The growth mindset applied to my life (part 2)

Sep 25, 2014

Continued from part 1. This part will discuss how the different mindsets affected me after I left university.

Post Cambridge

I was absolutely gutted when I didn't get a first class honours in my final exams. My only plan had been to stay for a fourth year at Cambridge. When that was no longer possible, I was stuck. I labelled myself as a "failure". It took me a long time to get over it.

[Note: I left Cambridge just over three years ago. I'm going to be skipping over a lot and focusing on the things important to this story.]

I stayed with my parents and spent a long time drifting with no clear purpose. I started to focus on non-career goals. I successfully lost a lot of weight (from 220lbs to 150lbs). I also learned to cook and passed my driving test.

In some areas of my life, I had an unconscious growth mindset. For example, with losing weight, I found it incredibly easy once I started. I never doubted that I would reach my final goal. I still had an incredibly fixed mindset in many other areas of my life. Most notably, my career and social skills.

Fun with Linux

For reasons that I can't remember, I started to develop an interest in Linux. I had a small netbook with Ubuntu and I set up my desktop to dual-boot.

One night when I couldn't sleep, I started reading a tutorial on Bash scripting. I was inexperienced with the Linux command line and I was very curious about how to use it properly. That curiosity drove me to learn everything I could about Bash. I started playing around. I created scripts for doing all kinds of things. It was a lot of fun. I also started using Vim as my text editor. It was hard to learn but I knew it would be worth it.

At some point, I realised that Bash wasn't suitable for everything. I switched my attention to Python. I practised on Project Euler problems. I also started work on a command line program for organising my personal diary. It was a pretty significant project for me. It has over 300 commits and has taken me many hundreds of hours. I feel that it taught me more about software development than any project before it.

All of the above are what I like to think of as natural growth. I was very curious about these things and that caused me to explore and learn on my own. I feel it also led me to develop a sort of unconscious growth mindset. I became very familiar with learning about new technologies. I accepted that I could probably learn anything with enough time and effort. However, I most definitely still had a fixed mindset in many areas.

The Professor P website

My father is the author of the Professor P series of children's books. A while ago, he made a website for the series which included several JavaScript games. It wasn't bad but it did look a bit dated. Also, many of the games did not work on modern browsers. We decided I should re-make the games.

At the time, the only way I knew how to do this was to use Java applets. I remember sitting down with my Dad to have a look at some existing Java games. We were blown away by how absolutely terrible the Java installation process was. It took about two minutes and 15 clicks to get Java running in the browser. Pretty bad when compared to the JavaScript games, which worked instantly.

I then set out on an ambitious adventure to learn everything I could about HTML and JavaScript. I created many iterations of my first game, a tile sliding puzzle. I spent a long time on it and learned a lot in the process. I refactored it many times. I eventually added an intelligent AI opponent to race against the player (it uses a variation on the A* search algorithm). You can play the game right now on the Professor P website.

I added four other games, including a shark attack game, a memory card game, a quiz game and a wordsearch game (which I've already written about). Each was challenging in its own way and I learned a lot from all of them. I also spent a long time making the rest of the website with a static site generator (DocPad).

The whole thing took me about a year, although I did have a very slow start. I went through intense periods of passion-fuelled work followed by periods of boredom-filled procrastination. I've written about this before but it slowly got better. I'm very proud of the Professor P website. If I could start again, there are many things I would do differently. However, I feel it represents a lot of growth in my ability.

This blog

That brings me to my most recent project, this blog. I had wanted to start one for ages but had always put it off. Mostly out of a fear of not being good enough but also out of laziness. I knew it was going to be challenging but I stuck with it. I wanted to grow as a software developer and as a person.

I have written 14 posts so far (which has taken approximately 50 hours). I set myself a schedule and have stuck to it without fail. It's been hard work. It's difficult to quantify but I feel like I've already got a lot better at the process of writing.

One specific decision I'm pleased I made was to only publish my "best" content. I have been writing a personal diary for nearly four years. I just throw any old words into that with minimal editing. I could have done that for this blog but I'm glad I didn't. Editing my own words is one of the hardest parts of writing.

The future

Despite my success with blogging so far, it is too much of a "meta" activity. That is, I have to write about something else. Out of the 14 posts I've written so far, 5 have been about blogging or setting up this blog, 7 have been about things I had already done and 2 have been about new things (which I had no experience with before writing the post). The problem is, I don't want to write about blogging too much and I will eventually run out of things which I have already done. I need some new projects to work on.

My blog is the perfect way to challenge myself in other areas. Public commitment is very powerful. It's been the main reason I have been able to stick to my blogging schedule so far.

In the future, I plan to set myself specific challenges and then write about them. There are many areas in which I want to grow and I have lots of ideas for challenges.