On connection, community, and “dark matter”

A while ago, I bookmarked an interesting post at The Pastry Box about the idea of ‘dark matter developers’. When I recently stumbled upon it again and re-read it, the following passage stuck out to me:

Apparently 90% of the stuff in the universe is “dark matter”: undetectable, doesn’t interact with other matter, can’t be seen even with a really big telescope. Our “dark matter developers”, who aren’t part of the community, who barely even know that the community exists… how are we to help them?

This particular post is all about web development, which has an extremely vocal and active community that’s constantly innovating and moving the industry forward. However, as the author rightly points out, the loudest community members who are constantly delighting us with new and exciting techniques and projects are actually a very small minority. Though the point of that post was to compare the active community to a large group of sleepy, disengaged 9–5ers who aren’t paying attention, the idea of ‘dark matter’ in communities made me start to branch off on the topic of non-participation in a different way.

I started to think about how we can all be ‘dark matter’ in some situations but active in others. When is it okay to sit back and passively/sporadically consume and when is it better to publicly create and participate? The more I thought about it, the more I realized that, like most things… it depends.

Being ‘dark matter’ is okay sometimes

When you first stumble upon a community that piques your interest, a natural reaction can be to sit back and quietly absorb as much as possible. For example, I read a bunch of interior design and cooking blogs and I’m perfectly happy to sit back and consume that information without adding much to the discussion myself. I don’t feel the need to be seen or heard in these communities because these aren’t really my main passions (though I do like them!), and I have no burning desire to become known as an expert, especially since I’m not one. I just want to learn! I might be known IRL as the person who obsesses over paint colours and cooks a pretty great risotto but that’s about it. I might get into reading about a topic for a while and then drop out of that sphere completely. No big deal.

And on the flip side, it’s nice to remember that there are always people out there silently enjoying what you put out. Even if you don’t always get a ton of likes, comments, or important social metric du jour and you feel as though you’re sometimes talking to air, there are always people out there who are enjoying what you’re putting out there and just aren’t inclined to participate.

But… being invisible doesn’t always feel good

On the other hand, chronically lurking in communities that really excite you can feel lousy. Feeling invisible sucks when you actually do have something substantial to say but are too scared or shy to say it. You’ll find yourself having great ideas that’ll be attributed to other people because they took the step of actually vocalizing it. You’ll find yourself following all sorts of great people in your industry/area of interest, but they’ll have no clue who you are. Maybe you have some great ideas to offer, and no one will ever know if you keep them to yourself. It’s that cliché about a tree falling – I think you know the one.

I’ve had an on-and-off relationship with community participation, to be honest. Sometimes I’m engaged and other times I tend to keep a little quieter, and either can feel right at the time. In general, though, I’ve come to think that if you’re either a) making money from something or b) really passionate about it, you owe it to yourself to put yourself out there and participate in your community — in whatever way and quantity feels best, of course. If you keep all your ideas to yourself, you’re doing a disservice to both yourself (after all, how can people hire you/collaborate with you/tell you you’re awesome if they don’t know what you’re up to?) and to the rest of the community (which will be lacking in your awesomeness).

This doesn’t mean turning yourself into someone that you’re not, because that’s a one way ticket to burnout land. I’m never going to be as loud or out there as some other people are because that’s just how it goes when you’re more on the more introverted side like I am. That’s okay! But regardless of how you connect, reaching out to other people and feeling like part of a community is really important and it’s worth the effort when it’s in an area you really care about.

K, that’s cool, but how do I start?

I’ll probably get into more detail about this in another post because there are so many ways to connect, but here are a few ideas to get you going:

  • Volunteering and teaching. I’ve met tons of amazing people because of mentoring and leading workshops through Ladies Learning Code. If you’re American, I think that Girl Develop It is similar.
  • Meeting people in person! I love me some Internet, but there’s nothing like connecting with someone in real life. Personally I most enjoy meeting up with people one-on-one, but when I want to meet some new people, meetup.com has approximately a zillion ways to do so. For example, if you’re a developer in Toronto, you could check out #DevTO or the Toronto WordPress Meetup Group.
  • Participating in Facebook groups, which are arguably one of Facebook’s only redeeming features these days (sorry, Facebook – it’s true). There are plenty to choose from – some are free to join while others are add-on components to paid e-courses. Some cool groups I belong to of include We Create The Internet and the Freelance to Freedom Project Community.
  • Joining a community of likeminded people. For example, I’m a part of SPARK, a community of designers that’s full of high quality people and interesting conversations.

How do you best like to connect? Or, hey, DO you even like to connect? I’d love to hear what you have to say.

P.S. Speaking of connection and community, the social network I’m most active right now is Instagram. If we’re not friends there yet, let’s change that!

Bubbles & Business

bubblePhoto: Serge Melki / Flickr

A lesson I’ve learned over and over again, both in business and in life, is that most people really don’t care about the particulars of what I do every day.

