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Productive Self-Sabotage

Published 5/8/2020

We often don't know about all of the failures that exist, but what causes failure?

The path to success is filled with failures along the way. In today's episode, we're challenging you to take a step into an unknown situation with understanding that you will likely fail and what failure means to your personal and professional growth.

🙏 Today's Episode is Brought To you by: Linode

Whether you’re working on a personal project or managing your enterprise’s infrastructure, Linode has the pricing, support, and scale you need to take your project to the next level. Get started on Linode today with a special $20 credit for listeners of Developer Tea.

Visit: linode.com/developertea and use promo code developertea2020

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Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
What causes us to fail? This is a huge question with many answers. And we're going to talk about some of those answers on today's episode of Developer Tea. My name is Jonathan Cutrell and my goal on this show is to help different developers like you find clarity, perspective, and purpose in their careers. Here is extremely common. In fact, we probably don't even know how common it is as a result of survivorship bias. This idea is that we often don't know about all of the failures that exist. And if you were to count in action as a different type of failure, you could imagine that opportunity cost represents an even larger portion of failure that happens in the world as it relates to what would otherwise be possible. Now my goal on this episode is not to create a grim picture or to discourage you from trying something new, from breaking out of your existing mold, taking a step towards something courageous. In fact, at the end of this episode, I'm going to challenge you to do just that. But instead, it is to recognize, first of all, kind of establishing the reality that failure is common. Failure also has perhaps an undeserved stigma. The idea that success should be more common than failure is a pipe dream. And perhaps as you've noted that failure and success are not easily measured. Failure is a part of success. Often it's encapsulated by success. Your path towards success is going to have a series, most likely, of failures. So we've established two things so far in today's episode. The first is that failure is incredibly common. The second is that it probably gets more of a bad rap than it should. One of the reason for this is because our predictions about failure tend to be quite wrong. Our predictions of how we will adapt to failure, although we are otherwise overconfident as humans, our predictions of how we adapt to failure tend to be negative. It's easy to allow our anxiety to fuel this negative picture that failure is somehow going to be our ultimate undoing. We so much distort this picture of failure that it makes us deathly afraid of it. In fact, this is, most likely, part of the reason why we don't try things. We are afraid of the change of succeeding initially and then failing miserably afterwards. Even if we fell back to our current position, the change to the positive and then falling back down from that positive direction back to wherever we are now is more painful for some reason than just staying the same. Perhaps because we don't like change as humans, we like to stay safe and we like to avoid uncertainty. Rationally speaking, this means that we're never taking chances. Of course this is not the rule. It does seem to be the norm that people are avoiding chance. They're avoiding risk and they opt instead to choose a safe path. This isn't wrong, but it does say something about our avoidance of risk and a prediction of circumstances that are unlikely to come true. Remember we said that we over exaggerate the effects of failure. So what can we do about this? How can we be better at calculating our risks? We're going to talk about a little slice of that. There's a huge amount of information available not on this podcast beyond this 10 minute podcast about this topic. We're going to talk about a very small slice of this, something very practical. Right, after we talk about today's sponsor, Linode. Linode has been a sponsor of this show for a long time and for a reason they care about developers. It's a company made of developers, by the way. If you want to be a developer at Linode, you can have it at Linode.com slash careers. They are hiring. But Linode is always improving their service offerings with a focus on developer experience. Linode is not just a run of the mill server farm with a bunch of confusing documentation and configuration in their proprietary platforms. They're going to give you root access to a Linux server for those low as $5 a month. And of course, they have an API and a Python CLI to administer your server in whatever unique and automated ways you can come up with. Linode also participates in open source. They actually open sourced their own cloud manager application. It's a single page application. You can find it on github.com slash Linode. Go and check it out. Head over to Linode.com slash Developer Tea. Use the code Developer Tea 2020 checkout. That's Developer Tea 2020 checkout for $20 worth of credit if you are a new Linode user. Thanks again to Linode for sponsoring today's episode of Developer Tea. Now we're talking about the fear of failure in today's episode. Specifically, we've discussed the fact that we kind of blow out of proportion the effects of failure, which often causes us to not take any risks at all. Because we predict that those risks are going to be catastrophic if the failure actually occurs. And so we end up staying more or less at the status quo. Maybe taking very sure bets. There's nothing necessarily wrong with this. But because of our built-in biases and because of our fear of failure, we often over tune to that safety. And here's the most important part of this discussion, but I really want you to take away from today's episode. I want you to imagine what failure looks like today for you. What are you afraid of in your day that could cause failure? What is that specific