We still have our dreams

Something happened the other day. A coincidence of sorts. I had a moment where everything came together to lift me out of what seemed like a hopeless situation. This is the kind of coincidence that one feels was intended to happen. To explain, I’m going to have to be honest and open. It’s hard for me to write about disability sometimes because I am not anonymous on this blog. You know me. I’m Blake Watson. You can look me up. I have no anonymity. But in the interest of shedding light on what I’ve been going through, I must be a bit more liberal about my own privacy. This is going to be an epic blog post.

I’ve been out of college since May 2009. I’ve been trying to find work ever since. I know I am a good web designer. I know I have a lot to learn. But I know I can succeed if given the chance. I want to contribute. I need to contribute. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life on disability.

I’m an avid learner when it comes to web design. I read constantly. I keep up with best practices and technology. I study principles of design and apply them to my work. All this has managed to keep me satisfied. I justified not having a job to myself by saying that I have been using the time productively, getting better and better at my craft. My good friend Jeff Horton, president of Stop SMA, put me to work on Stop SMA’s websites, and that has really helped me keep going during these last two years.

Earlier this year, I worked briefly as a Happiness Engineer for Automattic on a trial basis. In short: it was awesome. I could work from home just like everyone else in the company. I got to interact with great people. And I got to help people with their WordPress.com blogs. A win-win-win. But I’ve always told myself that I wouldn’t go for a position if my disability kept me from doing a good job. The primary function of the job was replying to email. And one of the things I am slowest at is writing email. Code is easier. I have tools that make me much more proficient at writing code. But good old-fashioned English language I can only output at the mind-blowing rate of about 18 words per minute, thanks to HippoRemote and KeyStrokes. Otherwise it would be a lot slower. Let me be clear. Automattic did everything right. My team leader said she was looking at quality over quantity. They gave me honest feedback and they offered to help however they could. I will forever be grateful for that. But in the end, support requests were flooding in and I didn’t feel like my output was going to help the Happiness team much. In the interest of the company and the users, I ended my trial with Automattic on good terms. It was back to square one.

About three weeks ago, things looked like they might turn around for me. I applied for a web-related position with a Mississippi-based company (of which I won’t name). I completed a questionnairre that was reserved for only the “serious” candidates. I did a one-hour phone interview. The next day, I did an in-person interview. I talked to three people and the entire interview was nearly two and a half hours. Few candidates made it that far, possibly me and one other person. I was told I would here from them, regardless of whether I was hired or not, in a couple of days.

It’s been three weeks. I’ve yet to receive any contact whatsoever. I may have to eat my words (in fact, I hope I’ll have to) but it seems that they hired the other candidate and the courtesy of calling me to let me know just fell through the cracks. I’m not making any accusations, but after a while, I start to wonder why I am able to make it to in-person interviews but never get an offer. How much does my disability affect my chances? I don’t want to think it affects them at all because that would be a tough pill to swallow.

So here I sat. At the very desk on which I am writing this post. And somehow, I stumbled upon the September 1 episode of The Big Web Show with Jeffrey Zeldman and Dan Benjamin. Let me set the stage. This podcast is big, as the title suggests. Jeffrey Zeldman is like the Godfather of web design. His circle of influence hit me early in my quest to be a web designer. And Dan Benjamin is this mad genius with a perfect radio voice who, I’m convinced, can carry on a conversation on any topic with any person and look like a seasoned expert in that area.

So there I was. And I they were covering a topic dear to my heart. Disability. And not just the usual screen reader angle. They interviewed this amazing woman, Marissa, who in many ways is going through the same thing that I’ve been going through for the last two years. And they were just chatting about her disability. And she wants to be a web designer. And she needs to work from home. And Jeffrey and Dan were taking to heart her struggle and sharing it with the world. And it was amazing.

Back in 2008, I managed to attend the awesome conference for people who make websites, An Event Apart (co-owned by Zeldman). It was one of the best learning experiences I’ve had. And I want to go to another one. But traveling is extremely difficult. And accessible hotel rooms are expensive. And the conference ticket price is expensive. So I haven’t gone back. I don’t have any web designer friends in my area. I’m isolated from that world. And it’s hard to get in when you’re isolated.

But here was Marissa. She made it to The Big Web Show and she was sharing with Jeffrey and Dan my exact frustrations, as well as my aspirations. While listening to the podcast, I get a phone call from my Mom. She felt bad about the whole job thing and wanted to take me to eat and see a movie (don’t hate, Moms are awesome!). It was in that moment that I realized something.

We still have our dreams.

