How to fail. The long blog.

Posted by Ferret on Sept. 29, 2020, 3:55 a.m.

First of all, you have got to be honest with yourself. The "with yourself" part is really important.

Something I realized I used to do, when I was asked questions that might make me look bad: is to think of an answer with as much damage control as possible.

So now, if I ask my friends something like, "Do you feel like you did everything you could?" I add "You don't have to answer me. The only person you need to answer is yourself."

When I first joined this website, I was in high school. Back then, I was in special education. I didn't tell a soul. I lied to friends about which classes I took, and my schedule never made sense to them. I never would've wanted my friends to know, and I for god damn sure wouldn't have ever told anyone here. Because of this I developed a fixation on how people precieved me, because I didn't want people to think I was stupid.

I didn't want me to think I was stupid.

But, there I was, in special ed. Kind of a done deal right? A pretty damning piece of evidence if I do say so myself. However, like a stubborn child refusing to eat, the ego says no.

Now, at that point my ego was fragile as hell. Ego knows the evidence is stacked against it, and any attempt to prove otherwise would likely result in even more evidence.

So I coasted.

Didn't even try to go to a four year college. Didn't even take the SAT. Went straight to community college, because why bother risking heartbreak? I did the bare minimum to avoid failure, and I got the bare minimum grades. I was a solid 2.0 GPA, and I always had excuses.

You know what is funny about not trying? Everything gained feels unearned. It's probably why I was so depressed, I used to be a pretty happy and energetic kid! But now I was afraid of my future, bitter about the present, and jealous of my high school friends. I was jealous of some of you guys. So jealous, I applied for an easy four year college, and I got in.

When I got to that college I felt like shit. I didn't do shit and there I was, at a university. Everyone I knew, knew I was going to a real college. I even told you guys I was! But even though I had gained the perception of a college student on his way to a successful life, I had not changed. That college felt meaningless to me.

(Btw, I can explain all this stuff now with the power of hindsight, but none of this was obvious at all to me. So keep that in mind, for both my story and your own.)

So one night I was really drunk, and I was doing something really stupid and dangerous, by myself, and I had a thought.

"You haven't even tried."

Yeah?

"What if you did? Like, what would happen? What if you died right now, and then got to watch and see how far you could go if you hadn't died. Watch and see what would happen if you tried, and if you fail, you can always come back here."

Sorry for the dramatics, but that's what it was. I decided to be curious about what would happen if I did try. Just for curiosity sake.

So I left that 4 year college, and went back to community college. I left because it made me feel like shit, that feeling of being unearned. I told my parents, and they were worried. I told my friends, and the silence was really awkward. Pretty much was an ego suicide, but hey, I was dead; this is all just an observation.

Community college again, but this time I'm taking all the hardest classes I had been avoiding. I focused and tried really hard. When it was time, I applied for a much tougher university, and guess what?

I got in!

That's right, hard work and perseverance– WHOOPS! I got a C in differential equations, my GPA dropped below 2.75, my acceptance was rescinded. "You failed, BYE BYE."

Now, I could have stopped there, right? I tried my best, and had a shot, and I wasted it. I even drove down the university to ask them to reconsider, but they wouldn't talk to me. What more could I do? I never felt so defeated, curled up into a ball behind the administration building, crying.

Well.

What if I tried my best at an easier university?

Off to Flagstaff Arizona I go! It wasn't the best college, but it was what I earned, and oddly that felt good. Tried my best, and graduated 2 years later on the dean's list.

Time to become the software engineer I dreamed of, right? Apply to Google, Amazon, a bunch of video game companies, everything and anything cool! Yeah, nah. All rejections, and looking back I was not ready for them.

But what I was ready for was General Motors, because I could explain a 'for loop' :^)

Oh god, oh shit, this isn't a software engineering position, this is IT! I've been tricked! A ruse cruise!

Well, may as well keep trying. I told my manager I wanted to move to software engineering, and to give me any side projects that involve making, idk, software. Few months later, he asked me to make him a web application, a simple data entry site. Hell yeah, spent extra time, some all nighters, teaching myself Java Spring Boot and putting this together.

(Funny story, during all of this one of my teammates said he was originally approached to do this project, and that he turned it down. When I asked him why he wouldn't take an obvious opportunity to advance his career, he didn't really have an answer. Hmm…)

The project is a success. So much so that my manager's director asks me to do something similar for him. A bit more complex and in a much shorter amount of time, but with a lot of paid overtime. Again, it works out for the best, and my director is very happy.

