Technically Optimistic

A year of changes

December 31, 2018

I turned 30 on Saturday. Lauren surprised me by bringing our families together - my parents, her parents, my sister and brother-in-law, to celebrate that I’ve made it to 30 years.

It was a calm and peaceful mid-morning celebration; Lauren had tried for months to orchestrate a more momentous event, but from my perspective, we’ve had plenty of momentous events recently in our lives.

This year has been one of the most turubulent and change-filled years of my life.

That’s saying a lot for a kid who grew up in a military family. We used to move once every four years or so, and staying longer in one place always made me feel unsettled, like I needed to change everything because that was the rhythm. Like some kind of instinctual migration.

This year, Lauren and I have experienced massive changes; I’ll detail the big ones here.

Phases of 2018

January - February

The beginning of this year was one of the most difficult periods of health anxiety I’ve ever experienced in my life. There were times where I felt like the whole world was falling apart. Part of my brain was convinced that I would never get a chance to talk to my son, because I was destined to die before he was old enough to hold a conversation. This took a major toll on my mental health, and I felt more depressed than I had in a long time. Around this time, I started therapy.

In the midst of my mental battle, Lauren’s father, Ken Ritchie, was continuing his fight against heart disease that began the previous year with a stint procedure. During a full-torso scan to determine if he would be eligible for a new experimental valve replacement, a mass was detected on his pancreas. I remembered just how grim the outlook is for pancreatic cancer patients, knowing that this meant a long year ahead, and went into comfort/support mode (despite still struggling with my own anxiety).

March

Over the course of the next month, we decided to move from our beautiful small home in downtown Chattanooga to a larger home in Ooltewah, a bit out of town. We knew we wanted to have a larger home eventually, and decided now was the right time.

On the day we went to close on our old home, we found out that Lauren’s father’s pancreatic cancer was in fact a neuroendocrine tumor. Long story short, the chances of having this type of pancreatic cancer was a 1-in-20, and as it turns out it has an excellent survival rate.

We closed on our old house, but the new house had some strange code complications so we were displaced into a hotel for a week or so. Towards the end of the stay, we got a call from Lauren’s parents in the middle of the night; her father had been rushed to the hospital. During the biopsy of his pancreas, they nicked an artery, causing an embolism. Lauren, Liam, and I got in the car and rushed to Atlanta, not knowing if we would see Lauren’s father before it was too late.

We did arrive in time, and in fact Lauren’s father pulled through this terrifying event. (I’ll spare the specific details here.) The next day, we finally closed on our home in Ooltewah.

April

We spent Lauren’s 32nd birthday here at our home. We got a projector for our media room and watched Planet Earth.

My sister, Janna, became Liam’s Nanny. This was a very special period of time that she and we cherish closely, and I’m so thankful for the circumstances that allowed this to happen for a while.

May

Lauren’s father had heart surgery to replace his valve. Yet another complication occurred, resulting in another internal bleed - and yet again, Lauren’s father pulled through this event. Our son Liam was accepted into his school, Brown Academy in downtown Chattanooga, this same week.

Around this time, I also started to feel like my work at Whiteboard wasn’t the right fit for me any more. There were a list of issues, many of them quite common, some of them the result of personal changes. I didn’t act on this feeling yet, knowing that my life was already throwing plenty of change at me, so I held on.

June

Lauren and I celebrated our 5-year anniversary. We had a wonderful time together in Chattanooga. Liam also turned 1 year old in June. We had a wonderfully normal 1-year-old birthday party at our home here in Ooltewah, and for a month or so we were able to relax and enjoy the summer warmth in Chattanooga.

However, for both Lauren and I, we had a growing sense that we needed to shift our careers.

July

In the first few days of July, Lauren’s father underwent the Whipple procedure. This is one of the most intense major surgeries that a person can have, removing a significant portion of the pancreas. His surgery went without complication. Lauren and I spent the 4th of July in a hotel room in Decatur, Georgia with Liam, watching fireworks on TV and flashes out the window, extremely grateful and quite tired.

Around mid-July, I finally made the ultimate decision to leave Whiteboard. I received an offer from Clearbit, and accepted the offer. This was a massive shift in my life, which I will write about in other posts for the sake of brevity and focus; however, this was a pivotal moment in my career.

