27 things I learned about hiring in tech from looking for a new engineering management role

This spring, I spent some time looking for a new professional challenge. This search turned out to be much more interesting and intense than I’d expected. Along the way, I learned quite a lot about myself, the broader industry, and how to do hiring well, and wanted to share those learnings with you. —

Getting started

I’d been hoping to find a new role without doing public outreach, mostly because I hadn’t done that before and had no idea of what was going to happen (and didn’t think it’d result in much). Unfortunately, my search behind the scenes and applications for jobs hit a limit very soon. As I told a good friend about all of this, she convinced me with one thing she said that stuck with me since:

“Do not deprive yourself of opportunities.”

(And she was right.) So I pulled myself together, took a little time to update my “work with me” website (it’s been online for almost three years now, thanks to an idea that Jessica once shared with me), worked on a draft for a tweet, and after feedback from another manager friend, I changed the tweet to focus on areas of work I was interested in, instead of listing titles (short reasoning to summarise the whole rant that would be appropriate there: titles in the tech industry are not used consistently, are rarely comparable, and rarely mean much without context).

Slept over it for a night, changed my Twitter settings to “receive direct messages from anyone”, took a couple heavy breaths, and hit the “tweet” button for this:

Then I turned off my phone for an appointment. As I turned it on again the morning after, there were a bunch of former colleagues and fellow community members that had tweeted incredibly kind and wonderful things about me, which almost made my heart explode. And I had a couple more Twitter DMs, emails, replies, mentions, and, overall, more communication than I could handle. So I decided to start how I start best: with…

The spreadsheet of doom

I created a spreadsheet that would soon become the one thing that kept me from completely losing it. I started a bit more low-key, but expanded it over time, until it contained the following columns:

  • Company name
  • Contact name
  • Contact role
  • Application status
  • Berlin / remote
  • Details (company, role, inquiry)
  • Last interaction (date and kind)

Plus a few extra columns for tracking and decision making purposes:

  • Interview number
  • Time spent on interviews
  • Notes
  • Interview process notes (more on this later) 
  • My interest level (high / medium / low)
  • Ranking

One by one, I responded to messages and reached out to other people who’d been mentioned to me. Row by row, I filled the spreadsheet. And soon, I went into the first conversation. — Fast forward many weeks, here we are: at

27 things I learned from looking for a new engineering management job

7 things that may be useful for you if you’re looking for a job in tech

  1. Know what you want and need: Before starting your job search, write up your thoughts about the organisation, role, work areas, impact areas that you’re interested in, and details that matter to you, which you want to watch out for during your search. Keep updating this document throughout the interview process.
  2. Focus on areas of work: When you do (public or private) outreach, focus on the areas of work you’re interested in (instead of titles). Also publish further information about the areas of work you’re looking for and what matters to you.
  3. Figure out how to organise your search: Start your job search with a spreadsheet or another tool that helps you stay on top of things (including timelines, deadlines, when to follow up with whom,…). Keep updating this document over time.
  4. Make notes: Keep a separate document for each company you’re interviewing with. Take notes during interviews. (I sometimes had up to 6 interviews in one day, but even with only two interviews with different companies, this was really useful to help me focus and do my interview preparation and post-interview summary.)
  5. Help future you: Write up a short note of your thoughts and impressions after each interview.
  6. Make note of a company’s interview process. I deeply care about hiring and know how much very hard work and dedication it takes to do well, and that the way they approach hiring says something about an organisation.
  7. Go into first-round interviews with a default set of questions. I was most interested in the organisation (structure, status, plans,…), culture (diversity, inclusion, hierarchy, learning and development, Code of Conduct,…), Engineering (department details, work organisation, learning, tech stack, plans,…). Based on my pre-interview research results, I’d sometimes be able to skip a few of those. This was really useful as in many first-round interviews, there wasn’t much time for my questions, plus it helped me establish a baseline for comparison.

