Looking at websites/apps and feeling inadequate

I do this a lot. I’ll be using a website, or an app on my phone or something, and I’ll feel like a failure and think “I couldn’t write this!” Does this happen to anyone else?

Absolutely. I think it’s a very common experience to struggle with comparing other work to my own.

I’m a jazz musician, and up until college, was the best or one of the few best musicians in my circles. I’d done well enough, my parents and I decided I should go to UNT to study jazz. University of North Texas has one of the best jazz programs in the world. Their school bands have been nominated for Grammy awards before and all that crazy stuff. Norah Jones was a recent attendee before she went big.

When I showed up, for the first time in my life I was exceedingly average, at best. I couldn’t walk past practice rooms without hearing tidbits of amazing stuff all around. It was very intimidating.

But, over time, one of the best lessons I learned was that there are many, many facets to an individual’s worth, even when merely talking from an external POV. So-and-so may have amazing chops, but they’re a jerkface. So-and-so here may have mastered 2 instruments, but they can’t show up on time for a gig.

I see the same sort of thing in the NFL and pro sports - there are a few crazy talented people who can get away for a while with being really selfish, but the most beloved players, and typically the most successful over the long haul are those who just have their talent as one facet of their person, and realize with humility that talent alone does not a worthy person make.

The bigger point to me is we make a very big mistake by measuring ourselves on a linear ladder of ‘who’s best’. This is one reason I loathe these talent shows on TV. “There can only be one!” is just … a waste of everyone’s time. We should be seeking to celebrate the variety and diversity of life, not turning something as simple and beautiful as singing into a winner-takes-all fight to the death.

So I ultimately came away from my time at UNT with a better sense that each of us can contribute in meaningful ways - and about 99% of them are superficially not very spectacular. I still struggle when I see musicians who were there the same time I was who have gone on to do some major things. Heck, I still struggle when I see code from others at my current gig – or struggle in the opposite way when I see code I wrote just 6 months ago.

I think it’s very common and I hope you continue to talk about it, and seek out others who are brave enough to admit their own feeling of inadequacies. Those types are the best types of friends I’ve had.

Also, I gave this lightning talk on this at last RailsConf - some have told me they found it encouraging, maybe you will too :smile:


I would alter the quote about being the worst musician in the band to say that you should always be the second worst. Now that I’ve started tutoring one of my friends in their programing classes, I’ve really come to understand how much you learn by trying to teach others. You really solidify the concepts in your own head when you need to pass them on to others. Spend most of your time learning from people better than you, and the rest of it helping others get better, too.

I’ll contact Pat Metheny and let him know :wink:

Joking :slight_smile: Your point is very valid - there’s a lot of value in all sorts of interactions, regardless of prior experience.

BTW, thanks for linking to that talk. Not only was it really encouraging, it was brilliant and well-balanced use of humor to balance out the message. Well done!

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Wow, thanks for the encouragement! Glad to hear it. It was fun to do.

I replied to some other threads last night and it seems one of those might fit this next comment better, but writing that talk was pretty easy, because most of the core content was stuff I’d been collecting in my blog/wiki for years. Even if the things we do on github or elsewhere are small things, enough small things can eventually accumulate into big things. I know I still get intimidated by trying to do Something Big at times, but that talk is a good reminder to myself that the slow and gradual road can lead to bigger things, even if what I can do today doesn’t seem to be much.

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I just watched your talk, it was great! Very interesting with plenty of humor thrown in. Good luck with your Oracle on the browser Kickstarter. :smile:

I tend to over-analyze this kind of stuff to death, and that’s when I get myself in trouble and my anxiety kicks into overdrive. I’m trying to learn some new stuff right now (the Spring Framework), and while it’s interesting and I’m learning new things, I’m already second-guessing myself. Thinking how maybe I won’t remember this. Or I won’t be able to build anything with it. So why bother?

I have a bad habit of self-defeating myself before I really give myself a chance.

I’m a web developer and I feel the same way all the time…

Heck, I feel this way looking at this website… which looks really nice.

Well, this is a familiar feeling!
Most of my personal projects go something like this:

except instead of drawing it’s programming/web design/anything like that.

And it’s not a very good feeling. Which usually ends up with me abandoning the entire project.
I constantly try to do too much, and get disappointed with what I manage after X hours.

I tried learning iOS development some time ago. Surprisingly enough, I didn’t manage to make The Next Big Thing™, and decided to abandon my learning for now. Same time with Ember.js. I follow a few tutorials, read some documentation, and it looks like it should work. And then I try to go off on my own. Which ends up as the horse above, and then in an abandoned Git-repository somewhere.

Know that you are not alone in feeling like this, and I imagine the trick is to either find some allies that can help with the project, or drastically scale back, being happy with small websites/apps/projects and expanding later on. Instant gratification, with many other “I did it!”-moments along the way.

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This is my experience too.

I pick up things really quickly, but when I come to implementing a larger project I get demotivated by the fact that its going to be another ‘me too’ project. So it gets abandoned, or at best I progress slower than I would, spending a lot of energy agonising over whether or not this is something I should be doing.

I find myself coming up with various project ideas in ‘isolation’, usually based on a problem I have. It turns out that other people are working on similar things. So , essentially they are on trend - the result of several people taking the same steps and arriving at similar places.

However, instead of feeling any kind of kinsmanship with people already working on these ideas, I feel excluded. Not good.

It wasn’t always this way, which sort of makes it worse.