I’ve recently realized that to a large extent, I’ll always be somewhat of the lone wolf developer type. It’s not that there aren’t fun projects to work on or open source projects that are appreciative of contributions, or people that are excited to work with me, but rather that I find it hard to connect with people. I find it hard to find others that are equally excited about ideas as I am. I am constantly giving out huge amounts of energy and people rarely meet me halfway. It could be that such people that could match me are out there, but I haven’t found them yet. I look around at others my age, especially during the pandemic, and there is very much a “I’m busy all the time and work is work and I don’t have time for whatever extra thing you are doing.” This makes me feel burdened with my speed of movement, which is fairly fast, and sometimes feeling like everything around me is moving in slow motion.
And dear reader, I have slowed down, and a lot! I program a lot, but I also sleep well, take time to do nothing, and (when I’m not injured) go outside every day. The problem is that beyond my basic need for sleep, food, and exercise, I love programming and building things and it’s all that I want to do. I think this makes me very boring, at least when judged by other people. But why do I feel like such an outcast? It could be the reality that (despite this not being my phenotype for in-person interaction) I’m a very intense person, especially my online persona. One of my middle school teachers pulled my parents aside and “warned them” that intense people like me wind up in the ER having panic attacks. I’ve never had a panic attack, reader. It’s just the way that I am. Anxiety might be my negative emotion, but it’s more of an “overwhelmed with too many people and too much stimulation” kind of anxiety, and less of a “I can’t handle all the responsibilities of life or work” one. I suspect a lot of people can be made anxious or worried given the right set of circumstances. Being excited and focused is also a very different thing than worrying or panicking - one is driven by internal intensity and the other anxiety and worry. And to be clear, I don’t think my intensity is a bad thing. I have been hugely successful while surviving through adversity for over a decade, and that’s an attestment to this intensity and ability to be resilient. So why am I so different? Why am I so intense and that pushes people away? Why is this a question that I’ve been struggling with for almost 15 years?
In a fully remote world, my intensity has translated into digital content. And dear reader, I generate a lot! I am always thinking, programming, planning, and having conversation in various online chats. People often respond, especially when I’ve held back and tried not to say as much, and that’s pretty great. But more often than not, for a main project or for community channels, people stop responding. Or there are 5-10 of my messages spaced out over a day before someone else speaks, and often they aren’t even responding to me, but posting something new. That’s sometimes the ultimate diss - to try over a day to engage with people, and then be over-written by someone else. It’s the social equivalent of being the person at the party hanging out with yourself and then getting excited when someone walks by the table near you, only for them to keep walking. And I’m only making this reference based on watching movies - I think I only walked through an actual party a handful of times in college and was out as quickly as I (perhaps accidentally) came in. Nope.
But here’s the thing - I know why I wind up talking to myself. I overwhelm other people. I am too many ideas, too many questions, and since there are about 20 people (minimum) in a channel, it’s easier to offload the responsibility of responding on someone else and ignore me. I sometimes “at” people directly because I really need a response, and that has mixed success. But on the flip side, I always try to respond. When I’ve noticed other people starting to possibly be ignored, I’m there in a heartbeat to interact. One time in a large community chat that didn’t go well - I responded but because I wasn’t someone on some executive committee they didn’t want my engagement. Sometimes when this happens I just get sad and talk less, but I always come back at some point and the cycle repeats. So what should I do? What am I supposed to do when forced with the choice to stifle out my personality vs. continue trying to engage and being myself and being ignored?
Well, I’ve tried the first and it’s unbearable. Suppressing your true self, and self-monitoring, as other people like myself might know, is exhausting. To deny yourself expression and suffocate your true self is the worst thing you can do to yourself. Trust me, I’ve done it. You become ashamed of who you really are. When I was younger I was ashamed to not want to be like the girls I saw around me or partake in the same activities. I could barely handle any slight change in a social interaction because I didn’t know what to do. When I made mistakes, or what I deemed to be a mistake, I’d ruminate about it endlessly. And perhaps this is why I’m writing today - there is still a little piece of that old self inside of me. We might change to be entirely different people every decade or so, but inside of us are remnants of our past selves. In social situations I was uncomfortable and was basically acting, and waiting for a moment to run away. As a remote person it’s still acting, but you can stay off camera to be more comfortable, and when the camera switches off (at a predictable time) you are again free. Existing like a “normal person” developer in this world is a balance of pushing yourself into discomfort like that and letting the camera turn off and blasting the music and going back into your own world.
The reason I hid my personality when I was younger is because I was terrified that people would be annoyed, jealous, or otherwise express a negative emotion targeted to me. I thought as a grown up, and in fact a middle-aged person that nobody has any reason to feel a negative emotion toward, it would end. But somehow here I am and it feels like people haven’t grown out of this. Or perhaps I am mistaking their lack of caring for something else. It could just me my perception, but it feels like resentment and the negative sentiment is still lurking.
Anyway, it’s been many years since I decided I was tired of masking. But sometimes I still get this hint of the life before - perhaps a week goes by and I’m trying to engage with people on a project, and one person responds with a quick one liner that excuses themself and communicates they are answering for their part and are out. They care only when it is convenient for them. They care when something makes them look good or bad. It’s selfish caring, and everyone does it. Perhaps it makes me sad to feel like I might have friends, but then realize it’s more likely that people find my energy annoying. Maybe it’s my fault that I’m not as family oriented and I find my meaning in work. Maybe it really is the case that I’m unlike most people and there isn’t a workplace or community for me that will match the energy that I give out.
Anyway, I don’t know why, but I’ve just felt like I’ve been living in my own world lately. It’s magical indeed - and I’m pushing forward on the little projects that I care about, but I can’t help but feel like people are watching and still judging me, just for being myself. But I can’t do it again, reader, I can’t choose to suppress myself or try to change to make others more comfortable. So instead I choose to continue living in this world. I wonder how many other developers out there feel as lonely in their development and passion as I do?
Sochat, Vanessa. "Living in my own World." @vsoch (blog), 28 Mar 2022, https://vsoch.github.io/2022/by-myself/ (accessed 20 Mar 23).