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When Life Hits a Wall, and You Have a Deadline

Sara McCombs (she/her)
Software Engineer @ Aiera | Bibliophile | Diversity, Inclusion, & A11Y Advocate | Community Engagement Leader @ Project Alloy | Co-Founder @ VirtualCoffee.io
・4 min read

A little story about how the absolute worst situations can bring us the best life lessons.

Portfolio Project, with a due date.

I personally started preparing my rails portfolio project two weeks earlier than Flatiron intended. Wanting to execute each project requirement efficiently, as well as adding in a few personal learning opportunities, I knew extra time was needed. Two weeks of solid planning and expounding on the requirements would allow the planned two-weeks completely for coding. I was excited about this four-week adventure. Ready to take on this next challenge and put my learning to the test.

I dedicated the evenings and weekends to finessing my project concept, drawing entity relationship diagrams, writing user stories, creating color schemes, wireframing, and generally planning the order to code things. I did as much planning as I possibly could. My project was blossoming into a significant concept. Still, one easily achieved with the level of preparation I had done over the past two weeks.

Then life happened.

Monday early-morning of project week one, we learned the persistent cough that my 2.5-year-old daughter had over the past few days was, in fact, RSV. At first, it seemed we could weather this virus with the steroids prescribed. However, as someone with a compromised immune system, this was directly putting myself in harm's way.

Within just 24 hours, it was evident that both myself and my husband have contracted RSV. We would be enduring the two-week life-cycle while caring for a very ill toddler. To say all life stopped for a solid week would be an understatement. My daughter and I were both very sick. Too fatigued to rise before 9 am. Too fatigued to dress for the day before noon. And so very tired of coughing and blowing our noses. We were at the mercy of friends and family to get us groceries, dinners, and medicines. Neither my husband or I was well enough to prepare anything other than basic meals. We all were a hot mess.

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Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

My daughter did not return to her usual self until the Monday of project week two. My husband and I were both on the mend, but only 75% back to our typical.

At this point, I've spent 50% of the planned coding period recuperating and tending to my sick daughter. Both valid, and more important uses of my time, in the grand scheme of things.

But what about that project and project deadline?

Things Changed. A lot.

Monday of project week two, I was forced to reevaluate my project concept. I had to drastically simplify to meet the deadline, but I felt it was completely doable. I had a week left where all the planning was already done. I was optimistic.

Maybe too optimistic.

Narrator: Sara would soon learn she was unrealistically optimistic and her nasal decongestants were clouding her ability to make sound decisions.

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Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

Wednesday, Wednesday, WEDNESDAY!

By Wednesday morning, it was apparent I was riding a sinking ship of a project. The complexity that existed in my already-simplified concept would not be possible in the remaining time frame. Consequently, at Noon on Wednesday project week two, I accepted the fact that I was very likely to miss the deadline and be forced to repeat the rails section.

I cried. Not because I was failing but rather because I was relieving myself of the stress and weight of the project deadline. Because I could now begin the project again without the pressure of a looming deadline. If I made it, GREAT. If I missed it, it didn't matter. I had already accepted that as a genuine possibility.

Begin again.

So I began again. But this time with a straightforward project concept that I planned to execute well. I didn't care about the deadline being four and a half days away. It no longer mattered to me. It was just a date.

Twenty-four hours later and I had my project as far along as my previous iteration was after four days. Wow.

By Friday morning, I was 80% complete with the project requirements and had a shimmer of hope that I might make the deadline. I also, finally, felt back to myself after almost two weeks of being sick.

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Photo by Inês Pimentel on Unsplash

I'm not a Unicorn, so how did I manage to make so much progress?!?

One word, planning.

All the planning I did before the project set me up for success. I was able to lean on that planning and repurpose it for my new project concept. Without it, I undoubtedly wouldn't have produced much of anything in the time frame I had.

One phrase, Allow yourself to see that "failure" is not always failure.

I was very sick. My daughter was very sick. My husband was very sick. We each were very contagious. These are just the facts.

As viruses go, this simply had to run its course. There was absolutely nothing I could have done to overcome these things. So recognizing I would most likely "fail" was not a failure for me. This revelation was quite liberating.

Final Thoughts

Each portfolio project for Flatiron requires a student to write a blog article about the project and process. For this article, I wanted to highlight the process alone. Not that my project was lackluster, but instead, my personal growth occurred more due to the process itself than the actual project created.

I cannot overstate how vital planning was to my project and my overall success.

Two weeks may seem like an adequate amount of time to plan and implement your project concept, however, those two weeks give zero allowance for any hiccups that life may throw your way.

Simply put, planning saved me. I made the deadline. I created something that I'm proud of and ticked off all the project requirements. I consider it a win. However, I believe the personal growth that occurred as things entirely and totally fell apart the highlight of the whole project. This is a lesson I will not forget.

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