13 things to keep in mind when you’re hiring engineering managers (or any other role in tech)

  1. Know that people talk to each other: People in the tech community will reach out and tell others which companies not to talk to. Knowing people who will do this is a great privilege, and, unfortunately, this still a time when it’s needed to have these contacts. If you’re hiring people, assume that people talk to each other.
  2. Don’t look for unicorns. — Most engineering management roles have far too many and too broad requirements and overload the people who take them on. A combination of people management for 6-8 (or more) direct reports, plus technical leadership, plus hands-on work, will inevitably stretch people thin, and be harmful to this person, as well as their team. There’s still broad lack of understanding that engineering management is needed, and, even more so, what it should entail. Oftentimes, the much healthier setup would be to have an experienced engineer take on the role of technical lead, plus a good people manager who works with them. If you’re hiring engineering managers, ensure the roles are actually realistic.
  3. Talking with men: Most people who are in a position to (make a decision to) hire someone are white men. Most people who are in a position to (make a decision to) hire someone into an engineering department are white men. This is how the people who are representative of the homogenous status of the industry (especially within engineering departments) become gatekeepers for change, and are likely to perpetuate the status quo. Seriously, I talked to so many white men. Make sure that this doesn’t happen when people interview at your company – have people interview with a diverse group of people, and promote members of underrepresented groups into roles where they make hiring decisions. Give management roles to members of underrepresented groups (and remember that diversity goes far beyond white women).
  4. Be respectful of your and the applicant’s time: No matter what job postings or role descriptions say, many companies still don’t know exactly who and what they’re looking for. “Having a coffee”, “just chatting to see what happens” costs you and the candidate time and energy, and, even though they may be fine with it, it requires a certain amount of privilege from a candidate where they are even in a position where they can afford having such open-ended conversations – which means that it’s an exclusive approach. (And please don’t even think of asking someone to “pick their brain”.)
  5. Know your applicants: When you’re an interviewer, do your research on the person you’re talking to: read their CV, be up-to-date on what they spoke about with your colleagues. Or at least ensure you know what their name is, who they are, and which role they’re applying for.
  6. Making space for people: Give applicants time to ask you questions in each interview round (including round one), and ensure you make time for this within the initially scheduled meeting duration. Ensure this is also the case when your internal or external recruiters are screening candidates.
  7. Ensure privacy: If you use video calls for interviews, ensure to send each applicant an individual video call link, to avoid that candidates accidentally show up during another candidate’s interview.
  8. Remote engineering management roles are very rare, even with companies whose engineers are partially distributed, which is problematic for a variety of reasons (it’s exclusive, and means you’re lacking remote representation, which by itself results in a bunch of issues).
  9. Employer branding: Companies still use ping pong tables, kicker, and alcohol based events (like the infamous Friday beers) for employer branding and promotion. If your company is still doing this: stop it, it’s exclusive. And consider how the perks you offer exclude people.
  10. Diversity matters… or does it? —It’s still rare to find companies that have any numbers on the diversity in their teams. (Any numbers, let alone numbers that are up-to-date, or that go beyond binary gender or countries of origin.) It’s rarer to find companies whose management is not completely homogenous. It’s even rarer to find companies that are actively working on inclusion beyond using it as a buzzword.
  11. Know your culture smells if you talk about how great your company culture is, and the only people who weigh in on the greatness of this culture are white men.
  12. See the signs that you should rethink your hiring process if it takes you more than two months between someone submitting an application and your first time getting back to them (or your first interview with them). I learned much about this from my former teammates as well: lengthy hiring processes are incredibly exclusive, as they assume your applicants can afford it (because they’re able to stay in their current role, or that they have the time, savings, and lack of (care) obligations that allow them to take time off between jobs), which, in many cases, is just not given. — If you’re involved in hiring, remember that your hiring process says a lot about you, and how much you care about people within and outside of your organisation. And remember that this reflects back on you (see #1).
  13. Communicate, communicate, communicate. This is crucial to the experience you create and the message you send (especially as you’re interacting with people who may be at a very stressful point in their lives), so this should be a given. — Unsurprisingly, it’s not. Here’s how you can communicate better:
    1. Let people know that you’ve received their application (not just on a confirmation screen, but via email, so they have it on record).
    2. Communicate timelines (“you’ll hear from us by $date”).
    3. Stick to the timelines you communicated (or let people know if and why you can’t).
    4. Get back to them after every interview round within a couple of days.