Regardless of whether this company hires me or that company hires me, I am going to continue making websites. And with each one I will get better and better. Hearing Marissa’s story made me remember when I was in that same predicament. Well, not exactly the same. But close. I was just getting started in web design. It was scary. I didn’t have the means (physically or financially) to go to a design school. But I knew I wanted to make websites. I lucked out and had what may very well be the best course I ever took: Advanced Languages I with Dr. Rodney Pearson. In it, I learned JavaScript and HTML basics. I began picking up CSS and design principles on my own. I started making websites. Starting is at least half the battle. Regardless of what obstacles came in my way, I pushed forward in stubborn ignorance, determined to do what I wanted.

Sitting at my computer the other day, I realized that I had, indeed, become a web designer. I make websites. And not having a job right now isn’t going to take that away from me. I still have my dreams. One day, something big is going to happen. I’ll land my dream job. Or I’ll become a successful freelancer. And even if neither of those things happen, I’ll at least keep volunteering for charity, working on personal projects, and contributing some of my creations to the world (WordPress theme is in the works!).

We still have our dreams. We have them when we are frozen with fear. We have them when people think it silly to reach for them. We have them when it seems everything is working against us. Sometimes life can appear a bit hopeless. But when we don’t quit believing in ourselves, when we have friends and family behind us, and when we take a leap of faith, who or what is going to stop us?

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34 thoughts on “We still have our dreams

  1. You knew I was gonna have something to say about this! I feel most people are looking for purpose in life and I want to make sure you know how incredibly valuable you are to Stop SMA, my family and me. God has a plan and maybe if you had that dream job these past two years you wouldn’t have had the time to work with us and then where would we be as an organization. We recognize how amazingly blessed we are to have you (I know the pay stinks, I mean your biggest reward is getting to work with me… right?) I have two Master’s and I have never felt as needed or as driven as I do working on projects for Stop SMA. I know you desire a paying position and my admiration doesn’t pay the bills, but please know you are very much needed, appreciated, respected and loved. We are so thankful that God brought you to us. There have been several conversations about how amazingly talented you are and what a special gift you have been to this organization and our family. A true answered prayer! I wish you very much success in life – but you better not ever leave me to handle this chaos alone. You are the Sanity Liason and I know where you live! xxoo

  2. Blake, hang in there! I’ve heard from several friends of mine who are also looking for work that companies just aren’t making those calls any more. No one knows what the reason is…are they rude? So busy that they can’t take 5 minutes (or fewer) to write a quick email? Is this the current wave? It just seems to be the norm. (Frankly, I think it sucks.)

    I don’t think *you’re* the reason why they’re not contacting you.

  3. *(*(*hugs*)*)* I love this post. We are ALL here for a purpose, and one person’s purpose is just as important and necessary as the next person’s, and everyone deserves dreams and happiness, AND their dream job. I am so glad that you are who you are, and that you wrote this post, as it has served as a reminder that I, too, should believe more in myself.

  4. I came here via the link posted by Jeffrey Zeldman. I just wanted to post to say that your message really is inspirational, and I wish you all the very best in your endeavours.

    I was in a fairly successful IT support career which was cut short in 2003 when I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. After the initial year of feeling sorry for myself and trying to come to terms with the changes in my life, I then started to realise that when one door was closed, circumstance had indeed opened many more.

    I dived into web design, I taught myself the Adobe products, HTML / CSS. I am still my biggest critic, and although I’m not great – I get by. Three years ago after many years of struggling on sickness benefit, I decided that I *had* to get back to work.. for my own sanity more than anything. I had built websites for friends / family and the occasional business, but I needed something more.

    I foolishly started looking for support roles again, and getting nowhere. Then I decided to look for jobs in my passion – I had nothing on my CV except for the limited profile I was able to produce, but I actually started to get somewhere.

    I’ve been working for two years at my current workplace. They recently offered me a permanent contract, after paying for extra sickness coverage incase I had a relapse.

    Sorry to ramble, but if one company doesn’t offer you the chance – then don’t give up hope.

  5. Persistance. Showing up. Always doing your actual best. Doubting whether you’re improving, learning to love the plateau, keeping training. Having known the “famous” guys back when everyone was unemployed, when it was difficult to find anything, I can tell you they are largely the ones who simply didn’t give up and kept putting themselves and their work out there. The result is something you create yourself.

  6. Inspiration just when I needed it! There are a lot of us out there feeling this same way, disabled or not. It’s great that you’re at the beginning of what seems to be a promising career with such a good attitude. That will take you very far. Zeldman inspired me a lot when I was your age, too. Aim for the stars!!

