I am sure most of you are wondering “New phone, who dis?” when it comes to me. Okay maybe not those words exactly, but I know I am a no-name and haven’t been around very long. I haven’t created any kick ass plugins (yet), I haven’t contributed to WordPress core (yet), and I haven’t developed any themes (yet).
So why was I asked to write an essay? Maybe it’s because there are a lot of people out there who are also trying to break into this community, probably somewhat introverted like me who don’t know how, or why, or what to do. No, I don’t have all the answers, I don’t have a set plan, and I am not in the position to dish out advice because I am still trying to figure it out and navigate it the best I can. But maybe, just maybe, this essay will ring true with someone who thinks, “SAMESIES.” and they know they’re not the only one out there.
Or maybe it’s because I am awesome. You guys can be the judge.
I am a shy, but not so shy girl, from the great city of Fargo, ND (No, it’s nothing like the awesome movie or TV show, don’tcha know) who started Freelancing in March 2016 after working for a local agency for two and half years.
My story is probably one many have seen. Girl gets job, girl learns a lot, girl’s eyes are opened to a whole new world, girl works hard but doesn’t move up, girl applies for remote jobs with no luck, girl decides she can do this by herself, and girl leaves full time job and joins the million other freelancers in the self-employment world.
Generic sounding, but there is a bit more to it.
It all started in my parent’s basement when I was 16. Anyone ever heard of Xanga? It was a social blogging platform that was huge in my school. I made graphics using some freeware Photoshop knock off and custom layouts using basic CSS and HTML for Xanga in my free time, because you know, that’s normal for a 16 year old girl.
My parents encouraged me to go to school for graphic design at our local technical college and (blah blah blah….let’s fast forward.) 4 years later after I graduated for Graphic Design, while I was working for a local school photography lab designing layouts for school ID cards and yearbooks, I graduated a second time after going back for Web Development and Design.
I landed a job doing web design in July 2013. In the interview, they asked me if I knew what WordPress was and I answered honestly like any person would in an interview with something along the lines of, “I have heard of it but I have never used it. BUT I am a go getter and love taking on any new challenges so I don’t doubt I will be able to figure it out.” I dove in and learned a lot of the WordPress basics in a short amount of time.
Fast Forward to May 2014, we decided as a team to go to WordCamp Minneapolis for the first time. I am an introverted extrovert, so networking is not my thing. After I get to know people, I am good, but the first step to introduce yourself to someone is scary.
After day one at WordCamp Minneapolis, my eyes were opened to a whole new world (queue Aladdin song). I didn’t know how my introverted self would do it, but I wanted to be best friends with everyone there. The WordPress community is so friendly, and so welcoming. I left feeling so inspired and wanted to go to every WordCamp that ever was. I went home with a goal of learning everything I can about WordPress.
Shortly thereafter, I started to dabble in front-end development. Custom post types, short codes, page templates, etc. I looked at how the themes were created, reversed engineered them, and started to mess around with it. If I hit a bump, I researched it, and of course there was a tutorial or someone in the WordPress community had a solution. (Reason #785 why the WordPress community is fantastic, #ThoseSupportForumsTho.)
In November 2015, I started to feel this shift within myself; that I wanted to do more than I could do in my current position.
The company was going in one way and I was going the other. I wanted to grow as a designer and a developer.
After a few months of indecision, wondering if I should move to Minneapolis and not hearing back from some remote positions I applied for, a former co-worker reached out to me and said she wanted to work with me. After discussing this with some friends, I had another former colleague that said they would hire me to develop their website, so the wheels started to turn in my head.
Let me just say, freelancing full time was not anything I considered before. My typical response “Me? Run my own business? Say what? HAHAHA, right.” I thought of every reason why I shouldn’t do it. Lack of steady income, mortgage, self-employment taxes, not having other clients interested in working with me. I could go on and on, really.
Yet there I was, considering quitting my full time job to work for myself. How else was I going to grow? How else was I going to get my name out there?
I only had about a full week to decide what I wanted to do and this wasn’t an easy decision at all. After some sleepless nights and having the same conversation with my husband at least 100 times, who did nothing but encourage me while I talked myself out of it, I came to a decision.
I followed my gut instinct to grab the opportunity that was presented and go for it.
I didn’t 100% know what I was doing, but I knew I loved WordPress, I knew I had the design chops, and I knew I was great with clients. I was raised with a can-do attitude, so I was going to freelance my little heart out, and on March 5th, 2016, I entered the self-employment world.
Fast forward to May 2016, I bought my ticket to WordCamp Minneapolis (because duh, it’s amazing). I then proceeded to buy my ticket to the Prestige Conference, which was taking place two days after WordCamp. I planned on going to both of these conferences by myself (and anyone who knows me on a personal level knows how much of an accomplishment this was for me). Because I was alone, WordCamp was a bit different this year. I didn’t have coworkers to talk to so I went in there with a mission to network, but my high anxiety and introverted side decided I should sit quietly and take it all in.
Prestige Conference, for those who aren’t familiar, is a smaller conference and focused on running your small business. As a noobie freelancer, I needed to know how other like-minded people were running their businesses, how they were succeeding. So, there I was, a full-time freelancer for a whole 3 months, sitting in this conference with some of these big industry names. Intimidating? Yep, just a bit. The speakers left me in awe and I felt so out of my league but I was just happy to be there, learning and absorbing what everyone was saying.
Topher and Cate DeRosia were also at this conference. Topher came up to me and started chatting and I quickly explained my background. He gave me some super helpful tips and resources for freelancing. I may have not emoted it, but I was elated. I made a connection. Not exactly because I was outgoing, BUT STILL, I NETWORKED!
A couple weeks later, Topher contacted me to see if I was interested in making blog images for this very blog. Taken aback, but ever so grateful, I accepted. And after communicating over Twitter, Slack, and email for a couple more weeks, he asked if I wanted to write my own essay. Once again, shocked, dumbfounded, and hesitant because who would want to read my story, but after some encouragement, I was writing my essay.
So from where I started 12 years ago messing around with graphics, CSS & HTML for Xanga in my parents basement in Fargo, ND, I am back in a basement, my own this time, doing pretty much the same thing. Doesn’t sound like a big upgrade, but believe me, it is.
I am sure I wouldn’t be where I am right now if I skipped out on any of the conferences I went to.
Where is my future going? Who knows. I am not a ‘go with a flow’ person, but for the first time, I am trying to go with the flow. I am going to be going to more events and plan on going to WordCamp USA so I can take another stab at networking.
TL/DR version: My story may be generic, but my love for WordPress is anything but generic. Before WordPress I enjoyed doing graphic design and web design, but discovering the WordPress community helped me find that missing spark I needed. It’s helped me realize my goals and it’s helped me find my drive and ambition I didn’t know I had.
The WordPress community is a huge support system in my life and they don’t even know who the heck I am.
I can honestly say I love my job, I love working with clients, and I am damn lucky to be able to do what I do every day.
It’s not all sunshine and rainbows. I still stress about everything that almost stopped me from doing this and I have my moments where I still question why I quit my full-time job. It may not pan out, it may go in a different direction, but I am along for the ride with WordPress in my backpack and I cannot wait to see where I end up.
Special thanks to: My husband for dealing with my indecisiveness, my sister for being my cheerleader when I doubt myself, and my family for supporting my every decision, Topher for taking a couple minutes out of his day to talk to me and everything else that followed, Kelsey and the Enclave team for being my very first client, and everyone else who has supported this venture.