Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Learning is Embarrassing

Learning is embarrassing. As I'm learning something, I mess up. Frequently. And I get a bit embarrassed about it. After all, I've been doing this for a while; I should know what I'm doing!

For example, recently I've been doing a little coding in C. I don't really speak C. At all. Fortunately, I was pairing with Ken, who possesses a large amount of patience. I did a lot of dumb things, like try to print a buffer with sprintf, or forget to define a function in a header file. And each time it totally and completely bombed, he'd say, "maybe we should do it like this", and show me the right way.

I was embarrassed. I'm sure he could have gotten our task done about four times faster if he'd just done it. And really, I'm a software engineer. I ought to be able to get it to compile! And work, even!

But here's the thing. Ken didn't mind that this task took a long time, because it was a good thing to have done and now I know a lot more than I did when we started. Next time I have to change something in our C code it'll be a lot easier for me, and therefore less work he has to do. I'm not exactly a C guru, but those hours he put in will be paid back with hours that Ken doesn't have to spend because I can. And that's learning. Ken wasn't embarrassed or disappointed.

The only one embarrassed is you.

Everyone else understands that you're learning. And they're glad you're learning something new. They're glad that one day in not too long you'll have figured this out and you'll be a real help.

It's easy to be embarrassed to be practicing a skill that you haven't quite got, or to be learning something new and kind of messing up along the way. But put that aside. You're learning, and that's the important part.

No one else expects you to be perfect. Stop expecting it of yourself.


  1. I find this to be a constant issue with myself. Not just with paired work, but even in self study, I keep riding myself for not learning faster.

    Thanks for the post.

  2. Excellent post, loved it. This happened to me last week when I started learning Ruby @ I felt embarrassed looking at others code. They had clear comments, used better naming conventions, the code was modular, etc. But if I stop uploading my code just because I might be embarrassed I will never learn.

  3. I'm not embarrassed to be learning I just wish I knew everything!