For all of August and all of September I’ve been a coding machine. On average I’ve spent about 12 hours a day working on our software platform. I’ve cranked out over 12,000 lines of code across 300 files. To be creating again feels absolutely incredible! Ending each day having produced something material and useful is a real joy, and one I’ve sorely missed.
My personality tends to be an all or nothing personality. Go epic or go home! There is no room for average. When deciding what projects to do for Hack Day at my old job it had to be an ‘A’ idea or it wasn’t worth doing. Be brilliant or nothing at all! (As an aside, this is probably why I am obsessed with finding “the middle path” and talk about it so much. But that’s for a later post.)
My personality also tends to be a perfectionist personality. It’s either perfect, or it’s wrong. I loved playing baseball when I was a kid. Our team could win, and I’d have gone 3-for-4 at the plate having driven in the winning run and I would obsesses over the one at bat I didn’t get a hit. In more recent years my team would put out an amazing release with new features, ahead of schedule, and I would obsess over the one small presentation bug we didn’t catch in testing.
Both of these personality traits offer advantages and disadvantages. Like Voltron, these traits become something more powerful when combined, multiplying the advantages and disadvantages. Last week the disadvantages got multiplied and brought the coding machine that was me to a complete halt.
It happened when the integration with another software platform I was working on didn’t work the way I thought it should. They key words here being “the way I thought it should.” The integration with this platform is simple and worked just fine. Their Python library made everything easy. My code works. But it doesn’t work the way I want it to. It isn’t elegant. It isn’t perfect. And because it isn’t perfect my brain and ego rejected it.
I then became singularly focused on finding perfection. I became angry with the software platform I was integrating with, and I became angry with my own design and code. I hate inelegant solutions – they make me feel like I’ve missed something simple and obvious. I became stuck and couldn’t code anymore. I shut down.
For the first time I didn’t want to work on building our company. This lack of activity lead me to feeling very badly about myself, which only compounded my “stuckness.” How can you get into a rut while building your dream company? How selfish! How ridiculous! It should be impossible!
But it is not impossible because we are human. We are not robots. We have emotions. No matter how introspective and self aware we think we are these emotions tend to always get the upper hand when it suits them. And when this happens we have to have to take a step back and have compassion for ourselves. We have to forgive ourselves, laugh at ourselves, and move on.
So after struggling for a few days of uselessly refactoring code, and writing and deleting code, I did just that. I put the laptop away, went to a bar to watch the Indians game (I gave up TV to help trim my living expenses), and gave myself the next day off. No hustle shaming please!
And you know what? It worked! The day after I had a delightful and productive company meeting (which I will talk more about soon) and started coding the next item on our roadmap. Since then I am back on track and am feeling productive and good again.
When trying to be compassionate and kind human beings it is most natural for us to focus on how our words and actions affect other living beings. We strive to be selfless. We think about how we can reduce suffering in other beings. This is very noble. However, in doing so we forget to think about ourselves and our suffering. We forget to care for ourselves.
This is a concept my team members and I talk about often. We talk about how as a team leader you cannot effectively take care of other people if you do not take care of yourself. We need to remember to include ourselves in the group of people we are taking care of.
The airline industry knows this as well. They tell us that in the event of a loss in cabin pressure we are to put our masks on first before helping other passengers. Be kind to yourself. Have compassion for yourself. Put your mask on first.