The people that are used to read my articles will quickly realise that this is not the type of articles I generally write. Since I’m passionate about this subject, I’m going to write about it anyway. Bear with me, you might take away something from it. If not, at least you gave it a shot, right? I’m writing a book as we speak about my life and career as a software professional, not sure if I’ll ever publish it, but consider this a very slimmed down version of some chapters of that book.
This article is about personal experiences in my life and career and can be bare, how I struggled with life and how I managed to break free. The reason I’m writing about this is that I think it might help people, sometimes the answer to a happy and fulfilling life is right in front of us.
The people that know me, or at least followed me in the last 7 years, might have experienced a form of silence of me in the last years. I used to blog more actively, used to be at conferences and in the frontend community my name was mentioned from time to time. That stopped for a while, and I’ll tell you why later. First let’s go back to the start.
The beginning of my career
This was one of my first encounters with Breaking out of the comfort zone. I felt like crap, and I had no idea what I needed to do, but for some reason this brought me luck. It felt good and bad at the same time. I needed to find a job because I needed to pay my rent so there was a level of motivation I didn’t knew before. By luck, I met interesting people that convinced me to do consultancy, and a few months later I was a .NET consultant working for a Belgian railways company. Yes… I had to learn day and night to get to know the technology, but it gave me a certain drive and working day and night actually gave me more energy than it cost me.
2 years later there was a small voice telling me it was better to fail trying then to get rusty, so I decided to become self-employed. Since then every move I made in my career made me feel very uncomfortable in the beginning, but then turned out to pay off every time! I’m not going to go into every time I broke out of my comfort zone, I’m writing my book for that. But this article is to wake people up. Getting out of your comfort zone, will open up doors you wouldn’t expect to. The more you get out of your comfort zone, the luckier you’ll get.
7 years ago A colleague of mine called Yannick Houbrix asked me to give a talk for the company he worked for. He said it was only for a group of 10 people, and that it was just knowledge sharing. I was scared at first, but since there were only 10 people in front of me I decided to do it. I created a talk about Angular.js components and unidirectional dataflows and I was ready to impress a dozen of people.
It felt uncomfortable in the beginning, and I even felt more uncomfortable when those 10 people turned out to be 100 people (Thanks Yannick! I didn’t get the memo… ;-)). Anyways, I was already there on stage and the talk went quite nice. Breaking out of that comfort zone resulted in a Belgian publishing company asking me to perform my first 3 day audit for their angular.js code. The more I broke out of that comfort zone, the luckier i got. Opportunities started to present themselves.
Becoming an international Angular trainer/consultant
A few weeks later Yannick’s company asked me to do a training in Angular2 (which was the successor of angular.js at the time). I decided to jump on the occasion and give my first Angular workshop, I already had experience in doing that in angular.js at the time. Giving that training wasn’t uncomfortable but organising a 2-day public workshop in a venue in Ghent weeks later certainly was… What if I wasn’t going to sell those workshops? I would totally fail then, right?! It wasn’t cheap to rent the venue, and I would have had to admit my failure.
I had listened to a talk of Todd Motto a few weeks before that, where he explained nothing was ever achieved in the comfort zone and I decided to follow my gut and give my own public Angular workshop. Even though people told me I couldn’t, I didn’t just sold one but I sold three public 2-day workshops that month for 8 people per session. At the same time there was a famous German Angular training company giving a workshop (also in Ghent), but I listened to my gut and pulled myself out of comfort.
Small sidetrack: Less than a year later that same company asked me to freelance for them and we had an awesome collaboration doing international Angular trainings.
Even though I didn’t knew Jurgen was co-organiser of ng-be, I invited him to my workshop for free because I thought he was an interesting guy (and he is) and since he liked it he asked me to give a training at ng-be. Getting out of my comfort zone brought me an opportunity that put me on the map in the Angular community. Was it luck? It certainly was partially, but when you stay comfortable, and you are not willing to put yourself out there, it might be very hard for luck to find you.
Getting back into my comfort zone
First of all, getting out of that comfort zone, and making big jumps in your career has some consequences. It’s not all fun and giggles. There is this thing called imposter syndrome I will probably blog about later. There is the feeling that you are hitting a ceiling, that you need to do more, be more, etc.. There is stress, crazy hours… It can be exhausting. I had a family that I wasn’t giving enough attention at times. I was getting fatter and it was hard to find balance. That’s something you shouldn’t forget. It’s fine to break free and prosper, but don’t forget to focus on balance. Balance is all. I started working out more, taking more time off and I started to focus more on the quality of life.
