Self, 3.0


Bethany Suckrow -Self 3point03

I’m trying to learn to code. You know, the HTML kind that builds websites. But sometimes when I’m typing, it feels a little bit like Morse code, an “S.O.S.” I’m learning, one character and bracket at a time, to send out into my future. Don’t get lost.

“<br>” : Break. A space, a margin, a pause. A deep breath between paragraphs on a page.

When I interviewed for this job a year ago, my boss asked me one last question as she walked me back to the lobby.

“You seem like you could be a great fit for the team and you’re absolutely qualified. I guess I’m just wondering why you’ve been working part-time for the last two years? You had a full-time job in your field but you left it. How would you explain that gap?”

A fair question, one that I knew was coming, but I struggled to answer it, unsure of how honest I could be without risking the opportunity.

At that point, my “brief break” to “figure out what I wanted” when my husband and I moved to Nashville in July 2014 had turned into two full years of underemployment and a mild identity crisis. I was no closer to knowing what I wanted. I felt adrift, no longer able to see a shore on which to land safely. I was exhausted, because even though I was working two part-time jobs that I was really good at, I had nothing to show for it. The blog and the book I had been working on were woefully neglected. Oh, and I owed the government $2,450 in federal taxes.

At the outset of my risky voyage into self-discovery, all I wanted was the break I had never gotten when my mom died. I had never really stopped working. I had never allowed myself to fall apart, the way we think we will when someone at the center of our world dies. I didn’t do the can’t-get-out-of-bed, drink-myself-silly, sabotage-my-life thing. I did the get-up-and-go-to-work-like-always thing. I was 24. I was married. I worked full-time. And my mom died, but somehow I kept going, even when I didn’t want to.

So, we moved to Nashville and I … stopped going.

Who needs a career when they’re 26, anyway?

“<&nbsp>” : Non-breaking space. A fixed space that cannot be broken.

We moved to a new city and I got a job as a maid. Coming from a full-time job in a public relations department for an academic institution, this was like white-water rafting without oars or a life jacket. It was hard work, but a different kind of hard.

Was it good for my resume? Nope.

Was it good for my mental health? Nope.

Was it good for my bank account? LOL, NOPE.

Some days, it was as terrible and gross as it sounds. Part of me still regrets that I did it. I made life hard on myself, and the break was not restful or clarifying in the ways I wanted it to be. But at the risk of sounding cliché, it gave me valuable experience that no other job could have. It taught me a lot about privilege, it gave me a stronger work ethic and it motivated me to be a better coworker.

So, was it good for my career? It’s not an easy answer, but yes.

“<p>” : New paragraph. A new beginning. A fresh start.

When the florist I’ve worked for was in her 20’s she worked for AT&T, climbing telephone poles to repair damaged lines. A marketing consultant I worked for spent ten solid years as a catering manager before she realized how unhappy it made her, so she quit and went to live at a yoga ashram. My boss at the cleaning company was a jewelry designer living in Manhattan when 9/11 happened; after the dust of that tragedy settled, she moved across the country and started cleaning houses just to stay afloat. My mother earned her bachelor’s degree in Vocal Performance, but for awhile after she graduated she worked in a pickle factory.

Sometimes I marvel at all the iterations of ourselves we get to be in a single lifetime. The paths we take are rarely linear or on a consistent upward trajectory. The decisions we make aren’t always smart or easy to explain later. We can’t edit it or clean it up to make it prettier, we can’t add a simple line of code to fix a mistake. Every experience is a part of the whole person we become. We contain multitudes. And without even realizing it, we work toward worlds we can’t even envision yet.

I’ve been a student, a babysitter, a library page, an English tutor, a retail associate, a waitress, a telemarketer, a copywriter, a social media manager, a blogger, an editor, a maid, a florist, and a digital content creator. I’ve taught graduate-level architecture students how to write research papers. I’ve written press releases for campus visits by heads of state. I’ve cleaned toilets and folded strangers’ underwear. I’ve learned how to balance myself on a 12-foot ladder while hanging flowers from a chandelier.

And now I’m learning a new language.

“<a href= >” : Anchor tag. A reference link, so that you don’t get lost.

Bethany Suckrow
I’m a writer and blogger at at, where I shares both prose and poetry on faith, grace, grief and hope. I am currently working on my first book, a memoir about losing my mother to cancer. My musician-husband, Matt, and I live in transition as we move our life from the Chicago suburbs to Nashville.
Bethany Suckrow
Bethany Suckrow

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  1. Your story is so inspiring, Bethany! I’ve been thinking about identity a lot and what I “want” the next season to look like. I feel so unqualified for things that look interesting, but I love this reminder that I can’t chart life’s turns.

    • I struggle with that so much too, Annie. Applying for jobs and thinking about my career always gives me imposter syndrome – this feeling that I’m not qualified enough, smart enough, skilled enough. I know there are people out there that have more to offer, but I try not to let it intimidate me. My best strategy is to stay curious and teachable, to be a lifelong student. Right now that looks like learning to code and acquire other skills that will help me move forward. We may not be able to see a clear path from where we are now to where we hope to be, but that doesn’t mean we can’t get there from here.

  2. As a fellow recent-code-learner, I thoroughly enjoyed this piece! It’s so true that we contain multitudes and that life’s path brings us to things we don’t expect. My mother returned to school at the age of 60 to become a certified holistic nutritionist. Everything she was and did in those six decades leading up to it was part of shaping her. I look at her life and hope (and pray!) that I can be as faithful in all the things I’m led into as she has been in her life.

    • Your mother sounds like an amazing woman! That’s so inspiring. And such a wonderful reminder that nothing goes to waste – all the other things that we go through and survive become useful to the next thing we do, we just have to get creative. 🙂

  3. Our culture places a lot of emphasis on what we do and it’s always refreshing when we’re known for our several aspects, and people see a more complete picture of who we are. This resonates with me, and I so appreciate your words. Thank you.

    • I so agree, Beth. And another thing I wish I had remembered to add to this post is that a lot of the most meaningful work we do isn’t quantifiable on our resume – I think about spaces like this where women are writing and learning from one another. This is meaningful work, the kind of stuff that I hope we use to transform other areas of our life – work, family, faith communities, civic engagement, etc. So an employer might find it irrelevant, but it’s no less important.

  4. I love this Bethany. Stories like yours and those of the people you talk about in this post remind us – again – how much we are missing when we ask the question ‘what do you do?’ as if the answer to that could even begin to tell the whole story, even if it forms part of the whole. I too have had many iterations – and am about to embark on a new one – and often struggle to try to find a cohesive thread which somehow binds them all together. The truth is, my trajectory is/was far more random than that, and my many iterations wildly disparate. Your words today
    remind me that that, too, is ok. This >> “The paths we take are rarely linear or on a consistent upward trajectory.” So true and good. Grace and peace to you as you learn this new language and go forward into whatever lies ahead.

  5. With an empty-ing nest, I’m hanging off the end of one “iteration” of me and wondering what the next few years will look like. Your words encourage me to forget about words like “trajectory” and “career path” and, instead, to ponder thoughts about calling.
    All the best to you as you move forward into this new season!

  6. I love this, Bethany. O, how I love this.

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