Those are labels we put on things we don’t take seriously — things we want to diminish and push out of the way. They’re words we use to describe people we don’t want to get to know, who are different from us in ways that make us uncomfortable. They’re some of the words I grew up applying to myself to account for my differences. Apparently I still use them. Affectionately, sometimes. But often.

Screw it. It’s time to feed the freak.

I think what I’m looking at is an internal power balance. My conservative side is necessary for survival. My creative side, technically, isn’t (although my quality of life standards would beg to differ with that). Somehow, now, my conservative side has gotten all up on a high horse about its Status of Necessity, and my creative side doesn’t stand a chance against that kind of arrogance.

I want to submit an alternate structure.

What if my powerful conservative side considered honoring my creative side as a source of wisdom and inspiration? What if my creative side took up a post of leadership and offered to gently (and probably slowly) guide the rest of me into more experimental directions?

This might seem like a counter-intuitive comparison to make, but what I’m describing feels a lot like trying to get powerful income-earning adults and high-energy invincible youth to honor retirees and seniors.

Am I making any sense?

Maybe I’m just crazy.

But I think there are answers here.

When I realized it was becoming time for me to leave Cerado, I gave them three months notice. I spent the first month second-guessing that decision and trying to figure out how I could rearrange my contract and stay. When I finally confirmed the choice, I promised myself that I’d spend the second month freely exploring what matters to me and what I might be looking for next, without biasing that thinking with actual “real world” opportunities and limitations. And then I’d get practical in the third month.

Yesterday was the last day of the Month Two, and I wasn’t feeling very confident that I had unlocked enough answers. I was getting stuck on the tension between “How can I be happy?” and “How can I be productive?”, and mostly just tried to pass the time by sleeping a lot.

Magically, though, sometime around 1am last night, I gave up on sleeping and started writing. And a month’s worth of half-answered questions and quickly-scribbled post-it notes of wisdom finally clicked into place.

The answer is that I already have all the answers. I know exactly what’s right for me and what’s not, what I should be doing next and what I shouldn’t, what matters to me and what doesn’t. I just can’t hear those answer while I’m thinking, while I’m distracted, or while I’m trying to numb myself. And it just so happens that I spend most of my day thinking, distracted, or numb — habitually. Intentionally, in a way, to avoid those answers. Because accessing them is actually scary as hell.

I can thank Hugh MacLeod, Kate Bornstein, John T Unger, and a few other key smart folks for giving me enough post-it notes of wisdom to finally piece together why it’s so scary: I’m still very dependent on receiving approval from the people I care about. Or rather, I’m terrified of their negative judgments.

Sort of.

This narrative’s admittedly a little old for me — I’ve had to smash through the “who I’m supposed to be” walls a number of times already for the sake of my own survival, and miraculously I didn’t lose anyone I cared about in the process. Some relationships did end up shifting, but it was usually to a place of greater respect. And yet somehow, the fear of becoming an embarrassment, a burden, or someone unworthy of love and respect as the result of doing what feels most right for me still creeps in and changes my behavior — enough to give me plenty of excuses to avoid-like-hell the activities that clear my head and let me see what’s next for me. I’m talking about little acts like having my coffee before I check my email, more intentional things like meditation or exercise, and gestures as basic as letting myself fall asleep without aid or a movie in front of me.

I don’t need to think my way through this transitional period. I need to stop thinking, clear my head, and hold onto the wisdom that doing what feels right is worthwhile, even when it takes me further away from what’s safe.

(Easy…. right? *snort*)

So… yes. The subtle references and whispered insanities are true: I’ll be leaving Cerado in September.

This means I’m voluntarily entering the worst job market ever to happen in my lifetime — a market in which heartwrenching handfuls of talented peers and friends have been unemployed for over a year now — as a free agent.

There. It’s acknowledged. And that is the last we ever speak of the Impossible Economy in association with me looking for work again. If I can get my mother to stop reminding me of this dismal fact (and I have), surely you can play along with my game, too. Do it as a favor to a friend.

The other seemingly ludicrous point to note is that I’m leaving on very good terms with a high regard for the company, and I’ve sincerely enjoyed working with them. Chris Carfi is an impressive hybrid of creative genius and brilliant storyteller — when it comes to social media marketing, he gets it on both a theoretical and a social level. I’ve learned a lot from working with him, and from working alongside fellow mad genius Mark Resch as well. The clients (hi, BlogHer) and developers (George the PHP guru, Eric the King of iPhone dev, …) I’ve been paired with have also been top notch. I will be sad to let them go.

So why am I leaving?  Because it stopped fitting me.  What the Job Needed From Me and What I Wanted to Do crept further and further apart over time, and it finally became evident that something had to change.  It wasn’t anyone’s fault; it was just growth. And it has a hidden upside for Cerado: being able to let go of the role means I can now help them restructure their management process without my interests in the equation. The result is shaping up to be something that’s much more tailored to their changing needs, with a more efficient use of resources.

I kind of enjoy working myself out of a job.  It has a certain satisfaction to it.

It just leaves one question: What’s next?

I don’t know.  And call me crazy (I’m used to it by now), but I’m not really interested in job leads just yet.  I’d like to give a little more thought first to what I’m looking for.

When I was in Chicago for BlogHer recently, I ran my situation past a childhood friend, Jim Conti.  He gave me a useful way of approaching the “what should I do next?” question:

Ask yourself…

What am I good at?
What brings me joy?
What does the world need me to do?

…and find the intersection of all three of those.

In other words…

whatshouldido

When the grownups asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up, they forgot to explain that this was what they meant. Most of us probably answered based on how we wanted to be seen, realizing that “astronaut” and “veterinarian” sounded worthy enough of praise.  So do “rich” and “famous.”

A psychologist friend of mine made an interesting comment to me recently.  She said, “This is going to sound terrible, but I strongly prefer working with wealthy clients. It’s not because they pay me better. It’s because they already know that money’s not going to fix their problems.”

Neither is doing what they’re good at even if they don’t like it. Or doing what they enjoy when it’s useless to the rest of the world. Or being a miserable martyr for the sake of humanity. We have more work to do than this.

And I still haven’t answered the question.

I know some of the things I’m good at…

– XHTML/CSS development
– Product and project management
– Social media consulting
– Technical and promotional writing
– Public speaking
– Building community spaces

I’m feeling the tugs of what the world wants me to do in terms of social media marketing, community development, and LGBT activism.

I just… might need to get back into the groove of what brings me joy for a bit.

Then maybe I’ll know what I want to be when I grow up.