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Uncomfortability, the Ultimate Teacher

Published 6/26/2020

In today's episode, we're talking about an environment of learning that you can create on your own. 

How can we create an environment that puts us in a state of discomfort in order to keep us growing?


🙏 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

P.s. They're also hiring! Visit https://www.linode.com/careers to see what careers are available to you.


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Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
I want you to think back to the times that you learned your most important lessons. Obviously, this may be a little bit difficult to recall all of them, but choose one or two. And I want you to return to that place in your mind and try to remember what exactly was the teacher. That's what we're talking about in today's episode. My name is Jonathan Cutrell and 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. Learning and growth are entangled together in our lives. And there are times when we think that we have a very clear teacher. Certainly, when we have a mentor or even when we're actually in school and we have someone who has the title of teacher. But very often the teacher is more a part of the circumstance or maybe the learning is a result of multiple things. There's no one specific teacher that exists in that particular environment. In today's episode, I want to talk about one specific type of environment that you can seek out. You can intentionally seek this out. You don't need a specific person to teach you these things. Instead, you can create an environment of learning that teaches you on its own. This is really the habit, the identifying habit between really high performers and people who stay relatively static throughout their careers. Now, we're not going to claim to have some special secret that you can't get on any other podcast. We're not going to talk about this differentiator being the key to unlock all of your future success. But instead, I want to discuss this with the presence of mind to understand that we're observing it. This isn't easy to do. This isn't a simple hack that's going to flip your career upside down. But I want to talk about this learning environment. And specifically, I want you to focus on one feeling, one specific feeling, or maybe a group of similar feelings that might help you realize when you're in this kind of environment. And that is uncomfortability. Uncomfortability. This is the feeling of being at the edge of your ability, or maybe being confronted with some harsh realities. Maybe receiving some negative feedback or losing out to an opponent. Maybe it's being turned down for a job, or maybe it's being let go of your existing job. There are all of these moments of uncomfortability that provide us with a natural learning environment. We're going to talk about that learning environment. But first, I want to take a moment to differentiate between the uncomfortability that comes from something that we should escape, or that we don't desire, versus the comfortability that comes from something that we do desire. You can use this simple metaphor of exercise. Exercise is typically not comfortable. Parts of it might feel good, but when you are exercising hard, if your heart rate is up really high, and you're pushing yourself to the edge of your ability, you're probably not going to be incredibly comfortable. However, it's a different comfortability problem. It's a different type of pain when you push yourself past a particular breaking point, or when you do something that wasn't intended to be done, think breaking a limb or moving your body in a way that it's not coordinated or intended to move. These are two different types of uncomfortability. We can go through this in our mental comfortability as well. It's important to delineate, and this is very hard to do, or to provide you any kind of guidelines for how to do this, but it's important to delineate when you're experiencing stress or negative emotions or that uncomfortability that is desirable versus the type that you should avoid. For what it's worth, some types of uncomfortability are unavoidable entirely. We all have to deal with uncomfortable situations that we can't control, and we do learn from those uncomfortable situations. But sometimes we're in situations where we should remove ourselves. Even in those situations, we may be learning, but we may also end up experiencing enough negative side effects that is simply not worth it to stay in that situation. It's a simple disclaimer here if you are being, for example, harassed. That is the type of uncomfortability that you don't really want to seek out. It's very unlikely that you will benefit greatly enough from the learning that comes from that, that you should seek out situations where you're being harassed. With that disclaimer, we're going to take a moment to talk about our sponsor, and then we're going to come back and talk about why stressful situations or uncomfortable situations are so good for our learning processes. Today's episode is sponsored by Linode. I can tell you in my 10-year career, one of the most common threads that I have seen with really good developers, really talented developers, is that they knew how to work with a Linux server in the cloud. That seems really specific, but it just turns out that working with a Linux server in the cloud, you learn so much about how servers work, about how networking works, and you have kind of a playground to learn on. It's a low-stakes environment for those of you who are just starting out as engineers having your own Linux box in the cloud as a low-stakes environment. It's not even your hardware. You can totally screw it up, and it's okay because it's just a virtual machine in the cloud. Go and check it out. You can get started for as low as $5 a month, that is a very low tuition for a very high return on learning. Of course, Linode is not just made for those of you who are starting out as engineers. If you are well into your career, maybe you're building a startup, you can get your startup running on Linode as well. You can even get things like dedicated CPU plans, and of course, Linode has 11 data centers worldwide, including the newest data center in Sydney, Australia. This means availability is not going to be a problem. Latency around the world is not going to be a problem for your application. Linode also offers a bunch of other services like Block Storage or Object Storage, and OneClick installs of really popular software like WordPress or Lampstack, Game servers from Minecraft. Go and check it out. Head over to linode.com slash Developer Tea. If you're a new user on Linode, you're going to get $20 worth of credit. If you do that $5 a month plan, that's four months for free. Make sure you use the promo code Developer Tea 20. That's Developer Tea 2020 at checkout. Linode.com slash Developer Tea with promo code Developer Tea 2020. Thanks again to Linode for sponsoring today's episode of Developer Tea. So why do stressful situations teach us? How can we find a learning moment in those stressful situations? Well, you can think about a very simple process that's happening. When we're uncomfortable, we have even physiological responses. We have our brain that is telling us to get out of that situation, to remove that uncomfortability or to deal with it in some way. Our brain has this kind of built-in mechanism, and it requires us to do something. This is a motivator in a lot of ways. It requires that we do something. And especially if what we're currently doing is increasing that pain, that uncomfortability, or it's not having a good effect on it at all, then that motivation will lead us to try something different. Or similarly, if our situation changes in a way that restricts us, right? If it binds us, if it creates an unexpected reality or some difficult terrain to go through, then our brains again are faced with the option of dealing with this new situation that's arisen in a novel way. This is perfect ground for learning because we are doing something new. We're doing something new in order to get away from this uncomfortable feeling. But here's where it gets really interesting. It's not just about escaping, right? We don't just learn by escaping and then we're done. Our bodies and our minds are adaptation machines. When we experience stress, when we experience a stressful event, our bodies respond in a way that prepares us to potentially experience that event again. You can see this evidence in a lot of different processes, autonomous processes that our body goes through. Some of them are very good for us, some of them not as good. For example, when we exercise to the limit of our ability, our body responds by requiring that we rest. This is why we get sore in order to build up, for example, muscle, right? So this is probably a good response that our body has. When we go through something that's traumatic, our brains respond sometimes in very complex ways. We can experience things like post-traumatic stress disorder. Now to be clear, I'm not a professional in any of these areas. I'm not a fitness instructor or physician or psychologist, psychiatrist, none of those things. But the evidence of our body's responding is fairly well documented. Another example would be if we get sick with some illnesses or bodies respond with antibodies. So the mental model is pretty clear, but we don't have to just view this in terms of the autonomous processes. We can also intentionally learn in those times of stress and we can even seek them out. Testing ourselves to the edge of our ability. This is exactly what we're doing when we engage and deliberate practice. And we intentionally put ourselves into a difficult position in order to learn. This is the teacher that we can find in the situation. Thank you so much for listening to today's episode of Developer Tea. Thank you again to today's sponsor, Linode. Head over to linode.com slash Developer Tea and use the promo code Developer Tea2020 to get $20 worth of credit at checkout. If you have not subscribed, I encourage you to subscribe and whatever podcasting app you're currently using. Thank you so much to all of those of you who have subscribed in the past and have stuck around listening to this podcast where about five and a half years into this thing and we don't plan on stopping anytime soon. Today's episode is produced by Sarah Jackson. My name is Jonathan Cutrell and until next time, enjoy your tea.