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Margaret E. Ikeda
Margaret E. Ikeda

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Glass Slippers and Grit: What the Bootcamp Experience Could Be

Some background: I'm currently in a career training program—think dev bootcamp but ten months long and with four of those months dedicated to the job search—called C4Q (Coalition for Queens). It's March 2017, and we've just finished a one-month project called Capstone and are beginning the job search.

It feels a bit like the end of the ball; there's no more October fundraising gala or fancy Capstone pitch to look forward to. The next distant goal is graduation and getting a job or internship, and I know for a fair number of people it may not happen in that order. People will start leaving, one by one—hopefully for jobs that will challenge and support them in their growth as developers and people. One step closer to a dream job, one step away from all the adventures, big and small, we've had at all our various classrooms across Queens.

To continue the Cinderella metaphor: I think I'm old enough not to be fretting over whether I'm Cinderella or a Stepsister or a fit for some silly glass shoe. I know jobs come and go, and while I'm excited by the possibilities that exist in tech, I know I'm going to have to learn from the good and the bad that comes with it, too.

That said, I suppose I am a little worried about turning back into the pumpkin I was before C4Q.

To me, pumpkin-hood means scrambling for any job that'll have me because I need the health insurance. Pumpkin-hood means dead-end jobs or, worse, a self-defeatist attitude even when opportunity exists. Pumpkins don't have passports because they don't have the time or wherewithal to take a vacation. Pumpkins are closeted because their office is in a conservative area. Pumpkins swallow down the lump in their throat because they know this is the best they can hope for, for now.

I probably felt at my most Pumpkin a few weeks into my job as a medical secretary. A doctor caught me reading on my lunch break and, after I told her the title of the book I was reading, loudly informed me I "should be in college." As someone who had had to leave higher education due to illness, those words stung me all the way down to the marrow. Especially the should. I knew I should. I should be a lot of things, and I was at a civil servant job I was bananas lucky to have because right then I needed something steady in my life (and health insurance). I knew I was in the right place for me at the time, but that should stayed under my skin for three years. It's still there now, obviously.

This is not a Cinderella story. C4Q is not a fairy godmother. Tech is not the ball. Future employers are not princes and jobs are not glass slippers.

This is not a story about so-called "grit" either.

I have a chip on my shoulder about the ascendancy of the TED-talk "grit" story. I feel like the Grit Story pushes the Cinderella agenda. Those with grit get the job/slipper because they're just special enough.

I don't feel grittier or more special than some people who didn't get to finish the program. More privileged, yeah. But not grittier. Have I seen real grit from students at C4Q? Yes, definitely. But sometimes it's grit I wish they didn't have to have. It comes at a price. It's grit that reminds me more of shrapnel than the tiny sand particles that oysters make into pearls.

We are not our shrapnel. I am not my coping mechanisms for dealing with what got me here. I want to be with people that support my attempts to heal myself and hold me to sustainable standards while I do so. C4Q has actually helped me do that. Amazing, helpful healers work here. But even with hearts full of good intentions, I fear what the Grit Storyline teaches C4Q staff about the kind of people C4Q claims to want to give opportunity to. Grit isn't a replacement for a roof over your head, food in your belly, or peace of mind.

So yeah, not a story about grit.

Today, this is a story about a pumpkin that had always wanted to be in a different story. Maybe a story with a pig. Maybe a story with a spider. Maybe the pumpkin/pig, through no fault of its own, is just a bit behind its peers. Maybe she just wanted someone to write "Terrific" somewhere she and others could see so as to avoid a sad fate. Maybe the spider and a rat named Templeton teach the pig Swift and re-awaken the pig's love of design, then find the pig a design mentor at Squarespace. The grateful pig avoids a sad, pumpkin-like fate and helps take care of the spider's offspring for generations.

It's a weird story, sure, but I think it could be a classic for years to come.

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