7 things I learned about myself

  1. What do I even want? — Before even considering looking for a new role, and over the whole course of my job search, I spent a lot of time thinking about what kind of life I want to live (yes, one of those easy questions). — I love my work, and it’s an important part of this life. I wanted to understand what really mattered to me, not only in my work, but also beyond. After the different roles I’ve had in the past (after all, I’m now in the 14th year of my career (yes it feels strange writing this down)), I’ve gotten a much better understanding of what I want to do, and where – as well as a clearer idea of the direction I want to take my life in. These thoughts became the foundation of my search.
  2. Never really stop interviewing — I spent a lot of time over the last years hiring people and working on hiring processes. On the one hand, it was equally strange and fascinating sitting on the other side of the table again, while, at the same time, I also noticed early on that I couldn’t really not interview – and ended up using this understanding to change my idea of job interviews a little to interviewing organisations (because, after all, that’s what it’s about).
  3. Using experiences to learn from them is great. — I’ve become a person who writes down her experiences learnings as she does things, because it will always be useful at some point (like, say, for a blog post like this one). Using this approach also helped at times when the whole endeavour became exhausting and frustrating, as I always knew that, in addition to the main purpose, it was also a learning experience for me.
  4. Privilege is a privilege. — I’ve always been really bad at actually building professional networks. At the same time, what I’d completely underestimated was the impact of the community work and public speaking I’ve done in the past, in terms of access it gave me now. (Again, a privilege, my friend.) 
  5. Statistics may bite you. — Even though I know how job postings work, and I know that women don’t apply for jobs unless they’re 100% qualified. I still don’t apply for jobs unless I’m 100% qualified.
  6. I have questions about how to engineering management, even. — A ~topic~ in this job search was, again and unsurprisingly, my not having an engineering background. This could be worth another post, another time, and was sometimes very frustrating, especially in those times when I had to even justify my career choices. And yet, it made me realise I want to join an organisation where I can support people through the experience and skills I bring, and that wants me on board because of those.
  7. Learning, pt 2. — This whole process, intense and, at times, exhausting as it was, gave me great insight into how different organisations work, their culture and values (in theory and practice), into how they work, how they hire, and how they approach management – and I learned a bunch of things that got me thinking and researching and changing some approaches to my work, which I’m looking forward to trying out in my new role.

And now, for some numbers!

I love numbers, here are some for you, just in case you like them too. (Accidental rhyme.)

Location

I’d been looking for a role that would have me work in Berlin or remotely. Of the 37 companies I was in touch with, here’s the breakdown of the locations I’d be working from:

  • Berlin: 26 (70%)
  • Remote: 4 (11%)
  • Other (roles in other locations or in Berlin with more than 60% time spent travelling): 7 (19%)

Having worked with semi- or fully distributed teams for a while now and knowing the benefits of this setup for individuals, teams, organisations and, after all, myself, I was very keen on keeping on working in such setup. Even before my public outreach, I had known that finding such a role would be hard to impossible.

