Pull Quote: I can finally acknowledge that I am worth being a part of a team.

I Am Cookie Dough

I was always told I had to go to college. I was “gifted” so learning came easy and I enjoyed it.  From ages 6 to 18, I went to competitive accelerated schools designed to churn out college students. It was a narrow path I’d been set on, without encouragement to explore beyond.

Majoring in theater was a no-brainer. It was the only thing I’d done my whole life, so I figured I wouldn’t get bored. My mom was a stage manager so it has always been easy to bring me to rehearsals with her when working a show. I ended up in close to 20 different productions between 5 and 13. Plus, Florida State University had a great theatre program and in-state tuition was cheap. So I went.

But I wasn’t there because I wanted to be. I’d gone simply because I felt I had to go to college, regardless of what I did when I got there. I liked theater a lot, but I didn’t love it the way my classmates did. Self-doubt crept in. Depression overcame me. Anxiety and self-hatred took root. I stopped going to class. I isolated myself from my friends who – going through their own stuff –  were too busy to notice.

At 19, I dropped out.

Straying from the path

With me, I took thousands in debt, a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, and a bruised ego. I wandered, directionless for the first time in my life.

I felt like a failure. I did not know who or what I was anymore, I had no community and I belonged nowhere. I was crippled by my concurrent depression and lack of a diploma. What was my path now?

My mother spent her whole life working in the arts and that made her happy. I wanted the same thing. But we were always pinching pennies. I didn’t want that for myself, and I didn’t want my kids to grow up with that burden. So I thought to myself, “What can I do that’s creative, won’t be boring, and can earn me an income?”

I don’t remember if there was a lightbulb moment where I realized web design checked all my boxes. But that was there I landed.

I started getting my toes wet with HTML and CSS, but coding didn’t come easily to me. I didn’t have a computer, so I would write out lines of code by hand in order to memorize syntax. It didn’t click and just swam in front of my eyes. It was difficult, so I gave up.

For a year and a half, I lived in a few different cities, from Ft Lauderdale all the way to Los Angeles, working some retail and food service jobs. I learned about customer service, the balance between maintenance and growth, and found myself more than a little bit fascinated by marketing.  I began to learn how to juggle the depression and anxiety that lived in my head.

No matter where I went, web design was sitting in the back of my brain. I was shut down when I tried to suggest changes to the booking system of a salon I worked at. I found myself sketching redesigns of the website of the bar where I picked up shifts. I started learning again after moving back to Florida. This time, I found online resources like Udemy and CodeSchool and it all began to click.

Finding a new path

While I still didn’t love code itself, I loved the idea of building something from nothing. It all hearkened back to theater: rallying the knowledge and experience of multiple people, laying out a plan, inventing some creative solutions along the way, iteration after iteration until it functions and yields a result, then presenting it as a living and breathing product. I had learned about story-telling via script analysis classes in college as well as spacing and color psychology. I had always been academic, so I found ease and comfort in things like databases and content writing. My intellectual and creative side were merging, dancing together in one elegant performance.

In 2015, I applied for a web design internship at a small agency. It was here where WordPress and I first met. I was amazed that I could easily build websites with limited coding knowledge. I attended my first WordCamp in Miami, where I watched people like Morten Hendricksen and Michelle Schlup live what I wished I could be doing.

I was promoted to a full employee in a poisonous environment. I had to work long hours and was accused of not being a team player if I didn’t. I was guilt-tripped with gifts and compliments. I was asked to do tasks I hadn’t been trained in and was berated when I struggled. I left one day after about a year, in tears. The despair, loneliness and frustration were unassailable.  I had failed, yet again, to move forward on the path I felt I belonged on.

Setting my own path

I had no savings and no car, so I was left with a choice: apply to work at the Wendy’s that was walking distance up the street, or find a way to make money out of thin air. Taking inventory of my skills:

  1. I knew WordPress
  2. I knew how not to run a business

So I started building small sites for friends and family. I scrambled to learn how to invoice properly, how to handle contracts, how to get taxes paid. I googled a lot and failed often. But it was rewarding and creative, so I stuck to it.

