In Pursuit of the Metaphor

Posted by lizbur10 on December 1, 2017

One of the pitfalls of being an English major in college is that at some point you’re probably going to have to read Moby Dick. When it happened to me I approached the assignment with dread. After all, I’d heard more horror stories about Moby Dick than almost any of the other dense tomes in the curriculum. But once I got started I was pleasantly surprised – it was charming and funny and accessible! All those people must just not be as smart as I am, I thought. But then the boat set sail and everything changed. Charm, humor, accessibility were all left sitting on the dock in Nantucket Harbor. I was adrift on the vast oceans, vainly pursuing an elusive quarry.

One of the fun things about being an English major is finding metaphors for your own life inside literature. When I look back on my educational and professional career, I see parallels with Ahab’s quest. Ahab spent hundreds of impenetrable pages sailing around the globe searching for Moby Dick, trailing behind and just missing him on a number of occasions; I spent years slogging through my professional life, every so often briefly catching a glimpse of the spout of a possible coding career on the horizon only to have timing or life events or just plain bad luck get in the way. Like Ahab, I could never quite catch up. So instead I paddled around in a fog, taking some classes and learning some things on my own without a clear view of how to navigate the course to a career as a developer.

Several things happened in my life that changed that. First, I managed to overcome the inertia that had me stuck in my previous career for way too long. I had a friend whose husband had recently made a career change into UX and I was intrigued enough that I decided to follow his example. Second, once I had a job at a software company, I had the example of developers all around me as well as support to learn more. Third, after a couple of years, the company got bought out and I was one of those who went in the round of layoffs that followed. While I can’t deny that getting laid off felt a little like being harpooned, it turned out to be a gift. Rather than rush back into another UX job, I took the time to explore options for making one more career change. And now, here I am.

My initial reading of Moby Dick in college was largely pointless: my eyes scanned across line after line, page after page, while my brain bobbed aimlessly like a cork in the ocean. Many years later in a fit of Ahab-esque obsession, I decided to re-read the book and this time do the hard work the book demands. I had outgrown my smugness enough to realize that I couldn’t just sail through it. Without a deadline, I was able to spend as much time as I needed to make sure I understood the material. I read and re-read and re-re-read difficult passages until I got it. I will probably remember until my dying day one particular passage, less than two pages long, that I read over and over and over for days until it finally clicked. I suspect this training may come in handy in the next few months.