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TechCommGeekMom, where have you been? The Delta Quadrant?

I know you haven’t been in the Delta Quadrant. So where have you been?

OK, so it’s been a while. I know. While I wish I could say that I’ve been on an Intrepid-class Federation starship named the U.S.S. Voyager, sadly that is not the case.

It’s a little hard to be writing blog posts when a) you don’t know exactly what to say after having written hundreds of posts before, and b) you’re just REALLY busy.

2016 was a rough year, but 2017 has also had its challenges so far.  You know that I’m always in some sort of work search mode, and that’s already had its ups and downs for the past few months.  I was excited to get my first independent contract. It was an opportunity to finally flex my e-learning muscles, and do it on my terms.  I started to create a curriculum matrix,  to make storyboards, to write transcripts, test questions, and study guides, and created video training–21 completed videos in about a month. But the contract ended before the full project was completed, and I don’t know what will be happening going forward. There was a big learning curve involved, and after the fact, I’ve realized where I made some wrong moves, but I also learned where I made many right moves as well.  I’ve been mastering TechSmith’s Camtasia during this time, and feel pretty comfortable with it now. I sometimes feel I missed out on one of my many callings as a video editor (although you never know–that might change going forward).  I know that I was producing good content, if I say so myself, so I have to be satisfied with that for now.

I also was the co-chair of the STC-Philadelphia Metro Chapter (STC-PMC)’s annual CONDUIT conference.  Thankfully, that came off with few hitches, and it was well received by everyone I heard from. Some people hadn’t been to the conference in years, and it was a great opportunity for them to see how our conference has grown!  Next year, at this point, it looks like I’ll be the main chair for the event, so it’s going to feel a little overwhelming, I’m sure. Just being co-chair felt overwhelming at times, while trying to work with client deadlines. It stressed me out enough that I even got physically sick for a while. For CONDUIT, the payoff is worth it, and I hope that everyone who is reading this considers coming as a presenter or attendee for next year.

Oh, and I can’t forget that I’ve been studying my DITA by helping someone who is writing a book about it, and I was asked to contribute edits as a beginner who wanted to ensure that they understood the author’s instructions.  That was cool, and helpful.

Kim: Is she kidding us? Overwhelming?
Paris: That’s what she claims. Who am I to argue?

All through this time, as I said, it’s been a bit overwhelming. I realized some missteps with all of it the hard way, as I usually do, but thankfully I have a lot of good people who help me get back up and fight another day. (Photon torpedos are loaded, Captain.)

I spoke to veteran tech comm consultants at CONDUIT and through Single-Sourcing Solutions’ TC Conclave, as well as just talking to other technical communicators when I had the opportunity offline.  All have provided me with advice about how to move forward in the future as an independent consultant, and massaged my ego just enough, knowing how battered and bruised I felt at times.  For that, thanks to all of you. You know who you are.  This is why I get involved with the STC and with other technical communicators.  Five years of networking is finally paying off–you know me, I know you, and I can learn more about things that they don’t teach you in grad school. I benefit from your experiences and I’m grateful.

Kim: I think we should take a ship-wide survey or start a betting pool on what she’ll do next. Who’s in?

So now the question is…what do I do going forward? I’m in limbo once again with timing, figuring out what to do next. At this writing, I’ve decided to lay low for a couple of weeks. I’m concentrating on my VP duties for the STC-PMC for the rest of this program year (two more main events to go right now!), reworking my consultancy’s website (a project temporarily postponed when I started my contract in February), and doing a little bit of project hunting, but nothing too deep just yet.  I have a few leads on things, but I’ve always been hesitant to “count my chickens before they are hatched,” as the saying goes. I’m looking forward to attending the STC Summit in a few weeks in Washington, DC.  I’m getting excited about going, because I realize that it’ll be nonstop tech comm for me almost from the moment I get there! I’ll be with my tribe! I plan to take advantage of seeing all my STC friends–and making new ones as well–in the hopes that my continued networking will help me build my business. I’m looking at things through a slightly different perspective now.

In some ways, I’m still scared to death being “on my own”.  Having survived through my first experience without an agency, though, was exhilarating, and I liked being my own boss and calling most of the shots, and determining how things should be done.  I was able to validate that in many ways, I’m still on the right track, even if things are slow-going right now.

Kim: Captain, there’s something out there!
Janeway: I need a better description than that, Mr. Kim!

I still have a very long way to go, but I’ll find my way eventually. Sometimes I feel like the very green Ensign Kim, who has some knowledge, but still finding my place while trying to make a difference. Sometimes I feel like Captain Janeway, where I feel like I can lead and figure out what needs to be done. There will be Borg, Kazon, Vidiians, and Hirogen to battle along the way, I’m sure. Hopefully my persistence moving forward will get me where I need to go, even if it takes a while.