In 2017, I felt confident enough to apply to speak at WordCamp Miami. It had been 2 years since I had attended the first and I was floored when I was accepted.

In the three years that I ran my business, I worked with clients from all over the world. I used WordPress daily to build and break, support and scale websites for other business owners like me. I wore every hat I could balance: CEO, CFO, designer, developer, marketer, and support staff in one.

While I appeared “successful” (whatever that means) I was paddling like crazy beneath the surface and was constantly stretched to my limit. I achieved decent work-life boundaries and found satisfaction in the work, but being depressed while running a business is easier said than done.

In early 2019, as my bank account began to dry up, I began to seriously consider throwing in the towel.

A fork in the path

I spoke at WordCamp Miami that year. The entire camp buoyed my spirits; this time, there were faces and topics I recognized. I went with my friend, Louise Treadwell, who made the entire experience less frightening.

And the universe was looking out for me. The very first person I met that day was Adam Warner.

He saw my talk and I suppose he saw something in me that he liked. By the end of the conference, my head was swimming with the opportunity he had presented to me: to travel as a GoDaddy Pro Speaker Ambassador.

I felt that electric sensation again of my two halves – academic and creative – merging. It was the first time the community had reached out and taken a firm, confident grasp of my hand. And I was in exactly the right spot to accept it.

The idea of attending more WordCamps was thrilling. I vowed to myself that I would up my Twitter game. After all, all my WordCamp heroes were active on Twitter and I was desperate to be where the action was.

I grabbed as many opportunities as I could to remain visible. I wrote blog posts and made YouTube videos to prove what I knew, to myself as much as others. I wanted to earn my place at the table by giving back into the community that had plucked me out of my despair.

Time to merge

I’d done a podcast episode with Michelle Ames and I noticed she worked for the plugin, GiveWP. Out of curiosity, I wandered over to their careers page and saw an opening for a support tech. I had the job within 3 days.

I’ve done a lot of things out of fear that many people find brave. I was told I was brave for majoring in theater, but I’d done it because I didn’t want to fail at something unfamiliar. I was told I was brave for moving to Los Angeles after I dropped out, but I was afraid to be stagnant. I was told I was brave to start my own business, but I was afraid to work for someone else.

I do feel fear. Fear that I don’t know enough, that I’m too young or inexperienced, that I’ll let down the people who have cheered me on, that I’ll end up vulnerable the way I was in my last job. That I’ll get hurt. That being a black, queer, woman in the tech space will be too challenging.

I’m comforted by the knowledge that most WordPress people don’t care what gender/color/sexuality you are… as long as you keep your plugins updated. Open-source means you’re not here to out-do the next person, but to contribute toward a common goal. I can dive into support at Give with WordPress as my base, my constant. I can finally acknowledge that I am worth being part of a team. It means all the difference in the world.

Who invented this path nonsense anyway?

I don’t have to be on a path anymore. I can let myself remain open to possibilities and say “yes” more. I don’t have to decide what I’m going to be, I can just become it, because I can trust myself and the foundation that WordPress has given me. WordPress, with it’s limitless contributors, versions, and possibilities, reminds us that we should be excited by change, not afraid.

I believe that giving up what I worked for 3 years to build is the bravest thing I’ve done so far. At first, I was furious at myself that I couldn’t make my own business as sustainable as I’d wanted. Moving to Give felt like failing. But Louise called it “failing up” which I think is pretty apt. It was a step forward into something I could grow into and really succeed at, rather than sticking with the familiar like I had always done.

I often remind myself of a quote from Buffy the Vampire Slayer which, ironically, I watched for the first time while in some the deepest throes of my depression: I’m cookie dough. I’m not done baking. I’m not finished becoming who ever the hell it is I’m gonna turn out to be.” 


  1. What an awesome story. Thank you for sharing. The only right path is the one you choose for yourself. Trust that you and your inner being know what is best for you!

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