One of These Days I'm Gonna Break These Chains

Chain and lock on old wooden doors.
Photo by Jennifer Bourn

In college, I wrote a short story titled Somebody, Someday. It was inspired by Travis Tritt’s song, I’m Gonna Be Somebody, which is pretty much the anthem for anyone growing up in the rural South in the ’90s. My story was a reminder to myself to not forget two important things.

The first was that my dad sacrificed a lot of his own dreams to raise his family. He is a talented singer, songwriter, and musician, and he has had plenty of opportunities that he passed up, taking the road that ensured that my siblings and I were always fed well, had clothes on our back, and had a roof over our heads.

It wasn’t always easy. There was a time when it was just me and my dad. This was a bit after my parents divorced, and he and I were living in a two-room shack that we called “The Dollhouse.” I had to do a lot of growing up real fast.

Some nights after a late shift at the box-making factory (a job he had taken after no longer driving a truck), he would bring home a carton of milk and a tin of sweet, yeast rolls. We would dip them into our glasses, soaking up the milk. I don’t think I ever thought of us as “being poor” by not having much else to eat. It was one of my favorite meals, and my belly was always full.

That realization didn’t really sink in until he came home with a large gash on his leg one day after getting hurt on the job. He needed stitches and should have been laid up in the hospital (fortunately, he was dating my soon-to-be stepmother, who was a soon-to-be nurse). Reporting such an accident would have meant the loss of the quarterly safety bonus that employees received. I cannot recall exactly, but I believe that quarter’s perk was either a new TV or VCR.

It was hard to recognize those and many other sacrifices during childhood, especially for someone like me who was always in his own little world in his own head. As I’ve grown older, I wish I could go back and tell him to pursue his dreams. That my siblings and I would have turned out just fine.

I could have lived off of milk and yeast rolls every day if it meant that I could hear him playing music on the radio.

The second crucial reminder of that short story was to always pursue my dreams. I would chase and catch up to them with a fiery passion, even if I spent the rest of my days just one step short.

But, life goes on, right? It becomes far too easy to travel down other paths. Sometimes, for the good. Sometimes, not so much.

For a time, I believed that running a WordPress theme/plugin shop was “the dream.” And, for a time, it was. I ran Theme Hybrid for 11 years before giving it up and moving onto WP Tavern. I had lost my passion for the business long before but was too stubborn to quit.

As I continued my work over at the Tavern, I learned that the job does not always have to be everything that I am. It was a part of me, and I a part of it. I put all of the passion that I could into that role and enjoyed my work there. However, it was not all of me, and the publication would continue on long after I was gone.

Eventually, I understood that it was merely a single stretch along my journey. I did not see myself working there for another 10 years. Learning to accept that put me in the right mindset, and I was at peace with the decision that I would eventually find something new.

What the Tavern gave me more than anything was a chance to pursue other dreams that had long been on hold. I won NaNoWriMo for the second time. I began painting and rekindled my love of drawing. While I am not profiting from my art, that is not something that concerns me. I am doing these things because I enjoy doing them.

After announcing my departure from WP Tavern, I received a ton of comments, private messages, and emails. I had not realized how many lives I had touched in some way over the years, but it was nice to hear from so many folks as I was getting set to take on the next stage of my journey.

One of the emails that I received at the time had nothing to do with the Tavern. Someone had said they were inspired by the work that I had put into my non-WordPress passions. The following is part of the message I shared in return:

I think over the last few years I realized that I needed to stop thinking about the things I would “one day” accomplish and just start doing things. It didn’t really matter if I failed or was not particularly good at something. I was doing them for myself, which is the most important thing. It’s easy to get trapped in the mindset of creating some perfect thing for others (this was especially so after coming off a decade of product development). I know it’s cliché, but life is too short. So, take the time to do the things that you enjoy.

And I had another realization. My father never stopped being a singer, songwriter, and musician. He has always been who he is to the fullest. Whatever venue he is playing at cannot change that.

At a certain point, I realized my “day job” didn’t need to consume every facet of my life. I could still be passionate about the thing I was being paid to do, but I could also reserve some of that passion for other things. The Tavern gave me much-needed balance. It provided perspective that I had not had before.

However, daily writing meant that I was not pursuing some of the professional goals that I still had. I missed being in the thick of development and felt like I could do more “good” for the WordPress community elsewhere.

I have had plenty of job offers over the years, and I want to thank everyone who has reached out with opportunities. Some of them were not good fits. Others were not the right timing. Through a series of events that I won’t bore everyone with, I fell face-first into a role that I truly believe will allow me to continue doing that sort of “good” work for the community.

I am now officially a member of the division at Automattic, as part of its Five for the Future commitment. Specifically, I have taken a developer relations role on a recently-formed team that will serve as a bridge between core development and the extender community (our team is literally named Bifrost).

I feel good about what this team can accomplish going forward. On a personal level, I will be doing work that I am passionate about while still getting paid (always a good thing!).

I will continue pursuing my other passions. I am more of a Renaissance man than a specialist, and nothing is going to hold me back from taking them on. The chains are now broken.

Now, I will leave you with a video of one of the greatest songs ever by one of the greatest country singers of our time: