#LadyHacks2014: My First Hackathon!

LadyHacks LogoThis weekend I attended my first hackathon, held at First Round Capital. Me, and bunch of other women, came together to pitch ideas and find projects to work on.

Originally, I’d been nervous, having procrastinated for a week in fear that I wouldn’t have anything to do or contribute. Without hard coding skills, and no formal design expertise, I worried that there just wasn’t a lot I could bring to the table.  My friend assured me that not only did I not need those skills, but I may even learn new ones! Although skeptical, I arrived late the first night, and soon after, people began pitching their ideas.

Unlike Philly Start-Up Weekend last year, there weren’t any rapid fire pitches and maybe 5 or 6 people ultimately had ideas they wanted to work on. I knew beforehand that I wanted to make a game when lo and behold, Amanda Lange from Microsoft, offered an opportunity to do JUST that. Along with 5 or 6 other women, I crowded around Amanda’s table, eager to participate.

I’ll have to admit – a lot of my own shit came up: feeling irritated, not connecting with others, feeling defensive over an opportunity to work on this game. I know that I have a lot of issues surrounding scarcity, which definitely impacts the way I view [group] work, tech and opportunities. Ultimately, I feel that there’s not enough to go around, which is an antithesis to what hacking is about.

On the flip side, I noticed something particular about myself: my willingness to speak up about my politics, to contribute my ideas, to ask questions, to feel comfortable. I love being at tech events, and seeing faces I hadn’t glimpsed in ages due to my job and lingering fears around not having any tech skills.

Being at LadyHacks brought out the best in me while also reminding me of the trauma I carry around. Writing this now, it makes me think of how being in the field you’re supposed to be in will energize and rejuvenate you, while also making you deal with your own shit.

Anyway – by the end of the first night, we’d decided: a video game in a space setting where you enter in various lines of code to get to the next level with increasing difficulty. Aimed at pretty much everyone, the game is intended to just be a fun way to practice simple code*.

LadyHacks2014 Final Game Design

LadyHacks2014 Final Game Design

My team was comprised of: myself, Amanda Lange, Ankha Stanley, and Omotola Akeredolu by the second day. Ankha coded everything in HTML and Javascript (I’m still really impressed!) while Amanda, Omotola and I shared the labor around the graphic design. This was also the first time I really had to use GIMP in any capacity; a software I’d known about for years but simply never used. Now, I think I rather enjoy it! (I used it to help me get rid of the  extra white space when I cropped the above image in Paint). 

Final conclusion: hackathons. are. addictive!

Now that I’ve gotten my feet wet – I’m definitely ready for more. Parts of it were definitely exhausting (ie: being up since 8am) but overall, I’d like to give it another go, and work on more projects!

*Disclaimer:The design for the background of the game was snagged off the internet. We kept some parts of it, but really edited a huge chunk of it out to make room for our stuff. 

Never Have I Ever: A Sort-Of Book Review

neverhaveA few days ago, I had an epiphany: I fundamentally feel as if I’m unrelatable. I never operate from a premise that people will understand me, or be able to emotionally connect with what I’m going through. So far, people just assume that I’ve had certain life experiences (ie: dating) when I haven’t. It actually kinda blew up in my face when I admitted at an old job that I never dated before.

So when I read the snippet of an aptly named memoir: Never Have I Ever: My Life (So Far) Without A Date on HuffPo awhile ago, I was hooked. Within three days I devoured Katie’s book about how she’d never had a boyfriend, a short term fling, or ANYTHING for twenty-five years of her life. (She’s now just turned 27). Although our narratives are rather different, it felt just plain good to find another person who is like me. Or, at least, really similar to.

My (lack of) experience with dating, sex and romance overall is a gigantic sore point for me. Just like Katie mentions in her book, had you told my ten year old self that I would’ve gone this long without ever dating, I probably would’ve given up then.

One of the other reasons why I was hungry to read Katie’s memoir was because I’m often starved for validation. Affirmation that I wasn’t alone, particularly when people actively ask me about my non-existent dating life, or assume I understand what they mean when they talk about certain things. It’s a weird perspective to entertain when I read posts about people being alone for the first time on Valentine’s Day, when I’ve never had a date.

