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I was so incredibly fed up waiting for the chance to make a living writing code. Since I was very young, I’d wanted to program computers for a living. The years it took me to get there felt like an endless wait of learning things I didn’t care for. Looking back though, the learning I didn’t care for was perhaps the most valuable. Anyways….
When I finally was given a job as a programmer I was living the dream, my dream. I was the guitarist who got a hit record with his band, the soccer player who signed his first professional contract, etc. In other words: it felt pretty damn good!
As a person starting a career in programming it is easy to feel you’re coming up short. Especially these days when news, ideas and The Next Thing is only a social media post away from you. We measure our own lives and achievements against those portrayed in the media. Needless to say, almost everyone of us falls short in such a match-up. It’s not because we lack dedication or passion.
Why aren’t you making the next killer app?
I get this question every now and then. People who aren’t deeply involved in our industry ask me this. A perfectly reasonable question in their mind. However it’s kind of like asking the janitor at a hospital why he’s not curing cancer. After all he works in the health industry. Ok, I’m exaggerating just a tad here. But, it’s questions like these many end up measuring themselves against. Why aren’t I a multi-billionaire? Why didn’t any of my startup adventures work out with me sitting on caribbean island drinking from a coconut? Why haven’t I written The Framework which the Web relies on and everyone loves? Having never been even close to accomplishing any of these things, does that mean I am a failure?
You should redefine success
I have made a living being a programmer since I was in my early twenties. Fortune has it that I’ve started a family during these years. I live in a nice place where many of my neighbours are now my friends. It close to the forrest and the outdoors, which is important to me. My job let’s me be who I am and which has many interesting challenges for me. I have two healthy children and an amazing wife. Is this success? For me, this is the most success I can hope for. I’m not going to create any killer apps or businesses that generate gazillions of cash. Success to me is to do what I love and be happy with what I have right now.
Being average is being normal
I’m never going to be a superstar coder who’s renown for my brilliant libraries, framework or thoughts about programming theory. My coding skills are average and I try to make up for that by having stamina and determination to never give up. You know what? Most in this industry are average just like me. It’s perfectly fine to be average, mediocre and one of the herd. You don’t have to be the Next Big Thing before you’re twenty five. Settle into a stride which suits you, take your time and enjoy your work. Don’t freak out because “everyone else is being amazing and I’m not”. The idols and stars we worship are exceptions, not the rule.
I am not “Silicon Valley material”
These days I don’t make it a priority to attend meet-up’s, I do however attend my kids soccer practice no matter what. This year I won’t attend a single conference, but I try to be at all school gatherings. I don’t think I’ve read more than a handful of programming related posts this year. If it hadn’t been for the fact I update a website on Github, my punch card would probably be empty. Does this make me a bad programmer? Surely I wouldn’t stand a chance in what is seen as the Mecca of software development, Silicon Valley. I don’t stop doing some of these things because it’s impossible for me to do it all, I just choose not to. If you’re able to all of this, great! If not, that’s also great. It means you’re being conscious about how you spend your time.
“Kill” your idols
In our industry we don’t worship people who live my kind of life. Our ideals are framed, still, by the idea of meritocracy. You should live, breath and shit coding every living second on this planet. Any spare time should be spent learning a new language, or better, write a new language. Not only that, but you should give talks and do a video blog. At a minimum you should host a meet-up, but better is to put on a conference.
Needless to say, very few of us measure up to these high expectations of what a good developer is. If you do all these things, you are amazing! If you don’t, you’re still amazing!
OK, listen up
If you’re starting out as a programmer, please don’t rate yourself according to the rules of meritocracy. You are so much more than the green squares on your Github punch card. The number of talks on speakerdeck.com. Success can be very different for you than what is portrayed in the media. Make it a priority to define what success is for you in your own context, it will help you find your own path.
Most importantly, just relax. Breath and take it easy. You don’t have to do all the things at once your first years in the industry. It’s perfectly fine to take things in your own pace. You’re a valuable programmer even though you aren’t running yourself to the ground. Everything doesn’t have to materialize itself within your first ten years of working. Everyone is different, we all learn and grow in our own pace. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t measure up to the idols and ninja-super-rock-star-people. Those idols don’t actually exists, it’s mythical stories told bye people who need to exploit passionate people. Having a slick online presence and a killer rep in the business are superficial and very temporary.
Remeber, breath and relax
Focus on things that matter in the long run, and slow things down. It’ll be fine in the end, I hope. These things I’ve talked about are really existential questions more intelligent people have discussed at length before I wrote this. Finding happiness in the moment right her and now can be a hard. I struggle with it constantly and need to remind myself of what matters to me the most.
To read and learn more about many of these things I find reading The Book of Life website really interesting and it triggers me to think and evaluate my own perspectives.
Remember, breath and relax.
Thanks to Alexandra Leisse for input and inspiration.
Original postion on Medium.