When Doubt Rears Its Ugly Head

At my last review, I told my boss, “I want to build more things.” My official title is Digital Marketing Associate, but that really means web developer, Facebook ad wrangler, social media marketer, part time graphic designer, etc etc. Working for a non-profit means picking up hats wherever I’m needed.

After a year, I was finally given the chance to build something again. I was tasked with creating a new website for our camps department, based on a single-page home scrolling design plus individual camp profiles. At face value, it sounded easy enough. I’ve already built a single page website for my friend’s documentary, Sanskriti. I’ve built custom post types before (which is a fancy way of saying special WordPress blog posts with meta information), and I’ve arranged that data in many different ways. The big, hairy task that loomed over me was “How can we make those camps searchable?”

The Process

Why is the search necessary? Well let’s say you’re a parent and you have two children, Miriam and Jonah (I work for JCC Association, I couldn’t name them Mary and John). For sake of ease, you want to send them to camp together, which means you need lots of options. You want to know if you can send them to camp in your state or close by, what length of session options are possible (in case Miriam wants to go all summer and Jonah wants to go for just two weeks), what specialty activities are required (must haves: horseback riding and a pool), and if there’s financial aid. That’s a lot of different factors to go in to your search. A huge list of camps would be overwhelming and probably lead you to Google until your fingers go numb. Instead, on our camps website, you’ll be able to filter it down by all of those factors (and more) to find the right fit.

Although I had never built such a thing before, my response to this request was, “Of course I can do that.” That’s what Google is for, right? Plus, I have friends who work in this area of expertise. I knew there were people to whom I could send out the SOS, if necessary.

This ended up being a lot bigger and scarier than I could have imagined. I read until my eyes sagged and my brain could no longer absorb information. I built a search bar that didn’t work. I re-structured the entire custom post type three times, to make different parts of the information gathering process and display of that information actually function. Over the course of three weeks, I was close to a mental breakdown. That’s when the cloud of doom seemed to take over my thoughts. Who was I to think I could build such a thing?

I started to doubt not only my abilities, but my career path. How could I be a developer if I couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t make the search work? Will anyone ever hire me again? I should just go to grad school now or leave this work field and follow my dream of being a cabaret singer. Sure, I’d be poor and sure, that isn’t the career path that I got a college education for, but wouldn’t it be better? Could I be happier? The amount of times I sat at my desk, staring at the screen and clutching my tightening chest, is uncountable.

Giving up on this task was not an option, plain and simple. If I couldn’t do it, it would go to our IT department (which means it wouldn’t be a priority) and who know what would have happened to me. I had to figure out a way to make it work.

I dropped the idea of making the search bar that we had initially designed and decided to go with a filter system. For the fourth time, I started from scratch. I’ve read countless tutorials about how to make a filter happen. I built one that was semi-successful and became close to tears. Maybe I could do it. Maybe everything would be ok. Finally, I found a tutorial from Zoe Rooney about how to create filters with Filtrify for WordPress. I would like to write a love letter to Zoe, declaring my undying devotion.

I rebuilt everything one last time, integrating the special Filtrify formula. And it works. Sure, there are still a few kinks, but there are actually drop down menus that allow users to pick and choose the most important parts of their camp search.

What I Learned

At the end of the day, the task was completed. I know I had to go through that learning period, and I know when the time comes, I could take what I learned and do it again. I do wish I hadn’t been so hard on myself. I spent so many evenings glued to my computer screen and so many nights tossing and turning. I kept telling myself that I would fail.

The moment I switched my perspective, when I said, “This is it. You have to do this,” is the moment I could finally start to achieve my goal. Negative thoughts are so destructive and can make you feel so powerless in every aspect of your life.

Believing in yourself is more than half the battle.

Alexandra WhiteAlexandra is a WordPress & front-end developer who builds awesome things. She loves craft beer, apple cider cookies, and traveling to new places (especially when the trip is free). You should follow her on twitter and maybe you can become internet friends. Or maybe even IRL friends.

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