Being Mindful of Personal Growth

posted on 12/08/07 at 09:00:43 pm by Joel Ross

After posting about my lack of growing lately, I was checking my "To Blog" folder in FeedDemon, and I already had a post flagged to blog about from J.D. Meier. He's got a bulleted list of things to do to ensure you have a mind-set to grow, rather than being content with your current knowledge. His suggestions are all really good, but a few stuck out for me.

Remind yourself you're growing or dying.  You're either climbing or sliding, there's no in-between (and the slide down is faster than the climb up!)

Software development isn't like riding a bike. If you stop doing something, you'll lose your skills. And you lose those skills a lot faster than you gain them.

Learn to like what growth feels like.   I used to hate the pain of my workouts.  Now, I know that's what growth feels like.  The better I got at some things, the more I hated how awkward I was at some new things.  Now I like awkward and new things.  It's growth.

When I first started consulting, I remember going home and having conversations with The Girlfriend (now known as The Wife) about how I didn't know if I was cut out for this software thing. I was just coming out of college and didn't have a clue what real software development was like. What I was doing didn't seem to make sense, and I didn't understand a lot of what was expected of me. I was expected to write SQL and VB code, but I had no clue what that meant. And don't even get me started about understanding the business reasons for doing it! To be honest, I was scared that I would fail because of what I was feeling - growing pains.

Things eventually came around. I got much more comfortable with what I was doing, and by realizing that I could adapt to new situations, I gained confidence. I got to the point where I looked forward to new environments - things I didn't have any experience in. Fear was replaced by excitement. The thrill of the unknown and the adrenaline rush you could get from doing new things was awesome, and I learned to embrace them.

Find a mentor and coach.  It doesn't have to be official.  Find somebody who's great at what you want to learn.  Most people like sharing how they got good at what they do.  It's their pride and joy.  I used to wonder where the "mentors" are. Then I realized, they're all around me every day.

At my first job, we each had a dedicated, official coach. His job was to ensure that I had all of the tools I needed to get where the company needed me to go. He was also the one person to go to when I had questions that I didn't know who to go to. He was key to my development early on, and I appreciate everything he did for me.

As I moved on, I no longer had an official coach, but I still have someone who I can go to when I need advice, and it's very useful to have someone with that experience. I'd recommend that everyone have someone like that - and not just a technical mentor. A "real world" mentor is just as important as a "work world" mentor.

There's a lot you can take away from J.D.'s list, but there's one link that's especially interesting, from Scott Berkun. It's about why being bad at something is good:

[...] being bad is a requirement in doing new things. To start anything new I have to concede badness

He suggests finding joy in being bad at something, but at the same time, not so much joy that you never try to improve. He gives a three step program to better yourself by focusing on the badness.

  1. Pick up a new activity that I’m bad at.
  2. Spend time enjoying my badness at that thing while trying to learn it.
  3. If I somehow get good at that thing, go to #1

Maybe I'll start the same thing, starting with singing. Of course, I'd feel bad for the people sitting by me!

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Categories: Consulting, Personal, Development