Pull Quote: Without the WordPress community, I don't know where I would be now.

Out Of The Darkness

When I first chatted with Topher about doing an article for HeroPress, I couldn’t quite think of how I would put the words together to describe my life, and what has gotten me to where I am now. Am I that interesting?

This is exactly where imposter syndrome grabs you by the balls thinking you aren’t good enough. After chatting with him for a bit, and asking about how I should go about it, he just told me to be real and tell my story. Well, here I am. This isn’t the the typical biographical, motivational, PG bullshit. This is my life. Hold onto your ass, and enjoy the ride.

Independence From Birth

From birth, the odds were both stacked against me and in my favor. When you’re the child of a 15 year old mother who grew up in poverty, you don’t have many options in front of you. I’ve told people several times that it’s not about the hand you’re dealt; it’s about how you play it. You bet slowly and carefully with the little you have, and when you see that ace, you take the house. For me, that ace was a computer.

Around the age of 5 or so, I remember getting a new-to-us computer and being introduced to Wolfenstein 3D. Yeah, that badass Nazi-slaying game by iD Software where you go in and out of too many doors that look the same, until you eventually get to slay Mecha-Hitler. As you probably know, floppies and DOS were a thing at that time. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, get off my lawn.

Being brought up in a family that takes very much of a “if you want it, get it yourself. Nobody is going to hand you what you want” approach, I only was shown how to start it up a few times. After that, I’m on my own. At that time, I learned the two most important values in my life: to learn things on my own, and that if I want something, I have to bust my ass for it.

This, of course, led to a life of tinkering. To a passion for finding out how things work. If I was curious about something, I took it apart. A perfect example of this is the time my parents discovered that I was listening to my neighbor’s cordless phone conversations using a busted toy walkie-talkie. I didn’t realize it then, but this was my first experience with truly making something work for a purpose other than what it was intended for.

My mother still loves telling that story for a good laugh, but to me, it’s a defining moment. The moment when I never became happy with how things are.

The moment my wife sometimes wishes never happened so that we wouldn’t have closets full of miscellaneous defunct tech and hacked solutions to problems that don’t actually exist throughout the house. “Yes, honey. We DO need to be able to access everything in the house with every device imaginable.” “No, we can’t just use the regular cable box to watch TV.”

We all know there’s always some issues that come with habits like those previously mentioned. I didn’t have a whole lot of friends, and nothing was ever good enough. I didn’t realize it until much later, but this eventually led to getting into plenty of trouble.

Descent Into Darkness

School was hell. From elementary school to middle school, we moved quite a bit. Friends came and went, while my computer and constant craving for knowledge was always there. Around this time, I really stopped giving two shits about reality. Teachers were told to go fuck themselves, and I hated my parents. I didn’t get along with the other kids very well, and had terrible grades. Thankfully, my time spent alone led me to a single book that I still own to this day: Creating Web Pages with HTML. While looking at the examples makes me cringe every time, it reminds me of exactly where I came from.

I wish I could tell you that I just spent all of my time progressing my skills to be where I am now, but unfortunately, things went grinding to a halt. My hatred for everyone got much worse, and I simply didn’t have the coping skills to deal with it.

I just didn’t care about being alive anymore and seriously considered suicide several times.

That was about the same time that I discovered that cutting myself made the pain go away.

Both physically and mentally, I would hurt myself daily. Now that I look back on it, I suppose that I felt I should be punished for not being good enough, and the pain took away from reality. This got to the point where I had deep gashes and would keep razor blades from box cutters in my wallet to get me through the day. I absolutely craved that feeling. I needed it.

I later just shut down completely. I was an absolute fucking mess. I didn’t eat. I didn’t sleep. I only cared about my addiction to watching myself bleed. Even my best friend, Pete, stopped talking to me. This got to a point that I was kicked out to be on my own. As a teenager, with just the clothes on my back and the car that I saved up to buy, I headed out at around 6am to the Wal-Mart parking lot where I had to figure out my next move.

Without a cell phone, and most pay phones being phased out in favor of fancy flip phones, I didn’t have any communication with anyone. Not even my girlfriend at the time, Robin was in contact. As I happened to know that she was working at Circuit City that day (where I also worked part time), I headed her way that morning. Her incredible generosity kept me fed, clothed, and a hotel room for a few days, and eventually a roof over my head at her cousin’s house. I actually started bouncing back a bit. While me and Robin didn’t work out in the long run, I can always thank her for that.

Learning From The Dark Side

While I was getting a bit better, I was still hurting myself and really didn’t care much about anyone around me. Me and Robin were scraping by financially, and I was incredibly distanced from everyone, including her. I decided to take to Craigslist to find odd jobs. There, I found a listing for someone paying $300 for a custom Linux server setup. They want high security, and fast file transfer speeds through torrents. Sounds legit, right? What could go wrong?

I did the job and got the money. Then they wanted more. After the third server, I met Trey at a Starbucks and he offered me a job setting up and maintaining these servers. That’s when I also learned what they were for.

