When Anna Marie Clifton moved from New York City to San Francisco to start over, she wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. What she knew was that she was ready for a major change. In her weekly column, Anna Marie immerses herself in San Francisco’s tech-centric culture and shares her findings.
It’s 5:30 pm and I’ve just locked my bike up. Ten minutes ago I was riding down Market Street in San Francisco, sharing the bike lane with a couple dozen other cyclists all commuting home from work. I’m wearing jeans, a hoodie and some trendy loafers, so it’s possible that here in Startup Land, they all thought I was one of their own. I bet none of them would guess I was just lounging in the park all afternoon with an old friend from out of town.
Unemployed. “Funemployed,” as some would term it. Voluntarily taking some time out of the work force to figure out … well, I’m not even sure I can put my finger on what I’m figuring out. My passion? My calling? My career path?
Out of college, I moved to New York to make my way in the world. I had a free place to stay while I looked for work and I applied to 137 jobs. I had a spreadsheet: company, category, application date, employee contact, follow-up date, phone interview date, in-person interview date. Only three applications made it to the final column. One of them was a gallery management position that I was at least 50% under qualified for, but the screener liked the aesthetic of my resume, and the owner liked the pizzazz of my personality, and I got the job.
I spent the first year getting up to speed, the second year racing ahead, the third year thinking about what would be next, and the fourth year actively looking. Somewhere between years three and four I realized that despite a degree in (medieval) art history, the tech sector is where I wanted to be. Wireframing a website for the gallery was the most gratifying thing I ever did there, and coding a little solution to fill a need in our database was the most challenging. I learned quickly that there would always be more to learn in the tech sector. It expands faster than I can race with my mind.
After about a year of explaining to startup recruiter after startup recruiter that managing an art gallery is about staffing, shipping and operations, not drawing, painting and sculpting, I started working part-time with a friend who was building a networking startup. He needed a co-founder, and after a few months of double-duty, I left the gallery to work full-time for this company.
It didn’t work.
I had lost confidence in my co-founder, so I stepped away without a “next step.” I gave up my apartment in Manhattan, where I had lived for the past four years, and went from the young woman who was managing a corner gallery in Chelsea, to the woman who left a stable job to start a company, to the woman who was doing nothing.
My sister was getting married back home in Georgia, so I went to help with that for a few weeks. Then I moved to the West Coast, to a place that was always the first stop in my vacation plans, and a place where my significant other has an apartment I can live in: San Francisco.
And now, I’m here. Spent a couple weeks unpacking and nesting—vegging on the couch and meeting up with friends while I let the stress of the last eight months uncoil from my mind. Planning and planning. It’s tough to admit, but I don’t have any answers.
Unemployed? Right now, I shun employment. I’m looking for ways to build a more full life than the Lush-lusting, cab-catching, rat-racing life I had before. Though I don’t know what that will look like, I’m taking some time to lay down what I think is the track-work.
Tomorrow, I’m going to my first official programming class: a two-day workshop on HTML/CSS through Girl Develop It, a women’s organization for beginning programmers. I’ve done a good bit of self-directed study with Codeacademy, Treehouse and others, but this will be my first ever “formal” experience with web development.
Am I going to be a programmer? Perhaps. Or, perhaps I’ll move into technical product management, or yet again, perhaps I’ll be a regular product manager with a depth of empathy for the developers on my team.
Class starts tomorrow at noon. Time to go make sure everything is set. Dot my i’s, charge my laptop, check the Google Maps directions and pack some snacks!