And now that I’ve recently turned 26, I’ve been turning it over more and more in my mind. On one hand, as Kate mentions in her book, my perpetual state of singleness means that my time is my own. I’m completely free – no one’s interests to balance with mine, no compromising, no having to check in when it comes to finances, or plans of any kind. And as I get older, this level of independence becomes increasingly addictive.

Being a late bloomer has its pitfalls, and it’s certainly a struggle feeling left behind in the unspoken race toward couple-dom. But also being forced to live with yourself in a way that not many other people do lends itself well to thinking more deeply about what I want out of my life, realizing that I’m important, and that I’m not defined by my relationship status (whatever it may be).

This is one of the hardest lessons I’m learning: it’s okay for my life to not look like anyone else’s.

(p.s. : A lot of people look at works like these and assume it’s a ‘woe is me’ tale about feeling lesser than for not dating. And while Katie never seemed to have felt that way, it’s not unusual to feel undesirable because you’re not dating, but your friends are. Overall, this memoir focused more on shit simply not working out, particularly in the way that you want. And while I’m more romantically aggressive than Katie talks about in her book – I’ve blatantly approached every person I wanted to date – the results are still similar. And it’s reassuring to “meet” someone who has the same late bloomer qualities that I have). 




Five Lessons Learned from 8 Months of Entrepreneurship

Since late February/March of this year, I’ve been freelancing, becoming an entrepreneur. It’s been a tumultuous ride: having one client and not knowing how to find others while completely unsure what this thing was. Now, eight months later, I’ve learned quite a bit about “being my own boss”.

1. You have to create your own structure

Many people become entrepreneurs for the flexibility. For some, it’s about being with their families, but for me, it instantly became about attending events around the city during the day or mornings. When I left my last job job to pursue freelance writing, I instantly had WHOLE DAYS to freely spend however I wanted. Not long after, I realized how badly I needed structure, something I struggled to create on my own. I found myself sleeping in, not accomplishing much, then watching copious amounts of TV to lull my boredom. Not exactly productive.

Recently I took on a part-time retail job, giving me the structure I need to plan my days more accordingly.

 2. Gotta create boundaries

While creating boundaries between yourself and a client is a given, you need to create internal ones as well. What are you willing to tolerate? Do you want to work all day and have no free time to do anything else? Are you willing to stick up for yourself when confronted by a client?  Even as an entrepreneur, you can’t escape needing to create a balance between your needs and others’. This means you have to be really clear about what your priorities are: will you accept personal calls or texts from clients? Do you have office hours? Do you give yourself the weekends off? Do you respond to e-mails at all hours of the day? Even though I’m definitely still figuring it out (often doing client work at 1 or 2 in the morning), it’s ideal to have a general idea before a situation becomes overwhelming.

Click to Tweet: At the end of the day, entrepreneurship will show reveal how mature and professional you really are. (http://clicktotweet.com/tuWwM)

3. Dealing with “stuff”

“Stuff” = emotional baggage. In my last job as an Americorps VISTA, I did a whole bunch of nothing, and while working there brought up some emotional stuff for me (like fear of confrontation), it didn’t really push me. But working as an entrepreneur brings up stuff for me all the damn time. Whether it’s charging clients, worrying about creating quality and timely work, approaching clients when the communication is off, handling paperwork – it always brings up something. The best way, I’ve found, to approach this is to have an accountability buddy. Everyone’s idea of an accountability buddy is different, but in this case, it can be an entrepreneur you turn to who can guide you, bring you back to Earth, and offer you tips on how to handle the situation. Having a sounding board for your entrepreneurial woes is a critical factor in how long you stay this path. Going it alone will drive you insane – and right back into the arms of a full-time job.

4. Release Attachments

In all things, no matter what we do – people make choices, and we can’t control that. Sometimes a client continues to work with you (which is great) while other clients leave. Perhaps you weren’t a good fit. Perhaps there were some unspoken expectations not being met. Perhaps things just weren’t working out. But the fundamental truth is this: you can only control yourself and your response to the world around you. If you try to cling to clients who choose to leave for someone else, you’ll be driven mad (while giving yourself a bad reputation).

