Sunday, January 12, 2014

Panning for Gold

You need to pan to find the gold.

When I first quit my job, I made a mind map of interests I wanted to pursue.

A skinnied down version of my mind map.
(Some of the map is not for public consumption;
refer to "Guarding My Intentions.")

Once I started investing large chunks of time tackling these interests, I noticed that exploring my interests led to even more interests. The panning led to riches, and so my mind map grew.

But the explorations revealed that some of my supposed interests weren't really interests after all. In these cases, the panning yielded pebbles, and these pebbles were tossed by the wayside.

As I've noted in my recent blog posts, I've been developing a lot of my interests. The housesitting. The teaching. The volunteering. The fun employment. But I've also spent some time developing interests that I later discarded. I'd like to describe two of those experiences:

Example #1: ADA

Ada is the first name of the woman, Ada Lovelace, commonly credited as the first female programmer. The name is also short for "Ada Developers Academy."

Ada Developers Academy is a programming school for women. The academy was developed for two reasons: to help meet the huge demand for programmers in Washington state and to help imbalance the gender gap (more than 85% of programmers are men).

The school is 12 months in length -- 6 months of intensive classroom instruction followed by 6 months of internship. What's super cool is that the academy is tuition-free.

On numerous occasions to numerous people, I have mentioned that if I were to do it all over again, I would study programming instead of accounting. And so here was my opportunity to do it all over again. (Thank you, Jason, of Kale Tale and Butt Raisins fame, for giving me a heads-up about ADA.)

I had great fun completing the ADA application, which included a video response to pre-selected questions, a technical reading assessment, and a logic puzzle. And I was thrilled to have received an interview spot. (107 women applied for the academy, 33 were given interviews, and 16 were accepted into the program).

In the time window between learning of my interview and actually having the interview, I did some deep thinking as to whether this was a good opportunity for me.

The Pros:
  • I'd get to study programming, which has interested me for quite awhile.
  • The program is intensive, so I'd learn the skills quickly.
  • The program would enable me to develop some of the business ideas that have been floating around my head.
  • The program is tuition free.

The Cons:
  • Participating in the program would be stressful and would allow me NO TIME to pursue my other interests. Realistically, this would mean no bike touring for at least a year!
  • If I were to learn programming skills, I'd want to invest these skills in my own business rather than working for one of the local tech companies who funded the academy. 

When it came time for the interview, I decided it best to be forthright. I was not shy about sharing that bicycle touring was my #1 passion and that I would take the learnings from the program and invest them into my own entrepreneurial ideas.

Alas, I did not get asked to be a part of the program. I was not at all surprised, though, given my candid responses to the interview questions. Not getting a spot in the program easily capped the decision that ADA was not right for me.

ADA is a great program, and I think it would have been a wonderful opportunity for me at a different time in my life. I figured that if I want to learn the programming skills badly enough, I can pick up a book and teach myself on my own time.

Example #2: Textbook Solutions Authoring

Many moons ago I worked in educational publishing. My first job in the field was to check the accuracy of solutions to math problems in the back of a textbook. I loved the work, because I essentially got paid to do homework.

With time, my work in educational publishing evolved into other responsibilities, but it was always the solutions checking and writing that most had me "in the flow."

About a month ago, I came across an advertisement looking for individuals to author textbook solutions. I submitted my resume and was offered a contracting job to write solutions for accounting and tax textbooks.

As was the case with ADA, I did some deep thinking as to whether this opportunity was good for me.

The Pros:
  • I'd get paid to do homework.
  • As a contractor, I'd get to determine my own work hours and pace.

The Cons:
  • Spending time on the authoring would leave less time for other interests.

My contemplation revealed that the main reason I would have taken the job was to earn money, and that wasn't enough of a motivation for me. I decided this wasn't an opportunity I'd pursue. 

I still enjoy solutions authoring. And I can very well see myself doing this at a different time in my life. But now is not the right time.

I will continue to pan. Sometimes I will find gold, and it will be rock-awesome when I do. But sometimes my panning will produce nothing but pebbles - dead ends. And that's okay -- it's part of the process.

Panning doesn't always lead to gold. But I'll take comfort in knowing that the discovery was made from a position of knowledge and not from a position of assumption.


  1. Do you have time/inclination to meet up this week? I took one look at your mind map and went, "Dang, that's about where I am right now." Except I'm not nearly as organized, mentally or otherwise, as you are :-) and am in need of some pointers.

    1. Inclination? Of course! Time? Unfortunately no, as my mom arrives into town tomorrow for a visit. I'd be happy to meet up sometime after the middle of next week! I'll contact you "off-line."


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