Growing Pains

Yesterday, I was positive I would repeat this phase. In fact, I had begun toying with the idea that I’d made a huge mistake, that I’d never get the hang of this, that the real-world workload would bury me even if I managed to fake my way through the second half of the program. I had been falling farther behind every day of the previous week, and I’d wake up feeling more afraid each morning as the burden of unfinished work got heavier and heavier. In short, I spent last week in a crescendoing panic that reached its peak when a brand new thing called AJAX reared its ugly head and reminded me just how poorly I had grasped the fundamentals taught during the “easy” week of Phase 2.

Today, something changed.

I still have a lot of practicing to do. AJAX is still a baffling knot of morphing variables and foreign jQuery verbs. I still might end up repeating, missing out on the chance to build my final project with this cohort I’ve come to love so dearly. With only a week to go before my readiness is assessed, my best effort at regaining a foothold still might not be enough for my abilities to meet my standards this time around.

Those things might or might not happen later on. But I had let “later on” become a shield, a barrier protecting me from the pain of struggling through the present moment. Instead of diving in, getting stuck on rough code, and fighting my way through it, I had let my musings separate me from the work I came here to do.

Start learning guitar tomorrow, an hour a day, and your fingers will curse you before the weekend. The strings dig into your skin; sliding digits around to find the right frets becomes an exercise in agony. And with your weak, untrained hand gripping the neck, the chords will come out muted and wrong no matter how hard you press down. Pain begets frustration begets pain. You’ll never play like the guitar gods. You can’t even play something recognizable. So you dwell in that feeling for weeks, simmer in it, because it might hurt, but your fingers were hurting worse.

It’s like that with anything, I think. I know it’s like that with code. It’s not fun to spend six hours building something that barely works and looks crappy doing it, gritting your teeth through frustration and rage just to create a buzzing, sour chord you’re not really proud of.

For the last week, I’ve been despairingly idolizing my cohort’s stronger boots, our guitar gods, because it’s been easier than grabbing the keyboard and letting myself be bad at something in real life. Thoughts of failure hurt, but they’re still thoughts, and that means they live in my head, where I know my way around. It’s comfortable in here even when it hurts. What’s not comfortable is the work of personal change, that uncertain slog towards unpredictable growth. Before those calluses come in, it stings every time I play this new instrument.

Still…the calluses do come in. With enough repetition, the repetition itself stops feeling like a chore and starts feeling like progress. Eventually, chords start sounding like chords, and they occasionally happen at the right time. Before long, the music you’re making sounds like something you actually want to listen to, and then you’re golden. Then you can really start creating something beautiful, and the creative process will give you more energy than it takes away.

The irony is that I play my guitar every day at DBC. I remember how it felt before the calluses. I know dedication and focused practice can turn infuriating pain into something that can give me a sense of mastery. Yet my instinct whenever I face something new and difficult, something I can’t master on the first couple of tries, is to shrink back into my thoughts and hope it will be too late for real effort when I snap back to reality.

Sometimes it hurts less to despair than to grow.

But not all the time. Sometimes it hurts most to do nothing, and that’s the situation I found myself in today. Because today was the day I realized I might miss graduating as a Bobolink if I let myself stay afraid of the pain. These are my friends now, and I want them by my side through every step of this journey. If I need to repeat, I’ll end up with a deeper, more nuanced understanding of this phase’s material, and three extra weeks to build my knowledge base outward. But I’ll also have to say goodbye to the best cohort ever, and I’m not ready to accept that possibility yet.

I didn’t just learn to play guitar for the hell of it. I wanted to write songs that people could sing along to. I wanted to be the person people could count on when they were feeling down, the guy with the music on his back. And once I knew why I wanted to play guitar, the how took care of itself. Hands don’t hurt as much when they’re working on a dream.

My dream for this next DBC week is a small one, but I think it will be enough. I want to catch up because the people in my cohort are worth catching up to. And then I want to keep pushing, so when it’s time for final projects, I can contribute in a big way. I want to be the person people can count on.

Today, I’ve stopped worrying about how to get back on track. Today, I’m focused on why I want to get back on track. With that motivation in mind, I believe the how will take care of itself.

With only a week to go, my best effort still might not be good enough. But I have a feeling that my best effort is about to get a whole lot better.

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