the long-awaited sugarlaws redesign

March 2nd, 2018 · 5 Comments

Ok, bear with me, because there’s quite a bit of a story here.

Remember how two years ago I told you that I was rolling out a new version of this site? Well… here’s what happened.

At the time, I’d hired a designer and was all set to do a full revamp of this blog. There was just one thing that was standing in my way: I had no idea what I wanted it to look like. I wanted it to be more streamlined than what I had before, but that was about as far as my thought process had gotten. I was also smack-dab in the middle of having a one-year-old and starting my law practice, so I had exactly zero minutes ever to think about this blog and what I wanted it to look like.

Can you imagine what I got back from the designer with this top-notch guidance? Yes, probably you can. I got a design that was not very good, not what I wanted, and not something I was ready to implement on the site. I blame myself for this mostly — and it pretty much ground the entire redesign to a halt.

So, what did I do?

I did what any extremely Type A, somewhat-computer-proficient website owner might do. I decided that I could do it myself. Rather than trying to (1) figure out what I wanted, and (2) communicate it to someone who could execute it, I decided to just scrap the idea of a designer and do the whole thing on my own.

This was only slightly less ridiculous than it probably sounds. I’d always customized all the back-end code on Sugarlaws myself. I primarily use WordPress to maintain this blog, which lets me integrate a lot of third-party software with pretty minimal work on my end, but the actual code behind the site design is based off a theme I started using in 2011 and customized on my own from that day on.  So it didn’t seem totally impossible for me to do this project myself. 

As a quick refresher, here’s what the site looked like before I dug in:

… not actually that bad, right? Sure, it’s maybe a little DIY, but overall it’s a pretty cute blog layout. So, I thought to myself, since I’ve gotten it this far, I can take it a bit further, right?

Wrong.

Oh, so very wrong.

What happened next? I proceeded to break the entire site, in a way that I couldn’t even begin to fix. I created a new header that looked terrible, and also didn’t work as a functioning link to the homepage. I removed all the navigation on the site, so the only way to see older posts was to scroll one by one through every single page I had ever posted to this site. I so thoroughly broke the column layout that the post box on the page overlapped with the Press box in the sidebar… and so on.

Worst of all, because I didn’t actually know what I as doing, I couldn’t figure out how I’d broken any of these things in the first place, so I couldn’t fix them.

Let’s have a quick look at what the site looked like when I was done, shall we?

“Aw, Katy,” you’re thinking. “It’s not so bad. You’re being too hard on yourself.”

Here’s what a category page looked like (which, I remind you, was the only remaining way to navigate around the site):

Sure glad I didn’t go with a professional designer, huh?

See that messy overlap? Removing one line of PHP code would fix it. Unfortunately, despite having set out to do the coding myself, I didn’t know which line it was or where I could find it.

This was primarily because I didn’t understand PHP.

Which is kind of like saying, “I’m really having trouble parallel parking, mainly because I don’t know how to drive.”  Or, “I’m having trouble composing a sonnet in French because the only language I speak is Mandarin.”

So I was stuck. I could have gone back to the drawing board with a new designer and tried again. But that wouldn’t have solved the big issue of not knowing what I wanted and not trusting that anyone except me could execute it.

The fact is, for me to fix what I’d broken, I realized that I had to better understand how the code I was messing with actually worked. I couldn’t just make random tweaks to files, cross my fingers, and hope that what showed up was what I wanted to create. I had to actually understand what was going on under the hood of this website to un-break what I’d broken.

To fix that one line of PHP, I had to understand every file that the website pulls its content from, how they all fit together, and how to purposefully change them to get where I wanted.

And, you know what? When I really thought about it, I wanted to learn that way more than I wanted to fix this site.

Yes, learning programming is not the easiest way to redesign a blog.  It is, undoubtedly, the absolute hardest way to redesign a blog.

But my goal wasn’t exactly to fix this site — it was to learn enough that I could fix this site.

And over the next two years, that’s what I did. It took a ton of my time — time which isn’t easy to come by, with a baby and a full-time career. But I learned, little by little, the pieces of actual programming that I needed for this site, and some that I didn’t even need here. It was incredibly hard at first — some days, it still is. But, little by little, I’m getting there.

It’s helped a lot that I’ve transitioned from practicing law to a management role with a technology company.  (Surprise!  More on that later.) Obviously, that’s huge in terms of support, usefulness, and the ability to practice some of the skills I’m learning in real time. But this has been an interest of mine since the earliest days of this blog (my very first post was me complaining about pulling my hair out after a weekend of messing with HTML – awww!) and I’m really excited about how far I’ve come in the meantime. I’m sure I’ll find myself writing more about this as the months go by, but I thought the site redesign would be a fun way to introduce you guys to this new interest of mine.

And that site redesign?

Two years later, when I finally turned to it, do you know how long it took me to do the entire redesign all by myself?

One afternoon.