5. Ability to Keep Going

One of the hardest things in entrepreneurship is feelings like one (or ten) failings will be the end of either you or your business. Particularly in situations like mine – someone with no spouse or family to really financially support them in a worst-case scenario – each setback or mistake can feel like death. A client leaves because they can’t afford you, or they leave because they don’t like the quality of your work or they leave because they found someone more skilled/faster/better. In the beginning, it feels like each person that leaves is a loss – a loss for your bank account, a potential testimonial, a contact, a client. But don’t think of it that way. Every time something has ended for me, it was for good reason and created space for something new to come.

I used to feel that everything had a beginning, and everything had an end. And I often used that mantra to endure painful situations, waiting for the discomfort to pass so that I can go back to normal. But now, I feel that everything is in a constant state of flux. Entrepreneurship is about learning that nothing really lasts forever – long time clients leave, your business dissolves, you create new and different products and services, or maybe you leave entrepreneurship all together.

And this is what I’m learning to integrate into my mentality: to accept the concept flux, instead of trying to cling to people, paychecks or situations.

Click To Tweet: It’s okay for things to change, for people to leave, or for mistakes to happen. Ultimately, you need to learn to trust yourself and trust that you’ll survive. (http://clicktotweet.com/4_k7x)


I Know Why You Hate Positive Psychology

I’ve found several people who really dislike the concept and practice of positive psychology.

For them, it boils down to this: Forcing people to have happy feelings (or think happy thoughts), even when things aren’t going to shit. 

This criticism is based predominantly on The Secret, a movie that introduced many Americans to the idea of LOA (law of attraction) and how to acquire material possessions by using your energetic vibration. The movie argued that your vibration is created by your thoughts and feelings, so in order to have more good things in your life, you need to think and feel good things. But the causation works in the opposite direction as well: if you think or feel bad things, then things in your life will begin to fall apart.

Not unsurprisingly, positive psychology has come under fire from advocates for domestic violence and sexual assault prevention. Many, many months ago, several of the people I follow on Twitter spent hours bickering with a small handful of people who felt that thinking or feeling bad things led to the experience of either rape or violence. Of course, the backlash was both intense and well deserved – it’s incredibly irrational (as well as blatant victim blaming) to suggest that marginalized persons experience oppression because they’re not happy enough or fixated on positive things.

There’s a powerful underlying idea that if you can control yourself, you can control others. We see this in the adage “You teach others how to treat you” which tacitly rejects the reality of oppression and that hate fueled violence happens. It’s part of the larger American cultural narrative that if you just work hard enough, the world is yours.

Four reasons why positive psychology is bullshit:

  • In an effort to be positive, a lot of the time people reject many aspects of the world they live in. They’re incredibly uninformed about what’s going on, and to an extreme, ignore any type of news that may make them feel bad. 
  • It’s routinely used as way to downplay people’s emotional experiences and doesn’t inherently create space for the full range of feelings many people have
  • It’s treated as a “cure all”. If only you had happier thoughts, you wouldn’t have depression/anxiety/etc
  • It fixates on happiness as an end goal and something you should be striving towards at all times (or a grand majority of the time)
  • It’s very disempowering and doesn’t actually prompt you to do anything.

Generally, I reject positive psychology and lean more towards cultivating optimism. Optimism is the fundamental belief that you can handle whatever happens in your life, that you have the ability to survive (and even thrive). It’s this idea that you can persevere, and that your life is worth living.

It’s a meaningless endeavor trying to force yourself to have a specific emotion at all times. I’m not even a great supporter of trying to force yourself to experience peace, joy or some other new age modality all the time either.

To me, the most important think is your mentality: what kind of life do you envision yourself having? Who do you need to become in order to have that life?  

Think about your life in its totality, not just the fleeting moments or isolated incidents taken out of context. Spend less time trying to be positive, and spend more time being proactive (and optimistic!).

5 Reasons Why I Don’t Wear Make-Up

Over at The Beheld, Autumn had asked an open ended question: why do [or don't] you wear make-up. My own comment (which didn’t make it onto the site due to tech issues) left me wanting to craft a solitary blog post about it.

