Failure, Etc.

Over the past two years, I’ve been studying to become a professional database developer. I’m learning JavaScript, PHP, Python, and SQL, and I’m sure there will be more to come before I finish my degree.

Reader, I am not a very good developer. Learning new things is extremely difficult, even moreso when they are outside your normal intellectual fields of study. (In college, I majored in Literature, and then in Journalism, and finally in Philosophy. I was pre-law before my first college career ended abruptly, but that’s another story for another time.)

After my short-lived stint as an Internet retailer came to an end, I decided that the best way for me to make a living while not having to run Magic tournaments or make Frappucinos was to learn how to code. So here I am. I take online classes and night classes, two per semester, and it’s enough to keep me busy.

sucking
This resonates with me on a very deep level. And I don’t even watch Adventure Time.

I was a precocious child. I started reading at an early age, my childhood IQ scores were enough to draw attention, and I received a lot of positive attention from adults for my precociousness. In retrospect, I think I developed some unhealthy habits regarding approval and self-esteem as a result. I still try to shake them today. (The first part to fixing a problem is admitting that you have a problem, right?)

I bring this up because struggling with programming has led me to confront some challenging feelings (yay, feelings!) about no longer being precocious. I’m pretty solidly average at most things, but I’m definitely below-average when it comes to programming. I know that, eventually, I may become sufficiently competent that somebody would pay me to program for them, but there’s a lot of hard work between now and then.

On the other hand, what an opportunity, right? I’m closer to 40 than I am to 30, and I’m learning new things. It’s pretty incredible, even as it’s humbling and frustrating. I’m grateful for the opportunity to better myself and develop my brain. I’m learning that it’s okay to not be brilliant at something on the first try (or the second try, or the third try …), so long as you are willing to fail, and learn from your failures, and improve as a result.

Now, if only I could keep that in mind when I struggle my way through finals.

Superheroes & Philosophy

I was bulled in high school. This is only relevant because of what it taught me later in life. The kids who bullied me were assholes at the time, and I hope that they’ve grown into happier, kinder people since. (Though I wouldn’t be sad if they stubbed their collective toes every time somebody reads this post.)

As a victim of bullying, I became defensive about the things I liked. Anything I exposed about myself became something someone could use to hurt me. It meant that I hid my enthusiasm and assumed that I’d be judged harshly for it. I developed a layer of pretentiousness as a defense mechanism, and I carried it into college, where I decided I would become a philosopher.

Then I met John.

John and I took Applied Philosophy together, though we were not friends at the time. During one class, our professor asked us whether we would rather live in a world where everyone meant to do us well, but with negative outcomes, or in a world where everyone meant to do us harm, but with positive outcomes. I don’t remember my answer, but I remember John’s quite well. He replied that he’d happily live in the latter of the two worlds and added, “I could live in Castle Greyskull.”

I probably sneered at him as I retorted: “John, there are no superheroes in philosophy.” (What a jerk, right?)

At the time, I didn’t take John seriously. While it was obvious that he was very intelligent, I didn’t understand him at all. He seemed entirely comfortable being exactly himself. He loved professional wrestling, and Anime, and had a big laugh. John radiated happiness, and self-acceptance. John carried himself in such a way as to be completely devoid of shame, and twenty-something philosophy major me just couldn’t get it.

During lunches and dinners, as I passed by the table where John sat with his friends, he would heckle me. “What about Wolverine, Nick? Is there a Wolverine in philosophy? What about Godzilla?” (Damn right there’s a Godzilla in philosophy.) It didn’t take long for me to relent my pretentious position, and John and I became fast friends.

I like telling this story about John because, for all the reasons that I love him, one of the biggest is how fully and completely John accepts himself and loves himself. He embraces joy openly, loves people for who they are, and is as generous and as friendly a human being as you could ever hope to meet. People talk about the difference between biological family and chosen family, and I definitely claim John as my brother. I love him about as much as I love anyone. He has inspired me to become a better version of myself. It’s a hell of a gift.