It took a single day to fix everything that I’d broken, and to open up the content in a way that would be more user-friendly and well-designed. I’m not done yet (of course not), but I’m at the level now where if something is broken, I can fix it myself.  Which was where I always wanted to get — even if it took me years to get there.

And when I took my new design live at the end of that afternoon, I was (and am) incredibly proud of how it turned out, and of all the work I put in to get here.

So, here’s what I’m promising you guys from here on out. I want you to read my posts — they’ll always be a focus of this blog. But I also want you to pay attention to the site itself, because another big part of my focus here is using this site as my new sandbox for programming as I learn it.  If you’re reading this through a feed or on social media, check back to the site itself every once in a while to see what I’ve added.  I always knew I wanted this site to evolve, I just wasn’t sure how, and now I think I have it. Hopefully you guys will learn a little bit along with me as we move forward from here!

Last but not least, I want to leave you guys with one last screenshot to show how far I’ve come.  Here’s what Sugarlaws looked like when I first launched the site, with the code that I spent a weekend pulling my hair out over in late 2007.  Some of you guys might even remember this!  We’ve come a long way over the last decade, and I, for one, am really excited to see what’s next.

Tags: work

the more things change…

September 25th, 2015 · 32 Comments

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A few weeks ago, Chad and I were getting rid of a bunch of our old iPhones, and in the process, I stumbled on some photos from a few years ago that I hadn’t seen in a while.  (This one became a #fbf on Instagram, and both Chad and I get a little teary seeing snaps of our sweet dog Calvin, who passed away last year, back when he was healthy.)

And that photo above?  That’s me, in 2013.  It was taken a few weeks before I got pregnant, and in a lot of ways (although I didn’t realize it then), that photo is the “before” to everything that came after. 

In the month after this photo was taken, my whole life changed.  Right around this time, I quit my law firm job to start my own practice.  Two weeks later, I found out that I was pregnant.  I was thrilled and excited about both, but together?  At the same time?  I was blindsided by confusion and uncertainty.  I questioned my decision to quit a job with paid maternity leave (a benefit that far too few women in this country receive) almost every day.  We had a mortgage and a baby on the way, and I’d just taken a stable, well-paid job and tossed it out the window. 

If I had known that I was about to get pregnant, I probably would have talked myself out of taking that leap.  The fear of losing a stable income with a newborn would have been too much.  I would have stayed put, on the track that I was on. 

In a lot of ways, the last few years would have been easier if I’d done that.  But I would have missed out on so much.  All of the excitement and challenge of building my career in the last few years.  All the skills and experience that I’ve gained, but would have been too afraid to reach for.  I would have taken the safer choice, a choice that I thought would have been for the benefit of our son.  But, you know what?  Taking that risk turned out to be the best decision I’ve ever made. 

Every once in a while, in life, you’re lucky enough to see life changes coming from a mile away.  Most of the time, though, they sneak up on you and hit you out of nowhere.  Only afterwards can you look back and realize that everything suddenly changed. 

And that’s what I see when I look at that photo. 

A girl who was just on the edge of something, with no idea what. 

Tags: life · work

career: find something challenging that matters.

May 7th, 2015 · 29 Comments

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A few weeks ago, after I wrote this post, I got an email from a reader asking me to write about a different career topic, one that really resonated with me.  She asked if I had any advice for tackling those mid-career moments when you struggle with motivation and direction:

Hi Katy,

I’m a longtime reader (I found your blog via Ramshackleglam years ago!) and loved your recent post on wearing red for a confidence boost; I was wondering if you had any further advice that have helped you with your career or still follow to this day.  I’m not in the legal world but I would love to hear any tips you have on how to navigate a demanding job without losing motivation or feeling overwhelmed by everything.  Or even how you managed your time to successfully run a blog and write three books on top of being a lawyer!

My first year in my current role was fantastic as I had so much to learn, but now that I can navigate things easily I’m not sure how best to hone other ‘professional’ skills, or even show my managers I am ready to work at a higher level.  So this was just in case you had been thinking about writing more work-related posts – yes please! 🙂

I thought about this a lot, and get ready, pour some coffee, because, man, I have a lot to say.

In some ways, it’s easier to be relatively junior in many fields.  Sure, the hours are long, but in most jobs, for the first years, someone tells you what to do.

Sure, there’s a reason for that: you don’t have the training and experience to know exactly how to do everything, yet.  So your job (even in a very challenging career) initially is more task-oriented.  The downside is that you’r often working really hard, long hours, but the upside is that you have a pretty good sense of what’s on your plate at any given moment. 

But here’s the thing no one tells you: that changes.  If you stick with it for a while, suddenly you’re not the one taking orders anymore.  You’re giving them. 

That’s a little terrifying.

And it’s also completely amazing. 

Here’s the thing: it’s a scary thing to be in charge.  But at the same time, being in charge means that, suddenly, your work feels incredibly important.  For me, it marked the moment when my job became a career.  It was when my work stopped feeling like work and started feeling like a vital, integral part of my life. 

