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?”


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.