My story is a success story of a kind — the kind that involves redefining success. For me, that makes it worth telling.
Let’s start from (almost) the beginning.
I’m in my early twenties. I’ve already completed a Bachelor’s degree in Interior Architecture and have just embarked on a Master’s in Fine Art.
Things look good — great, even — from the outside. But I have an insiders perspective; and trust me, it’s turmoil down here.
I’m suffering from severe depression. I’ve just been diagnosed with ADD.
And I’m in therapy –but I don’t feel any closer to figuring out what’s going on in my head.
Things get harder.
I drop out of my Master’s. Clueless about my next move, I pick up a guitar and start writing poems.
Creating something — anything — is the only way to temporarily ward off the existential dread I’m experiencing.
Losing my freedom
I feel like things can’t get any worse, but then they do. Life has a funny way of proving you wrong like that.
You see, where I’m from, everyone has to do mandatory military duty: and now it’s my turn. Leaving everything and everyone I know behind, I’m stripped of my freedom completely.
From the black and tangled place I’m in, this loss hits me harder than I could ever have imagined.
Before I leave, my therapist passes on a tattered paperback for me to read. It’s called ‘Man’s search for meaning,’ by Viktor E Frankl.
Alone in my bunkbed at night, I begin to read.
The book delves into Frankl’s terrible memories of his time in concentration camps. At the peak of his hardship, he realizes that even when a person loses everything, they are still capable of finding meaning, love, and joy in the most ordinary of things.
In the darkest of places, tiny cracks will appear to let the light in. “Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation.” I see myself in Frankl, and his words give me hope.
My service finishes and I tumble back to square one: no education, relationship or job.
Sometimes, I join my father in his hairdressing salon, playing the guitar and talking to customers.
One day, I meet a woman who I’ll never forget. She’s in her late forties and softly-spoken. She tells me a story.
While studying to become an oncology consultant, she’d fallen in deeply love and gotten married. Soon after, her partner was diagnosed with cancer and eventually, he died. Yet she never regretted, not even for a second, their shared life together — even though their romance was brief and heartbreaking. Her parting words to me? “Don’t wait for life to happen — we have so little time to do what we want with who we want.”
A new chapter begins
Meanwhile, my depression is escalating.
I’m on the verge of a breakdown when my older brother, Serkan, comes to Turkey for a visit. I don’t know it yet, but a new chapter of my life is about to begin.
First, a bit of background information: Serkan was the first employee at JotForm. He loves his life there and feels able to develop himself personally and professionally thanks to the company’s nurturing culture.
Without telling me, Serkan emails Aytekin and tells him I’m looking for a job — would Aytekin perhaps be interested in speaking to me?
An interview is arranged. Excited? I’m terrified.
Battling my mental illness feels like a full-time job already — one that never lets me go home at the end of the day.
But my gut tells me I should go, and for once, I decide to trust it. And to my great surprise, the interview goes well. Aytekin says I can start on the customer support team and potentially move to a different department in the future.
Becoming a JotFormer
So. I’m at the grand old age of 27 and about to start my first 9–5 job.
Life for me has been a wildly-unpredictable rollercoaster so far, and I have no idea whether this next move is going to take me to the skies or throw me off the ride altogether.
I don’t have much trust in myself — but luckily, Aytekin does. Seeing something in me that I don’t, he gives me a range of responsibilities to take on.
As a total introvert, my natural instinct is to shy away from my new colleagues. Aytekin’s tactic? Making me the team photographer for events. After that, the ice begins to chip, to break, to melt. The sun comes out. I begin to make friends.
It’s a lot for me to take on, and I often feel like giving up. But when this happens, my teammates nudge me to get back on my feet, and to my surprise, I do.
I begin to realize that life’s path is rocky for everyone; in my case, crushing boulders and deathly cliff-drops have been thrown in for good measure.
But it’s the way in which I approach these obstacles that matters. I can’t keep staying down when they trip me up.
