the coding mountain and me…

I am struggling to take the next steps in my journey to learn to code.

I want to build towards something. But I keep trying to find a massive skyscraper or masterpiece to build… when I don’t know what materials to use, what tools, or technology… I am stuck in a place where I want to do ‘grand’ things that meet some standards of what greatness is, yet I lack the perspective or the skills to pursue the most basic of things, in coding.

I have about 100 hours of studying under my belt… and I act like… I deserve to … be good, right now. I don’t even know what I want to be good at. I don’t know what I don’t know.

One thing I learned in rock climbing… is that your perspective changes, both figuratively and literally when you are 50, 100, 200, 300, 500, 1000 feet off the ground. You think you know what it would be like, how you would feel, but you don’t know until you start climbing and gain elevation and see and feel things. As you get more climbs under your belt — you also learn a lot about yourself — what views you like, what type of climbing you like, how you handle pressure, what skills to improve on — and you can better train, plan your next climbs, and do them.

So maybe that analogy applies here.

Instead of trying to look up the coding mountain from the ground and thinking — hmm… I wonder which mountain to go up? How far do I want to go up? Damn… that mountain is so high! Do I want to make it a day trip or multi-day trip? Do I even want to do this?

Maybe, let’s just take a few steps up. And see how I feel. And see if I like what I see.

I feel like during the past few weeks, I learned how to set up a base camp. And I am … stuck here afraid and hesitant to start the real climb.

Let’s start with a few steps. It’s time to gain some elevation.

Why I could not program in the past (Part 2 of 2) — the 'complete loser syndrome'

I was reading an article about the growth and fixed mindset a few days ago. (Link: ‘Believe you can Change’)

I had known about these two mindsets for a while. But this post got me thinking — do I have a fixed mindset about programming?

Fixed-mindset people feel smart when they don’t make mistakes, growth-mindset people feel smart when they struggle with something for a long time and then finally figure it out ... Fixies are afraid to try hard — because if they fail, it means they’re a failure. Growthers are afraid of not trying. (Link: ‘Believe you can Change’)

My initial thought: “Me, a fixie? A fixed mindset? No way. I am growth mindset. I am never afraid to try. I am never afraid to fail. I believe that all you can control is effort, and massive effort is what I do.”

Then a little thought crept in... “except when it comes to programming.” This line “Fixies are afraid to try hard — because if they fail, it means they’re a failure.” stuck with me.

Whenever I tried to learn to program over the past 20 years -- around the 10 times that I had tried, I always felt like I was trying to prove something. But I couldn’t figure out what I was trying to prove. And I kept on experiencing... uncertainty? Anxiety? Stress? Doubt? => that I just don’t experience in other parts of any... pursuit.

I thought, you know... maybe I’m just not a programmer. Maybe I’m just not cut out for this and I would move on to other things -- I mean, there are lots of things to learn and experience in this life and world, right?... but then I would return to programming. As in, try to try to learn again. Somehow. I always had to return.

And then... very recently, I began to introspect a little more. So here’s my story — keeping it short and general. When I was in my early teens, I had a successful website business. I was deemed a prodigy of sorts, and had 5-6 people working for me part-time around the world. And then, there were some conflicts that I did not understand, and I got locked out of my own website. I was 14. Yup, I could not access my own server, the website was redirected to another site, and I lost complete control. And I was helpless. I, the teen prodigy, who was in magazines and newspapers, had never learned to program. Yes, I did hire programmers, graphic designers, content writers — but I didn’t know front-end or back-end programming — heck I didn’t even know those words! I lost control, and it was my lack of programming abilities, that I attributed the failure to. This was my childhood trauma. I felt like a complete loser, a fraud, a failure. I had been careless, reckless, and arrogant — and lost the most important thing in my life at the time.

And somewhere, somehow, I buried this. I started high school, went to college, had a job, got married, and I am here. But this trauma was buried -- no, let’s say rationalized. Different modifications of the story were created for job interviews, etc. I mean, I wasn’t going to tell a job interviewer that my website was unsuccessful because I lost complete control cause I couldn’t code. There was... the dot-com bubble that burst, right? Very convenient. And then I moved on and lived my adult life.