Set up in an old warehouse, we distributed some seriously nasty malware to countless numbers of computers. They paid cash, I could smoke cigarettes (or anything else for that matter) at my makeshift desk, drink, and have fun destroying things using my love for thinking outside of the box. I felt like a badass.

I had the power. I loved it. While it lasted, at least.

I won’t discuss specifics everything during that time, but eventually it came to an end and I was left without money again. I needed to find a way to get things done. I wanted to feel powerful again. I decided to move to a more gray-hat approach and start using affiliate marketing to my advantage. You know those people who spam you on Craigslist and hijack your browser? I was that dickhead.

Hope

At age 16 or so, I worked at GameStop but stopped far before this point in the story. Trust me, it’s relevant. I happened to wander back in again to pick up a video game or two when a former co-worker caught me and we started chatting. It turns out that they needed to fill a shift the following week and re-hired me for that week to cover it. The following week rolled around and I was working when a girl walked in, and we exchanged information. Little did I know that this same girl that I was making dirty comments about behind her back, would be the girl that I would marry 6 years later.

Fast forwarding a bit, Jamie pushed the limits of my mind and encouraged me. I felt like I was finally worth something. Someone important. Even better, I felt like someone actually cared about me. I decided to focus on learning more productive and legitimate skills. One of those skills was WordPress. Although I went the direction of repairing cell phones and gaming consoles for the years following, WordPress was always used in one way or another for various side projects.

A few years later, I decide to take a job in Virginia Beach at InMotion Hosting. Like I learned as a child, I took the gamble. Jamie and I moved up here to Virginia to start a new life. It certainly wasn’t easy, and we ate a whole lot of ramen noodles for dinner, but I worked my way there to the position that I wanted; writing technical documentation and other content.

I wrote an article called WordPress Through the Ages as an attempt to see if we could get something to go viral in the WordPress community. Well, I succeeded.

Because of that article, and it being mentioned on various sites such as WPTavern, Jeff Chandler and I started chatting. I remember our first conversation being about memories from the 90s like Surge and WWF. I felt accepted. It had been several years since I had spoken to someone online that I hadn’t ever met. We both drank quite a bit of vodka that night, and I knew I had found a good friend.

The experience with Jeffr0 caused me to delve deeper into the WordPress community. I started learning more about the inner workings of WordPress and the people surrounding it. Not long after, InMotion started sending me to WordCamps and WordPress became a larger and larger part of my life. I knew this is where I belong.

I eventually outgrew InMotion and knew it was time to move on. Not even remembering that they were here in Virginia Beach, I decided to shoot my resume over to Rocketgenius. 14 months ago, I accepted a job documenting Gravity Forms.

Moving to Rocketgenius was the biggest thing that boosted not only my career, but my mental health as well. I had been struggling over the prior year with intense panic attacks as well as overall lack of motivation. I had found a company that cared about me as a person, and not just another employee. Carl told me when I was hired, that life comes first at Rocketgenius. He was 100% accurate in that statement.

Out Of The Darkness

In the present, I’m doing much better for myself. I’m motivated, somewhat confident, and happy. Without the WordPress community, I don’t know where I would be now. You have all made such a major impact on my life that I couldn’t possibly thank everyone enough for. This post isn’t just about me. It’s about every single one of you that I read tweets from. It’s about those of you who work hard asking nothing in return. Those who motivate me every day, ask how I’m doing, and annoy the living shit out of me until I become productive again.

Thanks to the WordPress community, I was able to launch a new product, NotifyBot. 2 years ago, I wouldn’t have had the skills, or even the confidence to release a product. Like I’ve said before, I’m just a nerd in a hoodie.

Because of the WordPress community, who I am as a person and the quality of my work is what matters, not my appearance, social status, or even history of being a dickhead. I finally belong.

At 2am, with a tear in my eye and a smile on my face, I thank you all. The community as a whole means the world to me, and I love every last one of you. You are my family.

4 comments

  1. Bravo on sharing your story!

    We’ll never know how many others will identify with or benefit from your sharing, but it’s cathartic and an invitation for others to share their current struggles or past victories.

    The WordPress community is seriously the best part of WordPress. Thanks for making it even better and continuing its greatness.

  2. David Smith says:

    You’re awesome, Jeff! It’s been a blast working with you at Rocketgenius. You’ve overcome some really tough hurdles to become a really awesome guy. It takes a lot of guts to put such an unfiltered history out there into the Great Wild. Much love, man!

  3. Dan Stafford says:

    White hats are awesome, even if you have to wash your hair before you put it on. I can relate to several aspects of your story, though not all. Your story may not be PG, but it IS inspirational. Thank you for telling it! (I got my 1st intro to the world of PC’s with a leftover monochrome machine with a 286 proc and a copy of DOS For Dummies in 1995.)

  4. Samuel Alder says:

    Thanks for sharing your inspiring story Jeff!

    A friend of mine still cuts herself and I have never understood why, until now… While that won’t solve her issue straight away, it helps me immediately by understanding her a bit more.

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