The blog of David Wickes, software developer

The Wall (and getting over it)

Ever run a marthon? No, me neither. I’ve run a few halfs, so let’s pretend that’s adequate experience to talk about marathon running.

Long distance runners talk about this moment when the glycogen in your body runs out entirely. You’ll get about two hours, maybe more if you train. But it’ll happen, and all your energy just - goes. Seratonin levels go up, which might sound fun until I tell you that your dopamine goes down as well. This might be causing some of the little voices in your head to tell you that you can’t do it. You may hallucinate. You may not be able to stand.

I hit the mental equivalent of the wall sometime over the week we started learning Sinatra at Makers. I’d done my preparation, I’d learned and digested solidly. I’d say I was one of the better prepared for the next twelve weeks.

But you can only delay the wall - you can’t put it off entirely. I ran out of whatever mental stamina I had. And it hurt. A lot.

Depressesed? Disheartened? Hate coding? Hate what you're doing to yourself? Hate
Sinatra (the framework)? Hate Sinatra (the singer)? Wonder what you're still
doing here? How *can* anyone learn to code in twelve weeks? Stupid. Impossible.
You'd be better back at the library. Hell, you'd be better back at the cannary.
Stupid brain that won't work. Stupid.

We can reach for another running metaphor: second wind. Even at the point of greatest exertion, you can find a way to carry on. Going even faster sometimes. Like you can push through the wall and find yourself suddenly back to normal again.

This happened too - and kept happening. Because I didn’t just hit one wall. I’ve hit at least three since the first one. You get used to it. Flailing ignorance and mental exhaustion is aleviated by the next piece of hard-won knowldege and skill.

I’ve found relaxation to be as important as work. I’m reading fiction again, getting to bed in good time, appreciating a quiet beer. Taking your mind off the problem until it’s ready to be solved.

Thinking about philosophy, and Deleuze & Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus, I think of the organism that can only grow by dying a little every day. Growth is painful. Growth is hard. But nothing worthwhile was ever easy.

You beat it. I couldn’t do Sinatra, I couldn’t make it do what I wanted it to do. But I made it do something, learned my limitations. And I enjoyed myself. And now you can play with it.

The pace is picking up this week. Last week threw Sinatra in our faces. This week is databases. Learning to program is one thing - keeping all these spinning plates up in the air at the same time is another.

And only half the race run.