It’s really easy to forget this. When you hang out mostly with your peers, it’s so easy, not to mention satisfying, to get lost in talking shop. But when you’re active in any community (be it the design community, the online entrepreneur community, or whatever group(s) you feel that you’re a part of), it’s really important to keep in mind that you’re in a bubble and that most of the world doesn’t think like you and doesn’t care about the details that you find really fascinating.

Now, don’t get me wrong; it’s really fun being in a bubble of peers! It’s nice and comfy in that place where most people will agree with your opinions and share your grievances. There’s a lot to be learned from people similar to you, and surrounding yourself with peers can really deepen your knowledge on a given topic. I know that I often learn a ton when I hang out with other designers, developers, and business owners.

But for a lot of us, a large part of our audience exists far outside our bubbles. For business owners especially, people come to us because we have an expertise that they don’t. If people cared about the details that we did, they most likely wouldn’t need our services.

Reminding myself that I’m sometimes living too far inside certain bubbles helps me to remember to communicate the value of what I do to other people who don’t necessarily speak my language. I’ve learned the consequences of not doing this first hand, since I’ve been in conversations where I see people’s eyes glazing over as I talk about my work. So tragic, right? But, really, I have to take some, if not full, responsibility when this happens.

The world belongs to those who know how to frame the importance of their offerings to people outside of their bubbles, and not necessarily to those who are the best at their craft. No, the world’s unfortunately not a pure meritocracy, but when you get communication and skill together… then the magic really happens.

Monthly (slightly tardy) Wallpaper: June

Hey, ladies + gents!

I know it’s been a big quiet around these parts. It’s a rule in blog-land that one must post on a regular basis to stay relevant/remind readers that they’re alive, and I think it really does make a lot of sense in most situations. When I started blogging, I had a plan to post at least once a week, and for a while, I did. And all was peachy.

That, however, was when I had a traditional job. I freelanced on the side here and there, but I did it quite part-time, and when I think about it, I actually had a little more time on my hands back then. Thinking back, one of my big motivators for being self-employed was to have more control over my schedule so I’d be less frazzled and stressed out than I was before.

Well, as you can guess, things didn’t quite work out that way. I did the thing that you’re not supposed to do, and said ‘yes’ to just about every project that came my way. Then, I started learning first-hand that when you’re freelancing full-time, you’re essentially running a small business where you have to do everything yourself, and that running a business takes an incredible amount of time and energy, at least in the beginning when you’re figuring stuff out.

All this is to say that blogging’s been on the backburner. Instead of beating myself up about it, I’m okay with it, even though it means that I’m probably not going to become the most famous blogger in bloggerland. I’m learning that until I create a more manageable schedule for myself (which I’m in the process of doing now!) I need to prioritize, and that client work always comes first. This space’ll be here for me when I’m ready to come back to it on a regular basis, which I’m hoping will be in about a month, so don’t worry. You won’t be without me for too long. (You were worried, right? Right?)

That being said, I’m still doing monthly wallpapers, so enjoy June’s!



Desktop (2560 x 1440) • Tablet (2048 x 2048) • Mobile (640 x 1136)

(They’re sized for a 27″ iMac, a retina iPad, and an iPhone 5, respectively, but they should all work for smaller devices, too.)

Have a lovely weekend!


Hello, my lovely, neglected readers!

Nah, this post isn’t about Mr. Bowie, despite the title. And this isn’t even the right album anyway. Just checking to see if you’re paying attention. ;D

You may have noticed that things are a bit quiet around here. Big changes are happening around these parts, and I’ve inadvertently left you in the dark for much too long.

Here’s a brief overview of what’s been eating my time and thoughts for the last few weeks and making me run around like a headless chicken:

Thing 1: I quit my dream job to work for myself

Whoa! This is the big one, and it’s only just finally sunk into my brain as something that’s really happening.

About a month ago, I made one of the hardest choices, if not the hardest choice, of my entire career when I decided to leave my awesome job as a front end developer at Jet Cooper to start my own tiny business and work for myself full time. When I say I left my dream job, I mean it. I’m a huge fan of the company and every single one of my coworkers, and I learned a shitload (pretty sure that’s the scientific term) about being a great front-end developer over the past year and a bit.

So then, you might be wondering, why did I decide to leave?

The first answer is because running my own solo business is something I’ve always dreamed of doing, and this feels like exactly the right time to give it 100% of my attention and effort. I’m really excited to jump into figuring out exactly the kind of work makes me tick, the type of clients I like working with, and the values and principles that will inform my decisions. I’m also super excited to be taking on more design and strategy work in addition to front-end development, because despite really loving The Codes, I’m not the kind of person who ultimately enjoys being a hyper-specialist. I know, I know, there’s that common wisdom that people who spread themselves too thin end up not truly being good at any of the things they do, but I think that the “too thin” threshold varies wildly from person to person, and I’m pretty confident that I’m nowhere near that line.

