My Life Story. Part 4: The Workaholic

All entries in the 'Life Story' series:

It’s funny because if you asked people about me today, hardly anyone would use the word “workaholic” to describe me. That’s because I changed. Because I had to change.

I’ve been using my photo library in Google Photos as I write these posts to bring back memories and to have a better understanding of the timeline of the things I’ve been telling you.
Here’s something interesting I noticed just now: I have very few pictures from 2017-2019.

Just another hint of the madness those few years were, and I mean that in both good and bad ways.

New Beginnings

So I quit my stable job to start working on my own thing. These next few years are a blur, and that’s just sad now that I think about it.
I did learn a lot while working on a ton of different projects, I had the chance (and the obligation) to work with new technologies and workflows.

For the tech-savvy reading this, this was the time when I learned how to set up web servers; configure Linux, set up Apache and/or Nginx, and deploy web applications and pages. I learned how to configure web domains and the different types of records it may involve. I learned how to set up a Google Business account so we could have professional emails – and eventually some of our clients.
This was the time when I learned about pipelines, CI/CD, and the basics of AWS; EC2 instances, VPC’s, routing, and Lambda functions.

I already had some PHP knowledge, but this was the period when I really strengthed that skill; I learned Laravel and thanks to Laravel I discovered VueJs and went deep into that one.
WordPress played a big role as well; we would always use WordPress to set up sites for our clients.
I learned the ins and outs of WordPress development; for both plugins and themes.

I was (still am) the CTO, full-stack developer, DevOps, IT, systems administrator, database engineer, QA, and even project manager. We couldn’t afford to hire anyone else, so it was just two of us managing heaps of work. I only asked to not have to deal directly with clients; I could do the work but wanted to be kept away from people, out of the spotlight.

Some of the projects I worked on back then are still up on my old site.

Apart from all the technical stuff, I also learned how to plan and accurately estimate tasks and projects.
I also learned how to set limits, not just in terms of project scope, but for myself.

Losing My Head

I was killing myself, literally.

There was a time when I was working at least 13 or 14 hours every day. Because I felt like I absolutely had to finish everything as soon as possible; a project finished = money in the bank.

This went on for months, and of course, at first, I didn’t feel anything out of the ordinary; I was just tired by the time I went to bed.

One night, during one of these late work sessions, something happened.

My vision went black. And I felt like I was going down.
I reacted by grasping my desk as hard as I could with both hands, and I heard the wheels of my chair roll back as I did so.

Was I actually falling down or was it just my brain playing tricks on me?

I had to stop working for the night because I felt dizzy afterward, with a slight headache.
Brushed the whole incident off come next morning.

Weeks later, I had gone out for a few drinks with a few people, and it happened again. Once more, my instinct was to get a hold of the table, as firmly as I could. Apparently, I wasn’t falling down but it did look weird to everyone that suddenly I decided to grab the table – glasses clinked, obviously.

Just like the first time I was left lightheaded, and I just wanted to go home.

This time I wasn’t particularly stressed when it happened, I was actually having a good time. But that had been a stressful week.

Now, I can’t remember if I actually went to see a doctor or if I just looked it up relentlessly on the internet.
However, I arrived at a simple conclusion: I was working myself to death, something had to change.

I was being too hard on myself, and I already had enough stress factors. I constantly felt judged by my own family; whenever I was struggling with money they would comment on how “I needed to start looking for a real job because this isn’t ever going to work”.

All this pressure, added to the pressure from my very real job, was just too much.
And luckily I had control over one of those.

I still wasn’t sure if stress was the actual cause of my health problems, but it made sense and I figured I would make some changes and see if things get better.
I began by setting a schedule for myself: I would begin working at 9 a.m., take at least a 1-hour break for lunch, and never do any work after 5 p.m. This led to me also being more organized and more careful when planning tasks.

I found that not only I was feeling better, but I also made time to do other things like playing games, playing guitar, reading, or just watching a movie.
All these things that I had stopped doing because in my mind I had to get all my work tasks done as soon as possible, and everything else was secondary.

I’ve never gotten sick like that again after I changed my work habits.

I’ve heard several times of people wanting to get to where I am, to achieve what I’ve achieved. And they ask what’s my secret.

Well, there it is. I had to eat shit for years, work my ass to exhaustion. I had to be looked down, I had to feel like a disappointment to those close to me. I had to have them tell me that I was wasting my time and that all my work wouldn’t be enough. I had to deal with so, so much pressure, external and self-imposed.
I had to somehow push through all of this, while I saw many of the people I attended school with already getting their degrees. I felt pride in the work I was doing, but I still carried with the shame of having failed school so badly.

And I wasn’t making much money. There were times when I’d stay home for weeks and not go out to do anything because I couldn’t even afford a bus ride. And I sucked it up.

There wasn’t a stable flow of projects; we could spend one or two months without receiving any money. And when it finally came I had to pay all the late bills – joke’s on me: I still had to pay those student loans.
Also, even though I was living with my grandparents at the time, and I didn’t have to pay rent or anything, I still felt like a parasite if I didn’t chip in somehow.

