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Why You Should Go And Fail

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A Lifetime Ago

When I was 18, I had no idea what I wanted to do for a living. I thought 'hey, I'm alright with computers, maybe I should do something with that'.

So off I went to University, eager to learn about how to be an uber programmer. The fun stopped almost immediately, as I found out rather quickly I was a terrible coder.

The classes, learning and projects for the main programming modules were in C#. A very solid first language to learn in but it didn't help me at all.

I sucked. Looking at code was alien to me. I understood nothing. I didn't know what a function was, what syntax really meant, what a class was or how to even dicipher anything put in front of me.

The worst part of it all was that it seemed like every one else around me did understand these things. It made me feel so stupid and connected programming with one emotion - fear.

I didn't want any one to find out I knew nothing and that I really didn't have a clue what I was doing.

I didn't want to fail and I certainly did not want to fail in front of other people, afraid I would be embarrassed in front of my peers.

Aside from some part time web development work for the National Trust in the UK after University, I avoided programming for maybe, 6 to 7 years after finishing my degree.

Overcoming Fear of Failure

As a developer, do any of these statements resonate with you?

  • The thought of having to do a coding test in an interview is terrifying
  • I have sat in silence over a problem and had a meltdown internally because I didn't want to ask for help and appear inferior
  • I don't want to continually ask for help and waste peoples time
  • Putting your code in for a Pull Request is nerve-wracking because others will be judging my work and therefore to an extension, me
  • My peers have been talking about code around me and I have been scared to ask what they mean
  • Co-workers have side projects and talk about self improvement and I feel like I am falling behind
  • I've felt dumb for having to look up basic syntax online
  • I don't want others to look at my code in case someone laughs
  • There's no point in learning that language because others around me are smarter and better at it

Well, I have felt all of the above at some point in time. If you haven't, I am sure you've at least had some form of Imposter Syndrome which is rife in the industry. If you're still shaking your head that you haven't had some feelings like the above, I'd likely call you a liar.

To me, all of the doubt and fear is incredibly damaging to your own progress as a developer, but also as a person. The worst thing is that the turmoil is created internally and you can end up using it to rationalise why you shouldn't do something that may actually be great for you. This exact scenario befell me for over half a decade.

If you're never failing, you're not challenging yourself enough.

When I started my first software development role, I made a promise to myself to just go for it. I wouldn't shy away from doing anything new asked of me and to seek out things I had no idea about.

Fast forward a few years and I genuinely look back at amazement at how far I have come in a short space of time.

I now fail all the time. I do it all the time. Sometimes I do it on purpose (or so I tell people), just to see what happens.

The reason you should allow yourself to be wrong is to force yourself into a new challenge: this is where the true learning takes place. It's part of the process.

I will be the first in line to ask a potentially stupid question and I will certainly never answer a question as if it were one. As a lead developer, I think having a lot of confidence in not shying away from looking inexperienced is a great way in signalling to other team members it's okay to follow suit which helps create a nurturing environment to learn in.

This in turn can bring out the best in others. I've actually taken a 180 mindset as to what I used to think in that, if you're never failing, you're not challenging yourself enough.

Some Simple Truths

So, like a bumbling sage, I have some truths for you. The next time you feel yourself hesitant about doing something new or feeling inadequate, hopefully a few points of the below can help get you through it.

  1. Don't try to be perfect in an imperfect world
  2. Everyone else around you has no clue either
  3. You're 100% failing by not trying in the first place
  4. The feeling of success having failed so many times to achieve it is unrivalled
  5. An environment that doesn't allow failure isn't one you should place yourself in
  6. Not asking for help when you truly need it is not a strength, it's a weakness
  7. You would hate your career if it was all easy - embrace the struggle
  8. Confidence can push a lot of opportunity at your feet
  9. What will actually happen if you're wrong is usually minor compared to what you imagine
  10. Think less about what other people think of you

I hope you can take a little bit of wisdom out from this blog post and to conclude, the blog title really shouldn't be why you should go and fail, but more, why wouldn't you want to?