I’ve been working as an iOS Developer, professionally, since October 2016. Before deciding to take that journey, I was a teacher. It was actually something completely unrelated to either career that helped give me the courage to make a career change at 37–joining a CrossFit gym.
For most of my 30s I was pretty complacent in my job as a teacher. I wasn’t bad, but I wasn’t motivate to be particularly good at it. I knew my content, had a decent rapport with students and earned a respectable living. However, I was bored and frustrated.
After nine years of teaching, I didn’t feel like there was much more for to me learn. Actually, a better way of putting it was that I didn’t have any desire to learn more. Hence the boredom. So, I quit, went to a bootcamp in Utah, and wound up starting my dev journey at Emory University in October 2016.
Those 21 months at Emory I was a newbie, surrounded by fellow junior developers and we just hacked away at solutions as we came upon different problems. Eventually we started to figure out how to structure our code better, learn some advanced concepts, embrace cleaner code and generally move away from the “junior” status.
During that time, CrossFit remained a fixture in my life. It helped wrap my heady day-job with some much needed physical demands that are programmed in the workout so that mind and body were well worked out by days end. For me, programming and CrossFit just go together.
Last June I took a new position with Rheem Manufacturing and while I had to change CrossFit gyms to accommodate the new work location, life pretty much went the same way. My workouts were now in the morning rather than evening, but I managed to make sure I was using both mind and body in my day to day life.
Whether the advent of turning 40, years of competitive swimming, or maybe I tweaked something in CrossFit, in December I had to undergo surgery to repair my right shoulder. At first, it was thought to be some arthritis and a bone spur, but once in surgery they found more damage–namely a torn labrum. Recovery time was thought to be 6-8 weeks, but after the extent of the tear, it went to 3-6 months.
While my relationship with code and learning hasn’t subsided, my physical daily routine took a massive hit. Where I once was able to lift a fair amount of weight for several reps, I’m now at where I couldn’t do a simple pushup. I go to CrossFit when I can, but lately, knowing how little of it I can do, my effort has been half-hearted. That mind-body balance has suffered.
Strangely, it was a slow process. I had not even noticed it until I was stuck on a problem at work and realized that I was not putting in the required effort to solving it. Where I once spent days figuring out how to do something early in my career with dogged determination, I was now trying to rationalize why I couldn’t get something done. I went home from work on Friday pretty dejected. The drive and motivation I’d obtained through workouts and finding a career that I truly didn’t tire of learning from was dying. I went to bed on Friday night wondering if I was in a rut, or if this is just as far as my talents will take me.
Inspiration, though comes from some surprising places. I spent this past weekend watching some documentaries on Netflix and Hulu. I’d heard about “Free Solo” winning the Academy Award for Best Documentary and Hulu had it available, so I watched as Alex Honnold became the first person to free solo El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. For the uninitiated, free soloing is climbing alone, without protective aids. He accomplished the feat in just under four hours.
The documentary, though, shows the years of preparation he went through to achieve this climb. He actually has a great Ted talk on the difference between his successful free solo of Half Dome versus El Capitan. He explains how the level of prep for El Capitan left him feeling much more satisfied with the achievement.
I also watched “The Dawn Wall“. Another documentary about climbing up El Capitan, though a different section of it. Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson spent over 3 weeks attempting to scale the Dawn Wall section of El Capitan. The documentary marks their six year journey to achieving this feat.
Both movies describe the ups and downs, the years of prep, and the mental stamina required by the climbers. While I don’t necessarily have the ability or desire to climb El Capitan, I am still in awe of their achievements and look to apply those same traits to my own life–namely, how adversity affects our ability to move forward from difficult circumstances.
So it appears I’ve been having a sort of pity party lately. The physical part of my life that the mental needs to work at its peak hasn’t been getting the attention it needs, and I had just given up attempting to give it what it needed unless I could do it in the same way I always had–namely CrossFit. My shoulder is about 85% recovered, but extremely weak. I’ve been cherry-picking workouts because some of them I couldn’t do, even if I had modified them. Modifications have gotten boring. I could continue with excuses, but suffice it to say, I’ve been taking the easy way out with getting my body the exercise it needs. Watching these three gentlemen approach their difficulties and continuing to try new things to get past them may be exactly the inspiration I’ve needed to remind myself to do the same. After all, history shows my mind is better at solving problems when my body is worked out properly.
It also occurs to me that I need to get back out to Yosemite sometime soon to reconnect with the magic that exists in that valley.
P.S. “Valley Uprising” was also a great film to watch and I highly recommend it, but it didn’t connect with me quite like the other two did.