But... the 14 year-old in me who had failed... was still in me. He was unresolved.

It’s not like I have not accepted the fact that I lost my website. That’s just a fact. There’s nothing to accept. But I had not accepted that... I had not accepted that it was okay to make a mistake. Even as I type this... at 34 years old... thoughts are rocketing across — “That wasn’t a mistake. That was just stupidity.” I recognized that I had to forgive myself. When I first thought this, I almost laughed. HAHA, forgive... a 14 year self of you, like 20 years ago? How useless is that? What does that even mean?’ ... But is it? What other action can I choose? I have chosen burying the memory. Didn’t work. I have chosen rationalizing it. That kind of works until it doesn’t. Until you struggle at the very thing that you tried to rationalize. If you can’t figure out programming at 20, 24, 27, 30, 32, 34... maybe you STAYED stupid. Maybe you STAYED a loser. Like the fraud, fake, failure you were at 14 where you lost your business that you worked so hard on... because you couldn’t code. Yikes. That was hard to write. But won’t delete it.

Whenever I think back on this part of my life, I always get emotional... and sad. That’s how I realized I can’t ignore this. There were hints here. Something deep there that I needed to explore and come to terms with, no, actually deal with. And maybe forgiveness, is what I needed to do. More than accepting what I had happened, I had to forgive myself — not bury and rationalize. I needed to forgive my 14 year old self that — you made mistakes, yes. You were unaware and arrogant, yes. But man, you worked hard. And you achieved things most 14 year-olds never could have dreamed of. Yes, you WERE lacking in technical areas. Yes, you WERE lacking in coding. But you were trying your best, while juggling school, while being a good student, and doing the best you can. Cause you really were doing your best -- it’s all right, 14 year-old self -- you have a long life ahead of you -- and this, too, will be memories and lessons. All right, I need a break from this post. Will be back :o)

Learning to program was always and still is a fight. I had to prove that I was not a complete loser, a fraud, a failure... But you know how programming is. It’s not a straight learning path. I mean, nothing worth achieving, provides a straight learning path. It has its ups and downs. But man... I couldn’t handle the downs. It was an avalanche of ... doubt, dejection, and devastation.

I understood persistence, discipline, failing forward. I had internalized that mistakes were gifts provided so it can lead to rapid improvement (Ray Dalio). But with this ... I could not break free from the pain. And I would just... give up.

Recently, I read about the ‘impostor syndrome’. I could not even get to the point of getting TO the ‘impostor syndrome’. I had... the ‘complete loser syndrome’ that didn’t even let me get to the first base and gain any momentum!

This blog here -- and the recording of my progress in learning how to code -- is proof for ME. Proof that indeed I am making progress — in ways that I never have before. It is a way to counter my own demons and doubts. Proof for me.

As to why I post it publicly? Well, I want to remember my thoughts and having some public display of them gives me some sense of accountability and responsibility. That these struggles are not for nothing. There might be someone else struggling and they may benefit from knowing that ONE other person also overcame their doubts. It also kind of gives me a purpose? To keep going. When I feel like the wall is insurmountable, it gives me one extra push.

At first, I thought my discovery of this might not be that relatable. But is that really true? Everyone has their ‘thing’, their ‘it’, their struggle, and man I struggled to find my source of that struggle for almost exactly 20 years. LOL. Haha, I just typed LOL because I think that’s funny. I have prided in myself for so long in my ability to objectively assess, stay disciplined, be goal-oriented, but I have been blindsided for so long. It’s strange. I’m hoping that my discovery of this, and my struggles through this, can -- I’m not even sure what I’m trying to say. But here is me, this is my chapter in this struggle, and read it as is, I guess.

And yes, I am aware that I am in some ways dealing with a first world problem, if you want to call it that. I do try to keep perspective. But you know... everyone of has their own Everest. For some, it may be about survival. For some, it might be about health. For some, it might be about wealth. In a way, trying to break down our individual lives and life purposes in one or two words, phrases, or even sentences is silly, too, I know. But this is my current goal, struggle at the moment, and I intend to pour everything into it. And for that, I can’t judge me, nor should anyone. It is what I want to do at the moment, and that’s okay.

