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Make Your Obstacles Irrelevant

Published 6/7/2021

Your obstacles are not a test of pride or an opportunity to prove yourself. They are in your way. There's more than one way to deal with this - so why do we so often choose a difficult path? Perhaps it is pride, or maybe we like testing our fortitude. But if you care less about proving yourself and more about accomplishing your goals, you need to look at obstacles with more nuance. In this episode, we talk about making your obstacles irrelevant.

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Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
How many times do you feel like you have tried as hard as you can possibly try? You have extended all of your effort. You leave work or you leave the gym or you fall into bed totally and completely exhausted. The next day you look at the progress that was made and it seems like you've had a wall. In today's episode, I want to talk about obstacles and we'll do a quick visualization to think about our obstacles in a new way. My name is Jonathan Cutrell, you're listening to Developer Tea. My goal on the show is to help driven developers like you find clarity, perspective, and purpose in their careers. Obstacles are in our lives every day. Sometimes those obstacles are continuous. Things that we know we are going to face, they are things that we can't ever necessarily remove from our lives. But other times, obstacles are movable. They are something that will expire, given enough time, or something that we can compensate for. But very often we treat every obstacle the same. Instead of seeing obstacles or difficulty as another problem to solve, we turn it into a war of pride. We imagine that if we have enough resolve, if we put in enough grunt work, if we spend enough of our energy, if we're good enough, if we are dedicated enough, if we sacrifice enough, that somehow the cosmic kind of judge of our situation will grant us victory over the obstacle. This simply is not how obstacles work. Now, I do want to take a moment and talk about the idea of struggle. And the fact that yes, there are some struggles that will kind of hone us. When we extend ourselves to the very edge of our abilities, that's a place where we learn a lot. But understand that when we're extending ourselves to the edge of our abilities, it's not necessarily going to be effective against a given obstacle. I like to think of this as kind of a treadmill, or you can imagine a wall that is intentionally impossible to climb, but also improves your technique in climbing. If you extend your energy to the edge of your ability, you still are not going to be able to overcome the obstacle, but you may improve your skill. So there's something to be said for the people who have done this in their careers. People who have gone to this level of exertion, very often they do see benefits, but it's not necessarily because that level of exertion allowed them to overcome the obstacle. Sometimes it is possible to overcome an obstacle purely through that exertion. And doing so is a huge rush of adrenaline and dopamine. All of those good chemicals that tell you that you did something right. And so the next time that you encounter an obstacle, you're going to reach for that familiar feeling of overextending. But as we've already mentioned, not every obstacle is the same. In fact, most often, the best thing that we can do with an obstacle is to make it irrelevant. In our minds, I, we can imagine that an obstacle is a big boulder in the middle of our path, and that the path is set out before us, and that we didn't necessarily have anything to do with where that path goes. But if instead you imagine that the path is actually being created as you go, well, of course, if you encounter an obstacle on what you thought was going to be a path, it's just as easy to change that path. Thereby, you're making the obstacle irrelevant. So this is the mental model of kind of making that obstacle irrelevant. But how do we make this practical? What does it mean to make an obstacle irrelevant? Well, most of the time, an obstacle in our path is actually a group of assumptions mixed with some external realities, maybe mixed with some internal realities. It's a cocktail of situation, not necessarily universal truth. We're going to take a quick sponsor break, and then we'll come back and talk about how we deal with this cocktail of situation. This episode of Developer Tea is supported by Remote Works, podcasts that tells extraordinary stories of teams that made the shift, deflexible working. The way we work has changed forever, and in each episode of Remote Works, host Melanie Greene tells an insightful story about how people and companies are adapting. Last season, in preventing burnout, we learned about the challenges and the rewards of working remotely during a pandemic. A recent study actually found that 75% of workers have experienced burnout, and 40% said their burnout was a direct result of the pandemic. But what if we can't see the burnout before it happens? What if we don't know the signs of that impending burnout? Well, we hear firsthand from someone who has been through burnout as well as expert advice on how to recognize it and what can be done to prevent it from happening in the first place. Remote Works is covering all kinds of ground in this third season, for example, while many are staying in cities, many others are leaving for smaller centers, moving far from where they work. Data from moving companies shows that the pandemic has driven an abnormally high percentage of immigration out of major urban centers, like San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, DC, etc. Episode 3 is all about this new driver of urban flight, and this is something that software engineers are probably acquainted with. We are one of the groups of people who is working remotely more often. Go and