For over two decades I was an electrical and software engineer in the high tech automated manufacturing industry. How did I go from engineering mega-million dollar systems to teaching WordPress-enabled web development? My journey is not for the faint-of-heart, but one of miracles, hope, humility, and happiness. This is my story.
The First 22 Years of My Career
My world before 2007 was one of pushing the boundaries of software for the big manufacturers of the world. We built some fun, innovative, and cool stuff, like visual-guided robotic systems to predictive modeling and monitoring systems that alerted staff when a production process was possibly going out of specification or might fail. I was blessed to work with amazingly talented and bright engineers who, over the years, invested in me.
I even stepped out on my own in 2001, starting an engineering consulting firm. We helped solve complex problems, fine-tuned technical teams, and shared our expertise with our clients. I started training apprentices to help the next generation get started. Business was booming and our staff kept growing.
My first exposure to WordPress came with the company’s website. I put it on the front-end and then had an intranet that worked with our business servers, to connect our staff and clients. That was in the early days of WordPress. I knew very little about WordPress in those days.
My Life’s Ugly Twist
My world changed forever in 2007. And here is where my story takes an ugly twist. In 2007 I woke up to go to a client’s facility as we were building another robotic system. As I headed for the door, I fell to my knees, as this wave of pain crushed down on my chest. I was becoming the stereotypical over-achieving, Type-A engineer and entrepreneur. This is not a club anyone wants to join.
That moment set me on a course that ripped our lives apart. The next seven years were devastating to my family and me.
The results were inconclusive for heart-attack, as they diagnosed with a very rare heart disease that caused my blood vessels to spasm, cutting off blood to whatever was downstream. Doctors loaded me up with medicines and told me to change everything. There was little they could do.
A few months later, our lives went from bad to worse.
I woke up in the hospital after having a seizure at home. For five days the medical team poked, prodded, and hooked me up to machines. I was diagnosed with second rare disease, i.e. a very rare migraine disease. This one was worse than the heart one.
Migraines are awful, as any migraineur knows. I had suffered with them for 16 years. But this new form I had, combined with my heart, made every migraine attack life-threatening. These migraines caused stroke-like symptoms with profound confusion, left-side paralysis, seizures, and temporary coma. They typically triggered my heart at the same time, meaning I was unable to respond or seek help to get the medicines I needed. The attacks came on without warning. One moment I was fine and next I fell to the floor unconscious. I often injured myself from the falls.
Any migraineur will tell you of their triggers, those things which set off their migraines such as smells, lights, sounds, and weather. Mine were all of those, but highly magnified.
I couldn’t watch a bird in flight, go to any public place, go to family’s when there were more than a couple of people in the room, or eat anything but raw, unprocessed foods. For nearly seven years I was mostly homebound. I had to be monitored 24 hours a day, everyday. My attacks came frequently. And when they did, I needed someone to keep me safe.
I Lost Me
I was forced to leave engineering because my body failed me.
I lost my engineering company, had to let go of my staff, say goodbye to my clients, and leave the world behind as I locked myself away. My career defined me. It was my canvas and art. When it was gone, I was lost. I didn’t recognize myself. I had no purpose in life.
Bankruptcy came. We watched them take everything, all of the things we built together. We went from living in a luxurious lifestyle to being on food stamps in a tiny one room apartment supported by my father. Our daily lives were consumed by managing my health and keeping me safe.
I was lost for a couple of years, trying to fight my way back and regain that which was taken from us.
Turning it Around
One day, I had enough of feeling sorry for myself. I made a decision to smile and laugh again, even when half my face was paralyzed. Let me tell you that when you are at rock bottom, you have to make a decision or else it will consume you.
I chose to be happy.
I knew that I would never again work in my profession. I accepted our new life and its limitations. But now it was time to carve out a new path and find something to give me a purpose. I refused to be cast aside. Maybe I would never to be able to join the physical world again, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t do something virtually.
I had always enjoyed teaching and helping others. My dream was to become a professor of math or physics. Teaching had always been a huge part of my career.
I started small, reaching out into migraine communities to help others find peace in spite of their pain, fear, and anger. That led me to start a blog, where I shared my insights on how to find peace and joy in any situation. I wrote about kindness and helping one another. Eventually it led me to start a non-profit, whose website was powered by WordPress and BuddyPress. Building those websites sparked my thirst for programming. As both sites ran on WordPress, I began reverse engineering it. I wanted to really know the code and understand what made it tick.
