“I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” – Abraham Maslow
Last week I was at a software convention. I normally don’t look vendors in the eye, but one of them caught me. He started by telling me about his Perl (it’s a programming language) meet-up group. And about how useful Perl can be. And about how it’s way more than you think. And…
“then if map out the database with Perl, you can add your functions at the bottom, and if the schema changes…”
At that point I was thinking about throwing my swag bag at him and making a run for it. There’s only so many polite ways you can indicate you’d like to exit a conversation. I tried using only one word answers for a while and that had no effect. I could have looked at my phone and said “office is calling, gotta run.” But it was a Saturday.
One thing was clear. This guy understands just one thing. And he’s going to get as much mileage out of that one thing as he can.
We’ve all suffered from it.
Knowing one thing works just fine in your bubble. But as soon as you exit the bubble you’re just like Superman going to Krypton. No one knows what you’re talking about. And they know a bunch of stuff you don’t. And they have different thoughts and different priorities. All your superpowers are gone.
As musicians, we don’t even understand all of music. We know our one genre or instrument well, but we don’t know much else. I remember playing a trivia game at a house party once and the category was “80’s music.” Everyone thought I’d be good. “Hey, Brian’s a professional. This’ll be a piece of cake for him.” We did not win. Not even close.
I’ve been fortunate enough to work in 3 “couldn’t be more different” worlds. Music, CrossFit, and Software Development. At first the new “world” is confusing. All the terminology is different. You have to be a beginner again. But if you stick around long enough you start to notice some familiar patterns. I know why diva software developers aren’t worth the trouble. They’re just like the diva musicians who also weren’t worth the trouble. And the great musicians got there by practicing really hard, studying with experts, and humbly exploring new things looking for incremental improvements, which is exactly how the best software developers got to be so good.
But starting over is front-loaded with pain and frustration. If you’ve made it far in any field, you get all the advantages that come with it. People know your name and take your phone calls. They might pay you well. There is an implicit assumption that you know what you’re doing. All these things go away when you try something new. It’s just you and the knowledge that you aren’t any good yet.
I once worked with a tuba player in Seattle who was talking about how tough it was when he moved to town. It took years to get plugged into the work scene and develop his private studio. He said going through that was something he could “never do again.”
Now, it is enormously difficult. But think that through to its conclusion.
- Starting something new is so difficult that I won’t do it again.
- I will trudge through this well worn path no matter what because making a change is too difficult.
- All other options are now closed.
What a sad state to be in. All because we think it’s too difficult to start something new.
And that’s the mode of thinking that keeps us in our bubble. Be careful if those thoughts enter your mind. You could end up as the guy trying to convince everyone to write Perl. And that’s no way to live.