scenario? For example, maybe you push a bug to production that takes down the server or loses half of your customers for some reason. Or maybe you accidentally expose a bunch of sensitive data and you're immediately fired. And everyone burns their bridges with you. This is the kind of scenario that plays out in a lot of our heads, quite frankly. It can be very scary to imagine these scenarios. And so we might be afraid, for example, to push code to production. Because that is the trigger point in our nightmare scenario where we push code to production that brings the server down. But what's really happening underneath and why this is so difficult to get past is that our brains don't see these kinds of mistakes, these kinds of threats as simply logistical threats. Our brains parse these kinds of threats as fundamentally threatening to our livelihood. And so when we imagine failure, our brains distort this into life-threatening situations, not simply a change in income, for example. The real outcome of failure is something that is often felt more than it's rationalized. And it makes sense for us to imagine the worst possible failure outcome. What exactly would happen? What would be the difference in your life? Let's say if you were to measure it out over the course of two or three weeks or even two or three months, what is the real impact on your identity or on your ability to carry a job? Now, that's not to say that there aren't real threats to your livelihood. Of course, most of the time not in your workplace. And it's also not to say that there are only two kinds of threats, that there are the livelihood threats and then there's the other easy ones. Sometimes there's things that are in between. Going without income for an extended period of time can be really difficult. So I don't want to discount the difficulty here. But what I do want you to do is recognize that very often the things that we're afraid of don't match up with reality, number one. And number two, the things that we're afraid of are not often the cause of our failures. That's the important kind of nugget to take away from this episode. The things that we are often afraid of are very rarely the actual causes of failure. A very simple example is that you're afraid to push to production. And so by not pushing to production, you don't bring the server down. But you also do this chronically. You're afraid to push to production. So your organization and your product start to fall behind your competitor. Then eventually the cause of your failure is your inaction. There was never a single dramatic moment and it probably felt quite safe. This is like the, I'll be at violent metaphor of boiling the frog. And so we end up in this scenario where the things that we are afraid of are very unlikely and they're very rarely the cause or the picture of failure. So how can we have a more accurate picture of what may really cause our failure? Well, instead of trying to avoid it, instead of viewing it through the lens of something you're afraid of and therefore you're shying away from it, you don't want to investigate it thoroughly. But I want you to imagine that you're trying to induce failure. That you're trying to cause failure. This is just a thought experiment. All you're going to do is write this stuff down or imagine it in your head. Probably helpful if you have something to take a list down with. What are three or four ways that you could ensure that even at a small scale, let's say today, that today you cause failure. If you do this at the personal level, imagine that you have a, you know, a nemesis that's following you around and you've written down your goals for the day. Now imagine that nemesis trying to keep you from achieving those goals. How would they do it? Instead of putting you in a car and forcing you to wreck, they might simply distract you. Of course, the same kind of thought experiment works on a larger scale. How can you cause failure across the course of this year? Your goals for this year. How can you imagine a larger scale plot to get in the way of those goals being achievable? This also works for organizations. If you wanted to take your own company down, what would you do? Not from the inside, of course, because it's very unlikely that you have somebody who is a mole in your company trying to take it down, but instead from the outside. Imagine from your competitors perspective or another view that you might take on this is imagine this from an author's perspective. They're writing a story about the grand failure of your company. What would they write? How did it fall apart? Here's why this kind of thought experiment is so useful. It interrupts our fearful thinking and instead replaces it with strategic thinking. This is slower thinking, less reliant on heuristics and more reliant on rationality. This kind of rational thinking is more likely to enlighten you to a more realistic picture of failure. And once you have a more realistic picture of failure, two things can happen. One, you can kind of estimate how much of an effect that will really have on you. And then the second thing is you can better prepare for those more rational reasons for failure. Thank you so much for listening to today's episode of Developer Tea. Of course another thank you to today's sponsor, Linode. Head over to linode.com slash Developer Tea. Take it started today with $20 worth of credit. Make sure you use the promo code Developer Tea 2020 at checkout. Thank you so much for listening to today's episode. If you find this episode valuable at all, try to put a dollar number on it. Was it worth $5 to you? Do you think maybe over the course of your career, what we talked about in this episode could be worth $50 or $500? Here's the reality. That value I want to make available to other developers like you who find value in the show. And the best way I can do that is if you leave a review in iTunes. This is a very easy way to provide value back to me and help ensure that we can keep doing this show and help other developers find it on iTunes. Thanks so much for listening to today's episode. This episode was produced by Sarah Jackson. My name is Jonathan Cutrell and until next time, enjoy your tea.