Rethinking Easy

I wrote a little about going back to school here. What I didn’t tell you was why it took so long to finish in the first place. Sure, a huge factor is that the single mom gig is pretty time consuming. But the real issue is that math has been a struggle for me.

In high school I got stuck on polynomials and quadratics. My teacher kept things abstract, but I’m a visual thinker, and for the life of me I couldn’t see what was going on. Later, when I was a newly single mom, my college math teacher kept assuring us that the work we were doing was super easy.  Then what did it say about me that I was still struggling so hard?

I withdrew, deciding I’d come back to it when I felt a little more confident. But avoidance only further drained my faith in myself, and inertia made it worse. Then along came another force.

“I will never stop learning.” That’s a line from my company’s creed. And here’s another: “Given time, there is no problem that’s insurmountable.” So when Automattic gave me some time for my five year work anniversary, I decided to conquer some old demons and finally get my degree.

Meanwhile, I got some new demons too: I’d hired a remodel contractor who tried mid-project to force me to marry him. He cautioned I’d never find someone who’d give him the same kind of deal he was offering. Let’s see, a new bathroom for only 6-7K and my free will?  He was sure I couldn’t finish the project without him.  But I channeled my inner Rosie the Riveter, figuring people can do anything with Youtube these days. It would be easy enough to handle on my own.

Yes I can? I think…

To make a really long story short, it’s not been easy at all.  I’m still not done, in spite of all of my attempts to feel strong and capable. But I’ve hired contractors now and then to help me past the biggest hurdles, and several angel friends have stepped in to help as well.

One contractor friend recently chatted with me a bit while cleaning up his tools. I was ready to give up, because I’d need to pull up my supposedly easy-to-install click lock LVP to fix my mistakes.  I’ll paraphrase his remarks: “You know, I just finished a remodel project on my own home.  Even with all of my years of experience, I still found myself having to redo several things, sometimes more than once. I know it’s frustrating and tedious, but it doesn’t mean you’re bad at it or that you can’t do it. Keep at it, Velda. You’ve got this.”

I’ve thought about that and my math experiences a lot, especially as I’ve gone back to work helping people with WordPress stuff. If you’ve heard of WordPress, you’ve probably heard someone say it’s easy. Now I can’t think of that word the same way.  We aim to make things easier for our users, and it definitely is easier that starting a site from scratch.  But when we tell people it’s easy, are we inspiring confidence, or knocking it down?

My coworker Hannah Notess said this: “It’s encouraging to know that people I think of as brilliant WordPress geniuses also struggle with the things I struggle with! Like, maybe those things are just hard, and it’s not just me?”  Maybe giving real recognition to difficulties will help us make our software better, too.

As for that math: thanks to a fantastic teacher, Thomas Roybal, who taught real-world applications before formulas, I had something to visualize this time. I can honestly say I understand it now.  I finished with a solid A, and I graduated with honors. Still, every time I took a test, I noticed I was one of the last people to turn it in. I’d work and rework the problems until I felt good about them.  But maybe that’s why I did well.  So I’ll keep doing that with my remodel project, and hopefully with life’s other projects as well. I wouldn’t call it easy at all. But I can say I’ve got this.