Learning How I Learn
Things that went through my head this week:
I hate commas and I hate their comma faces.
Hellooooo… Google. We meet again. And again. And again.
Maybe I’m actually right and my text editor is wrong?
I could have a baby in the time it takes Code Academy to run my code.
DO NOT INTERRUPT ME WHEN I’M CODING.
In my second and third weeks of tears, hair pulling and mind numbing battles with my editor, I am happy to report I also had myself a few “GGOOOAAAALLL!” moments.
I’m half way through my Code Academy Ruby modules and deep down the rabbit hole reading books and blogs and articles and papers including Learn to Program by Chris Pine and Practical Object Oriented Design In Ruby by Sandi Metz. The latter is slightly (read:WAY) over my head.
Over the years I’ve coached loads of people when they were feeling lost and confused. It might have been during an uncomfortable initial period when they were new to an organization and didn’t understand 95% of what someone was talking about in a meeting. Or maybe they were at a tech conference and it was intimidating and imposter syndrome was rearing it’s ugly head, and they started to mentally (and maybe physically) drift out the door. I encouraged them (if they could) to stay anyway and pay attention! To catch themselves and instead of leaning out, to lean in.
“You’ll be 5% smarter afterwards and that’s better than a stick in the eye!” I’d say to them!
Sure enough, after a few months of meetings and not knowing what the hell was going on, the “I’m totally lost” feeling would fade away. And then one day, sometime over the next year maybe they would present at their first conference or meet up. And they would always kill it. It does work to just hang in there when you don’t understand what’s going on. The knowledge and understanding will eventually come. I know this. And yet…
Personal Observation #1:
I have come to realize that independent learning is not for me. I cannot hold on to complex concepts if I’m alone in silence while I’m learning. If I don’t immediately replay it or practice the behavior with another human the concept escapes me and I have to go back over and over again until at some point I can scream my new smarts out to someone.
I have an extroverted learning style. This explains a lot given how much trouble I was always in for for talking in class as a kid. I wasn’t being precocious. I was paying attention. I was just trying to engage with other kids to confirm what I was learning. I was Hermione Granger!
This extroverted learning approach is 100% acceptable when understood by the student and the teacher. Unfortunately I did not learn this about myself until the day AFTER I turned 41.
This learning style can also be rather painful when combined with my observation number 2 for the week.
Personal Observation #2
As Andrew Smith writes in this month’s Economist’s1843 article Code to joy, “(In programming)…you’re kind of always on this frontier where you’re out of your depth. And one of the things you have to learn is to accept that feeling — of being constantly wrong.”
News flash for those of you who are not married to me, friends with me or report to me: I do not enjoy being wrong. I DO love learning and I love to try new things. I was blessed with some natural aptitudes and natural attitudes. (see: STRONG WILL) and I’ve had success learning all sorts of things personally and professionally. But programming is different from anything else I’ve learned. It is a complex domain, with complex concepts, and I’m learning it at a time when I haven’t had to stretch my mental elasticity this way in years (I’m OLD y’all).
One reason I don’t like being “wrong” (and holla if you’re like this too) is that I’m also incredibly hard on myself when I don’t “get” things right away. I put an enormous amount of personal pressure on myself. This is not fun. It shows up in ugly ways under embarrassment, frustration and impatience. Couple that with my need to be extroverted and sharing while learning and I have to navigate all those authentic emotions and private behaviors in front of somebody.
Oh it’s the worst.
But then, right when I am ready to give up in front of my mentor, something will click. And I’ll get it. And the code will work. His coaching advice? Lean in. Be kind to yourself. Enjoy that you figured out 5% of something. The rest will come in time. It’s just gonna take some time.
And that’s okay.