Some paths in life are clearly defined: How to graduate with a computer science degree, how to join the army, how to make oatmeal. But most things in life have a lot more ambiguity. There’s no path to relationships; no equation or steps that can lead you from point A to point B. There’s no guide to finding life-changing experiences, otherwise everyone would be following that same path and arriving at the same life.
A lot of other things in life are very loosely defined, and do not fit a prescribed pattern. As much as people try to tell us there is such a thing as a “career path”, most people arrive at their jobs based on who they know rather than the specified instructions that they followed from the time they graduated high school up to the interview. Careers and life goals are full of unexpected turns, and planning at a micro level can be very difficult. I am amazed at the people who plan out the next five years of their life like a movie plot, and follow a script to achieve the goals they are convinced they will get to.
Even though there is no “One true way” to becoming a web developer, there are many tutorials and classes and boot-camps that people use to go from step 0 to step 8 in a very sequential way. Believe me, I’ve used these resources before and I think they are invaluable for those initial steps of introducing yourself to code. But there comes a point in the developer training path where the path disappears, you’ve finished the tutorials, the boot-camp has ended, and your left to decide for yourself what you want to do.
This, to me, is very scary. I like knowing that I can just concentrate on following a path and it will get me where I want to go eventually. I can trust the path, and it will lead me there. But when my path is unclear, I still need to figure out what I should do. This is about those moments.
Less stories, more moments
The analysis paralysis of deciding long-term sequenced instructions is incredibly common on a college campus. Everyone feels like they need to be scripting out the story of their lives, planning for key events to happen in a certain order, and figuring out what their path should be to get to those key events. There are Google searches on “How to become a good developer” and books on “Becoming an Internet Mogul in 4 Easy Steps”. There are meetings with counselors and major maps and class scheduling that needs to happen in a very specific way in order for you to be happy, have a good job, and retire one day.
We are told a lot of stories by people who can look back on things and tell their lives in story form, with clear causations and beginnings, middles and ends. The difficulty in listening to all of these stories is that they don’t usually have a lot of nows. People tell the story about how they got to the great place they are, but they don’t usually say how they’re doing right now, or how they’re coping with everything at that moment. Because usually they are scared and uncertain and don’t know what the path is, even though the last five minutes has been spent talking about the path that seemed to lead them step by step to where they are.
The first step to feeling better about the story you are living is to stop worrying about figuring the story out and start exploring the moment, independent of everything else that is going on before and after it.
I think I’ll write a blog post tomorrow about how I specifically handle those moments. Let me catch up on some sleep and figure out the best way to write about it. What are the ways that you typically deal with anxiety and uncertainty?