I haven’t accomplished some amazing achievement, or overcome some insurmountable obstacle. I haven’t been through some extreme hardship, or dealt with a personal tragedy. In life, I have been significantly influenced by a negative voice inside me that tells me I’m an impostor and focuses on my past failures and things about myself I cannot change. In short, I don’t see myself as a hero. However, being a part of the WordPress community has taught me to not be too hard on myself and appreciate things I take for granted. This essay is a summary of the personal struggles I have had, mostly alone, in my head.
My family teases me that I started learning to speak after I turned four. I think they exaggerate but it fits my personality. I am slow, it’s not a big impediment, but people point it out sometimes (Like at 13:25 on this WordCamp video) . I am highly sensitive both emotionally and physically to things like bright lights, strong smells, heat and cold. I easily get overwhelmed under pressure or in emotionally or socially tasking activities. As a child, I was under a lot of pressure to be normal. To wake up! Speak up! Stop crying! I carried that pressure into adulthood and spent the first 30 years of my life trying to be ‘normal’. As much as I pushed myself to be more outgoing, work harder, be stronger I only ended up an exhausted, frustrated multiple time college dropout.
In 2016 I started learning WordPress with the goal of becoming a web developer. In October of that year, I found out there was a new WordPress meetup in Harare and signed up to attend straight away. Before my first meetup I expected to meet a bunch of condescending tech bros who I hoped would at least tolerate me. What I found there was the total opposite, a diverse group of people who wanted to learn and share their knowledge. What topped it off was when Thabo Tswana, who founded the meetup, ended with the invitation to host meetups. His message was anyone was welcome to host or attend a meetup, whether you were a beginner, professional, blogger, business owner, or developer, everyone is welcome. I was hooked! I signed up to speak at the first WordCamp Harare, and went on to become a meetup organizer, and even lead organizer of WordCamp Harare 2019!
Exposure to the global community taught me a new meaning of citizenship.
Not the kind of citizenship with arbitrary borders and exclusive membership. The citizenship I learned from the WordPress community is one that accepts everyone as they come with one main condition, to genuinely want what’s best for each member and the community as a whole without necessarily needing to agree on what that means. I also learned how to deal with the tension of trying to fit in when you have traits that force you to stand out.
The WordPress community’s acceptance of diversity doesn’t just mean accepting people as they are, but pushing them to do their best for themselves and society. I have learned from the WP community to lean into my abilities, and also find the best ways to improve on my weaknesses. As an introvert I’ve learned to cultivate my personal interactions at meetups and WordCamps and it has created many opportunities. I’ve also learned from other introverts to pace myself when I attend social events. There’s no need to shake everyone’s hand (or fist bump since the pandemic). It’s also good for me to plan ahead for a day away from the world to recharge after big social events.
One of my favorite hacks has come from conversations about accessibility. I discovered that using a screen reader increased my dismal reading speed from 150 words per minute to the average person’s reading speed of 250!
Finding myself is all well and good, but I still need to make a living. I have struggled in that regard. I tried being a freelancer, and working as a web designer/developer for companies, but never found the right fit. I’ve given myself excuses like slow internet or a crappy laptop. In 2019 we had daily 13-hour electricity blackouts that disrupted life for everyone who couldn’t afford backup power during the day as electricity was only available at night. All very good excuses, but there’ll always be excuses no matter what you are doing.
I’ve been asked where the money is from this “W” thing I do, and when I’ll get a proper job, and I never had a definite answer.
I come from a utilitarian culture where direct input should always equal direct results. I initially tried applying the same thinking to my WP journey, but it’s not as simple as planting a seed, giving it water and fertilizer and watching it grow. That is where personal growth becomes a practical tool. There is no absolute formula to success. I have been gradually making minor personal adjustments as I go and my income has gradually grown in amount and consistency.
As long as my 5-year WP journey has been, I’m still at the beginning of it. For anyone looking to make it in WordPress, I can’t promise you success. But what I can promise you is that if you intentionally seek out solutions from the people who have come before you, you will gain the skills to be successful no matter where you go.