Pace Yourself

When I first started college I was full-sure I was learning to become a web designer. I had experience with PhotoShop from my teen years when creating signature graphics, or “sigs”, for people on forums, or designing little sites on Freewebs (mostly with Flash-based games embedded on the page. They were fabulous travesties complete with background music and animated gifs, and I’m still not sorry.)

As I progressed, I found myself drawn more to the development side of things. This helped immensely as the course I was doing became more programming oriented. I moved from PhotoShop to Notepad++, and my colour palettes were more focused on syntax themes.

This shift meant I was becoming one of the go-to people when someone had a question or a problem. After a couple of years of this I started to feel more responsible for these problems, like I needed to know the answers — I put the unnecessary expectation on myself to have the solutions. Instead of trying to meet my own deadlines and being honest in saying “I don’t know, but here’s some resources that might help”, I would instead drop what I was doing and make those problems my own. There’s nothing wrong with doing that the odd time, but just not every time.

This got to a point where I even did someone’s final year project, and we were driving to the presentation while I typed their slides in the passengers seat. I put myself in that position when there was absolutely no need. I didn’t stop to consider if I was truly doing the right thing for myself or my friend.

After college, I was lucky enough to land a job as an intern web developer working alongside someone who was incredible at what they did. After 9 months he moved on, and I was back in a very familiar position by being the only in-house web developer. I learned so much in that time, but the trial by fire that followed coupled with my eternally-nodding head left me burnt out rather quickly. I’m not going to go into specifics about my journey, but I wouldn’t be where I am today without that experience, and I’ll forever be grateful for it.

Littered throughout all this are bouts of imposter syndrome, which is wonderfully explored by David Walsh in his blog post “I’m an Imposter”. It’s such an honest article, and it can apply to any industry, not just the web.

You might hear about burn out, and attribute it to someone who was just worked too hard, but it’s also worth thinking about that fact that it’s not always the environment they’re put in that causes it. It certainly contributes, but there’s an onus there to know one’s limits as well. I would ignore my frazzled mind’s attempt to switch off, and if I felt happy every once in a while, well, that was just a bonus.

I love coding in my spare time which means work and play can sometimes overlap. I’ve gotten far better at managing this balance, and I can switch off and go do something else without a strange sense of guilt plaguing me. I try to imagine the world literally ending, and it all seems kind of silly.

So the takeaway for me was to step back, and not rush into commitments. It was irresponsible, and unfair to all parties involved. Sure there can be pressure there for an answer straight away, but it’s absolutely OK to say “I need more time before I can quote for that” or “I don’t know how to do that, I need time to research it. Let me get back to you after lunch with what I find”.

Take your time. You’ll never know all the answers.

Sure how can you when in the time it took to read this about 20 new frameworks are available. Better get on that :p


Originally published at www.tjfogarty.io on June 27, 2015.