Maintaining Motivation While Living Life on the Plateau

… or 5 Tips for Success at Launch School, Life, and Beyond!

It’s been a little while since my last couple of posts on my journey from Music Educator to Software Engineer! If you haven’t checked out those articles yet, take a minute to read them here and here.

At this point, I’ve logged over 550 hours of studying, learning, and building. From mid-March through the end of August, I sprinted through six courses in five months. Then I hit my first plateau — Course 201: HTML and CSS — the first course in the Frontend Phase at Launch School. I finally finished it last weekend. But it took me over two and a half times longer to complete compared to my average time spent in any of the Preparatory and Backend Courses!

Entering into Course 201, I was excited to start on the basics of something new and what I thought would be easy. However, as I tried to proceed, I mostly felt like I was living on one plateau after another. The radical improvement from my earlier courses gave way to a feeling of suspended animation and I saw no end in sight. At the same time, it felt as if all of my Launch School friends that I spoke to on Slack were climbing higher and higher — leaving me in the dust or catching up from behind! It was slightly demotivating and discouraging.

But I stuck with it and towards the end of the course, I started to feel things click again. I can’t fully communicate the pride I felt at the quality of work I put into my 48-hour take home final project and assessment! I created a pixel-perfect website based on Photoshop design files using semantically correct HTML and advanced CSS. The website had modal pop-up forms and all of the elements were created with responsive and fluid design with mobile devices and smaller screens in mind. It’s quite astounding considering I didn’t have any of those skills just a short 10 weeks ago.

Now I say “short.” But when I was in it, it didn’t feel that way! Having arrived on the other side of a long series of plateaus, I thought a brief list of motivational tips for other students going through similar feelings might be in order. If you know you’re on the right path, but feeling stuck in the doldrums, here’s some advice for you:

1. Challenge Yourself To Persist

  • Set a time goal in which you aim to have focussed, intent, deliberate, and conscious progress.
  • What, deep in your gut, do you have the feeling that you are avoiding? What is scaring you? What do you think you’re not ready for yet? Do that first the next time you sit down! Be uncomfortable — that’s how we grow.
  • Make mistakes. The best part of making a mistake is getting to fix it and learn from it. The longer you spend on a frustrating mistake, the more likely you’ll be to remember that lesson!

2. Celebrate Every Small Achievement

  • If you’ve set a time goal, track your time and review when and how you work. It keeps my momentum going knowing that I’ve averaged 2.7 hours of coding a day since I began Launch School!
  • There’s so much knowledge that you are taking for granted. When you accomplish a small task, let yourself acknowledge it and celebrate! Enough of those small victories add up to a fully-completed impressive project.

3. Schedule Time Off

  • Allow yourself time off! It’s so important for learning, growth, and the quality of your life to give newly acquired knowledge a chance to simmer and to let yourself rest and recharge.
  • Take a “vacation” whether it’s an evening, weekend, or week to yourself.
  • Make sure the time off is deliberate and planned — not just because you don’t feel like it!

4. Connect With Your Community

  • Conversations with my peers and mentors online in the Slack channels provided by Launch School really helped me stay motivated. (Even if, at times, I felt discouraged because some were moving “faster” than me.) People ahead of me helped clarify issues I was having. I also felt satisfaction and gained motivation from helping others with what I knew.
  • Real life connections are super important, too — we are social creatures even if you tend towards an introverted personality! Go to your local events, talk about coding with everyone you know — you might be surprised who has what to offer.

5. Find Your Intrinsic Motivation

  • Why are you learning to code? What motivates you to study, learn, and grow even when you’re not feeling it? Writing down your reasons will help you in those weaker moments.
  • Create a story around what drives you to make this life change. It will not only be important for keeping you focussed, but also aid in your job search, application process, and interviews.

In my current role as a Music Educator, I’m not growing and being challenged as much as I would like. I’ve identified this as a reason for why I love learning to code so much. I’m looking forward to having a profession that requires me to stay on top of the latest and greatest — to continually learn and grow.

And lately, what I’ve realized is that my commitment to Mastery in coding is actually a commitment to Mastery in life. I’m aiming to live well, be fulfilled, challenged, and satisfied in all areas. The deliberate conscious choices I’m making at Launch School with my learning are affecting the choices I make with my family, time, health, music, finances, and countless other areas of my personal life for the better.

So, even if you feel like you’re down and out, keep at it! Figure out why you want to keep at it, connect with other people doing the same, allow yourself a break if needed, but make sure to celebrate every challenge you overcome and every problem you solve. If you challenge yourself to consistently code or achieve whatever you want, you will become a Master.

I sincerely hope that my reflections here will help you to stay motivated on your path! Thanks so much for reading this far. Take some time to reflect on your deliberate inner motivations for continually improving your skills and yourself.

I’d love to hear from you — feel free to share your tips, thoughts, reflections, or salutations below!