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Summer 2015 is about propulsion

In my head, I'm running forward. But in reality, I can't run due to my bad asthma. It's the thought that counts! (And I wish I looked as good as this runner!)
In my head, I’m running forward. But in reality, I can’t run due to my bad asthma. It’s the thought that counts! (And I wish I looked as good as this runner!)

I looked at the calendar today and realized that I have about 5 1/2 weeks left in the contract I’ve been at for about 2 1/2 years. You may recall that when I first found out that my contract was ending, I was devastated. I was coming off of a high point in my career where I had participated in a high-visibility project and had done well, and was being recognized for something I had done that was work-related for the first time, and then emotionally shoved down in being told that I wasn’t going to be needed for much longer because they couldn’t find enough work for me to do to justify the cost long term.

Fast-forward to now. There are issues that are still abound, and one of my managers has declared that we needed to work on getting everyone off the “Danielle crack” (which I thought was the funniest compliment I had ever heard). We had to wean people off their dependence on me to get the job done.  With 5 1/2 weeks left on the contract, I don’t know if that’s going to be done, but it’s been made very clear that the end of this contract is the end of this contract. That’s it. No more extensions.

I’m actually fine with that now. I went through a mourning period, like I have many times before when losing a job. I think this one was a particularly tough one to get through because I liked the job, I liked the company, and I liked the people overall. It was my first job after getting my Master’s degree, and I ran with it. I was relied on for UX/UI decisions, technical editing, web design, content management, and content strategy. It got to a point where one of my managers would hand me off to an internal client and just say, “Here,” with a minimal amount of information, and he’d trust me to follow through to the end with no to little intervention from him. I was given autonomy to do what I do best, and I did well. I’ve been in my “zone”. I gained some confidence that I never had before. I think I always knew I had the “mad skillz”, as I like to call them, but no one would let me exercise them or depend on me like at this job. If I said, “this really isn’t user-friendly, and I’d like to change this,” I didn’t get the pushback of, “Well, that’s what the end users are used to, so it stays.” I could freely clean up messes that I saw without getting my hands slapped for doing the right thing. It was liberating–so you can see why, in many respects, I would not want to leave that kind of environment.

But as this contract starts its final weeks, I’m kept busy as usual, but I’m looking ahead. I’m ready to run with the next projects. Of all the ironic things, my horoscope today on Yahoo! described exactly what’s going on. It said,

You can’t decide whether you are excited about your future or if you’re scared of the upcoming changes. Either way, you can tell that the tide is shifting, even if you don’t know which way you want to go. Throwing caution to the wind might be the necessary catalyst that makes your dreams come alive. If you don’t take the initiative today, at least imagine what you could accomplish if you set your mind to it. Share your best ideas with a friend; expressing what’s in your heart is enough to lift your spirits.

"Alright, Chewie, get ready for career hyperdrive..."--Han Solo
“Alright, Chewie, get ready for career hyperdrive…”–Han Solo

Some of the changes going forward have already started. I made the decision that I’m going to go solo. The time is right, and it’s right now. This job I’m finishing up put my family in a good position financially, enough that my husband and I decided that we can take the risk. I am starting my own one-person consulting firm soon. The trick will be finding clients! With that, I can say that I have my first client on board at the moment. It’s something that may or may not go full-time–we’re still in the early stages of figuring things out, but it’s something exciting to me. My “client” hasn’t said anything publicly about me joining his company’s team, so I don’t feel comfortable saying too much just yet, but I’m really ready to dig in and get to work with this firm. The person has a lot of contacts in the tech comm field and knows my goals, so he’s also said he can introduce me to others who may need my services outside of his projects, which would be great. All I need is some introductions! I’m working on another small project as well, so I suppose I’m starting on my way.

"Set course for the next client, Warp 6. Engage!"
“Set course for the next client, Warp 6. Engage!”

So, my career has full propulsion going on right now, and I feel like I’m going at warp-speed. As the horoscope said, I’m excited, but I’m also scared. Anything new for me is terrifying, especially because there are no boundaries or structure to keep me steady. I’m usually a nervous wreck for a long time until I get accustomed to a new situation and master it, and then I can fly. I’ve never done something like this before, and I plan on writing about the launch of my little company in the coming weeks. I’m going to be working hard to make sure that things don’t collapse early, and that I can make this independent go-of-it sustainable.

Wish me luck…and be ready for my inhaler! (I have exercise-induced asthma, so running is not good for me!)