While we had 4 awesome years with StrongBrew, COVID-19 happened and Kwinten went to work for StackBlitz. That in combination with my focus change meant the death of StrongBrew. I’m not sorry StrongBrew ceased to exist, it was time for a new chapter. I settled working for one client and I started a small company on the side where I gave culinary workshops on ceramic grills. That turned out to be quite successful and I was able to focus on that as an (read the quotes) “entrepreneur” on the side.
My marriage fell apart, and I had to settle with seeing the kids for only 50% of the time, and I started to struggle with life. I still had a decent income, worked for an awesome client called Rosa which is shaping the future of healthcare. In the beginning I worked 4/5th of my time for Rosa and 1/5th I was doing remote audits, code-reviews, technical interviews etc. After 2 years of working for rosa I was so comfortable I worked full-time for them. 95% of my time I worked remotely in my office. I didn’t do code-reviews anymore and I was basically a developer like everyone else in the company. Before I was always the coach, the architect, the tech lead, whatever… I didn’t mind the title, but I could have been replaced by any senior developer. I didn’t provide the value I wanted to. I was stuck in my comfort zone… I didn’t had to worry about finding business anymore and I was programming comfortably in my chair, drinking quality coffee in my warm and cozy office.
I basically had everything. I was fit, I was able to keep the house after the divorce, my children were healthy, I met a beautiful girlfriend with a great personality. Everything was going well in my life and still I had hard time to find happiness. Like a cancer it sneaks up on you. After a while you wake up and you realise you are unfulfilled, unmotivated and you are basically agreeing with life, or at least settling with life.
Breaking back out
At a bonfire a friend of me saw the lack of joy in me and asked me to look up Tony Robbins who was some kind of life coach helping people to become better versions of themselves. I didn’t believe in life coaches, and I was sceptical at first but at a bored Netflix evening I looked him up, and I haven’t stopped looking/reading since then. He made me realise some things:
- Making money is science, it’s not the most important thing. Being happy… That’s art!
- Helping/coaching/mentoring people and companies is what makes me happy. I wanted to have an impact, bring value…
- I needed to break out of my comfort zone once more to achieve it
I decided to break free again, but this time I would find a better balance. No more business flights, no more crazy hours but I wanted to chase discomfort. I decided to leave Rosa. A decision I made with a lot of pain in my heart because they became a family and it has been the most awesome company I had ever worked for, but staying with Rosa was not an option. I related Rosa with comfort, getting stuck, and it felt like a golden cage to me in that moment in my life.
I decided to make a change in my life three months ago and by getting out of my comfort zone at a daily basis things changed drastically. I signed a contract as frontend software architect at DHL aviation, where I have to go to the office a few times a week. It’s a big commute and it’s a huge company so it won’t be that comfortable but I can bring value there. I can help them set up a clean architecture, I can coach people to become better developers and actually make a difference.
I also started blogging again where I hope I can bring value by sharing experience. Not just technical experience but also experience in life and career.
The last thing that I decided to do, was creating another workshop. Not just any workshop, but basically my 6-7 years of Angular experience thrown into a one-day rollercoaster of Best Practices. I worked with so many companies, so many people. I have been in over 50 (maybe even 100) projects. I have so much to share and I believe this is something I can bring value with. It would be my only workshop. And I will contribute to it every month, keeping it up to date. I don’t know what my path will bring me but that’s my focus for now.
I had broken out of my comfort zone once again and already things are getting brighter. I’ve already sold my Angular Best Practices Workshop to 2 companies and there are some exciting things happening. For some reason I’m able to ignore negative events in my life and focus on positive things. I found my zest for life back and even though my life isn’t a pony camp, I’m happy and I have never been so motivated.
I’ve written this article with one reason and one reason only. Earning money, having crazy titles in big companies isn’t what matters. Making sure you are happy is way more important and if you are happy in your comfort zone, you could just stay there. But if you are not happy anymore and you feel there is no way forward, in your career or life in general… Sometimes making the uncomfortable decisions will bring you the best chances.
I need something to look forward to and I want to live my life fully. I want to bring value and have the feeling I made a difference. I know that getting out of my comfort zone will bring me chances and for me it’s better to take the occasional bad decision, instead of not taking any decisions at all.