Interviews, commute, communication, and other numbers

  • Interviews:
    • Number of interviews: 57 (fun fact: more than halfway into my search, I realised that the spreadsheet I was using to keep this number up-to-date had a formula error, and that I’d had 41 interviews instead of 20 already. Not my proudest moment.)
    • Time spent in interviews: 68 hours
    • Average interview duration: 1:12 hours
  • Companies
    • that I was in touch with initially: 37
      • that I had applied with: 6
      • that I had been referred to: 31
    • that I interviewed with: 16 (of 37)
    • that I had more than one interview with: 8
    • that I had more than two interviews with: 5
  • Time spent on communication, interview preparation, and commute (if necessary): 75 hours
  • Average number of interviews with one company to job offer: 10

In total, I spent 143 hours over the course of 6 weeks on this process, and this whole endeavour was quite something. I was really lucky to have the support of great colleagues and, most of all, a bunch of wonderful friends, and be lucky enough to have a chance to meet so many people and companies throughout this process.

Now I’m looking forward to a little more processing-/downtime, before I’ll soon start interviewing again – this time from the other side of the table, in a new role that I’m very much looking forward to taking on.

February 2018

Found

  • What I hadn’t been looking for.
  • 5€ in the street and left them there.

Wrote

Watched (or saw)

  • The void
  • Belle and Sebastian live

Overheard (or said)

  • “You should really get onto teleportation. It helps with so much.”
  • “Another friend just got engaged. I think I only need another ten casual dating scenarios and I’ll be ready to settle.”
  • “Have two shots for me tonight!”
  • “This relationship is just an attempt to figure put how long it takes us to get absolutely sick of each other.”
  • “:donut: :donut: :donut:!!!!!!” 
  • “I won’t return to Berghain. I just disliked the customer experience. The music was too trashy also. The people were strange. Lots of folks from Brandenburg. But the sound system was nice.”
  • “I’ve developed some tolerance for being made feel like I need to apologise for wanting to order a coffee in Berlin cafés.”
  • “I don’t want to spend 350€ on a Christmas party DJ.”
  • “I didn’t laugh at you, I was laughing with you. — You just hadn’t gotten the joke.”

Was

  • Out late
  • In organising mode
  • Running after a bus at 2am
  • Out very late
  • At the animal shelter
  • Very sad
  • Very excited

The best pictures

  • The day the sun came back
  • The snow at 5am
  • A reflection in a lightbulb
  • The sunrise at 6:25am
  • This GIF, open in a browser tab on the side of my monitor:

First times

  • Making spring rolls
  • The 2018 Grand Thai Curry Fiasco

Did

  • Not travel for a whole month, for the first time since May 2017
  • Lean out the window
  • Miss someone
  • Jump
  • Anti-sadness-Karaoke
  • Turn a conversation with a stranger into the script for my first movie
  • Jump the shark

I did…, although it was a bad idea

  • A lot of things, actually. Too many to list here.

Had

  • Board games night
  • Homemade Thai curries
  • Risky Whiskey
  • Homemade pizza
  • Lots of time with good dogs
  • Heart-shaped pizza
  • Conversations about Alpacas
  • Plans
  • Heart-to-heart conversations
  • No coffee for 7 weeks in a row. By accident.
  • Puppy time
  • Breakfast (with coffee)

Read

Books I finished

  • None. Reading game not strong this month. (But I sorted my book collection, if that counts.)

Learned

  • A sad phone call with a crying puppy in the background really helps the mood.
  • Some things about feedback

Overheard (or said), pt 2

  • “I’d relocate to San Francisco just to troll you.”
  • “Marriage is also kind of a scam.”
  • “There is a micro universe in your tool box.”
  • “You should start your own moving company.”
  • “You negotiate like you were North Korea.”
  • “I think we’d just bore each other.”
  • “Negative anecdotal data is one of the strongest forces in the universe.”
  • “I’m taking the ‘confident mediocre cis white man’ approach now. It really helps!”
  • “You have style, and I don’t.”
  • “It’s always kind of impressive to see the limitlessness of entitlement in action.”
  • “I’m pretty sure you learned English through reading poetry.”
  • “What’s your name?” – “Lena”. – “Like my mother. I should call my mother again.”
  • “Friday night is no time to be fearful.”
  • “I’m impressed and a little scared.” – “You should just be scared.”

