I was a web developer for nearly 8 years as both a full-time employee as well as a freelancer and have written endless lines of codes for countless websites.
At no point during that time did I really feel 100% confident in what I was doing or consider myself an expert (despite selling myself as one) – to me, an expert would not make mistakes.
Frustratingly, no matter how much I learned and accomplished I would still make mistakes or run into problems I didn’t know how to solve. Even if there was a newer technology or way of doing something, I found myself relying on old techniques that I was more confident in.
I worked for a couple small companies where I was the only front-end developer and felt that I needed to be “the guy” since I was the most qualified employee to make any front-end decisions.
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Unfortunately, this only reinforced the imposter syndrome. I was not comfortable admitting my areas of weakness because I felt it would diminish my value.
This continued until I was having a conversation with my boss about professional development. He observed that graduation ceremonies, degrees, certifications, job titles give the false impression that it’s time to stop learning and time to start of doing.
In reality, the shift is from learning how to do things, to learning how to get better at doing things.
It’s counter-intuitive, but one of the best ways to get better is to fail and then figure out how to get past that failure. This allows you to directly confront issues that you might otherwise try to ignore or avoid. I
f you only approach problems using techniques you are already familiar with, you may have success but you won’t expand your knowledge.
This was stated very succinctly in the book The Lean Startup by Eric Ries: “If you can’t fail, you can’t learn”.
It’s difficult to make this perspective shift for many people, but even harder for freelancers. If a client or a customer is depending on you to be the authority, you don’t want to be experimenting and embracing the possibility of failure.
However, it’s still possible to have a growth mindset outside of the client context. If you try to market yourself or your product try new strategies and see what works and what doesn’t.
Pay close attention to where you’re failing and dig into how to fix it, rather than make excuses or write it off as “something that just doesn’t work for me”.
The Roman philosopher Seneca is quoted as saying, “To err is human, but to persist in error (out of pride) is diabolical.”
When I stopped thinking of myself as some certified expert and embraced the concept of continually striving to grow through mistakes it instantly improved my enjoyment of work. As humans we have a thirst for improvement but also the burden of making mistakes.
How to turn that burden into opportunity is the most positive lesson I have learned thus far in my professional career, but I am always looking forward to the next lesson.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments!
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