It’s been over a year since I wrote Fetch the Bolt Cutters. Or, as it was called in Technical.ly Philly, Why I left my software engineering career to prioritize my health. I didn’t love the title, but the editor had asked if she could call it Why I left my career for ballroom dance (I’d mentioned dance in my newsletter). I wasn’t ready to share that part of my life with the tech/full blog/Internet audience quite yet.
The dance turn? That story begins before I quit my job in August 2021.
That summer there were so many articles about the great resignation. I thought, if everyone is quitting, then everyone is hiring. I started looking for random jobs. I applied to Ballroom dance instructors, will train.
Dance away from the keyboard
In my cover letter, I referenced past experience as a yoga teacher (over ten years ago, but who’s counting), and talked up my teaching experience. The dance studio agreed to take me on as a trainee. I started going three times a week while I still had my day job. Failure mode would be that I got a bunch of free dance lessons.
Then I quit the day job. I was still in terrible pain from headaches and light sensitivity. The symptoms didn’t go away as quickly as I hoped (only a month, I thought. Guh). Some other trainees started at the dance studio.
Wedding couples come in with no experience, and I teach them how to dance depending on skill level and how much they want to put into it. I felt so tender about this at first. Who was I to teach them? It took a while to develop the confidence that I was indeed qualified.
Working a totally different job away from corporate and tech helped me confront some of my own workaholic tendencies, like when I found myself obsessing over learning new dance steps, or about work generally.
I considered a full-time career teaching dance. But I realized that I’m happy at a part-time level. Ten to fifteen lessons a week is ideal. Plus, I didn’t like how it felt to consider it my full-time gig. I don’t like other people having so much control over my time. If someone didn’t feel like a dance lesson the next day, and sometimes the universe would cancel a few, my work would evaporate. Too inconsistent.
Leaving a relationship led back to computers
In early 2022, I ended a relationship. It’s not a coincidence that then I started thinking about getting a day job. After I moved into my own space, I felt depressed and listless. I’d spent all my time being angry in that relationship and now I just had nothing to do.
That gets us to the warmer months of 2022, when I began experimenting with possible roles. I tried out helping a friend with a retreat center in the Adirondacks. I took on some consulting work.
But when I was freelancing, I found myself working in the middle of the night or on weekends. Freelancing did help me see I could safely and confidently use screens again, and it also showed me that I wanted the consistency and rhythm of a salaried, full-time role.
I briefly explored other career paths, such as becoming a financial advisor and interviewing for a community manager position. I considered that sales engineering might be something I’d like because I love the sales part of my dance job.
In June, I did some coaching sessions with my friend Roz Duffy, who so kindly reached out to offer her time. We spent hours working through my preferences and what I thought I liked, and then it emerged: a leadership role in product engineering.
It was a little shocking, yet underwhelming, to get “Hey, what you were doing before” as an answer to all this soul-searching. Certainly helpful, because it made the next steps happen pretty quickly.
I put out into the world that I was looking for my next thing and ended up with two offers. I went with the more mature organization because an early stage company would trigger workaholism. I’d be tempted to do everything.
Nine to Five
And so, I have a day job again. It’s fully remote, but during my search I realized that one of my boundaries is that I cannot work at home by default.
My company pays for my coworking membership, and it’s quite cushy. I enjoy the kombucha on tap and random adorable co-working space events such as “let’s make fall candles with leaves on them!” I have an ergonomic setup that fits in my backpack (no affiliate credit alas, but the roost stand is great).
Keep on dancing?
I knew working both jobs would get absolutely wild and that I would have to figure out boundaries, so I’ve cut dance back to a part-time schedule of three nights a week and some Saturdays. That might sound like a lot, but before I danced as a job, I would dance four or more nights a week. It’s kind of nice to get paid for it and be part of the studio community. Will it be forever? I don’t know, but it’s working right now.
More than a tech issue
It turns out that my burnout wasn’t just triggered by a tech job. It was triggered by being locked working from home for a year plus because of Covid. It was triggered because I was abjectly terrified of getting Covid, and convinced if I saw any people at all, I would get Covid and become permanently disabled. It was because I was living in a difficult relationship. It was because after my aunt died in 2020, her Swarovski crystal arrived shattered. It was because my mom told me she had breast cancer in January 2021, and I couldn’t see her until May 2021 because I didn’t want to make my parents sick.
Because all these things happened, I confronted so much about myself, and also started teaching dance. I am now a first-time homeowner, made possible by the new day job. I’m tired from the growth. I’m also grateful, and hopeful.
Heartfelt gratitude to my friend Sue Spolan for editing this piece.