It occured to me that I haven’t posted an update since the last one, which was a measured account of my self-doubts when it comes to programming. I really appreciate the support and outreach I’ve gotten from the community about this. Three weeks later, I finished said Backbone project, with a lot of help from smart people, but I did it. Ken Schwencke, a mentor from my time at the LA Times, wrote to me that I shouldn’t be surprised. “Dearest @michelleminkoff, as long as you have time, a keyboard and an Internet connection, you can do pretty much anything.” And I guess that’s true.
Of course, the day I finished said project, I started the Next Hard Thing. I don’t really get it, but I get it more each day. And I take great comfort in the fact that each day, I’m one step closer to understanding. New attitude: What’s the next thing I don’t know now, but am going to know soon? I believe that I can accomplish what is asked of me.
I’ve often said I don’t want to turn into a computer scientist. I’d like to take that back. As long as I’m still doing it in the service of journalism, it’s more than okay. I’m having a lot of fun with it. I’m even respected for my attempts. I still feel stupid trying to articulate what I’m doing, but I’m told that’s part of why I’m being made to do it. I’m really lucky to be in a place that takes my technical and emotional failings as they are, and trusts in what I can be. The least I can do is afford myself the same courtesy.
I’ve been thinking about two quotes a lot recently. The first comes from Ira Glass, of NPR, and has circulated the Web before:
“What nobody tells people who are beginners — and I really wish someone had told this to me . . . is that all of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, and it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not.”
“But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase. They quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work.”
In other words, it’s okay that I feel like I’m not living up to my potential right now. I must not give up. The most important thing I can do is do more work. Too bad there’s not anything to do at my job…(you know I’m kidding, right?)
And the other quote that I live my life by these days, comes from boss Jonathan himself (this should shock no one). I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. It’s made to address my issues with the balance of being a journalist and a computer scientist — but really, it’s a life motto.
“Don’t worry about what the “right” mixture is or how you describe your affiliations. Just worry about living your life in a way that changes you and the world in a way that is pleasing.”
I enjoy my work. I enjoy what I’m learning. I enjoyed going to a museum this weekend, and I enjoyed reading my code structuring book. I enjoyed going out to brunch with friends, and I enjoyed getting enough sleep for once, and I gave myself permission to…do as I wished.
Perhaps this is the reality. I’ve kept a certain pace — if I can only get this far this month, maybe someday I’ll land somewhere I can make that difference. I can be all I expect of myself. And once I get woken up, and realize this isn’t real, then I’ll let go. And not dream about code. And say, ‘That was some fun make-believe, Michelle.”
But there is no soon-approaching end. I’m in it for the long haul. This is real. I’m no longer a newbie five months in. So I’ve got to make sure what I do is sustainable. because the only thing worse than me not moving fast enough to achieve my potential, is burning out to such an extent that I can never achieve that potential.
And that simply cannot happen.