Listened to

  • Flunk — Only You (Yuleboard Live Version)
  • Albin de la Simone — Le grand amour
  • Phoebe Bridgers — Funeral
  • The Killers — Run For Cover – Naderi Remix
  • Abay — THE QUEEN IS DEAD
  • Alex Turner — It’s Hard to Get Around the Wind
  • Wolf Parade — Lazurus
  • The Czars — Paint the Moon
  • Lost Horizon — She Led Me
  • Oneohtrix Point Never — The Pure and the Damned
  • Belle and Sebastian — Show Me the Sun
  • Lambchop — In Care of 8675309

Thought about

  • Gracefulness
  • Choices
  • Performative feminism of cis white straight men online
  • A theory: at any given point in time, someone somewhere in the world will play Amazing Grace.
  • Learning
  • Growth

Have a lovely March, and wonderful adventures!

On community

As I’m writing these lines, I’m sitting at Munich Airport. I’m waiting for my flight home after spending the last two days on a pretty spontaneuos trip to Munich for JS Kongress. Despite knowing of the event, I hadn’t even thought about, let alone planned to go, since I wasn’t feeling very well (and even less social). Only in early November, I learned that a very lovely friend was going to be there, and suddenly had a chance (and a very good reason) to go as well. The conference itself was great, and there was a bunch of talks that I really enjoyed.

At and around the conference, there was also this very friend, as well as a few more wonderful women who I’ve known for a while, some even for years. Most of us live very far apart, and if we ever meet at all, we only ever meet at conferences. This conference was a chance to reconnect with them over walks and hot beverages and breaks between talks, and an opportunity to exchange stories: from our work, our public speaking, our lives. It left me with a very warm and fuzzy feeling, and, most importantly, with the feeling of community. These few days with these people were a tangible version of some thoughts that have been on my mind for a while now—thoughts about hard times, and about community.

This is what this post is about.—


This year of 2017 has been a pretty exhausting year for me (and as much as I wish that these remaining six weeks will turn everything around, I have a feeling that’s not going to happen). It’s been one of these years that start out pretty okay, until, suddenly, everything is very much not okay anymore. I had a bunch of heavy personal things going on, and was already pretty underwater by the time I went through a big role change at work, which by itself was more challenging for me than I’d expected. This change also meant not working so closely with my amazing team anymore (and there’s another story in here about what happens when, suddenly, you don’t have 14 direct reports anymore, heh), and instead started focusing on and building out my work with a whole new team of awesome team leads. All of this was incredibly exciting and a wonderful opportunity, but: change is hard, and it’s even harder when you’re already stressed out.

In the past, during times of stress and overwhelm, I’d go into survival mode: I’d bundle all my remaining resources, shut down everything that was not absolutely necessary, and retreat to myself in what I’d call cave mode. This would also mean that I’d cut any social ties, to the extent that friendships heavily suffered. For a long time, I’ve been working hard on combatting this behavioural pattern. But cutting back on social ties, neglecting friendships and companionship, is still something I easily fall back into in times like these.—

The realities of this industry don’t help with finding companionship: being a woman in tech in a management role can sometimes be a pretty lonely place to be in. There are still just not that many of us, and this also means that there’s only so many people who share our experiences. And while I interact a lot with people on a daily basis, I also work remotely (and from home), so social interactions don’t just happen, but need facilitation. Lastly, there’s the sheer reality of my work: my work is about 60-90% emotional labour, and this amount of emotional labour, together with some personal things™?, easily results in what I was for most of the last months:

a pretty weak basket case, mostly held together by carbs, Netflix, and anxiety.

