Happy to be a failure

What’s one of your biggest fears when it comes to your career? As a recovering ‘Imposter’, for me it was failure. Failing to continue pulling the wool over everyone’s eyes. Failing to succeed in the career I’d taken a massive risk for. Failing to “fit in”. Failing at the simplest of things. Failing a company that gave me my first role in tech. Failing my family, my friends…. Failing myself and having to start again. There was a lot riding on this career change. I could NOT under ANY circumstances fail…..

That’s a lot of pressure for a perfectionist like myself! I’d worked in the same industry for 19 years prior to switching it up. I’d known my job inside out and I was good at it. I could do it on auto-pilot. But I wasn’t passionate about it. This is different though. I’m a changed human! I enjoy my job. I enjoy problem-solving. I enjoy learning new things. I enjoy making a difference. I’m passionate about doing the best job I can. You’d think that’s the perfectionist in me, but it’s the closeted imposter, who seeks constant validation that they’re doing alright!

That’s progress though! I mean, I’m only partly joking… I NEED that validation! Not because I think I need to prove myself, but because I want to improve myself. There’s absolutely no point in me thinking I can compete with people with many, many years more experience than me, and I have no intention of trying. What I am going to do is listen, observe, take notes, learn everything I can from them.

It’s always been a strong belief of mine that we should own our mistakes, our failings, and our near-misses. It helps us to create a psychologically safe environment for everyone around us, and it’s that psychological safety that helps prevent mistakes, encourages collaboration, and creates a happy workforce.

“The one way to get me to work my hardest was to doubt me”

Michelle Obama

I don’t believe in ‘weaknesses’ (as in ‘tell me about your biggest weakness’). I’ve always been pretty stubborn like that. And so I accidentally developed a ‘growth mindset’. I say ‘accidentally’ because I find it conflicts with my dark sense of humour. People (including myself!) don’t expect it from me, and so I then have to convince myself (and others) that it really is me saying these things! So I don’t see something as being a weakness. I see it as an opportunity to learn and grow. Calling it a weakness sounds defeatist to me. Maybe I’m not so good at something. I’m good at other things. I’m just not so good at the thing. YET. I’ll get good – just give me time! I can’t be good at everything all the time!

How am I going to get better at the thing? Well, I’m going to practice. And I’m unlikely to get it right the first time. I might get it wrong many, many times. But each time I’ll learn something, and I’ll get closer to getting it right.

How fortuitous to work in an industry that seeks to “fail fast, learn fast”! I can do both of those things! Let’s reframe how we think about failure… If I write some code, and it does what I want it to do first time, I’m very cautious about it! That’s partly down to self-doubt, and partly down to the words of a wise man, spoken during a eureka moment I thought I was having during my

career-change journey… “That’s probably not doing what you think it’s doing”. He was right. It was doing what I thought I wanted it to do, but that was purely accidental. It wasn’t doing what I actually thought it was doing. Those words have stayed with me (haunted me, some might say!) since 2018. But it was probably one of the most important things I could’ve heard, and it’s always at the back of my mind when I run some code – whether it does what I want it to, or not, It’s made how I think about, and write code much more robust.

So, what’s my point? My point is, failure isn’t a bad thing and we should stop looking at it that way. It’s part of the journey from not being able to do the thing, to being able to do the thing. As a ‘recovering Imposter’, I can tell you, it’s incredibly liberating to surrender yourself to failure! Accept that you’re not perfect. Accept failure. Accept that learning is an iterative process. It can be frustrating, and it can take longer than you want it to.

As another very wise man once said, “it’s called software development, not software done”. I’m a software developer. I will continue to develop in my career. I’m completely comfortable with that now. I don’t want to know everything. Not yet anyway…

My name’s Debi, and I once unwittingly inserted 69 million rows into a table.

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Debi Skea
Debi Skea

Director & Co-Founder at Humans of Code

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