Ever since I became aware of this, and reminded myself to forgive my 14 year-old self, my natural growth mindset in me started to kick in. While before the perfect storm of the ‘complete loser syndrome’ kicked in whenever I struggled to learn a concept, or complete an exercise, now... not so much. I watched a video the other day where a programmer said that he had always felt that if others could program, he could learn as well. And I realized “Hmm... that’s true. Why can’t I?”

WHY CAN’T I BECOME A CODER?

I can no longer deny that I’m learning. Maybe not fast enough. Maybe not good enough. But I’m learning, dammit.

I can no longer accept that I’m a complete loser at programming. No, I fight that thought. I fight it with everything I’ve got.

I belong in coding. I belong.

Why I could not program (Part 1 of 2) — my inability to retain info

I have struggled... learning to program. I have quit more than 10 times in 20 years.

Over the past few days, I realized that I have not spent the time to figure out... WHY is that?

After deep introspection, I realized there are 2 key issues. I would like to discuss 1 of the 2 here, and the 2nd one in another post as it’s more personal.

Reason 1: My inability to retain information
— I don’t spend enough time understanding the concepts
— I do not have an effective way of storing & retrieving the information.

And... I recognized I had a learning problem over 10 years ago. I had just forgotten. This is what I wrote in December 3, 2007 when I was in college.

  • I realized a major flaw in the way I learn. I need to focus more on understanding concepts and theories instead of only memorizing and knowing how to do things or answer test questions. I realized that I become extremely frustrated when I don't get something and just try to find the quick answer. Gotta be patient, research, think, and understand.

  • I am like a bulldozer. I gather up an enormous amount of resources, and with momentous effort I have been able to achieve goals. However, I need to begin taking a step back and absorb the information and really understand the concepts, reasons, theories, and methods and let it all sink in.

For one reason or not, whatever I read, and I did read a lot, I just couldn't retain it. And this was regardless of topics: languages, book content, article content... it's almost as if it didn't make intuitive sense, the memory just disappeared.

And of course... in programming, this was the worst.

I think the issue is that for a long time, I'm talking maybe 25 out of 34 years of my life, I have only been focused on results. Not necessarily instant gratification... but I wanted results... fast.

It’s funny as I have always said to myself, "Man, I do so much with so little." While I always thought that was flattery to myself, the reality was that I still did a lot... with ONLY LITTLE. I want to stop doing a LOT... with LITTLE. I want to do a LOT... with LOT.

In 2008, I read a book 'My Life as a Quant' by Emanuel Derman. There's a quote where he says: "What I had learned I had learned well." It wasn't even part of the main book — it was a footnote. But I highlighted it, as the quote hit me hard. I knew I wasn't 'learning well'. But then... I moved on, and forgot about the book, and moved on with life.

Anyways, that’s the long background and context. So this is what I’m going to do about it.

After some research, I realize that the inability to retain information — retaining memory — is a concern that many others share across many disciplines. I came across a simple, yet seemingly very effective strategy called ‘spaced repetition’. I’m going to simplify it but it basically means writing flash cards (with a question and answer that I write), and over a periodic basis, systematically review it over various time intervals (based on how well you retained the info).

Wow.

I recognized two immediate benefits for me in practicing spaced repetition.

1) The practice of making flash cards — in itself — will help me with my learning. It will slow down my urge to just make progress. It will get me to pause and ask questions like ‘Why do you want to retain this?’ ‘What am I learning here?’ ‘Why is this important to my learning?’ which will assist my understanding of the concepts. And the practice of formulating the best questions in the flash cards in both simplicity and style. Remember, I am the one who has to set up this flash card quiz for my future self.

2) This is the more obvious part. There are software available (i.e. Anki, which is the one I’m using) where it makes it easy to generate these flash cards, categorize them, tag them, have templates all set — and an algorithm that makes you review the questions at various time intervals depending on how well you retained them.

I spent a few hours reading up on this, and I recognized how well it helped other programmers across various experiences. I was excited!

So I downloaded Anki a few days ago, and so far so good.

I have also downloaded the Codecademy Go App (available through a Codecademy Pro subscription) which is good review for the courses available on the site. The app and Anki have synergy as well, as I started to make flash cards based off of the content on the Go App as well.

