This may come as a surprise to those of you who don't know me very well. Maybe even to those of you who do. I suppose that's thanks to my nasty habit of pretending everything is fine, when it isn't.
So, in honor of breaking that bad habit, I've spent a lot of time the past few weeks thinking about all that happened in my life this year. I'm still trying to come to terms with some of it, but I've come to a few conclusions. I've learned a few lessons. I even have some resolution-type thoughts just in time for the start of a new year.
My Mean Girl
For the first part of this year (and even part of last), I had the misery of dealing with a mean girl. Well, maybe more creepy, unstable, stalker-ish and psycho than mean, but the point remains …
Basically, a member of my local web community started trashing me and Webuquerque. The real kicker is that she not only trashed my name around Albuquerque, but felt compelled to do so at other professional events and conferences. I can't tell you the joy of being at SXSW and finding out this person said something negative about me to my colleagues at the conference.
Intellectually, my sense of self is strong enough to know that people who know me, know me. But my gut and heart hated everything this person was saying about me and the user group I tried so hard to build.
As much as it hurt, it pissed me off too. I wanted to ban her from Webuquerque. I wanted to call her out to everyone for what she was doing. I wanted to warn people about getting involved with her.
But I didn't. Good or bad, I decided to just ignore her and ride it out. She eventually stopped coming to Webuquerque, and I eventually stopped hearing the gossip about what she said about me. But what happened still really bugs me. A lot. I hate that it does.
The sad reality is that this is likely going to happen again. And so I'm trying to understand why it bothers me so much? Why I internalized so much of her hatred towards me? Why I still allow it to stress me out? Maybe if I can figure that out and deal with it, I won't feel so devastated by a future shithead.
Here's hoping …
My Ignorant Male Colleagues
During the MIX 11 conference (for which I was a speaker), a fellow speaker inquired — in front of several other of my respected colleagues — about some specifics of my sex life.
Now, this alone may seem minor. But it was a bit of straw that broke the camel's back for me in terms of how I'm treated as a woman in this industry.
I was a speaker at this conference, in a social situation with other speakers. My sex life should never have been a subject of anyone's conversation, and it certainly shouldn't have been brought up amongst colleagues or the people who had invited me to speak.
It instantly takes me out of my role as expert and turns me into … I don't know what, but I felt like shit. And, worse, it was a reminder of all the times these kinds of things happen. Many are subtle (and still wrong and inappropriate), but the overt harrassment is really the best. As in fucking not.
I remember a professional visit when I first met one of my web heroes (a married–with–kid hero), and he hit on me. Repeatedly. Despite my insistence of not being interested and just wanting to be friends/colleagues. He even tried to tell me the names other "web famous" women he had been with, as if that knowledge would cause me to sleep with him. It just disgusted me. He disgusts me.
And I hate that his behavior, and the behavior of my colleague at MIX this year, cause stress and fear. They make a woman like me — someone who wants to share knowledge and educate — not want to do that. Why would I want to be exposed to this type of treatment? But writing, speaking and attending conferences exposes me …
Exposed or not, I won't let myself give up those opportunities. I want to write. I want to speak. I want to connect with the good in my community. I get energy and inspiration from these activities that I simply refuse to let these men take from me because they are ignorant fucks.
So I've got to stop internalizing what they do. I need to be more open and vocal about these situations, because they continue. They are happening to women all across our field and it is wrong. I at least owe it to myself to not feel shame or embarrassed about how those "men" behaved. I at least owe it to other women to talk about it.
Here's hoping …
This year marks my last year managing Webuquerque, the user group I co-founded three years ago. Around mid-year, we began the transition process to new leadership for the day–to–day management of the group (more on that coming in a future post).
Six months later, I have nothing nice to say about the transition (other than "thank god it's over"). What I can say is that I was disappointed. I was shocked by immature and unprofessional behavior. And, worst of all, I personally felt completely disrespected. I even experienced what I can only classify as sexism.
Webuquerque was a passion project for me, so I can't begin to tell you how sad I am to have written those last few sentences. I also don't have words for how much stress and anxiety the transition caused for me. It pretty much was the shit-frosting on the ass-cake of my life the past four months.
I haven't quite figured out the lesson learned with this one. I'm hoping a bit more time and a bit more perspective will help me understand.
Here's hoping …
For the first half of this year (and the second half of last year), I taught classes for the local continuing education's web design certification program. My primary incentive was the same as it was for Webuquerque: contribute to the local community and share knowledge.
From the beginning, it was challenging. And not just because it is difficult to teach. It was the institution. It was a lack of standards. It was the lack of a curriculum geared toward the practicalities of web design and development. But they had spades of bureaucracy.
