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JC Smiley
JC Smiley

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As tech professionals, don’t limit your greatness. 9 positive steps to get of out our own way.

I want to share my reflections on conversations I’ve had in my tech community on how we limit our greatness and 9 positive tips on getting out of our own way.

Tip #1: How you view yourself has the greatest impact on the outcome of your goals. Believe in yourself and take time daily to create a positive self-image, and the world will believe in you.

How we mentally, emotionally, and physically think and treat ourselves makes the biggest impact on the outcomes in our lives. Walk into an interview with confidence, they will have confidence in you. Treat every coding problem like something that will be solved, then in time it will.

A friend mentioned a leadership maxim that "people will live up (or down) to your expectations". This applies triple for yourself. When you develop a healthy self-image, you will (consciously and unconsciously) push that self-image out into the world, and other people will start to see you that way.

Tip #2: No matter the failure, don’t self-sabotage your next steps. Be intentionally about moving forward and not letting past mistakes be the only thing on your mind.

I learned over the years to remember that I’m human. It’s guaranteed that I will make mistakes, fall down, and fail at times. When these inevitable situations happen; just stop, breathe, pray, think, and consider what is the optimal (not always the best) next step.

My old law enforcement supervisor constantly gave me this advice,

“Don’t let JC beat JC".

This was a reminder to not let self-doubt be in control and to be aware of self-sabotaging actions. For me, I needed to create a mental picture of success, a mental list of positive activities, and a constant stream of loving self-talk.

Tip #3: The only limit to your greatness is your imagination and willingness to set your own bar or reach for a higher standard.

One of the ways that you can tell if you are limiting your greatness is when you aren’t learning new things or progressing in skill level. An example is the 4 minute mile which for ages was seen as the upper bound for human achievement in athletics. In 1954, Roger Banister ran a 3:59 that set a new standard. Afterward, numerous athletes were breaking the 4 minute mark as well. Were they actually physically stronger? No, they just had accepted a new bar.

In tech, this could mean finishing a project but then adding those extra bells and whistles. Another example is learning something in one format (reading), then teaching others what you learn in a different format (video).

I love the quote,

“Be excellent no matter your platform”.

To me it means you don’t have to have great skills or work in the greatest company to have the opportunity to be the best version of you. Show up and show out everyday, all day, and anywhere.

Tip #4: Don’t discount yourself based on race, gender, creed, or some form of identification. The authentic you is valuable. Each of us brings unique value and perspective to the workplace.

As a former teacher assistant for the Launch Code tech boot camp, I had students state they weren't good enough because they were immigrants, didn’t finish school, no college degree, and other social/personal/mental issues. What I learned from watching those same students who finished the program is all you need is your authentic self to be valuable. You don’t have to be the “best tech professional on earth” to reach your personal heights of glory. In tech, You are enough.

Tip #5: Don’t compare your career journey to others. Instead, use their experiences as a guide or a new bar to overcome.

As a former teacher assistant, I saw many students get upset that someone else was further along on their coding journey than them. Many times they failed to realize that their paths are different. The other person may have a family/friend who is helping them, spend double the hours studying, or have previous technical experience. It could be as simple as their life is less complicated than yours (kids, married, etc.).

Then there were students who had similar circumstances but didn’t get upset. They instead:

  • Buddied up with those ahead of them and ask questions.
  • After the assignment was completed, they asked if it was ok to review other students' solutions to learn from them.
  • They researched alternative learning experiences.

The best students put more time and effort into what they didn’t know and slowly worked toward higher benchmarks.

Find “your” tribe of people that are doing things you want to do and are similar or right above your level of expertise. Use their achievements as inspirations of what can be accomplished, their failures (just as important) as lessons learned, and their collaboration as support.

Tip #6: It can’t be stressed enough to not be overly focused on competition. Run your race, slay your dragons!!!

You don’t have to be the best of the best or exceptional to change the world. More importantly, you can do wonderful fulfilling accomplishments at your current skill level.

Tip #7: The takeaway is to let excellence be your finish line. In the sense of not stopping until we are proud of the work achieved. I fondly remember someone comparing his achievement as “Mama, look what I did”.

A friend of mine stated he lives by two codes:

“Do Hard Things” and “Embrace the Suck”.

He applied this to tech by taking on hard projects and learning hard concepts to make himself a better developer. He knows he will get frustrated and at times feel like he’s not getting anywhere. This is when knowing your “Why” and having a plan leads to success.

The quote “If you aim at nothing, you hit nothing” means you have to take action. In tech, this means:

  • Choosing something to learn in hopes that there is a payoff later.
  • Networking in hopes of some future benefit.
  • Taking on harder challenges in hopes you level up in the process.

Why did the aspiring developer cross the road, because that person wanted a better future. Yes, life could run over you but if you hedge your bets (find a mentor, coding partner, highly rated course) then you increase your chances.

Tip #8: Put in the work. Know your Why.

A big difference, besides luck, in those that accomplish their ambitions vs those that give up is the former make each hour count with a singular focus on a task and completing goals each day. They are content creators, builders, leaders, and innovators. They persevere through the worst circumstances and still produce, and it's because their "why" is so big that they refuse to fail.

When I have plenty of rest and I'm happy as a 2 year old in a mud puddle I’ve written some amazing code. Coding is a series of mental gymnastics and designing skyscrapers with our minds. Similar to playing a sport or exercising, you must prepare mentally, be in the present, your head in the game, and have that winning attitude if you want success.

“Do. Or do not. There is no try.” — Yoda.

Tip #9: Even if you fail, even if something goes wrong, it's fine. We fall down to learn how to get back up.

Fear can be a crippling disease of the mind. How we respond to our fears in tech can affect our job search or job performance. My personal example is fear of people. I should have said “YES” to every opportunity to network at tech meetups, college, and tech conferences' zoom meetings where companies set up to recruit people. But I was crippled by fear. I should have put on my fake fake smile, man up, and shoot my shot. Because when I made that mental change to be uncomfortable in pursuit of a better life, I was blessed with a job and a better life.

I've had to learn the hard way that fear in jobs and in life is necessary. It's there to keep you grounded and realistic. But at a certain point, you have to shake it off.

  • "I can't build this app because I haven't finished this curriculum!"
  • "I can't apply for this job because I'm safe where I currently am."
  • "I can't learn this because I might not be good at it!"

All of those statements are driven by fear and insecurity. You have to move forward regardless and tackle whatever it is you want!

My ending thoughts

I want to end these reflections with these thoughts. We have a tendency to be our worst critic or enemy. We limit ourselves because we are scared of failure, feel guilty for not being perfect, are lost through ignorance, or feel empty from the tribulations of life. The following quote has been the single most effective technique for me in getting out of my own way.

“Action creates clarity”

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