5 things I had to do before I could focus on learning programming in a global pandemic.

After the country shut down in March I was absolutely convinced, like many of us were, that the world was officially ending.

I lost my job, I wasn’t sure when I’d be going back to work, and no one knew what was happening from one day to the next. But by the time summer rolled around, I had worn myself out on drinking and wallowing in self-pity and was ready to tackle something new. Fast-forward to me being recommended Flatiron School, applying, doing 100 hours of pre-work, and getting started in class at the end of August!

While I sat at my computer and tried my best to focus on class, I couldn’t shut my brain off from thinking of the dozen plus other life-things I hadn’t managed to take care of before starting this new venture. Basically, I felt like I had decided to go white-water rafting and left the house with no shoes, no wallet and didn’t tell anyone where I was going.

It quickly became apparent that this was NOT the best way to go about things. So even though I loved what I was doing, I had to take a step back and realize that an existential crisis does not justify being unprepared for a new adventure. I asked my instructors if I could take a break, which they graciously allowed, and I went to take care of some things everyone should take care of before a coding bootcamp, let alone during one of the most stressful points in modern American history. Here’s what I accomplished!

1. Established a healthy sleeping pattern.

Pre-pandemic I was a career bartender living my best life, living and working in the greater DC Area. I loved my job, loved my regulars and was finally in a good position at a good company. The one thing about bartending, though, is that my whole circadian rhythm was different from everyone else’s, and had been for years. Going from a standard day of 10am to 2am to suddenly shifting my days to 8:30am-12am was… challenging. It seemed like a silly and minor issue before I started at Flatiron, but quickly became more of a challenge every day. If you are a night owl like me, prioritize a healthy sleep schedule and do whatever it takes to get there!

2. Tied up loose ends.

Like most people, I had a never-ending to do list that never seemed to get smaller. And not only did I think about it every day, but some of those items were in critical need status by the time I was in my 4th week of class. Before you start, CLEAR THE LIST. JUST THIS ONCE. After I went on hiatus I did my absolute best to do that. Emptied out my car of clothes and trinkets, made that random once-yearly DMV trip, updated all my health-insurance info, called about that random bill I’d been avoiding, got set up with the dentist appointment I kept forgetting about, cleaned the fridge, spent more time and money at Firestone than I care to do for another decade. That stuff never really fully goes away, but coming back to class has been so much easier now that my list is so much smaller and more manageable.

3. Said goodbye to friends and family.

I know this sounds dramatic, and your right, but the reality is that learning coding was a lot more challenging than I wanted to believe, and all that free time I thought I’d have on the weekends to watch Netflix or go to dinner just didn’t exist. I needed a lot of time to study but also to do laundry and sleep! As someone with a pretty nasty case of FOMO and a big friend circle, it was the only way I could avoid temptation. But beyond that, any and all distractions need to be put aside. I thought the term “bootcamp” was an extreme marketing ploy, but there have already been days, not even halfway through the program, that were upwards of 16 hours just trying to get through reading and labs. Do what it takes to put yourself first.

4. Put away the laundry.

This goes back to my second point. I tidied my room and made sure it was Marie Kondo approved. As a naturally anxious person, going to bed in a clean and tidy room has helped end every night on a high note. At least now when I’m tired and frustrated from labs, I can get in a clean bed and not have to worry about the mountain of laundry in the corner. Give yourself the literal space you need to breathe and put the laundry away. Throw the trash out, vacuum the rug, and make your room your sacred space. You owe yourself the peace of mind.

5. Reminded myself that I am insanely brave for shifting careers in an uncertain time.

I realized after I took my hiatus that my stress levels were unacceptably high. I was beating myself up for not acing everything and not picking up the concepts as fast as I wanted to. I’ve had to practice forgiveness and patience with myself and realize that making mistakes is an essential part of programming. And especially right now, for anyone who’s in the same position as me, this is a strange and precarious time to be taking such a big risk. Be proud of yourself, as I am conscientiously reminding myself to be, for doing something difficult and continuing to grow and make yourself better.