That was all well and good, but then General Motors had a restructuring, and me and all my teammates were moved to software engineering positions. All the people I did favors for were now in totally different organizations. Nu-th-ing I did ma-tters. Chaos is king! But hey, I was now in software engineering, even if it had nothing to do with my effort.

Oh god, oh shit, this isn't software engineering, this is testing! I've been kinda tricked!

This team didn't need more engineers, so they put me on testing.

Fuck this shit, software engineer is my title, put that on LinkedIn, time to GTFO.

Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V "Time to become the software engineer I dreamed of, right? Apply to Google, Amazon, a bunch of video game companies, everything and anything cool! Yeah, nah. All rejections, and looking back I was not ready for them."

But what I was ready for was a contracted position, because I could write a CRUD api with Java Spring Boot :^)

Seriously, if I hadn't done those projects, I probably wouldn't have been able to leave.

Now, I wouldn't recommend a company where they contract you out to other companies, you could work for something really shitty. Luckily for me, I was contracted to Capital One, and they had the most modern Java/AWS tech stack. I learned a ton there, and even was asked to join Capital One full time, but couldn't because of a stupid anti-poaching contract. I don't like missing opportunities, so I leave my contracting company and begin to wait out the 6 month period before I'm allowed to get hired by CapOne.

In the meantime I worked a really shitty job that really isn't worth mentioning. Just avoid contracting with the government, trust me.

And then I was hired by Facebook.

Okay it wasn't that sudden, a recruiter reached out to me and I held it off as long as I could, studying harder than ever to get it right.

And guess what?

I bet you guessed wrong.

I

did

not

pass

the technical interview.

I did pretty good, Definitely 100% one question, but didn't finish another. And the system design question was out of my wheelhouse and was probably my weakest.

So how did I get hired?

The recruiter said "you got the top score on the behavioural question, that doesn't happen very often." She then told me I didn't get the position I applied for, but I did get a rotational position, where I would be rotating to different teams, learning the tech, and spending the year catching up to the engineering level I originally applied for.

Well shit, I would pay money for something like that!

So, here's the thing:

Me trying my best in community college was hard work, but not perseverance. Me trying my best in college was hard work, but not perseverance. General Motors, hard work, not perseverance. Capital One, not perseverance.

Each ended with what felt like failure, failure to achieve my goal. What I didn't see was that each one was a step, and the sum of them was perseverance.

Not to be all overly confident, but that perseverance probably got me hired.

But trying is hard. No sarcasm.

Especially if it's been a while since you've last tried. When I first started to try my best, I was bad at trying. Because apparently, like every other skill, trying is something you learn to do. You get better at trying the more you do it.

Trying isn't magic, it won't solve everything. You will fail, several times. But you can't let that discourage you.

I understand that everyone has unique troubles, some that no amount of trying can fix. Ignore what you have zero control over. Focus on what you can control. Ask yourself, did you do as much as you could?

Each time I ask myself, I know I haven't.

And you don't have to answer me. The only person you need to answer is yourself.

(Also ego-death, that helps tremendously.)

Comments

Rez 4 weeks, 1 day ago

Good read. I often wondered if people around here struggled with the technical know-how as much as me. I always felt most everyone here was a wiz kid.

I can really relate to your story because I chose Computer Science as my college major only after much heartache and self doubt. In highschool, math was my worst subject (every grade being in the F-C- range). It was an uphill battle in the beginning getting back up to speed. Had some real triumphs and some real blows to the ego. In the end, I graduated last year with honors.

But I still feel like a constant fraud. There is just so much to know in the realm of software engineering, so many different avenues that could be the basis of an entire career/specialization. I honestly don't feel like I learned much in school, and it's only what I force myself to do at work that really gets me to that next level. It's amazing how a new skill in a new domain can open so many doors, but it's only over time that those doors are revealed to you (like what happened with your Spring Boot project). It's both encouraging and scary, because what if I'm not learning what I need for the future. But I guess I just learn whatever I have to… perseverance really is everything.

I like software engineering, but I don't know if I like it enough for it to consume my life. Shit man, I just want to have money for a hot meal and time to draw lol.

Anyhow. I am so tremendously glad for you. You were always extremely positive around here, more than most, and it was a bit shocking to hear about how defeated you were. Shocking, but inspiring, because it sounds like you turned that ship around fast. You're gonna go places overcoming stuff like this, I sincerely believe it.

Let's see how long this comment is. I can't tell in the little input box.

Mega 4 weeks ago

A very good (And super relatable) read. Glad you've managed to make something of your hard work, working on doing the same myself.