I couldn't use the books I wanted, instead forcing students to pay for and reference outdated materials. This, even when I was able to get discounts from authors and publishers. Bureaucracy prevailed. I couldn't get proper server support to allow reliable in-class development. Bureaucracy prevailed. The program was allowing students to take courses without pre-requisite knowledge, but bureaucracy prevailed. And I quickly learned that this is The Way of continuing ed-level academia.
When I parted ways with the program, it was bittersweet. I was frustrated that I couldn't change the program or the program director's mind. I was angry for the students paying money for an education that won't get them far in the real world.
But I remained eager to see how else I could educate. I tried a bit of one–on–one training, which I quite enjoyed. I even considered organizing and participating in a series of in-depth workshops through Webuquerque (Webuquerque Workshops … isn't that catchy?). Unfortunately, the transition issues I experienced soured me to that idea.
And so I need to explore that individualized training. I've got some planning and research to do, but I know I'd like to be back in the teacher's seat.
Here's hoping …
For most of this year, the love of my life and I struggled. We struggled to live together in an entirely–too–small space. We struggled to find quality time for each other. We struggled to support each other.
And then we were struggling as individuals. He had his own major problems, and I've already detailed how horrifically unbalanced and stressed I was this year. It was the perfect storm in our relationship that we didn't even notice until it was almost too late.
Almost. We've separated temporarily with the full intention of ultimately being together. We just can't be together now. Neither of us are healthy enough to be partners for each other. So he's working on his shit, and I'm working on mine.
For me, this has been one of the most painful and hopeful experiences of my life. Aside from promises made in songs, love doesn't fix everything. In fact, it doesn't "fix" anything and to think otherwise is to take it for granted.
And that's where the hopeful part comes in. I know this now. I also know all the stress I overlooked and all the bullshit I internalized. And I'm dealing with all of it, so that it doesn't happen again. So that I better prioritize my personal life above work. So that the two of us can re-discover the joy of being in a relationship together.
Here's hoping …
I was sick five times this year. And each time, I was out of commission for at least 4 days. Do the math, and I was unable to do anything for almost a month this year.
As a freelancer, being unable to work is a big deal in itself. Being unable to work due to illness is an even bigger deal when you don't have non-catastrophic health insurance.
But this is what happens when you ignore stress. All the stress from my very own psycho-hosebeast. All the stress from the Webuquerque transition problems. All the stress from ongoing sexism and harassment. All the stress from my love life.
And I musn't forget all the stress from running my own business.
As great as Emily Lewis Design, LLC did this year, it did so at my personal expense. I didn't realize it when it was happening. But looking back now, I can see I was scared shitless every step of the way. Scared, stressed and anxious. All year long.
Even when I had clients lined up, I was (am) still thinking ahead to when I didn't (don't) have any projects in the queue. I was (am) constantly worried about whether I will get the next gig. I was (am) constantly worried about paying my bills. I was (am) constantly afraid that I'll have to return to the corporate world where I just don't fit in anymore.
That worry, combined with all the other stressors in my life took its toll. And I made it even worse by not being active. I can honestly (and pathetically) admit that, other than walking, I worked out maybe 20 times this year. Once upon a time, I was very active. Hiking every day. Kickboxing three times a week.
But this year (and then some) was different. If I was in the middle of a project or juggling multiple tasks, work was always the priority. I'd just skip a walk or a workout or even eating regular meals to have the time to work.
Essentially, no exercise + stress + fear = illness. It's really that simple. And yet it didn't sink in for me how unhealthy I've been this year until a few weeks ago.
Since I don't realize I'm stressed, scared and unhealthy until it's too late, I need to take time regularly to check myself; to acknowledge my stress levels and well-being. I must return to an active lifestyle, because the time lost due to illness is far more than the time to take care of myself each day.
Here's hoping …
A Better Year Next Year?
There was a time when I would've ranted on and on (and on and on) about all of this. Whined about what wasn't fair and who did me wrong. But that would just be more crap in my life. And I'm not interested in crap. I'm interested on acknowledging what happened, learning from it and moving the fuck on.
This isn't easy. I want to complain. I want to call people out. It will make me feel good — fantastic, even — to fully vent and name names. But it won't stop it from happening again. And it won't stop me from reacting the way I did.
What happened this year was just life. I know the challenges I had may be nothing compared to what other folks' faced this year. But I realize I've ignored so much this year, to my own detriment. I want deal with my life; focus on what I can do.
And what I can do is live my life as an ongoing lesson with hopes I'll do better next time … when I know better. Here's hoping this year taught me something.