We took our first true family vacation in the last week of July. I flew our family to Hilton Head, where we spent the week decompressing.

On July 25th, Lauren’s father was declared free of cancer! This was somewhat of a bookend to a nearly year-long battle that we fought together as a family. Amazing and unexpected things happen, and we are grateful for our fortunate circumstances.

August

In mid-August, I started my new position at Clearbit, spending a week in San Francisco. Lauren by this point had decided to move on from her position at Whiteboard, and began pursuing a position with Soundstripe as their first Agile Project Manager. I had the opportunity to fly her to Nashville for her interview, and the next day, August 15th, she received and accepted an offer.

The day I returned home from San Francisco, Liam took his first steps! It was a memorable moment and a celebratory note amongst a difficult period in our lives together.

September

In September, we had a chance to visit my parents in Dothan. Understandably, we hadn’t gone to Dothan very much this year, considering how often we needed to be in Atlanta to support Lauren’s family.

Mid-September, Lauren fought off a stomach flu for about a week. We both settled into our new jobs, learning how to work with new people, new expectations, and entirely new business domains.

October

In October, a bucket-list item was checked off for me; I flew my family out to Albuquerque, New Mexico in our Cessna 182. This was a belated anniversary celebration; Lauren and I were engaged in Albuquerque, and I was born there. This was a very meaningful trip for us, and one I hope to repeat in the future.

To continue our medical saga, at the very tail-end of our Albuquerque trip, Lauren’s eye became infected. She was diagnosed with a corneal ulcer. This is something that can legitimately leave you with compromised vision, but luckily she was treated and recovered her vision to its pre-ulcer status.

November

In November, we tried putting Liam into a school closer to our home in Ooltewah. This didn’t go very well to say the least, and ultimately we decided to take him back to his original school. We learned a lot in the process, especially about our parental instincts.

Lauren was promoted in November to Director of Product at Soundstripe. This was a huge vote of confidence in her abilities, and I’m incredibly proud of her.

In late November, we also found out that we’ll be adding #4 to our family of three. We’ll be seeing the next Cutrell baby in late July or early August 2019!

December

In early December, Clearbit opened our brand new Chattanooga office. There are 6 of us Clearbit-ers in Chattanooga, and this office is an absolutely beautiful place to work. Once again, reminded of how incredibly grateful I am for the circumstances I’ve been afforded.

I turned thirty on Saturday. This seems like a footnote to the incredibly impactful things that have happened this year, but I am remembering to take each moment in. To not forget what’s happening in small moments, and to love myself and others every day.

Things I didn’t mention…

This didn’t cover every single major event, by any means. But we’ve been offered a year of massive change in 2018. For example, this was Developer Tea’s most successful year since I started the podcast. Brian, Bryn, and Max had a huge moment of success when GitHub acquired Spectrum. So much can happen, and become eclipsed by the rest of life.

As my wife and I recounted this long list of events, we surprised ourselves with just how much has happened this year. It’s amazing how fast life can happen around you. Take time to notice it.

Takeaway Lessons

I’ve learned so much from this year. Some quick takeaways:

  • Don’t get ahead of yourself. Take things in stride; you can’t predict what will happen in your life next.
  • Humans are engineered and evolved to be survivors first. We adapt, we shift, we learn. Do this constantly, not only when it is required; remain flexible.
  • Serious days don’t prohibit happy moments. In the midst of difficulty, seek levity. No one is rewarded for how serious they are.
  • Your work should not be limited by your employer. Changing jobs is normal, even if it feels difficult. Don’t be rash with your decision, but remember that your career affects you more than any other person, and you have to be responsible for that.
  • The line between sanity and instability is thin. Don’t count yourself out on this; your mental health is likely more fragile than you think. Breathe deep, drink water, eat right, take walks. Give yourself time to simply exist, to be a human.

If you’re reading this, I probably have a good reason to thank you. Whether you listen to Developer Tea, or you know me personally, the people around me are due a lot of gratitude. Coming out of 2018, I’m becoming a more grateful person, looking forward to an eventful 2019.


Jonathan Cutrell

Written by Jonathan Cutrell, engineer and podcast host amongst other things. You can follow him on Twitter at @jcutrell.