I will keep you posted...!

Resources

I want to be a coder

I am having a rough day today. Can't focus well. Didn’t study much today.

I can't stick to programming very well. Not sure exactly why. Just recording my thoughts live. I keep getting discouraged. I mean, I am on the course: “Intro to Javascript!” High school sophomore students take this class. I’m 34. I keep going back and forth whether starting to learn programming at age of 34 is worth it or pointless or... what am I doing? Should I just go back and get a job? Like, what am I trying to do or prove or achieve?

This feels familiar. The same reason why I quit learning to code over 10 times in 20 years. The frustrating progress. The inability to sustain the effort. The doubt. The confusion.

One of the reasons I started the blog was to be able to sustain the effort by having an outlet for my frustration while I make progress on this journey. I figured there must be others who share this frustration and may benefit from knowing that there are others out there... and hopefully I may become a statistic that overcomes this doubt and actually makes it through and reaches a level of proficiency in coding. That’s why I also have the blog. To make my life seem more tangible by documenting it... so whenever I say or ask myself: “What am I doing w/ my life? How am I wasting my life?” I can actually go back to my days, hour by hour, and say “Well, you know, I did do SOMETHING.” Also monitoring my life in 3rd person allows me to objectively assess myself and see and figure out ways to improve, in a way I can’t just do by thinking about my day everyday in my head. There’s only so much one can remember and debate with oneself. I figured the blog and me would have a positive feedback loop that forces me to write about my life, and maybe that would motivate me to improve my life, and live a little bit harder, in case there’s that one reader who may find it interesting or inspiring that I’m doing this.

I don’t understand why I can’t see the luck and appreciation in my having the time to pursue and study what I want, when I want, where I want. Weird. But that’s a different topic, for another blog post.

But anyways... back to programming. There’s a scene in the UFC Ultimate Fighter Season 1, where Dana White (the president of UFC) asks the contestants: “Do you want to be a fighter? Do you want to be a fxxking fighter?” I ask myself: “Do you want to be a programmer? Do you want to be a coder?” And I answer: “Yes, I do. I want this.”

Tonight, I built myself a programming prison in a small closet. Just a white table. And a computer. That’s it. It’s about 2.5 feet wide. See picture below. Tunnel vision. Coding is going to be life for 2 months — until February 28. On that day, I will re-assess.

It’s time to pick it up a notch. During the past week, I was just studying programming to see what it’s like. This time, I’m going all in. 100%. Massive effort.

Follow my progress here.

My programming prison

Reflecting on and Continuing from 2006-2008

In early December 2018, I started this site. As a way to both heal and grow. To re-capture a fire that's been missing in my life and thoughts — for a long time.

I thought maybe tracking my life, schedule, and goals will help me see my life objectively as I could read and write about it as a 3rd person. And if it helps others, that would be great too, as maybe there are things to learn from my failures and successes, and process and progress.

So I thought I had this new idea that could be therapeutic and transformative for me. The twist is, I actually had a blog in the past (different domain name), which I started in 2006 and wrote almost everyday until 2008 — HUNDREDS of entries. Tracking all sorts of things — goals, academics, detailed hour by hour schedule, everything I read (books, articles, magazines, blogs, etc), places visited, fitness, workouts, weight) — and shared openly my thoughts, worries, and vulnerabilities. The blog back then was an outlet for me, and had given me some purpose. .

These past few days, I spent time reading through all my old entries. And, wow. It was like re-discovering an old friend that I kind of forgot about. When I read him, er.. me.. from 10 years ago... I can obviously recognize that was me... but man, he was ambitious, driven, focused, disciplined, and worked tireless. And was very, very optimistic and energetic. It was inspiring.

And that’s when I realized, whether I consciously recognized it or not, that my recent decision to write again on a blog was not a ‘new’ idea at all, as I had thought — it was just... a continuation of where I left off in 2008. Between 2008 and now, for 10 years, I couldn't freely write or blog as I worked on Wall Street, so I pretty much just stopped. If I couldn’t write freely and candidly, I wasn't interested. And then, I forgot about that chapter in my life. Until I re-opened the 'old pages' on Squarespace — I’m glad that I never unsubscribed, LOL.

