I was chatting with a friend this past week about whether there might be a “nomad gene” for folks who can’t stop moving. He quipped that if it exists, “you for sure have it”. I laughed – I definitely don’t. My default nature is one of introversion and routine. I marvel at myself for doing what I do living without an address with all my items in my minicooper. I wrote about this recently as this is not the life I ever imagined for myself and I mean that in the most hopeful way. WordPress turned 15 yesterday and I owe so much of the last 7 years of my life to those who made WordPress what it is today.
WordPress was created when I was 10 years old. I try to imagine myself at 10 and the only images I can conjure up are ones of anxiety. I would have just been wrapping up 5th grade desperately trying to apply and get into the private school I later went to. I would have just recovered from mononucleosis for the first time – sadly there would be a second about a decade later. I was a ball of competitive anxiety who was just coming out of being made fun of for years for my speech impediments and finally starting to figure out who I might be. I don’t look back fondly on those years. My 10 year old self didn’t like change and didn’t know how to cope. My 10 year old self had no concept of what was being created during these strange years.
WordPress has fundamentally changed who I am. I don’t say that lightly. I have an urge to jump into a monologue of, “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways” when I think about WordPress.
The most profound change starts in awakening a sense of creativity and belief in myself. I work hard at things but my earlier black and white point of view often limited any amount of creativity I might have had. I’ll never forget in college working for web.unc.edu, UNC Chapel Hill’s multisite installation, and discovering that I could create as many sites as I wanted. The ease of use and the unlimited possibilities led me to create site after site. Just this week, a thought came into my mind and a site was born. I never saw myself as creative since creativity was defined for so many years as being art focused (poetry, photography, painting, etc) and I have absolutely no artistic abilities. Being able to make an idea come to life online has changed how I view myself – I now see myself as creative and hardworking. This shift in how I view myself has led me to create initiatives like accelerate.lgbt (no longer running) and Mentor Everywhere (still going!) at Automattic in my free time. I never realized that my handwriting and drawing abilities could be terrible yet, at the same time, my creativity could be powerful. The results of my creative actions have solidified a sense of belief in myself that is deeply profound. It’s something I fall back on during tough days of self doubt and tough problems.
Because of WordPress’ global and distributed nature, I have been afforded the opportunity to travel to far away lands and to be there for meaningful moments with dear loved ones. Being a “nomad” is something I never thought I’d be. It’s challenged every aspect of who I am and I am better for it. Combined with the ability to see the world, I get to work with folks from all over the world every single day. This has given me the honor of having a global mindset that I carry with me no matter where I go. I feel I have traveled enough for many lifetimes over.
I think often of queer women of years past and how many likely never would have had the chance of a life that I do. On top of everything else, WordPress has given me a platform and a job where I can be my truest self. With WordPress, I can share my words and I can be heard. At Automattic, I can fiercely be myself and be amplified rather than silenced. WordPress has emboldened me and Automattic has given me so many opportunities to use my newfound creativity to lead within the company. What many friends of mine will work years to attempt to do, I have been able to pursue with full support of Automattic.
None of the above gets to the root of why I LOVE what I do and love what WordPress is to me. Beyond any personal change, WordPress has allowed me to help others and to increase my own impact on this world. Whether it was working with department sites during my time at UNC or helping a local non profit set up a brand new website to bring theirs out of the 90s, I am thrilled to have a job and a passion that centers on helping others succeed. It’s such a privilege to work with folks during different stages of their sites – it’s always so personal and so sacred. I can vividly remember the first time this gripped me. I was helping a professor at UNC set up a site and when we finally published it, he couldn’t believe it was “live”. He kept asking me whether other researchers, students, professors, etc. could find him. As I began to explain how everything worked, he was nearly brought to tears.
“I can’t believe my life’s work can be found by anyone in the world.”
I was just a freshmen at this point and didn’t quite understand what I had stumbled upon with WordPress. I couldn’t have imagined that this would be my life. I had a friend a few years ago say to me, “You are the last person I ever expected to work in technology.” I grew quiet and nodded solemnly, “Me too”. This great adventure and great chance is truly due to those who helped me patiently over the years. It’s also due to those who enabled WordPress to be what it is today and what it will be tomorrow. I don’t take this for granted.
There’s a concept I am stuck on these days. It’s centered on this quote:
“The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.” – Nelson Henderson
When I was 10, Matt Mullenweg and others were working immensely hard to create the shade in which I currently sit. This gorgeous, remarkable, world expanding shade that I can’t believe I ever found and that I hardly have the words to describe.
Happy 15th Anniversary, WordPress! I send a tearful “thank you” from my soul into the ether for all of you out there who made this precious life of mine possible. It is an honor to be a part of moving something forward that has given me so much. My only hope is that I find many of my own trees to plant.