Two months ago, I noticed what was happening: It had been ages since I’d looked into one of the countless community Slacks that I’m in, or chatted with someone in a role similar to mine, or even just joined one of my local Women in Tech groups for a night out. It was a time when I was struggling (with) myself, and found it incredibly hard to get out of my survival mode and engage with others out there. I was missing the feeling of connectedness, companionship, and community. The people I met at this conference were a wonderful reminder for me of how important community is.

The bad thing with systemic issues in an industry like the tech industry is that they’re systemic. The good (okay, “good” is a strong word, but you know what I mean) thing is that they are systemic. In societies where so many of us have been taught from early on that we’re less than, where we’ve been taught not to trust ourselves; in spaces where we’re pushed to work twice as hard to get half as far, and where we’re told that only the toughest make it through; and in an industry that keeps diminishing our experiences, qualifications, perspectives, identities, and us: community can also be about reality checks. Like so many of us, I too have inhaled and internalised the societal beliefs that there can only be so many of us that are “successful” (by whatever definition of “success” that you apply here), and that there can only be so many of us that “make it” . It took me a while to learn that all of these beliefs are fundamentally false, misleading, and that they’re robbing us of the greatness and wonderfulness that we can find when we overcome them—and it took me another while to understand how this needs to apply to my work.

For many of us, this is of an industry that we’re in regardless of (the crap, the bullshit, the microaggressions, the *-isms, the setbacks…), and, at the same time, because of (our strengths, our experiences, and all that we are). The people who are here with us are a reminder of the because. The companionship of people who have been or go through similar struggles as we do is a reminder that we’re not alone in those experiences, that we actually are all in this together. Under circumstances like these, there’s great consolation in community. Just the reminder of not being alone in all this can already take off the edge.

The times when we need this community the most will often also be the times when we don’t have the energy, time, emotional resources to engage with it. (And self care needs to take top priority no matter what—but I also needed to learn that there are also times when self care can mean longing for community, and working to find this community.)

All our perspectives and past experiences will differ, but more often than not, the realities we’re in will not differ so much, but will still be similar enough that we can lean in onto each other, learn from each other, move forward with each other.

But community is not just sitting around all our trash fires together to keep warm (while desperately trying not to get burnt)—it can also be this same community that shows us paths forward, give us perspectives for how it can be done (or at least ideas that may be worth a shot), that becomes about being and working together, building things together, and moving forward together.

I have been thinking about all this for a while now. I’ve also been working on incorporating this more into my work—connecting with women and non-binary people, to be in this together, and find ways to support each other and lift each other up. Practically, I asked women colleagues for chats over coffee (yes that also works in a distributed team), and am making a deliberate effort to work with them more closely whenever possible. I reached out to another woman in an engineering management role, and got a chance to speak with her. And I made an effort to reconnect with other women and non-binary people who I hadn’t been in touch with in a while—to move beyond my own old patterns, but, most of all, because I was wondering how much others were experiencing, feeling, the same or a similar way.

This was supposed to be a short, more philosophical note, and now turned into something much longer and vulnerable. It’s taken me a long time to accept my own vulnerability, and even more time to embrace it. What I’m working on now is being with this vulnerability at and in my work (but that, again, is another story for another time).

So often, we’re so caught up in treading water, and don’t notice the others around us doing just the same. For a long time, I haven’t really understood the joy and wonderfulness of community, and the power that comes with it. Now that I’m starting to understand it, I’ll keep trying to find my community. The sense and feeling of community, of connectedness, can change our perspectives. I still have a long way to go, but it has changed mine already. And I greatly hope that, no matter who you are, where you are, and what you do: I hope that, if you want, you will find yours as well.

I want to ride my bicycle (actually, I don’t)

My first bike was named Terry. As most of the bikes I’ve had, other people had it before me, and while its name stayed the same (no one ever found out who came up with that name in the first place), every time it was passed on to another kid, it had even more scratches and bits of rust where the white varnish had chipped off. Before me, seven other kids had already learned to ride a bike on it, and it’s a miracle that it hadn’t fallen apart yet. (I would be the second last child to have it before that happened.)