Then I stepped into the WordPress software community. I was amazed to see people sharing so much information freely with one another. Everyone reached out and gave of themselves. In my former engineering world, it was proprietary. People guarded their silos of knowledge, locking it away for only a select few. Throughout my career, I worked to break down those silos and help anyone to understand complex systems. I was drawn to this open community. I felt connected and right at home.
Maybe it sounds dramatic or a bit over the top, but honestly, finding WordPress helped me to find myself again.
Here in this community, I was able to feel like a person again, not a sick one, but a professional with something to offer.
Over the years, I donated my time to build some sites and plugins. I couldn’t charge anyone anything for my time, as they couldn’t count on me to be reliable or deliver on-time. But by donating, I was able to do something other than sit in isolation. As I spent more time in the community reading forums and posts, I noticed a trend: developers in this space asked a lot of fundamental programming and engineering questions. I thought maybe I could give back and share the knowledge and expertise others built in me over the decades.
I started drafting up plans for WP Developers Club and how I could teach. I was turning my life around and all thanks to WordPress.
In the fall of 2013, my health declined rapidly. The doctors added more medicines in an effort to stabilize me. That effort failed. In December, my body gave up as my respiratory system failed. I spent 32 days in the hospital, most of it in Intensive Care Unit (ICU) on life support. The doctors diagnosed me with yet another rare disease, this one autoimmune. They pumped me full of medications and donated antibodies. Then they filtered my blood with this awful machine that was hooked up to the arteries in my neck.
On New Year’s Day in the early hours of the morning, while everyone else was toasting the new year and what might be ahead of them, I passed away. My body had enough of this torture and pain.
I remember the chaos, the flurry of noise and activity, the loud beeping of the life support machines alerting them I was failing. I remember the “Code Blue” call. And then it was quiet, oh so quiet. An amazing feeling of utter peace and no pain swept through me.
I heard a voice. His voice filled my body with strength and such joy. I never felt so peaceful and calm. He told me I was safe. He told me it was ok to let go and come Home. The choice was mine if I wanted to stay or go.
I remember thinking of my family. I asked Him if I could stay, as I just wanted to do more and help make a difference.
A few days later, I was off of life support, breathing fully on my own. My migraines stopped. No seizures. No headaches. My tests were normal. The doctors were dumbfounded and had no answers as to why I went from death to on my way to a full recovery. I received a miracle. I even worked on a WordPress site while I was in ICU. (See WordPress keeps my mind alive.) The nurses would smile and laugh.
It took several more months for me to regain my strength in physical therapy. But in time, the feeding tube was removed from my stomach, my wheelchair was put away, and finally my walker was put into the closet.
By summer I got to experience many firsts in over seven years. I walked into my first store, went to a family reunion, and sat outside and watched the birds fly around. In the fall, my partner of 28 years and I were finally allowed to legally marry.
The Third Chapter in My Life – Giving Back
I’ve already had two different chapters in my life. Now I’m in my third. I’m a very different person from the engineer I used to know. Material things have no value for me. I don’t care about climbing corporate ladders anymore.
What really matters in this world is when you reach out and make a difference in someone’s life. That’s all I want to do.
I wouldn’t change anything about the journey I’ve been through, as it broke me down. I learned humility and the power of hope, joy, and kindness. I found my purpose in this life. I believe my purpose is teaching. Somehow over the first chapter of my life I diverted from my dreams by going into engineering. It took dying to get me back to where I belong, to wipe away the old and bring a fresh start.
In this third chapter of my life, I’m on a mission to give back and make a difference. Teaching is how I will do it.
I’ve found my professional home here in the WordPress software community. I have all this software knowledge that I want to share. If this community will have me, I’d like to fulfill my mission here.
In this third chapter, I want to spend the rest of my days here, with all of you, teaching and helping each developer to further his/her programming skills.
Finding Your Purpose
My story is heavy, I know. It shakes your core, because you know how fragile life really is. We all know that we shouldn’t take life for granted or squander its many moments. But then we get busy. We morph ourselves into this flurry of daily activity and routine. Somewhere along the way, you may lose yourself or even your dreams.
Mine is not a story of tragedy or sorrow. No, it’s a story of shedding all of the things that just don’t matter to finally find one’s true mission and purpose in life.
And this is a tip, from me to you, all those material things don’t matter. At any moment, it can all be taken away. But your purpose and dreams, the true essence of you, no one can take it away.
Be true to yourself. Find your purpose.