As I’m starting to believe in myself more, I begin to have doubts about something else: my future as a UX/UI designer. Despite having seven years of formal design education under my belt, something feels off.
Once again, I decide to trust my judgment. Turning my back on my training, I pivot in a different direction.
I’m going to become a web developer.
Learning to forget
I want to learn from the ground up. Let go of the habits that have been holding me back for so long.
I need to start from scratch.
I develop a routine. During the day, I go into JotForm and complete my customer service shift. When it’s over, I go home and teach myself to code until my eyes are itchy with tiredness.
It felt good — cathartic, even — to delete everything I think I know about myself and reboot. Like putting on freshly-washed clothes after a long night in the rain.
And despite all the 3am finishes and 7am mornings, I’ve never felt more alive, more alert, more focused.
It reminds me of those nights back in the military and the words of Frankl: he believed that human nature is motivated by the search for a life’s purpose:
“Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.”
When someone finds what truly matters to them, they dedicate themselves to it with every fiber of their being.
Finally, I understand what he means.
I keep coding, keep learning, keep my head above water. My brother, the JotForm team, my friends and family are impressed with the progress I make.
One day, Aytekin asks me if I want to join one of the cross-functional teams as an assistant web developer?
And I say yes, actually.
I do. But something inside of me didn’t feel right.
Remembering back the purposefully forgotten
During this process, it felt surprisingly affordable when I took on the decision to cut every single meaningful thing from my life with an awful ignorance.
From the outside, everything looked like it was smooth sailing, but my therapy sessions were not supportive of this false reality that I built up.
My therapist was not happy with the way that I’d cut out the meaningful parts of my life just to get my career on the right path.
I remember leaving her office after the session and picking up the telephone to call my best friend, Barış, whom I didn’t call for 6 months. We met up and I listened to him telling me how he needed to talk while he was going through some personal issues. But I’d been unresponsive — miles away in my own world.
I trembled with shame and sadness for not being there for him when he needed me the most. In any case, this was not my first offense on getting caught up with an alternative reality and forget about my friends and him.
I’d had to take a step back and balance my life again before the situation got out of hand. . . .
Finding balance in life
Throughout my struggles with depression, I’ve come to develop some coping mechanisms. My obsessive desire to create was not one of them and surely not a healthy one that can bring balance into one’s life.
Listen. I began to read about Buddhist philosophy. In a nutshell, you are not here for yourself. You exist with the nature of things as long as you are showing compassion to other’s pain and suffering and lending a helping hand.
Meditate. This way of existing is not sustainable if you do not take step back and reflect on yourself. Just as easy as abc, sit down, close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Rest your mind in the river of your thoughts.
Share. Create to share and share to create. I found peace in composing melodies on my guitar and scribbling down poetry. Beware of delving into only your own problems and try to reflect your surrounding as much as you can. Be the voice for the ones that do not have the chance.
Space for all of that. Find or create a space to be alone with yourself. Know the difference between solitude and loneliness. Choose solitude to put in to practice all of the mentioned above.
Easier said than done one might say. I found these methods life saving while going through my darkest times. But as a side note, I think the hardship of living with ADD is that you are prone to forget the things that helped you dearly.
This article is a reminder to me and I hope to you too, the reader. . . .
I took the first subway to the office through the gloomy winter weather of Ankara.
It’s cold as it gets on these days, but the team somehow makes each day enjoyable as we all go about our ways during our time at the office.
When I first thought about writing this article it was planned somehow as a success story in my mind, and I guess it kind of is, but sometimes it feels like, yes I became a developer in a time period less than a year, but at what cost?
As I write these lines I’m on the last bus on the line to go home and say it a night while thinking about the dark turn this article has gone through.
As a follow-through to this article, I should probably write about how did I make this self progression into a real career. The other weekend I was with Barış and shared him a draft of this article. We talked about our lives and enjoyed my time while we shared our ideas on the topic of on making a life plan that is tolerable by the way and it is enjoyable in the end. . . .