Build Yourself Up

What I've written here is meant for developers but I think it could work for anyone :)

I feel like this post could be part of a series all about my experiences as a new developer that I've written about over the past year. It's been great having the chance to experience becoming a developer and share my thoughts along the way.

My idea for this post built up over a few months of working on a complex project at my new job. I was completely new to some of the technologies (React, Redux, GraphQL). At the start, I didn't use these, but rather took on smaller stories/tasks and tried to prepare for taking more complex ones.

A few months in, the larger stories began to grow in number and I tentatively took some on. At first, nobody expected me to go too fast and I asked a lot of questions. Eventually, I began to complete stories faster and with less help. While it was challenging and fun, there were times when I got stuck, felt frustrated and guilty about the time I took. Other negative things I felt included wondering whether I'd ever get better or ever learn how to do these things at all. In general, I was quite quick to put myself down when I didn't do something right the first time.

It struck me this week that I often put myself down for doing things wrong, but hardly ever build myself up when I do things right. I wondered why people tend to do this, and was reminded of something I learned studying child psychology.

Despite people having different ideas of what is right and wrong, it's usually clear whether something is one or the other. For children, this might be using a fork to eat their dinner vs. repeatedly chucking the fork as far as they can across the dining room. It somehow seems easier to react to the fork chucking rather than sitting and eating quietly. This means the child gets more attention for misbehaving than behaving well. In psychology, this is called giving positive reinforcement (attention) for 'wrong' behaviour, and no reinforcement for 'right' behaviour. This can lead to an escalation of negative behaviour and frustration for both the child and caregiver.

I think a few developers may do this to themselves - i.e. pay a lot of attention to their perceived failures and not enough to their victories. I've definitely done this a lot since becoming a developer. It might be because a lot more time and emotion is involved when something isn't going right. In contrast, when completing a task quickly and efficiently, it might seem less significant, and less energy might be put into celebrating. This is something I'm going to try and change. I think everyone needs positivity and reassurance when they are doing things right. Just as much from themselves as everyone else.

Being a developer can be really hard and feelings of frustration can be common. I'd love to hear ideas on ways to pay less attention to the frustrating moments, and celebrate the positive ones more. If you have any ideas, let me know :)