I don’t wear make-up in any capacity and here’s why -

1. I don’t participate in beauty work. I categorize beauty work as any and all efforts done to be perceived, or “to feel” attractive whether it’s for yourself or others (ie: dressing up, doing my hair, getting my nails done, “dressing for my body”, etc). For me, beauty work is a waste of time, money and energy. As someone who is unattractive, this means I have to dedicate an inordinate amount of financial, emotional and mental energy in trying to convince myself (and others) that I’m prettier than I am. Why should I do this? What tangible benefits does being perceived as attractive get me (aside from maybe sex)? Ultimately, I feel that beauty work is a meaningless and unnecessary.

2. Make-up is an investment – of all kinds. Wearing different types of make-up depending on the trends, what you can afford, the seasons, what works for your skin (ie: allergies), what’s ethical (lots of products do animal testing). You also have to store it, take care of it so that it doesn’t ruin, make sure to replace what you’ve used (or don’t use). There’s also the additional issue of combining make-up with your clothing or what you want your perception to be that day (week, hour, month, year, etc). It’s way too much for something that has no inherent value (make-up’s only value is socially constructed, and it’s an individual versus a societal necessity - versus say, a honey-bee, which has significantly more inherent value than a stick of lipstick).

3. I just don’t see what the big deal is. I don’t see my body as a canvas – which I think is an integral part of beauty work – or something that’s meant to be played with or experimented on (although I do want to get body mods – such as piercings and tattoos – but those are aesthetics that have more to do with queer-ing my body than anything else, like trying to be pretty or beautiful). For me, the body is a tool, like a car, that needs daily maintenance – that’s it.

4. I think another integral concept of make-up is that you have to like the way it looks or feels on your skin. I dislike the physicality of make-up, the way it irritates my skin, I dislike the way it looks. I, overall, don’t find make-up aesthetically pleasing.

5. By and large, I reject many markers of femininity. I often resent the type of body I was born with, and reject many things about the gender I’ve been placed into. Girl-ness seems more like a social side effect than something I should aspire to maintain or pursue. Also, I find contemporary conversations around girl-ness to be fixated on performance: what you’re wearing, how you’re acting – ultimately, how you’re being perceived by others. Wearing make-up while identifying as a girl puts people at ease – and rejecting normative behaviors around girl-ness is seen as deviant or rebellion (ie: women who reject the color pink because of its implied girl-ness).

Guess What? I’ve got a GoFundMe Campaign!

Hello World!

I’m back from the rough hiatus that was my trusty Macbook Pro of 5 years dying inexplicably in early May, confining me to my iPad (and teaching me about the technological shortcomings of tablet technology). But now I’m back and more excited than ever to present to you my GoFundMe campaign!

So, let’s do a bit of backtracking:

Even though I haven’t really talked about it on the blog, I’m really interested in tech and have been attending various events around Philly since October 2012. Meeting someone who built a Star Fox mobile game inspired me to look for different resources that would help me attain the skills I wanted so I could begin to build my own games.

It’s been a winding road of pure awesome (and some failings as well), and I realized that attending a web development bootcamp was the perfect solution for me. Although I had applied to one in the fall – when I first discovered how much I wanted to learn how to code – I was rejected from the program by late winter 2013. After that, I had sort of given up, not realizing that there were other bootcamps to choose from. One day I took inspired action and did a search. This is how I found the one I’ll be attending: RefactorU.

I had an incredible interview with Sean, and left completely inspired and touched by his dedication to teaching others about coding and building a tech community in Boulder. And after enthusiastically receiving his acceptance letter about 2-3 days after our interview, I immediately launched a GoFundMe campaign so that I could afford the 6K I would need to hold my spot for the program.

So that’s basically a huge chunk of where I am right now. The 10 week intensive program starts in September, and I’ll be learning how to code from Monday to Friday, at 9am to 6pm. Much like a regular job!!

I’m REALLY excited about this opportunity because it’s my dream to work as a developer, and give back to the incredibly gracious community who has given so much to me.

So, here I am, asking you to help me in my quest to work in the tech field. This is just one obstacle on my path to securing my dream job.

Thank you and I appreciate your support! Please feel free to share (and donate!).

I’m a Closet Romantic + Read Torre’s Memoir

Love With A Chance of Drowning

Love With A Chance of Drowning

After an intense three days of nearly non-stop reading, last week I managed to finish Torre DeRoche’s latest (and first!) memoir, I almost can’t stop thinking about it.