A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.

This was my motto back then, and I still stand by it.

Things eventually started to get a bit better, but first, I decided to play with fire.

Summoning The Devil

June, 2017.

I was staying at my mom’s house, my sister had just gotten a new kitten a few weeks earlier and named her Charlotte.
The original plan was for me to stay there for at least a week, but I developed a really bad allergy to the new kitten and I had to go home sooner than I had first thought.

Eventually (most of) my cat allergies went away, but that week was rough; I was sneezing constantly and my eyes were irritated and tearing.

Charlotte around that time.

It was Wednesday. I somehow remember that detail, and I just checked the calendar to confirm it as I write this.
It was Laura’s birthday. And for some reason, I called her.

We exchanged a few pleasantries, caught a bit on life, I said Happy Birthday. And just as we were about to hang up, she said “Uhh, I don’t think you know… But I broke up with irrelevant-name“.
“Oh… No, I didn’t know… Are you okay?” I replied while sirens were going off inside my head.
We talked for a few more minutes after that. Hours later we were texting each other.

I remember we were talking almost every day again, and on one occasion we even went out for a few drinks with some friends.

A couple of months later she even came to my sister’s 15th birthday party, where at the end my uncle told me “You two make a nice couple”. Yeah, no. No couple.
About two weeks after that she invited me to her sister’s 15th birthday party.
… We actually had quite a lot in common.

Shortly after that, I decided to distance myself again, and once again, shortly after I stepped away she found someone else.

New Wheels and Music

Around the time of those back-to-back parties, I was in the process of buying my first car. I wasn’t really planning on it at the time, but Jairo took me to see the one he was considering for himself. And I wanted one too.

We both bought the same car, a Volkswagen Gol. My family had always bought second-hand cars, and I drove a brand-new one straight out of the dealership.

Sure, I had a shitty interest rate because it was my first loan of that type, my first big loan really. But still, I was ecstatic with my new car. It gave me some freedom, as now I could just easily go out whenever I wanted.

Shortly after getting the car, I signed up for swimming lessons at night two days a week.
First of all, up until that moment, I couldn’t swim. I didn’t know how. People told me “The human body just floats!”. Well, this one didn’t.

So apart from getting over that, I was also having the best sleep of my life every time I came back from swimming. I felt relaxed, and in general, I was in a much better mood.

I specifically remember it was around this that I discovered Trivium. The first song of theirs that I heard was Until The World Goes Cold, and to this day it’s still my favorite.
They released The Sin And The Sentence around that time too, and I would listen to it from start to finish at least twice every single day. And I would play it in my car while getting back home from those swimming lessons.

That’s when I became a Trivium fan and began exploring their earlier work, and loved all of it.

US East Coast & My First Car Accident

You would think that, after getting my first car, I would be really careful when driving it, right? Especially because I wasn’t I didn’t have too much driving experience.

And you would be right to think that, because I never crashed my car.

For New Year 2018, I had planned a vacation with my family, and then with Jairo. This was my first long vacation, as I was away for like 3 weeks.
When I say New Year I mean it literally, as we landed in Miami at about 4:30 a.m. on January 1st.

I rented an SUV and this was my first time driving in the US. So, naturally, it made sense to get out straight of the airport, and make the 4-hour drive to Orlando, right? RIGHT?

I felt fine, but I had to make a stop halfway because everyone else was sleeping. We needed coffee urgently.
In Orlando, I returned the car as we planned to get around using Uber.
I didn’t crash this one either.

After about a week in Orlando, we were ready to drive back to Miami and spend a few more days there. I rented another car, a sedan this time, and made the 4-hour drive again.

I had some trouble finding the place I was supposed to return it; it was a weird address and when I drove past it there was nothing like a car rental agency around.
This involved a series of U-turns as I frantically looked for this place because I had a time limit to return the car.
Finally, it turned out to be just a large garage but the entrance was actually in the back so it was really easy to miss it.
I didn’t crash this one either.

After a few days in Miami, I left my family at the airport and I was about to take a bus to West Palm Beach, where I met with an old friend. He had been living there for a few years by then, and we had not seen each other in all that time. Boy did he get fat…

Anyway, I stayed with him for a night, and he and his girlfriend/wife showed me around. And at some point, they asked if I was okay with driving their car. “Yeah sure”, I said. I wasn’t expecting it, and to be honest I really didn’t want to after having that rushing experience in Miami just a few days earlier. But I sat behind the wheel anyway.

We made it home just fine; I didn’t crash.

That night, Jairo landed in Miami and rented a car. Our plan was to drive to Orlando, he would pick me up in West Palm on the way up.
He showed up at almost midnight and we were on our way. We did have to stop at a rest area to get some, well… rest.
But we made it there.