I'm very grateful and happy that I can still see / read this guy, this me from 10 years ago.  He reminds me of the life outlook and attitude that I once had -- the curiosity, the driven energy, the focus, the fearlessness, the ambition. I was obsessed with productivity. Yet, I can also recognize my 2006-2008  issues -- that same insecurity, confusion, fear of insignificance, fear of being forgotten — that I keep with myself today. I had never resolved them. Yet, the me of 10 years ago, lived without the emotional and mental constraints that stall and trap me today. He still had his questions, had his doubts, had his dark moments, but he acted, acted, tried, tried, read, read, and did, did.

Oprah Winfrey was right, for she said: "Keeping a journal will absolutely change your life in ways you've never imagined."

Never would I have imagined when writing in 2006-2008 — which in itself was a cure / outlet for what I was going through at the time — could possibly help me in 2018. To my 2006 self -- thank you for inspiring me. Thank you for teaching me today, in 2018.

I'm going to let those old entries stay archived in their original forms, but write a few of the “2006 me” thoughts and quotes here, and reflect on them with my 2018 mind. And I will read them again and again here whenever I need or want to.

March 2006

“Am I becoming a better person? A stronger person? A more giving person?”
— (2018 comment: “Improving, non-stop. That’s what I always wanted to be.”)

“Can I make my life interesting enough for people to want to read about it? If I die tomorrow, I want people to read my blog and think "This guy lived hard. This guy lived with passion. Everyday of his life."
— (2018 comment: “Yup, that’s me. Still true.”)

“I never do anything in moderation. I'm not all or nothing. But I'm extreme or nothing. Excellence or nothing. And will is everything.”
— (2018 comment: “LOL, a bit cheesy. But I remember this unbalanced, extreme kid.”)

“Laser focused on my goals.”
— (2018 comment: “Nothing funny about this one. I was damn focused.”

April 2006

Meanwhile... I'm going to go back to being productive, setting up goals, monitoring my progress, and planning my day, my week, my month, and the next few months of my life. =)
— (2018 comment:  See? This blog idea of 2018 was not new... just a continuation.)

May 2007

"Time is the most important investment of your life. What am I spending time doing? Who am I spending time with? What else... matters?”
— (2018 comment: “I have always been obsessed with time management but also the passage of time in life.”)

February 2008

I'll be the first to admit. I'm not as smart as the best. I'm not as gifted as the best. In any shape, aspect, or form. In all honesty, my natural skills & abilities are average.

But I figured out why I can become the best.

All throughout my 23 years, I've experienced failures. I've been humiliated. I've been humbled. Life has beat me to my knees and sometimes flat on my back. But I'm the most resilient person I know. I dusted myself off and kept on moving forward. I never blamed anybody. I was too busy figuring out how to solve the problem and most importantly, move forward. And every time I failed, I got better. Sometimes, immensely better.

For me, obstacles and adversities don't faze me much anymore. I've been through plenty of failures. When I experience another challenge, it only sets me back momentarily, but I bounce back harder, and I accelerate forward. I've developed a "spring" to adversities, compact and tight, that when an adversity hits, I automatically spring forward at high velocity.

— (2018 comment: “Wow. This one gives me the chills. I can learn from this kid. Thanks, 2006 me.”)

April 2006

Quotes I live by:
- The best way to predict the future is to create it.
- Live as if the whole world is watching.
- Dream as if you'll live forever. Live as if you'll die today.

I want to maximize my life. I want to satisfy my hunger for knowledge and growth.
I want to live a worthy life. a balanced yet unbalanced passionate life. a giving life. a fulfilling life. a joyful life.

I want to live a life that outlasts my time, one that'll serve as a model, as a beacon of excellence, achievement and inspiration, one that anyone can relate to and learn from.

I am on a never-ending quest for perfection.

My Life is My Sculpture.
My Life is My Painting.
I am the Sculptor.
I am the Painter.

Everyday, I think about it, reflect on it, work on it, improve it, and perfect it.

If I die today, I want people to say, "This guy lived hard, till the very last day."

This is what I do. This is what I feel. This is what I think. This is how I think. This is how I give. This is how I live.

This is my life. This is me.

— (2018 comment: This is still my life. This is still me.)