  7. Wonderful, inspiring and thanks to @zeldman I found you.

    As a designer (visual, user experience, strategy) with strong coding (HTML/CSS) but virtually no programming experience, I wonder if you might be able to make a business helping people like me.

    Earlier this year I started teaching myself WordPress templating and realized quickly that all the codex reading in the world can’t make up for lack of PHP chops. If you are willing and able to consider becoming a go-to guy for WP fixit stuff, I’d be happy to speak to you about it.

  8. “Regardless of whether this company hires me or that company hires me, I am going to continue making websites”. You’ve already got the right attitude to define your entire career. The rest is just persistence and details.

  9. Truly inspiring story. I agree with Lydia that you definitely have an exceptional ability to communicate and teach people. I wish you all the best in the future!

  10. Excellent post. With this attitude, you’ll be better and more successful than even you ever thought.

    This post has been an inspiration

    We still have our dreams. We have them when we are frozen with fear.

    This line sums it up really.

    Thanks.

  11. The word inspirational will no doubt be mentioned a lot in all of these replies. I think your attitude will get you through the hard times. Thanks for posting the story, and good luck:-)

  12. I want to thank everyone for your kind words, encouragement, and advice. As I dive back into the projects I’m working on and the various goals I want to reach, I have a renewed energy and determination to tackle them. It’s amazing what a bit of positive energy can do! Thanks for bringing some of yours to me.

  13. None of us in the first generation of web designers and developers went to school for it. Stay enthusiastic, be persistent, and tell everyone you talk to what you want to do.

    I’ve interviewed a lot of people over the last couple of years and there are a lot of people who just aren’t focused or confident or who don’t seem very excited about the job they’re interviewing for. So, you have a huge advantage there.

    It’s a really challenging and uncertain time right now for just about everyone, but I am sure you’ll find the right gig.

  14. Bravo! And thank you. Far too often I “disable” myself, with self-doubt, self-criticism, fear, depression, self-pity, apathy… your post lifted me today, and took me back to that place in my mind where I can do anything. Bless ya, dude.

  15. Hey, I hope you realize you already accomplished the greatest goal in life. You live in peace with yourself and your condition, you don’t let it demotivate, depress or make yourself surrender. Too many people with problems so much smaller than yours give up and let their dreams decay. This ability of your, to don’t lose your dreams, aspirations, to look forward, to not hope for a better future but following to build on your knowledge and be better as a person and a professional, this make humans special. More than a successful career or professional accomplishments. That said, I am sure you will fulfill your dreams if you keep your attitude. Dreamers are the ones who shape our world. Only the ones that don’t fear the unknown, that stays on their tracks no matter what they find fronting them will fulfill their aspirations.

    Keep up.

  16. This comment was removed by the administrator. Constructive disagreement is welcome, but mean-spirited comments will be removed. Thanks. The Management.

  17. Great post Blake! Best of luck on finding projects / employment / your dreams….

    Also: I’m guessing your mom IS awesome. My eldest daughter was profoundly disabled – we remodeled twice as her illness progressed (we hate stairs too!). Her mom (my wife..) got so good at raising hell she turned pro as an accessibility advocate! I will forward this article / your blog to her…

    keep going, keep self-educating!!

  18. This is one of the best blog posts I’ve read on the Web in a very long time; I admire the genuine honesty about something that is dear to your heart.
    That’s a good thing, no, a great thing.

    Keep pursuing your aspirations Blake! Your enthusiasm and hard-learned skills deserve to be rewarded, I don’t see how the right team don’t snap you up!

    All the best :)

  19. Blake,

    Thanks for this post, and to Zeldman as well for pointing the way to it. Reading your words tonight have been incredibly helpful and inspiring to me. Thank you!

  20. Blake,thanks for your post.It does give me confidence to keep on fighting. I have been looking for a php job these days,but got no chance,even an in-person interviews.

    In lots of companies,they never told you why you can not get the offer,and you have nothing can do,excepet waiting and worry.And sometime the reason may be rediculous.who knows?

    But as you said,not having a job cannot stop your dream.

    And i have the same dream,coding for the better world!even i cannot get into a big company,but that doesn’t mean i cannot make coding to be a wonderful thing and takes my whole life to purchase it.

    god bless those guys who still have a dream,and fighting for it.

    Forgive my poor english.

  21. Great post, especially for the spinal cord injured guys!

    For all of us, it’s always a painful feeling to get a job. Wherever you are.

    But we can keep on our dream! I believe you will get a full time job one day.

    I have taught myself web programming for years before I can get a full time job which I can do it at home.

    Dear, keep dreaming, keep working… God be with you!

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