The benefits of discomfort
“Get comfortable being uncomfortable.”
These words have been rattling around in my head over the past few days. Our instructor said this to a virtual classroom of aspiring web developers (myself among them) after outlining our first homework assignment in the full-time intensive bootcamp course I started last week at Juno College. We were tasked with transforming a PDF design into a fully responsive website, and instead of using our preferred tool that we’d grown accustomed to (VS Code), we were told to build the whole thing in something much less familiar (Codepen).
I think I remember seeing a few pained smiles from the class in our Zoom meeting when we all heard that. When you’re a novice in anything, just beginning to grasp all the concepts and develop your own workflow, being asked to do things in a totally different way can be daunting. But the idea our instructor wanted to get across was that our future development careers will be full of uncomfortable moments. Moments when we won’t know the answer, when we get stuck, when we’re asked to work in a completely different way or adhere to a set of unfamiliar guidelines. Building a resilience to that discomfort now, our instructor said, will help us adapt and be flexible in the future.
Discomfort has certainly been a companion of mine (and, I think, for many) over the past year. The pandemic has introduced a lot of uncertainty and anxiety to my life. I was laid off from a comfortable marketing job in performing arts back in October. The theatre industry, much like any that relies on people coming together in groups, has struggled to stay afloat in the time of physical distancing and lockdowns.
After losing my job, I could have stuck with marketing and tried to get another position somewhere else. If I had gone that route, I might have even been employed by now, but after some reflection I decided to take a different (and less comfortable) path. I picked up a number of skills in my marketing career over the years — there is no money in performing arts so administrators wear many hats — and I had a piecemeal knowledge of HTML & CSS, but I wanted to go further. I didn’t want to be okay at a bunch of things, I wanted to be really good at one thing.
That was when I started my career transition and coding journey. I signed up for some prerequisite courses at Juno with the intention of enrolling in the bootcamp and breaking into a new field. It’s been a whirlwind of personal discovery since then. I began this process wanting to learn as much as possible as fast as possible. I was excited to get deep into the languages of the internet (a place very dear to my heart). I set sky-high expectations for myself that I would understand everything perfectly the first time, that I would execute each project flawlessly and emerge in a few short months a coding expert.
I wish I could go back to that version of myself and tell him to breathe. The more I progress on this path the more I realize there is no “perfect” knowledge, there is no single “correct” way of doing things. This learning process has been exciting and challenging, but also part of it has been accepting that there is no final destination. I have signed on to a lifelong process of constant learning — breaking down old habits, picking up different languages, adapting to new technologies. Just like learning any new language, you can get pretty good after a few weeks or months of study, but it’s gonna take a while to become truly fluent.
I’m working on getting more comfortable with the discomfort of uncertainty, change, challenges and the unfamiliar, because I think what I’m really feeling right now is something else: growth.
Photo by Charlota Blunarova on Unsplash