The despair of not being good

Dear new developer,

I recently learned a new skill. And I wasn’t good at it. (The skill, if you must know, was writing with a certain tone for a corporate blog. But the lessons below apply for any skill.)

I don’t like being “not good”, aka bad, at something. Especially since it was adjacent to an activity I’ve been doing for years, which is blogging.

I would get feedback on how to improve this or that. I understood the feedback, it made sense, but the overall feeling I had was of failure. I felt shame because this was something I thought I knew. That honestly pissed me off. But after the shame passed, I acknowledged that the comments were correct, that I wasn’t producing what I should.

It’s important to acknowledge that it’s OK to fail (I’ve covered that before) and that it’s OK to be bummed about it. We’re all human and the emotions are part of it.

I had a couple of choices. I could keep trying and make improvements over time. Or I could decide that, hey, maybe this wasn’t the right task for me to do.

The question is, how do you decide? I think there are a couple of ways to think about this choice:

  • how core is this skill to your job?
  • how core is this skill to the company?
  • how long do you think it’ll take to get good?
  • do you enjoy it? do you want to be good at it?
  • is there another way to solve the problem other than you doing something you’re not good at?
  • is there someone at your company who can help teach this to you?

Note that it isn’t just your opinion on these that matter. You also want to make sure you get your boss’s opinion, on each of these questions. The discussion is important and will determine how and where to invest your time.

If you despair because you’re bad at something, don’t just beat your head against the wall. Step back and be strategic about your efforts.

Sincerely,

Dan

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