check it out wherever you find and listen to podcasts. We'll include a link in the show notes once again that's remote works. Thanks again to remote works for their support. So if many of our obstacles are a cocktail of situation, this idea that there isn't one thing necessarily that makes up a given obstacle. We should do what we do with most problems initially, it is deconstruct them. There are parts of this cocktail that you cannot change that are external to you. There are realities that you can't necessarily influence, certainly not quickly. And so we can ignore some of those, but we can focus on some of the pieces that we can change. If our obstacle becomes small enough, and it's possible that it becomes essentially a bump in the road rather than a towering mountain. But more often than not, a strategy that may work just as good or better is to change the surrounding situation so that the obstacle is irrelevant. Changing the surrounding situation so that the obstacle is irrelevant. What does this mean? Imagine that you have a problem statement that describes your obstacle. I want to become a software engineer, but I can't because I don't have the time to learn how to code. This is an example of an obstacle. I don't have the time to learn how to code. Now looking at this situation cocktail, we can see that one of the assumptions is that software engineers have to learn how to code. We also can see that one of the assumptions is that you need to add on this activity to everything else that you're already doing. And if we can say, okay, you no longer need to learn how to code. Let's imagine, kind of play a simulation here in our minds, a thought experiment, of a world where software engineers didn't need to learn how to code. Of course, this sounds kind of wild initially until you realize that a lot of the things that software engineers used to have to do as kind of a baseline they no longer have to. So if we can remove some of these assumptions like needing to learn how to code, then we can change the obstacle itself. We may need to zoom in a little bit on this obstacle as well. When you say you don't have the time, what specifically is happening with your time now? Maybe the answer is that you don't have the time because you already have a full-time job. Well, perhaps it's possible to start learning how to code in your current job. Or alternatively, maybe there's a way to get into an industry that's different from the one that you're currently in that would encourage you to learn on the job. And so assuming that you look at your job as an opportunity to make money and that money is necessary in order to bridge the gap from where you are today to becoming a software engineer. And if you were to change the job, the reason that you don't have the time to learn how to code, if you change it from an obstacle into an opportunity that the job itself is encouraging you to learn how to code, then perhaps you've changed the obstacle. So instead of imagining that your pathway goes from point A to B, maybe point B is not being a programmer. Maybe there are a series of steps that put you into a position to become a programmer. And it goes from A to B to C to D. And D was the ultimate destination. The straight line from A to D doesn't exist because the obstacle is in the way. And so it may be that you need to change your job to something different that isn't necessarily a programmer initially. And that will change the way that you spend your time. Now again, going back to our initial statement, the idea here is not to say, well, you just need to suck it up. You need to try harder. You need to stay up later. Sleep less. None of these solutions is going to be the most effective solution. Could you find more time in your schedule? Probably is the obstacle likely to be overcome if you were to stop spending, I don't know, spending your time watching TV. Maybe you watch TV. Some kind of leisure activity if you were to cut it out and suffer a little bit more. It's possible that you could spend the time that you currently use in a leisure activity, learning to code. It's possible that sacrifice could age you in this process. But it's not always the only answer. When you face an obstacle, imagine solutions that don't require you to sacrifice. Imagine solutions that don't necessarily play with that pride or the title of a hard worker. And instead, instead of overcoming your obstacles, imagine removing them. Thanks so much for listening to today's episode of Developer Tea. I hope you found this episode inspirational. I hope that those of you who feel like you're struggling with an obstacle, you find that this gives you some hope and maybe a way forward. Thank you again to today's incredible sponsor for their support. That's remote works. This is a podcast that tells extraordinary stories of teams that made the shift to flexible working. One of the episodes that I listened to recently, by the way, was the one about desks, the different kinds of desks you have. I've mentioned it on the show before. This is a really cool episode. I recommend you go and listen to that episode and all of season three. You can find it on any podcasting app that you're currently using to listen to this podcast. Speaking of, if you haven't yet subscribed to Developer Tea, that's the best way to stay up and current with the most recent episodes. We have something like 950 of these things out now. It's a lot of content and we're not stopping anytime soon. If you want to continue to receive these episodes, then go ahead and subscribe whenever podcasting app you currently use. Additionally, another way you can find out about new episodes and also participate with myself and other software engineers that are looking to level up in their careers is to join the Developer Tea Discord community. Head over to developertea.com slash discord to join today. Thanks so much for listening and until next time, enjoy your tea.