Pull Quote: The energies received in return for giving back to the WordPress community healed me emotionally, allowing me to contribute creatively.

Second Chances: How A Trip Back Into The WordPress Community Saved My Life

Often, we refuse change and don’t get a second opportunity to make things right. But for me, June 17, 2017, changed my life forever. A life-threatening heart event forced me to start over and in the short time since WordPress helped me rediscover myself and to do the things I truly love.

At 10 am that morning, I was laid out flat on a cold, hard operating table being poked, prodded, and prepped for a surgical procedure. According to my doctors, this procedure was the only sure way to find out what had been plaguing me for five long years. Within the next sixty minutes, if things go sideways, I could be dead.

As I slowly came to, words floated through a lifting fog of anesthesia. “You had two 100% blocked arteries,” my cardiologist said. A flood of concern and questions seemed to flow freely foremost, “what will happen to me?”

Two Paths Lead to WordPress

Looking back, my WordPress journey has two paths, pre- or post-heart event. When the lead developer and CSS goddess left our public transit agency almost 10 years ago, they left behind a company news blog with the Headway theme. That year we were fortunate to have room in our budget allowing me to attend the WordPress VIP Intensive Developer Workshop in Napa.

At that time my experience was entirely in basic static HTML as a web designer so imagine how lost and out of place I felt being asked to “spin up a virtual box” midway through the first day. Surrounded by the best and the brightest distributed Automatticians from around the world, person after person answered my questions or assisted in any way they could. That day I learned what the phrase WordCamp Community really meant.

Leaving the Past Behind

What if you got a do-over? A mulligan, a reset button? Imagine being totally free from the stressors of the daily grind, similar to being a young child, with nothing to do but play all day.

Staring at the ceiling from my bed while recovering, I decided to stop the world and get off. I took a leave of absence from work beginning September 11. Looking deep within, I searched to rediscover me and the loves of my life – giving selflessly to others, picking up a pencil to sketch, storytelling, and WORDPRESS.

Every day for the next ninety days, I resolved to do only the things reconnected me with things dormant in my past that brought me joy:

  • Each morning I’d pick up a pencil, sketch;
  • I’d exercise and practice mindfulness; and
  • No day would be complete without giving back, doing something with WordPress for others. Like an Agile process, I’d loop through these tasks, reassess, then repeat, each morning becoming stronger than the previous.

Slowly, progress was being made in my recovery. From feeling faint and unable to walk from my bedside to my bathroom; 100 steps turned into 100 yards then one lap at my local park. I set a goal to climb to one of the highest points in our area, the top of Central Park.

The Journey of 4,890 Miles Begins with One Step

My second path into WordPress started later that summer. Untethered, I walked into my first-ever official WordPress Meetup in a coworking space located downtown Los Angeles, apprehensive, unsure what to expect. That evening a wonderful speaker on SEO followed the organizers from WordCamp Los Angeles calling for volunteers and I immediately raised my hand. The old me would not have.

From that point through December, I attended almost twenty (20) WordPress Meetups, attended four WordCamps (Grand Rapids, Los Angeles, Riverside, and United States via Livestream) logging almost 5,000 miles in the process. Rebuilding a website for a printing company pro bono while rehabilitating my heart and body. The energies received in return for giving back to the WordPress Community healed me emotionally, allowing me to contribute creatively — I loved it and wanted to do even more!

Making a List, Checking It Twice

Tired of driving home very late nights from area Meetups from all points around SoCal, I decided to start a meetup locally. On January 26, 2018, at 7:30 pm, I reached the last slide of my first presentation at our official WordPress Santa Clarita Valley Meetup. It read, “host the first annual WordCamp Santa Clarita”.

The faces in the audience – Tom, Steve, Matt, and others new to WordPress all looked at me skeptically, seeing someone full of dreams, spouting enthusiasm. But one thing was clear to me — WordPress had given me a shot at reclaiming something laid dormant and anything seemed possible.

Sixteen (16) months later, the first WordCamp north of Los Angeles and south of Sacramento since 2014 debuted in Santa Clarita. A small, but an incredible team of volunteers bought into my enthusiasm turned around and gave back to our attendees in our WordPress Community.

Speak On It

In my pre-heart event life, I began public speaking in a formal setting completing over 40 presentations but had stepped off the stage years earlier in a company club. Back in 2014 while walking through the break room at WordCamp Los Angeles one of the lead organizers handed me a mic and asked me to speak. Afterward, he said, “you should present at a WordCamp.”

Four years later, I stood on stage at WordCamp Chicago sharing my WordPress journey and hoping to inspire others to never give up on going after your dreams. Until that weekend in Chicago, I hadn’t seen any African-American men onstage and felt it important to encourage diversity through my message of rebirth.

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”

Mahatma Gandhi

I’ve met the most incredible group of nurturing, giving, and talented people stretching back to Sara (Rosso) in Napa through Angela (Jin) or David (Bisset) on the WordCamp US team. Every time I needed confidence or a word of encouragement Cami (Kaos), Kathy (Drewien), Brandon (Dove), or someone in the Community was that steadying hand on my shoulder.

I think about these words often as inspiration, waking each morning to greet the sunrise full of ideas and promise. How can I give back? What can I do with WordPress today?

7 comments

  1. Qasim Ali says:

    Hi joe
    sometime a difficult phase teach you what you can not learn in decades or years. But I can bet it feels heavenly when you have a path to walk on.
    When you have some goal you can strive for.
    And if you are that FIRST who sets example for others. Then its a worthwhile thing you can do for this earth ad its beautiful people.

    I hope you will keep going and will make a difference in this world.
    Thanks for sharing your beautiful thoughts!

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