I loved cycling around our neighbourhood. As I got older and my bikes grew as fast as I did, I slowly explored more areas, often together with friends. Sometimes we’d drive through the forest and up the hill, buy apples at a farm, or pick flowers, which I’d take home in the little basket on the bike. In my teenage years, I would do long day trips of up to 80-120 kilometres per day, either by myself, with friends, or family.

Many years later, after moving to the city, I found a beautiful old bike in a thrift shop that I loved so much. I rode my bike to the office every day, used it to run errands, get to friends’ places, or meet people in the park and lie in the sun next to it. For a long, long time, cycling was a big, very important part of my life.

 

 

Until a few years ago, when I had a bike accident. It was bad, and I ended up being hospitalised. But I was also incredibly lucky: I only had a few (albeit bad-looking) scratches and a major shock to recover from. I would be back on the saddle in no time.

At least that’s what I thought.

A couple of days after my discharge from the hospital, I had to pick up my bike at the police station. It turned out that the bike was really broken, and, as became clear much later, irreparably so. I had to carry it because the wheels didn’t turn anymore. I cried all the way home, because seeing this pile of what had turned into just metal garbage made me realise how lucky I had been.

 

 

When I picked up the bike, a police officer advised me to get back to riding a bike basically immediately, “because if you don’t do it now, you never may.”

I didn’t do it. I even got a cheap bike a few weeks later. But I was so scared. There was just nothing I could’ve done differently to prevent the accident. And that frightened me. This whole event became a reminder that being careful only gets you so far. That’s life, but that’s also messed up.

I rode the replacement bike a few times around the neighbourhood, and took it to the park twice. But I had lost all confidence and trust in myself, and cycling stressed me out so much: I was in a mode of hyper-awareness and extreme nervousness, hands right on my breaks and the bell, ready to stand on the breaks at any given moment. Any scenario that even remotely resembled the accident scenario freaked me out. As soon as I got on the bike, my heart was racing. By the time I’d get to my destination, I was a wreck.

 

 

But then, I also kept thinking about cycling. I missed the days of getting around easily without depending on public transport, missed getting to parks and places that take forever to walk to, missed bike trips in nature outside of the city, I missed the exercise and the general awesomeness that cycling is.

Was.

Friends and partners encouraged me to take cycling back up, and sometimes I’d even go on short rides with them, but only on quiet roads, and never by myself. And even that stopped at some point.

Cycling had always been such an important part of my life. Now, my bike got downgraded to an accessory for my apartment.

 

A couple of months ago, a friend who knew about the accident, and how much I kept thinking about it, very carefully suggested to take me on bike tours – just super short trips with no rush, to get food, ice cream, or coffee (finding appealing destination to add an incentive for me would be part of the plan). I liked the idea (and I loved even just the fact that they had thought about how they could help me). And it got me thinking again.

A week later, I dragged my bike out of a corner in my flat and back into the corridor. Another week later, I did my first short bike ride in over a year. I was nervous all the way and relieved when I got to my destination 15 minutes later. But I was also happy about trying it. A few weeks and short rides later, I decided to try and do one bike tour per week – still only super short ones, in quieter areas with little traffic where I feel comfortable. But I hoped that the increased frequency and some small, positive experiences would help wash the scare away.

Today, I had a lazy day. In the evening, I saw the sun shining from inside my apartment, and felt like I could use some time outside. I went on a short bike trip, and it was pretty nice for a bike ride: I saw the sun, I smelled the lilac and the blossoming chestnut trees, and saw the lake in late afternoon sunlight. I probably walked half the trip, but I felt really relaxed when I was on my way home. Then, as I was almost back, a car cut me off at a crossroads (they were turning right, I was going straight ahead), and I’m trying not to let that get to me too much. I’m trying to remember the sunlight. But it’s a process.

