Behind the Scenes / January 2017

Combating the All Or Nothing Mentality

As a perfectionist, it’s a constant struggle not to consider myself a failure if I don’t complete all 50 tasks I line up for the day. At the start of each day, my motivation is incredibly high. I honestly do believe that I can do all 50 of those tasks. But by the end of the day, the guilt of only having completed 3-4 tasks settles in, and I throw in the towel in hopes that tomorrow will be the perfect day when I can do it all. Spoiler alert: I never get my perfect day.

Although I’ve been actively working to knock out this mentality over the past couple years, I truly had to conquer it when I was accepted into the Interactive Mechanics Fellowship Program. I’ve always been interested in web development and have taken online courses here and there. But I’d actually never built a project. I was stuck in this cycle where I felt like I didn’t know enough to start coding a project, so I’d use tutorial hopping as an avoidance maneuver. But now it was time to make that big leap.

At first, it gave me a lot of anxiety to think of an original prototype for my project. I chose to redesign my current music blog from scratch and re-integrate it on my pre-existing WordPress framework. Not only would I be using HTML, CSS and Javascript, I’d also be using PHP and WordPress to create and activate an entirely new theme. I cannot tell you how many times I second guessed myself in the beginning. Is this the most efficient way to code this? Ugh, I’m probably doing it the wrong way. This design is so elementary. There goes the negative thinking again.

It was about a month into the fellowship that I realized I needed to execute my first combative gesture: Re-evaluate and prioritize my goals and aspirations. And with my full-time position as a test engineer eating up on average 50 hours a week, I needed to keep that list short.

There are 2 things I knew that I wanted with 100% certainty.

Be a web developer.

Run my music blog effectively.

And there were other things that I also wanted but weren’t quite as important and thus had to be dropped from the list.

Be a concert photographer.

Master the art of playing guitar.

Learn to create virtual reality video games.

Master African dance.

And when I say “dropped from the list”, I don’t mean I will never touch them again. It just means that I am no longer going to actively plan time towards those goals because they are not my priority at the moment. But if I feel like picking up my guitar and pretending I’m the next Tracy Chapman, I will absolutely do so.

So now that I’ve shortened my goal list, it was time to analyze how my time was spent currently and find areas for improvement. I became hyper aware of how much time I spent on Netflix and I now limit it to 30 minutes on weekdays and 1-2 hours on weekends. Setting those guidelines opened up 2-3 hours after work to allocate towards my goals and I became more hopeful.

I made a plan to work on my project each day after work. Actually executing my plan was the hardest step, especially with working a stressful job when I want to melt into bed when I get home. Steve Kamb’s ‘Is Motivation Useless?’ helped push me in the right direction. It was a big eye-opener to realize that I should never depend on simply being motivated to do something. Sure, motivation will help create that goal you’ve been yearning for. You can’t depend on motivation to conveniently be there for you after a horrible day at work. What you can depend on is willpower and an established habit towards greatness (i.e. your goal). And that is what I have been putting into practice through weekly planning, mindfulness and self-control habits like turning off my phone while I’m working.

Although I can’t say that I have mastered this fine art completely, I am definitely making progress. Every time I sit down to code right after coming home from work, I recognize the after-work fatigue subsides about five minutes into coding. And after I’m free of the fatigue, it ends up being quite easy to get lost in coding up until bedtime.

My finished product for the Interactive Mechanics fellowship will not only be a real world sample of my coding skills, but a victory over the negative ‘all-or-nothing’ perfectionist mentality.

The Interactive Mechanics Fellowship Program aims to build capacity for representation and inclusion in the technology field. We see it as a mutual learning experience for the fellows and for our existing team, so we’ve asked our fellows to share some of their expertise on our blog.