Nine months ago, I quit my creative dream job to do something unconventional and unexpected.
I gave up being a full-time blogger to become a programmer.
I had no idea how to code; my only brush with programming had been in my first year of college, in a course I barely passed. But regardless of how easy and picture-perfect my blog life looked, and how deep and unknown the waters of programming were, I took the plunge.
It ended up being among the best choices I’ve ever made for myself. Today, I’m going to tell you why.
Living the Dream, Sort Of
During my last two years of college, I had been making a decent income through blogging. I’d started my blog during my gap year, and through college, I watched it slowly take off.
In the summer after my junior year, my traffic and income exploded. I was getting 300,000 hits a month, being recognized at school and blog conferences, and making a full-time income. While it wasn’t a huge amount — I was earning about what I would have at an entry-level job — to me, it was mind-boggling. I had wanted to be a writer since I was eight years old; this was the dream, with a twenty-first century-twist. After I graduated, I decided to start blogging full-time.
But the transition from side-gig to full-time was much harder than I had expected. I was good at bringing in page views, but bad at monetization. I didn’t feel comfortable taking on a lot of sponsorships, or doing the things I felt I had to do to grow a following on Instagram. I stressed constantly about money, views, likes, and comments. I was working unbelievable hours, and my income varied so much month-to-month that I felt like I couldn’t spend anything, just in case things were tight next month. The stress was killing my love for writing; I was writing less, both for the blog and for myself. When a big product launch flopped that summer, I’d had enough. I decided to start looking for work.
I started by looking for writing jobs, but finding full-time work as a writer was its own beast. First, I was able to land freelance work, but nothing that paid well or even consistently. Then, I landed yet another ‘dream job,’ this time as a contributing writer for a large and popular publication. But they let me go the night before I started, because I lived internationally (I’d been honest about this and asked about it explicitly throughout my application process for the position, which had been remote). I felt not just expendable, but unemployable.
Meanwhile, my partner Ken — a frontend developer — was getting job offers left and right. Every time he went to a conference or meet-up, it seemed like he came back with another offer. Ads for coding bootcamps and courses would sometimes play before the YouTube videos I watched on breaks from freelance work. I wondered to myself, without irony, if 24 was too late to reinvent myself and start a new career. (The answer, obviously, is no. But let me figure that out myself!)
One night, as I cried in bed about how hard it was to find work, how unfulfilled I was with writing, and how little faith I had in myself and my future, I asked Ken what he thought about me learning to code, and he encouraged me to try. So, the next morning, I signed up for Treehouse.
Pushing Through the Learning Curve
My reasons for becoming a programmer weren’t exactly inspiring. It wasn’t a creative drive, and I didn’t yet have a deep passion for the internet, though I’d been working online for years. I just wanted stability: in my career, in my finances, in my future. People asked me why I was going into something so new and different from my work as a writer or my degree in religion. How could I pursue a career in something I wasn’t passionate about?
I told them I wasn’t worried about it.
Passion, as I saw it, wasn’t handed down to you from the heavens, instilled in you to lead you to your destiny. Yes, passion is a gift, but it can also be cultivated through time and effort. And, more importantly, passion is fickle; I’d had passion for my work as a writer, and it had burned me out and left me tired.
What I needed wasn’t passion. It was grit.
If I could gather enough grit to learn to code, then I could get myself a job that would allow me to write in my spare time. All I wanted was a stable, boring job that would give me the freedom and stability to write outside of work. That way, I could have both passion and stability — maybe not in one place, maybe not at once, but I could have them both.
So I persevered. For months, I pushed myself to learn, even when it wasn’t fun. And it wasn’t always fun — for every small breakthrough, I encountered ten new things I didn’t understand. But finally, four months in, it clicked for the first time.
The Rest Is Just Follow-Through
I was working on a simple dashboard Chrome extension when it clicked for me. In my program, I was creating simple features that would, in some way, benefit someone and make their day easier. Better yet, I was creating it out of nothing. I wasn’t using resources or supplies to build this project — just lines of characters and keystrokes. And yet, this project was just as concrete as the bread I baked or the dresses I sewed for fun. In some ways, it was more so; those things could only be enjoyed by a few people, but this has the potential to impact infinite users.
I realized in those days that code and its implications are limitless. And, by extension, so am I.
I had thought for months that programming went against all of the creative impulses I’d been born with. Now, I realized that it was just another form of creative expression, and that like baking, sewing, painting, or writing, I could use it to create the world around me.
Maybe to you, this isn’t a huge discovery; but to me, it was a revelation. Suddenly, I couldn’t get enough. After that breakthrough, and others like it, I fell in love with coding. It excites and ignites me in the same way that writing does. I now have to force myself to take breaks to eat and stretch my legs while coding a new project, in the same way that I do for working on a blog post or novel. (And speaking of, I should probably go make myself a sandwich right now.)
The word ’empowering’ is thrown around a lot in my circle of friends. But I didn’t have a full image of that word until I learned to code. I had done plenty of things that felt empowering: won awards, gone to and graduated from college, and started my own business. But coding didn’t just empower me: it made me feel powerful. With this skill, I could play an active role in shaping both my own life and career, and our increasingly technology-driven world.
In hindsight, I think that with a little more grit, I might have been able to reach a similar break-through in blogging. Perhaps there would have been a point where I finally broke into the echelon of bloggers who are so popular they don’t have to stress in quite the same ways I did. But I’m happy I didn’t, because stepping away from that world and into a new one has done just what I hoped it would: given me both the stability I wanted, and returned to me my love and passion for writing. Now that I’m coding every day, and on my way to my first frontend developer job, I’m writing more than I did when I was blogging full-time. More than that, I’ve also gained a new passion for coding, which allows me to build and shape worlds in the same way that writing does.
I was right, all those months ago. Passion is a gift, but it’s one you cultivate yourself.