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Timothy Merritt
Timothy Merritt

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It’s Okay to Feel Like You Suck: Mental Health Check-In

Hi, friends. The world has been a pretty harrowing place lately, particularly if you live in the U.S. (although if you live in New Zealand, please adopt me). Stressors can and do come from every corner of the big bad world, and none of it makes being a developer any easier. Here are a few tips to maintain your equilibrium in an already challenging field.

⚠️ Note: These tips aren't exhaustive, and if you're dealing with more serious issues, you should seek help from trained professionals. Check the resources listed at the end for options.

Fail

No, really. A large part of being a developer is constantly learning new things: learning new tech stacks that sometimes unravel previous knowledge, new ways of doing things you’ve already "mastered", but above all learning how to learn. And along with diving into new, scary subjects comes a propensity to get things wrong. That’s okay—get things wrong. Fail. Screw-up magnificently (just try to do it before you push to main). Every mistake you make helps you understand why it was a mistake, and how to improve the next time around. It doesn’t mean you’re a failure, it just means you’re learning.

xkcd #1739: Trying to fix the problems I created when I tried to fix the problems I created when I tried to fix the problems I created when…

xkcd 1739

The more comfortable you are diving into the unknown and making a mess the better adapted you’ll be as you continue on your journey. So fail spectacularly, learn from what went wrong, and then pick yourself up and keep going.

Pace Yourself

Are you in a rush to learn everything there is to know about development? Do you have short term plans that involve mastering multiple languages and workflows? Great! It’s good to be ambitious and eager, but literally no one knows it all. Know why? It’s impossible. The scope and depth of even "just" learning web development is massive. There will always be people who make everything look easy. There will always be more to do, more to learn, and more to make.

xkcd #1190: Time

xkcd 1190

Keep your focus on what you’re doing, and whether that means spending twelve hours a day coding (don’t do this long term) or trying to squeeze a half hour in somewhere between putting the kids to bed and trying to get some sleep (you’re a superstar), remember that you’re still making progress. Baby steps still carry you forward, and even if you end up taking a few steps back, you’re still moving. Acknowledge your milestones, and enjoy the ride.

Ask For Help

Just like how no one person can contain all the knowledge of the tech field, no one person built all of it on their own. Development can so often feel like a solitary endeavor (especially if you’re learning on your own), and by extension when you’re out of your depth it can seem like you’re the only one struggling. But one of the best ways to get out of the deep end is know your limits, and know when to reach out for help. Ask questions, seek advice, listen to feedback, collaborate with others, and realize that more often than not, two heads really are better than one.

xkcd #1831: Here to Help

xkcd 1831

Asking for help in itself can sometimes feel impossible, but taking that chance can act as a reminder that so many others have been where you are, struggled with what you’re struggling with. Giving and receiving that empathy can reinforce that we’re all human, we all make mistakes, and sometimes we all need some help. Asking for it isn’t weakness—it’s a valuable skill.

Stop Coding

Hear me out. I don’t mean quit altogether, but when it feels like no matter what you do you can’t get a print statement to work, or a git commit to take, and you’re ready to write “Hello world” with the entrails of your computer… it’s time to step away for a little while. Take a break. Take a long break if you need to. You could read a book, play a game, watch a movie, meditate, practice a hobby you have, or eat large quantities of chocolate—but what's most important is taking the kind of break that works for you. The point is to let the things you were stuck on melt away for awhile, so when you come back to them you do so with fresh eyes.

Compiling

xkcd 303

Don’t feel guilty when you need to press pause for a while, and don’t let anyone tell you that you must always keep pushing on at all costs. You’ll burn out, or start to resent what you’re doing. Particularly when you’re learning, your brain needs time to absorb the new information, and it can’t do that if you’re constantly pushing it. Learn when to stop, and you’ll be surprised how often you’ll end up finding your way back more clearly.

Be Kind to Your Butt

You know what I’m going to say. Do some stretches. Get up and go outside. Go for a walk. Pretend you’re an elite hacker being chased by mercenaries and let the fear of a convoluted plot motivate your exercise. Eat as healthy as you’re able and combine that with some daily exertion, and you’ll find your brain works much better when you’re trying to solve a difficult development task.

Exercise

xkcd 189

I’m not going to belabor this point, since we’re all differently abled and divided by our respective socioeconomic circumstances, but just do what you can to get some helpful nutrients in your body and some exercise, and your brain will thank you. No, the chocolate from earlier doesn’t count.

Putting it All Together

It’s a rough time right now, and if you’re learning or working in development it can be hard to juggle everything at once. So remember: it’s okay to fail, keep a steady pace, ask for help, take breaks, and try to eat something green and break a sweat regularly.

Resources

If you're in need of more serious help, you aren’t alone, and there are many resources available. And while I'm not a professional and can't vouch for the efficacy of any of these sources, they should be a good place to start.

U.S.-Based

International

  • Checkpoint has a long list of international websites and hotlines you can contact for a wide variety of needs.

  • TherapyRoute has lists for suicide and crisis helplines from around the world.


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ariajanke profile image
Aria Janke • Edited on

Dude, I've been at this for +15 years. I still can't even get/keep a secretarial/lackey/retail job.