Totaling at a mysteriously wonderful 333 pages (337 if you include the acknowledgements), Love with a Chance of Drowning is a beautifully woven story of a young adult woman who moves to San Francisco for a year just to do something fun and manages to fall in love and travel across the Pacific Ocean instead of going directly home.

As a [closet] romantic – I love real world love stories. Americans traveling abroad and meeting their [future] significant other in a bar, through friends or just on the street. I love it even more when said Americans are whisked away by love to move to their spouse’s home country and carve out their lives together.

*le sigh*

Granted, Torre is Australian, but the general idea is the same – LOVE CONQUERS ALL. Or at least, it conquers pre-made plans while encouraging you to go the unknown, untraveled route.

As Torre experienced pushback from friends when she confided her desire to travel with Ivan (whom she had only been dating several months), I grew defensive. Why can’t you be supportive!?  I wanted to shake the book, hoping that the characters would mysteriously change their minds though some magical power I possessed.

Love With a Chance of Drowning really spoke to my heart’s desire: to be transformed by love (and preferably the romantic kind). My own personal fairy tale involves meeting someone foreign, adventurous and amazing and being carted away a la Howl’s Moving Castle (or maybe any Miyazaki film where the young heroine is transported someplace magical). My new home would be enveloped by warm summers, delicious breakfast and previously unknown languages shared between intense make-out sessions.

Unfortunately, I haven’t even gotten remotely close to being either in love or whisked away by a beautiful someone - but let’s keep hope alive, shall we? 

Torre’s magnificent memoir – which should be available in North America later this month – keeps my own inner fire burning. Part of this is because her book showed me all the interconnectivity in our lives that we often don’t see un we reflect. Most notably, I was delighted  to discover that both Torre and Ivan had “randomly” chosen the same bar to go to that night, and how she felt compelled to speak with him.

Admittedly, I felt more connected with Ivan’s outlook: just today I thought of Ivan’s optimism, especially as I embark in uncharted waters myself, thinking that a life unlived isn’t much of a life at all. How even though I encounter uncomfortable obstacles (though they pale in comparison to your engine failing in the middle of the ocean!) and work through them with determination and grace.

While my experiences thus far don’t really match up with constant seasickness, losing my dinghy or unceasing fears of dying at sea – Love with a Chance of Drowning is my inspiration, reminding me that if you wait until you’re ready, you’ll never leave. It reminded me that you have the ability to do more than you think and if you’re willing to show up, you can handle any situation.

Adventures are frightening because there’s no pre-made chart, or course you should take. People will think you’re foolhardy or irrational for taking a risk that most people wouldn’t take.

But what I learned from Love with a Chance of Drowning is that life happens, and you need to go with the flow – seasickness and all.



Driver’s Seat Interview: Benny Hsu


Twice a month I’m going to showcase a new person (normally a blogger) who I think is being really awesome and taking control of their own lives. They’re the people in the driver’s seat, and are choosing to be more purposeful in getting what they want. Benny Hsu, from Get Busy Living definitely inspired me and I even pasted a quote from that post onto my wall to remind me of what I learned. Check out his interview with me:

1. What is your ideal day like? Are you close to living that right now?

My ideal day would be filled with doing what I want to do. From the time I wake up till the time I go to bed. I’m doing that right now so it’s pretty good. However, I’d be nice if I was answering these questions from a balcony overlooking the ocean, but it’s going in the right direction.

2. What is it that you desire the most for your life? What would you want your obituary to say?

What I desire most is a life of excitement. That doesn’t mean jumping out of airplanes, but excitement from having something to look forward to each day whether it’s work or watching a movie I can’t wait to see. As for my obituary, I would like it to say that I had the biggest smile all the time, made someone’s life better by knowing me, and I was the best husband and father.

3. What initially sparked you to go about creating the type of life you want? (ie: Some people get broken up with, laid off/fired, etc before changing their mindset).

My catalyst was knowing what I was doing wasn’t right for me. I thought after graduating college that I’d be in a regular job, moving up to maybe being the boss one day, and making lots of money. I thought a job and money would equal happiness. Then I got tired of my job working in the restaurant business. The long hours, working weekend, and dealing with the day-to-day problems in the restaurant were not for me. I had that feeling for a couple years and then I read The 4 Hour Work Week. That opened my mind to living this new kind of lifestyle he was talking about. From that day, I wanted to create a lifestyle business. It took three years of frustration still trying to figure out how I would do it, but I’ve found my answer.