And you know what?  It wasn’t the moment that I started my own practice.  It would be easy if it were; that’s a clean story.  “All I had to do was start my own business, and then I was the boss and everyone lived happily ever after, the end.” But that’s not the real answer. 

The real answer is: it happened at moments, off and on, at different points in my career. 

Here’s one example.  When I was about three years out of law school, I worked on a case that exploded from a relatively small, discrete project into almost a year of non-stop work with dozens of people tackling different parts of it.  I was a third year associate, and found myself suddenly managing a team of a dozen other associates who were only one or two years junior to me.  This wasn’t because I’m an exceptionally good lawyer, although I’d like to think that was part of it.  It was partly luck, and it was partly because I’d worked really hard at the beginning of the case to make myself indispensable to the partners who were in charge of the case, and they’d decided I could do it.

Overnight, my role was flipped.  Usually, as a junior person, you’re the one asking all the questions.  But suddenly, I was the one answering them.  I was saying “yes” and “no” and deciding what got passed along to the partners at my firm and the client, who were trusting me to manage the small stuff myself and know when to consult them on the big stuff.  It was terrifying, and it was really, really cool. 

And I felt like what I was doing was important.  People were depending on me.  I’d check my blackberry at 3 a.m. not because I was scared that I’d get into trouble if I didn’t, but because I felt like my input mattered to the work we were doing. 

But.  You know there was going to be a ‘but’, right?

That moment didn’t last forever.  A year later, that case had ended, and I was still working long, hard hours, I wasn’t as excited about them as I’d been before.  I didn’t want to spend five more years getting back into that same leadership role that I’d stumbled into by accident.  I loved the people I worked with, and I still had the same job, same title, and yet something had changed.  It was the kind of high-stakes, demanding job that required you to give 100%, 24/7.  And there’s no way to do that if your heart isn’t there.  There just isn’t.

People sometimes hear that you should love your job, and they think it means that work should be all fun, all the time.  “I love windsurfing and I’m supposed to love my job, so I guess I’m meant to be a professional windsurfer!  Whee!

But the best job isn’t going to be fun all the time.  It’s going to be hard and challenging and sometimes require effort you don’t feel like you have.  You’re going to beat your fists against walls and feel like you have no idea how to get from where you are to where you want to be.  Those are really hard moments. 

So where do you go from there?  How do you figure out when you’re in that moment, and what you can do to change it?

When this reader wrote to me, she asked about finding career motivation and feeling overwhelmed.  But those are two completely separate things.

I feel overwhelmed all the time.  I have a career and a family and a house and two dogs and this blog.  Some days, that’s a little overwhelming.  I think it’s ok to feel overwhelmed sometimes.  And I think it’s ok to admit it. 

But the motivation side isn’t a question: it’s the answer.  I have a very demanding job.  But my career motivation doesn’t stem from winning and losing, or from the excitement of going to court, or the adrenaline of negotiation.  Some of that is part of it.  But what motivates me are two things. 

My work is challenging and I think what I do is important. 

That’s it.  That’s the secret to loving your job.  I can give it to you in five words.

Find something challenging that matters.

It doesn’t bother me that the work is difficult; I like hard work.  But that work has to matter.  It doesn’t have to matter to anyone else.  It doesn’t have to be high-paying or glamorous.  But it has to matter to me. 

For me, those two are enough.  They’re where my heart is.  When I check those two boxes every day, I feel good when I go to sleep at night.  Even when I’m stressed out or overwhelmed or unsure of what to do next.  And on the flip side, when I’ve gone through moments in my career without those, I’ve lost motivation. 

When I started thinking about this post, I thought that my answer was going to be: I can’t tell you what motivates you. 

But, actually, I think I can. 

Find work that’s challenging and that matters.  To you, not to anybody else.  Look deeply into your heart and your gut and if you don’t like what you’re doing, then change something.  And then change something else.  Keep going until your vision is crystal clear.

It doesn’t mean everything will be easy.  In fact, it probably means the exact opposite.  You will work harder if you approach your career this way, but it will be because you want to.  It will be for yourself (even if you aren’t the boss).  You will be choosing it because it matters to you. 

Almost six years ago, I ran a marathon, and I used to joke that the secret to marathon training was this: You get to the point where you want to stop running.  And then you just keep running.  And pretty soon, you’ll have run a marathon. 

But I think I was a little bit wrong.  Sure, that was part of it.  You can’t run a marathon if you stop after a few miles.  You have to keep running.

And yet it was more than that.  I came across a moment in life when I wanted to run a marathon, and I chose to run a marathon.  The motivation to keep running was completely secondary: the choice was to run the marathon in the first place.  After I made that choice, all I had to do was put one foot in front of the other.

In a lot of ways, running that marathon was the best piece of life training I’ve ever gotten. 

And I think it’s also the best advice I can give.  Commit to your career like you’re choosing to run a marathon.  Turn left or right, slow down, ice your knees, hobble along, sprint for a little while and then crawl if you have to.  But just keep running.

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Photo credit: Kate Robinson

Tags: life · work