Monday, September 5, 2016

Help Those Behind You

The past few days have been pretty rough for me. I managed to get focused on the wrong things, and that had a pretty bad effect on me. I felt useless. I *know* I'm not useless, but that's different from feeling useless.

In my case, that means I need to reset my focus:
Help Those Behind You
Learn from Those Ahead of You
We are all in different places on our journey. And when we look at other people, sometimes we're on the same path, sometimes we're on different paths, and sometimes our paths cross.

Wrong Focus
Where I got into trouble was focusing on people who are ahead of me (and on some people who are on different paths). Specifically for me, this might mean a person who was selected to speak at a conference I was rejected from. It may mean a person who is teaching topics that are deeper and more interesting than what I teach. It may mean a person who is more productive at producing video content.

There will always be someone better than you at anything you can come up with. We want to look to those people because we can learn from them. But it's very easy to get focused on not being as good as someone else. When we get into that mindset, it can make us feel useless.

Right Focus
I find that I'm at my best when I'm helping someone else be better. In my world, that often means taking a previously obscure topic and making it clear and approachable.

And I can do this for everyone who is behind me on the path. I've had trouble learning certain topics. I've made mistakes and had failures. I've had some great successes.

I think about how I can guide the people behind me:
"Hey, watch out for that pothole."
"Take this detour; it's a bit longer, but you'll get there faster and easier."
"Slow down a bit here; there's a speed bump." 
When I do this, I know that I'm not useless.

Hang on to Positive Feedback
One thing that I do to keep myself on track is to review the ways that I've been helpful to people. That means digging through feedback from my presentations and comments on my videos & website.

When I have something like this:
Thank you so much; DI has been one of my weaknesses for years, but you've finally made it clear. It makes sense AND looks elegant to boot. Your presentation was clear, concise, and a simple explanation of confusing (at least to me) topic. Thank again!  
or this:
Thanks, Jeremy. Your tutorials really made me understand delegates properly, I now feel like I can identify when the proper time to use them is. I'll continue to check out your videos!
Then I know that I've helped someone along the path.

And now I don't only know I'm not useless, I feel like I'm not useless.

Continuous Learning
This doesn't mean that we stand still to help others. I know that I need to keep moving forward as well. I can learn a lot from the people who are ahead of me, and I try to do that as much as I can. (And I often don't do that as much as I should.)

In addition to learning from those ahead of us, we should also keep track of the not-so-positive feedback as well. I've used this to slowly improve over the years. A very specific thing I remember is someone who asked me to repeat questions from the audience when I was giving a talk -- it's usually difficult for other people to hear the question. (And thanks to Andrew, an attendee at one of my code camp sessions, for being the first one to point this out to me.) It took me a really long time for that to become a habit. But it is a habit now, and it's been a very good habit to have. (And I usually share that with other speakers when I notice that they don't do it.)

Sometimes you get feedback that is not positive and not helpful. It can hurt when this happens. We like to please everyone. But it's also impossible to please everyone. So don't focus too much on the negatives.

Instead, look for places to improve.

You Don't Have to be an Expert
But I've also found that it doesn't matter how far along the path you are, you can still be helpful.

As a recent example, I did a dive into learning F# by going through some of the Euler problems. I am not very far along the path of using F#. And I was using the Euler problems to better understand things myself. I wasn't sure if the articles that I wrote were useful to other people. Most of the feedback that I got was from the people ahead of me who sent in some good advice to help me move forward.

But when I was at Music City Code a few weeks back, I talked to 2 people who told me that they were following those articles and that it was helpful to them. That was encouraging for me considering that I knew there was a lot of information on F# out there, a lot of information on Euler problems, and all of it from people who were way more experienced than I was.

I encourage other people to try speaking at least once. A lot of people think that they don't have anything that's worth sharing (I know that I spent a good chunk of time thinking that). But it turns out that if you know 10% more than someone else, you are the expert in the room. It doesn't matter that there are people who know way more than you do. If you know just a little bit more than the people you're talking to, you can be helpful.

I usually tell people to think of that one moment in their career where they said, "I wish someone had told me about this earlier." This usually comes after struggling through a tough problem, or learning about something in the standard library you didn't know was there. If you've had that experience, then other people have had it too. You have something to share to help people avoid that same problem.

You don't have to be an expert.

You know more than someone else; you can help that person.

Moving Forward
So after spending a few days focusing on how far behind I am, I'm going to start focusing on how far ahead I am. I've never considered myself an expert in anything; that's because I know that there are lots of people who know lots more than I do. But there are a lot of people who are behind me on the path. And I can help them.

Reach out and help someone behind you.

Happy Coding!

No comments:

Post a Comment