The second answer is simply that I need to take better care of myself than I am right now. It’s not glamorous, but it’s true. Being chronically exhausted and unwell is, unsurprisingly, not super fun (o rly?), and I’m of the firm belief that people do their best work when they’re happy and healthy. So, time to make that shiz a top priority.

Thing 2: Oops, I took on too much work already

So, I decided to work for myself because I want some freedom, control, and flexibility in terms of how much I work and what kind of work I do, so I can prioritize my wellbeing… right? Well, somehow, I kind of forgot about that and have booked myself solid for the past few weeks (while still working full time, I might add), AND going forward into March when I’ll be starting on my own full-time. Oops? Admittedly, it’s a pretty good problem to have (hey, people like me! they really like me!), but it means that blogging has totally taken a back seat. And that’s too bad, because I like writing here. So, I’ll be sorting out my schedule soon and making sure I set aside time for writing. Speaking of which…

Thing 3: Adios, Reverie Time!

Don’t worry, I’m not shutting my blog down. I am, however, going to be amalgamating it with my main portfolio site, because it’s way easier to maintain and promote one site, one name, and one brand instead of two. The good news is that if you’re subscribed to this site, you won’t have to do anything when I change over to the new location, ’cause I’ll use my mad skillz and redirect you without you even knowing it. Magic!

In conclusion…

Stay tuned, because I’ll be back in action soon with lots of new, shiny blog posts (and, of course, March’s wallpaper). Thanks for your patience with my silence, and for following along!

Being ‘unique’ is overrated, anyway

I used to think that my “unique” hobbies made me a bit of a special snowflake.

It’s laughable now, but when I was in high school, I was one of the only people I knew who owned a camera. It was a clunky 3-megapixel point-and-shoot that’s of course entirely obsolete today, but I loved that thing like you wouldn’t believe. That Canon A70 and I had a special bond; we understood each other. I was really proud of the fact that I’d bought it with my own money, and even prouder that I also knew how to use Photoshop enough to edit my photos.

I loved taking and editing photos, but I also secretly liked knowing that I had an interest in and an aptitude for something that most people my age didn’t really care much about at the time. I also felt similarly about knowing HTML. Let me tell you, 10-15 years ago, knowing how to code wasn’t at all cool, trendy, or even on most people’s radars (especially, let’s be honest, if you were a girl). So, regardless of how good I actually was, I could feel pretty proud of myself for exploring all of this “uncharted territory” (as I felt it was at the time).

Now, let’s fast forward to today. Not only does almost everyone have a camera in their phone, but apps like Instagram have become ubiquitous. Taking stylized photos is now something that everybody does. Digital SLRs are probably now owned by more new parents and pet owners than by professional photographers. Graphic design, which similarly used to be the domain of a small group of specialists, has also risen to prominence in popular culture in a similar way. In the age of Pantone accessories and Pinterest boards, it’s easy to argue that our culture cares more about design (at least on a very surface level) than ever before.

I took this picture with Instagram. So meta.

So how did I feel when I realized that I wasn’t such a special snowflake anymore? I’ll be honest – I was slightly annoyed at first. Now, the very things that I thought made me unique turned out not to be so unique after all. I had to examine my relationship with my skills and interests to see what I really wanted to get out of them. In time, I’ve come to realize a couple of things:

  • When you’re genuinely into something, it shouldn’t really matter how many other people share your interest. It’s kind of like when someone obnoxiously stops listening to a band they claimed to love the instant that band becomes popular. I mean, really. Did they ever actually like the music? The same goes for a niche interest that suddenly explodes. If you truly like what you’re doing, popularity or lack thereof shouldn’t make a huge difference. It will probably make some difference, honestly, but if it totally puts you off, maybe it’s a sign that you weren’t so into it in the first place.
  • Now that your formerly obscure pastime has been taken over by just about everybody, just showing up isn’t enough. Now, you actually have to be good to be recognized as an expert (or, really, as someone who’s even proficient) in your field. Feeling like an expert requires a lot more effort than it used to, especially when you have a whole Internet of people to compare yourself to. This can be both motivating and overwhelming. On good days, I settle on realizing that I’ll likely never be the best person in the world at anything, but letting all the talented people in the world motivate me to do better and better.

Interests, pastimes, and professions are a lot deeper than they first appear. Most people, myself obviously included, do things for a variety of reasons. We don’t just choose our hobbies for how they make us feel, but also for how they make us look. We don’t live in a vacuum, and a lot of our choices are dictated by how we think we’ll be perceived by others in the context of our culture and peer groups. The bitterness that some people feel when their previously obscure interest becomes popular really highlights this. I’m not judging that bitterness too harshly, since I think it’s a natural (human, imperfect) reaction. This kind of discomfort can actually be really interesting, since it shines light on our motivations, which usually sit, unnoticed, under the surface.