As I flew down the exit ramp off of I-70, I screamed with joy. I almost started crying. My first week of bootcamp is done and I am finally at home for the weekend. Home, but not quite here. Bootcamp has only been in session 5 days. I am already two days behind.
Although I am still in love with this new adventure, it hasn’t been easy. As I told my husband last night, the worst part isn’t the hard work, the feelings of inadequacy, or the lack of sleep, it’s the loneliness and being away from my family.
My days have settled into a sort of routine. Get up at 7, shower, breakfast, grab coffee in the lobby of 401 Lofts. Be at the Guild by 8:40. Start coding as the others come in. Code, code, code all morning. Skip lunch. Everyone else goes out or plays Dominion. I can’t afford to because I’m behind so I eat at my computer. I try to eat with my left hand so I don’t get crap all over the touchpad. Code all afternoon. Leave between four and five. Code back at my apartment. Eat dinner while coding. Take a break around nine or ten to Skype with my husband and whatever kids are around. Code. Bed between 11:30 and 2, depending on how productive my sleepy brain is. And I am still behind.
Eric is not concerned and says that everyone else will slow down soon as we get so deep into this that even the experienced guys are leaving familiar territory.
There’s a terrible psychological game going on. I am constantly talking myself through every minute. When you are the one who’s different, one-of-these-things-is-not-like-the-other, the one who is an outlier, it’s a struggle to stay in the game.
I am an outlier because I am female, old enough to be most of these boys’ mom, and because I have a non-technical college degree. It doesn’t matter that I studied engineering for most of those four years because that was about 25 years ago. Even if some of the material I learned back then is still relevant, I’ve probably forgotten it.
Malcolm Gladwell is one of my favorite authors. I keep thinking of one of the chapters of his book “David and Goliath” that describes the drop out rates from science programs at ivy league universities. To paraphrase, the best and brightest who get into ivy league universities are competing against the best and brightest. But even so, even the best universities must have students who fall at the bottom of the class. The thing is, these students at the bottom of the class begin to think they can’t hack it–even though they are at Harvard or Yale–and even though they are still doing better than an “A” student at a lesser college. Being the least smart student at a prestigious school can make you think you aren’t smart. It messes with your mind in ways that can alter the way you think about yourself. Science majors switch majors thinking they can’t hack it, when the problem is just that they are at the wrong college. If the ivy league struggling science major were attending a state college, she might still be the best-performing student in the class because now she is competing against average college students. Because of this, she might never doubt herself and not change majors into a less-demanding liberal arts major.
It just goes to show how powerful our minds are at changing the way we perceive ourselves and the world around us.
Thursday night was a rough night for me. I was feeling lost and stupid. Lecture went on well after 4:00, and I had planned to attend a friend’s mom’s funeral viewing, since I couldn’t take time to attend the funeral the next day because it would require missing class. The problem was that the funeral home was back home, a nearly three-hour drive. After class, I walked briskly back to the apartment, changed out of my clothes, and called my husband. Once he was on the phone, I pretty much fell apart. The combination of so many things. Having fallen behind before the first week is up and knowing that if I drive to Columbus and back I fall even further behind. Of having sat through a lecture on concepts I couldn’t even begin to wrap my stuffed brain around, a glimpse of myself in the bathroom mirror as I was changing and feeling fat, the stress of knowing that the traffic would probably delay me enough that I would be lucky to walk in the funeral home minutes before the end of the viewing. I felt terrible because I had just lost my mom seven years before and I knew what it meant for people to be there for me. And I couldn’t be there for her. Standing there in my cold apartment bedroom, in my underwear, holding my funeral outfit in one hand and the phone in the other, I could feel myself falling apart.
So I excused myself from the phone call, accepted that I wasn’t going to go, and gave myself permission to take an hour to lose it. I changed into my yoga pants and sweatshirt, climbed into bed under my electric blanket, and hugged a box of tissues. About an hour later, I felt ready to start coding again, so I started back to work.
If I would have had this experience twenty years ago, I might have quit that night. When you are in the bad, ugly moment, it’s hard to feel like you aren’t a failure and hard to see that this feeling won’t last forever. That in an hour, things really will look brighter. But I’ve been in that ugly place so many times, that I know it will end and that eventually, I won’t feel like a failure anymore. Eventually I will do something or say something amazing again and make a difference in someone’s life. Or someone will make a difference in mine.
I remember a few months ago when I was so hungry to know what this bootcamp experience would be like. I gobbled up articles, reviews, blog postings, and whatever I could find about how people handled it, and most importantly, if I could find someone like me who did it and made it through in one piece. Of course, there were, and this is why I am writing about my experience.