I did something terrifying today: I quit tech. I've quit jobs without having the next thing lined up yet, but this time I quit with no intention of going back into the tech industry. And while I've had more than a couple of moments of "holy shit, what have I done?!", the fear of spending my entire adult life in a career I'm just not happy in finally outweighed the fear of not having a steady paycheck and potentially failing at something I really care about.
This decision was twofold, even though the two parts are pretty tightly coupled: I wanted to get out of tech and also to start a career doing something more creative that I'm truly excited about.
A part of me has always wanted to have a creative career. I used to paint and draw all the time as a kid. I even won a school-wide drawing contest, open to K-5, when I was in 1st grade. I dreamed of becoming an artist. And then as a teenager I cracked down, felt like I should something more practical, found the vulnerability of being creative too scary to pursue. I set myself up for the stable and well-paying path I've been on until now. But I've felt the tug of a more creative life - not one that I have to push aside for 40 hours a week and only embrace when I have some free time. One that lets me wake up excited to create things as a part of my job. I read this blog post back in January and it resonated very strongly with me and caused me to start questioning whether my career in tech was really the only option. Then I went on my Wildbride retreat in February and was so inspired to see Liz and Kristina living out this dream of road-tripping down the coast, connecting with women and empowering them to feel strong and beautiful. And then I found Heather's posts about quitting her job to work on her pattern company, Closet Case Files, full time. I didn't know how to get to that place in my life but I knew I wanted it with all of my heart. But doubts kept creeping in (and still do): Maybe I'm not creative enough, I can't make something anyone actually wants to pay money for, what if I have a great product but can't figure out how to market it to the right people, maybe I'm too old to switch careers? But honestly - I don't think this would be nearly as exciting and (I hope) rewarding if it wasn't also incredibly scary.
On top of that, it's really hard to quit a job that pays well, is interesting enough, and has lots of great coworkers and perks - especially when I still worry that I don't have any other skills that can actually help me pay the bills. I thought about skimming over this side of the equation, but it's important too: being a woman in tech is tough. Things are getting better, but good lord it's draining sometimes. I'm starting to believe that in order to survive in the tech industry as a member of an underrepresented group, you have to be really passionate about the work you do or it'll eat you alive. My time in tech hasn't been nearly as terrible as it has been for many other women I know, but it has felt like one paper cut after another - this post sums up a lot of it incredibly well. I've never really identified as the "nerdy" type or wanted to spend my free time doing coding side projects, which has contributed to me feeling like I don't belong (as have some real instances of not being taken seriously as an engineer because I wear dresses instead of jeans and tech t-shrirts). I really used to enjoy coding, but over the last few years I've been enjoying the work less and less, and I've just started feeling increasingly drained, unhappy, not like myself. And in turn, it's been difficult to work on all of the non-work things I really care about, because I'm just so worn down. As terrifying as it was to decide to leave, it gradually became even harder to stay. On one particular day it crossed that line for me, and I spent the weekend panicking over what to do and making "what if" budgets based on my (admittedly nice) tech savings. And suddenly this thing that just seemed impossible became an option, and a few days later I'd completely made up my mind.
So: what's next? I'm still figuring that out, to be honest, but I have some ideas. I'm going to spend now through early spring taking lots of electives at my sewing school (in addition to the patternmaking class I'm already enrolled in - I wrote about that here). After that - we'll see! I'd really love to start my own business, although I think that's even scarier to me than just trying to find a job in the industry. I'm not sure if I'd rather make ready to wear fashion or sewing patterns or something else entirely. There are so many factors involved, like the market potential, the community I could build in each space, what I would really enjoy spending most of my time doing, etc. And I don't really know the answers to all of those yet! I'm glad that I get this buffer of classes to let me ease in and figure things out a little more.
absolutely perfect pin from Colette Patterns
One of my major goals this year was to pursue more things that scare me. That special kind of fear where you know deep down that you really want to do this but are so scared of trying and failing, so you push it aside, but it keeps coming back over and over. I felt this when I signed up for my Wildbride weekend, and again when deciding to take my sewing class despite feeling like I didn't have the time or energy for it, and now with this. So far I'm 2 for 2 on life-changing decisions, and I'm pretty sure this one won't be any different!
I honestly don't know if I'll be able to create a successful career in this field (where successful means "I'm able to pay my bills and am generally excited about the career path I'm on"), but I'm sure as hell going to try. And here's what it really comes down to: I really, truly don't think I'll regret taking this leap no matter what the outcome, but I do think I would regret taking the safe route and staying in tech indefinitely. So here goes nothing.