Past mistakes

~3 min.read

I think everyone needs at least one blog post under their belt that describes mistakes they’ve previously made in their careers. Now is the time for me.

1. Liberal application of the word ‘just’

“Why don’t you just do this other thing instead?” Uuughhh…this word, which serves as punctuation as much as the word ‘fuck’ does in Glasgow, is bound to rile anyone up after the umpteenth attempt at trivialising the problem they have.

It still slips out occasionally, and I should really wash my mouth out with soap after it, but the true magnitude of this error only becomes apparent when you start paying attention to how often everyone else does it too.

Rarely is the case where the word ‘just’ is applied appropriately.

2. Making a mountain out of a molehill

I’m sure I will make this mistake again in a new and novel way, but colleagues and higher-ups will remember the time you got swamped in a (seemingly) simple task, creating even more work for yourself while scrambling to get out. A poorly defined refactoring job is as good as quicksand - make any sudden movements and you’re screwed; move too much and you’re screwed. Do nothing and you’re still screwed.

A tiny little bit at a time, though, and you can get back onto solid ground.

3. Saying yes

The problem with being a people-pleaser is that you start to grow into a bank. At some point, you’ve said ‘yes’ so much that you don’t really have any left to ggive, so you borrow some of the ‘yesses’ you have for next week and the week after. You’ve taken everyone’s deposit but how, and when, are you going to pay them back?

Disappointment abounds. You can only manage the expectations of so many people, and trying to go any further that will only serve to burn you out.

Saying no is liberating. Descoping is liberating. If something really is a problem, it’ll come back up again another time, you don’t have to do it all at once. If it never comes back up again, then it didn’t matter.

4. Sweating the small stuff

I get my occasional bouts of Impostor Syndrome, where I feel tiny in the face of the new project or problem that’s just been sent my way. I feel it a lot when I wonder how people figured out how to make a game like Doom, or build something like a video editor. It’s not part of my experience so the whole process seems alien to me.

It makes me anxious - how am I supposed to figure out how all this works so I can start being useful?

At some point I get preoccupied enough that I can’t spend time on that thought, so I forget about it and soon after that realise I’m doing the exact thing I expected I couldn’t.

You figure it out along the way and then become comfortable enough that you can make bigger decisions with bigger impact. And then you become the go-to person because of how well you know the thing you’ve worked on.

These days I tell myself that it looks intimidating, but take it easy.


Four is the magic number, so I’ll leave it there. I’m not sure how sincere I felt when writing this to begin with, but it’s all been part of the experience. I think next time I’ll single one or two things out and go into more depth.


Changelog

  • 95e9340 Fix footnote formatting
  • 2beda01 Migrate pollen rewrite
  • 51f8ac3 Post: past mistakes