Now, I really can’t remember why we had things planned like this, but the next day we had to catch a flight to Washington D.C. So we got up in the morning and looked for a hearty breakfast because we knew it would be a long day.
We headed for the airport right after that.

We were driving down a relatively small road, I think it had two lanes in each direction plus a turning lane in the middle.

At an intersection, there was a car in the opposite direction waiting to make a left turn. This dude went hard on the gas pedal just as we were driving across the intersection. Jairo saw it just in time to swerve to the right, but the other car crashed into us quite hard on the front left side.
Luckily we were okay, I just had a tiny scratch on my right hand but that was all.

When we stepped out of the car, I just knew the car was totaled. The entire front of the car was crushed and it was leaking a few different things.

I made the call to 911 to report it, and then I called the car rental agency. It was under Jairo’s name, but “I be good with words”.
The person on the phone asked me: “Is the car drivable?”.
I remember just standing there, looking at that piece of scrap, barely held together as it kept leaking and dripping. “Uhh… I don’t think so”, I replied.

Police arrived shortly after, took our statements and luckily the other driver assumed all responsibility. The police officer took us to the nearest office of the car rental agency, and they did us the huge favor of taking us to the airport; we still had a flight to catch.

Washington D.C. & Manhattan By Foot

We made it to Washington safe and sound, although the plane landing was by far the worst of my life. The weather wasn’t exactly good and there was a ton of wind. The pilot attempted landing twice without success, and on the third try, he just dropped the plane.

It was January and my logic failed for a second because when we stepped out of the terminal, I had not put my gloves on and my fingers went numb instantly. I quickly walked back in to calmly put them on.

The next few days the weather wasn’t so bad, it was cold but a good jacket was enough and we would walk almost everywhere.

We spent a day visiting museums (they’re free and just amazing) and walking through the National Mall.
Overall, I really enjoyed my time there, it was just a couple of days but we made the most of them, with the little money we had…

You see, just before traveling, we were expecting a payment from a client. And people = shit. They didn’t pay on time so we had to travel on a really tight budget.

It didn’t matter, we managed.

After DC, we took a bus ride to NYC. I can’t remember how long that took but it wasn’t too bad. Plus I definitely slept for most of the ride.

We arrived at night and I wasn’t prepared for it. Having spent a few days in DC, I got used to very open spaces, and mostly low buildings, it was nice.
Stepping out of the bus terminal I was immediately overwhelmed: the lights, the noise, the buildings, and the people in a rush in all directions. This city is designed to overwhelm all senses.

We walked to the hotel because it was probably faster than dealing with big-city traffic. And also we didn’t have much money.

Luckily we scored a really nice hotel just a few blocks away from Central Park. Once again, we would walk everywhere, and it was actually amazing.
One day we walked all the way from Central Park, passing by the One World building and the 9/11 memorial, all the way down to the Staten Island Ferry in the southernmost part of Manhattan; just getting to know the city by foot.

To get back to the hotel we rode the subway. It was filthy, and it smelled. But at least it was an option, and it was a quick ride.

I want to go back someday with more time, and more money… I feel like I missed a lot of what NYC has to offer, and I would like to get it even soon (as soon as next year, probably).

Job Hunt, And Quitting Again

By the end of 2018, I had grown an interest in remote work opportunities with foreign companies.

From time to time I would check job boards and if I found a likely fit I would apply. For most of these applications I never had an answer, and that was fine, really. I wasn’t really in a hurry, something would come up eventually.

In the first half of 2019, Jairo and I began working at a renowned web agency. And we quit after 3 months.
The project we were working on was terribly mismanaged; the CTO had no idea of how things worked, and honestly? This guy was there because he was friends with the owner. Red flags flying.

The framework they had picked to develop the backend of the application was widely known for being terribly insecure. The client was a bank.

We raised our concerns and these landed on deaf ears. We jumped ship before it sank with us on it. Months later we found out that the entire project had flunked, no surprise there.

After that, we were on our own again, but we knew we needed to find something more stable.

Back To An Office

By midyear, Jairo was interviewing at another agency, not as widely known as the previous one, but it was easy to assume that it was at least managed a lot better.

This was a developer position, he had passed all the tests and was made an offer. Just as he was about to sign the contract, he received a better (as in, a better fit for his profile) from another company and he decided to take that job instead.

He apologized to the people from the first place and said “I have someone that could be a good fit for that developer position”. That was me.

They called me and asked me for my resume. After that, they called me for an interview.
To be frank, I wasn’t expecting much. But I really liked what I found there. The place itself was really nice, and the interview went well. I was actually excited when I left: They were using AWS and were planning to start using VueJs, and I was pretty good at it by then.

After the interview, they sent me a technical test which was building a basic web application to manage blog posts.

I went all-in with that test. I had just created a custom CSS framework so I used that, and also added some interactive components with VueJs, even though that wasn’t required.
Many months later I would learn that my submission had been the best one since they started using that test model.

I had a job again. And this time I was actually going to enjoy it.

The next part will be out in a few days 儭

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