The biggest problem I've had personally with persevering through failure is "but what if"-ing too hard over every future decision (Something I've been wanting to write about, since I've been trying to fix it - will probably do that later today if I remember).

Jani_Nykanen 4 weeks ago

Until someone reimplements the +1 button, I'll give my +1 here. Nice blog!

Crazy Star 4 weeks ago

I've never had a job or finished any education. But I enjoyed the read. Sounds like it was something that needed to be done, and because you did it are now capable of doing it over and over. School of life. Jealousy is a strange one. I'm not jealous of anyone; so in one sense I'm jealous of everyone different than me. Pride is strange too in a similar way.

Ferret 4 weeks ago

@Rez, thanks for the kind words :) Congrats on graduating with honors! Sounds like it was the good kind of struggle and you grew from it :D

I definitely relate to the fraud part, there really is so much to learn that it feels impossible to ever match up. I guess for me it came down to the "what you can control" part, I obviously can't control the fact that so many people know so much more than me, so I have to try to ignore it. Comparing yourself to others is absolutely pointless, try to focus on your previous self. Other people give incomplete data ;)

About the fear of choosing an avenue, I'd say you really can't go wrong with what ever you choose. Like how I say trying is a skill, so is learning, and the more things you learn the better you get at learning. The better you get at learning, the less fear you have over missing some tech, especially since so many concepts are shared between them. The top software engineering jobs, even outside the big four, don't care about what languages or tools you know, because you prove your ability to learn. It can feel like you didn't really learn enough at college, and that because there is no way for college to teach you the "correct/future-proof" tech, so instead you're learning to learn. So, I'd say just choose what ever is useful for your job, or your personal project, because then it's more than likely you'll truly learn it. Plus, if you're learning it for work, or because you find it useful, in most cases that means it's relevant and there's likely jobs for it.

@Mega, thank you :) It can be tough to see the big picture when you're in the thick of it. It's good you're aware of your issue, it kinda relates to what I said to Rez: practice committing to things, you can always back out :P

@Jani, thanks :)

@Crazy Star, thanks! :) It's good to not have to worry about jealousy or pride, neither are helpful.

Quietus 3 weeks, 6 days ago

I can relate to the feeling of successive failures and the damage it leaves on the psyche. I'm sad to read you've struggled so much, but very proud and happy that you've come so far.

I have mixed feelings about "ego death" and its interpretations, including my own. I've had to learn it's important to strike a balance between humility and self-confidence. The latter of which I often deceive myself into believing I don't deserve. But if you look at the Zen masters, they all have quite healthy levels of self-confidence. Like the Dalai Lama for instance. It's more about *transcending* the power your ego has over you than *killing* it.

But then again it depends on how you define "ego" and "death", which are culturally specific. And if I go any further with that, this will become really long lol.

Ferret 3 weeks, 4 days ago

Haha yeah it could very well be the same thing in different cultural contexts. So I think of ego as the need to compare myself to others, and when it dies I stopped doing that. I just have to do what I need to do, whether or not I do it slower or at a much older age than person B, because it's really not a race, and their success doesn't stop mine (or anyone else's!).

To me, humility and self-confidence can't survive with ego around. I would have never gotten where I am if I was worried about looking stupid. I need humility to be able to ask people how to do something. That is something I failed to mention in this blog, I did a TON of asking people for help, and I was always willing to learn. The beautiful thing, most people enjoy helping.

When I had ego I had no self confidence, because so many people in the world were more successful than me, and I didn't want to fail. Without it, when I did fail, several times, I had the confidence to keep going. Eventually I'd get it right, and it didn't matter if others got it their first try.

Maybe I'm just using the wrong terms :P

Quietus 3 weeks, 4 days ago

No I totally understand you, I think you've got it spot-on. I'm actually re-examining a lot of how I perceive this based on what you said.

Quote:
When I had ego I had no self confidence, because so many people in the world were more successful than me, and I didn't want to fail.
I totally relate to this, and it's a hurdle I'm still trying to get over. It's hard for me to disengage from the competitive side of me. And the need to be perfect, or better or whatever. These are things I'm having to outgrow.

So here's a funny story. I was playing with this "inspirational quote" generator I found called inspiro.bot. It was making all kinds of silly, funny, yet somehow profound quotes. Then I got hit with this one below, and I pretty much dropped my phone. The universe has my number lol.

OBELISK 3 weeks, 4 days ago

I DO NOT

NeutralReiddHotel 3 weeks, 2 days ago

Ferret…. god man what a journey. You did awesome sticking through it! I hope you get your Capital One job man. Looking forward to a good ending, but it looks like you got some pretty amazing accomplishments already