 

 

Right now, this is all I got. This is not a glorious inspirational “here’s how I overcame this frightening thing” piece. I’m still scared, and likely always will be, and it will take a long time for me to rebuild some confidence and trust in myself. I don’t know if I’ll ever get to that fundamental feeling of being okay with things again. I’m not sure when or if I’ll feel more comfortable again on my bike, and whether I’ll find the great joy it always brought me again. Sometimes, the thought of having lost that joy saddens me very much. But all of this, and all these feelings that I’m having around it, is also okay.

The dream would be to get to a point where I can take longer tours, maybe to a lake in summer, or to the great ice cream place at the outskirts of the city, or even ride my bike to work again every day. But none of this is going to happen anytime soon, and maybe never at all. Right now, I’m back to where I was by the time I had Terry: slowly, carefully increasing distances. Again.

It’s a ride, but at least I’m on my way.

Along this way, I understood that the phrase “it’s like riding a bike” is technically true sometimes, but also just very wrong. But most importantly, I learned something big about accepting my boundaries. I learned that I can also keep figuring out where my boundaries are, understand if they change over time, and work with these changes (and my stubbornness), while constantly watching out for myself. And then there’s the last thing I learned: always, always, always wear a helmet.

 

Formlos und frei: Sommer 2011.

Fünftausendzweihundert Kilometer. Berlin – Dresden – Berlin – Köln – Duisburg – Berlin – Hamburg – Ostsee – Berlin – Düsseldorf – Köln – Duisburg – Berlin – Sczecin – Berlin – Stuttgart – Berlin.

Sitzen: Irgendwo auf dem Boden. Vor Polizeiwachen. Vor Bahnhöfen. Auf Bierbänken. Auf Parkwiesen. Auf Bäumen. An Stränden. Auf Mauern. Im Dom, kurz nach sieben Uhr morgens.  Liegen: Irgendwo auf dem Boden. Auf Grünflächen. Auf Hotelbetten. Unter Bäumen. An Seen. An Meeren. In den Dünen. Unter Himmeln. Reden: Über Baumarten. Über Wörter. Sehen: Wilde Stadtkaninchen, Rehe, Marienkäfer, Flughunde mit goldenen Locken. Nicht machen: Koffeinsucht kultivieren. Von Starbucks-Mitarbeitern anflirten lassen. Bienenstiche haben. Machen: Seifenblasen. Kitschsachen. Kitschfotos. Händchenhalten. Für jemanden eine Kerze anzünden. Ein Rad schlagen im Park. Auf Grashalmen pfeifen. Auf alles pfeifen. Mal alles von ganz weit oben betrachten. Runterschalten. Durchmachen. Abschalten. Durch Regen laufen. Strandspaziergänge. Kirschen essen. Kirschflecken auf Hosen haben. Knutschen. Kopfhörer aufsetzen und leise singend durch eine fremde Stadt laufen. Schaukeln. Herzen suchen. Fremde finden. Freunde finden. Freunde behalten.

Irgendwann begreifen, dass man sich irgendwie überall zurechtfindet. Und das Gefühl mitnehmen, dass man überall zurechtkommt.

Und in den besten Momenten: einfach kein Foto machen.

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Fünftausendzweihundert Kilometer in 24 Stunden.

                                     

Du gehst mit festem Schritt und immer all’n voran, du wirst getragen von der Hoffnung niemals anzukommn. Du kennst nur grob die Richtung, der Weg ist dir egal, wenn es zu lange dauert, gehst du ihn ein zweites Mal. Doch denen die mit reinem Herzen geh’n, ist nichts in der Lage jemals mehr im Weg zu stehn. (Torsun – Formlos und frei)

Ich glaube, jeder Mensch kann in jedem Jahr nur eine bestimmte Anzahl von Bahnhofsabschiedsszenen ertragen. Ich kann das nicht mehr, dieses Jahr.

Danke.