4. Do you have a favorite mantra or saying you repeat to keep yourself motivated / centered / clear on your goals?

I just like to remember to keep taking baby steps. When we start on a project it can feel really overwhelming when we think about what we have to do. It can feel stressful so we don’t even want to start. What I do is just do a little bit each day. Do something related to it. Each day that I do, it moves me closer to finishing it. It might still be a long ways away, but at least I’m making progress. So I always remind myself to take baby steps.

5. What are you working on right now that’s bringing you closer to the life of your dreams?

I’m working on creating more streams of income. I don’t want to just rely on one. I want to diversify. I develop iPhone apps so I’m working on a new app right now. I’ve had some hits and some misses, so I’m still working on finding more hits. Also finished a course called Get Busy Living in 30 which takes people through a 30 day program to help them get unstuck in life.

6. What piece of advice would you give someone who is nervous or scared about stepping into the unknown (in terms of going after what they want)?

One piece of advice I would give is to imagine the best case scenario if you achieved your goal. Too often people will imagine the worst case scenario, get freaked out of course, and decide to not even bother to try. One problem with that is that our minds can create vivid imaginations. So it creates these scenarios that never ever happen, but they feel so real in their minds. So think about how it would feel if you achieved your goal, how your life would be, and the benefits because of it. You get more excited by it and it helps motivate you to step into the unknown.

7. How did you figure out what you wanted to do. Was it a childhood dream? Or did you discover it later on?

I was a late bloomer. I never knew what I truly wanted to do. Even in college I had no idea what to major in. I decided on sports management cause it sounded interesting. I wasn’t sure if I would work in sports after college. I just had to pick a major. After college, I did try to apply for some sports jobs, but when I didn’t have success, I didn’t know what else to try. I knew I didn’t want to work in the restaurant forever. I always had an interest in creating an online business. I just had to try different things to figure out my niche.

8. How has your mentality changed (if at all) since you’ve begun creating your life in your own image?

It’s changed tremendously. No doubt it’s the #1 factor why my life has changed. If I never changed my mentality, I’d still feel stuck in life. I had always tried to improve my external world, so I’d feel better on the inside. That never worked. This time I had to change from the inside first and it’s brought me the changes and success I have always wanted.

Bonus: I really love your pieces on epic living and being more aware your mentality. So I’m curious – what are some of the things you say to yourself if you encounter something that’s difficult or might make you second guess yourself? How does your mentality about your life and career compare to what it was in 2009 (or even earlier)? Did you have a hard time changing your mentality or was it like flipping a switch?

One thing I say to myself if I encounter something difficult is instead of saying to myself “I can’t”, I think “How can I?” That perspective leads to trying to find a solution. You’re telling yourself there is a way, but you have to find it. When you think “I can’t” it completely shuts your mind down. It doesn’t look for a solution. Those two words can also physically weak you instantly. Your body reacts according to what you think. That’s why “I can’t” should never be used.
My mentality about my life and career is so different than when it was before 2010. Back then I wasn’t very optimistic at my chances of having the type of life I wanted. Yes I wanted it, but I felt hopeless that it could happen. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I tried some online businesses, but they all failed after a month or two. It didn’t help that every day I had to go to work I hated it. Being so negative clouded my thinking too. I couldn’t lead a positive life when all my thinking was so negative.
I had a hard time changing it for so long before 2010. I read personal development books to find the answers, but I didn’t practice what they were teaching. Reading the books would temporally get me excited that I could change my life, but it quickly went away. In October 2010, I was absolutely fed up with myself. For the past five years or so I made that same drive home from work. I felt frustrated, sad, and angry at myself for living that way. I didn’t know how much longer I could handle it. So that night, I came home and typed a letter to myself. I taped one copy on my bathroom mirror and one on the wall behind my desk. It was a reminder to myself of how I felt and what I needed to do to stop living life like this. Basically I needed to take massive action and not stop until I was living the life I wanted.
It was like flipping on a switch. Change didn’t happen overnight, but I had this drive to change as a person and find work that I actually enjoyed doing.
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