Eve Porcello chats with Kent about managing your learning goals in a way that doesn't lead to burnout.
A lot of times, when people are learning something new, they feel, "Oh, I have to learn this fast and my manager's counting on me to learn this," and everything's super stressful. As software engineers, we continually have to learn new things, and carrying that stress is tough on our mental health, so we must learn how to mitigate it.
Don't worry about being an expert. Try to be okay with being a beginner at something. You shouldn't expect more than that from yourself when you start learning something new.
It's essential to break your goal down into multiple steps so that it's not this vast, daunting leap that you have to take. Smaller steps of minor discomfort are a lot easier to cope with.
Think of one goal you have and take 10 minutes to break it down into smaller chunks
Kent C. Dodds: Hello friends, this is your friend Kent C. Dodds, and I'm joined by my friend Eve Porcello. Say, "Hi", Eve.
Eve Porcello: Hey Kent, how's it going?
Kent C. Dodds: It's going great. Yeah, it's a beautiful morning. I just got home from exercising. I go on a walk every day with my wife and it's awesome. I didn't always exercise, but yeah, life's good now, so.
Eve Porcello: That's great.
Kent C. Dodds: Yeah. Okay, so Eve, you're a wonderful person, really in the GraphQL community. I remember, I think the first time I met you was last year at React Rally, when you gave your talk there. That was a remarkable talk by the way. I think I told you, but the demo that you gave was so good. People need to go watch that talk. It was just well executed, and just a really wonderful talk, so great. So Eve, I know you a little bit, but I'd love for our audience to get to know you a little, so could you just introduce yourself a little bit to people listening?
Kent C. Dodds: Well, and you at least did a really great job of that at React Rally for sure.
Eve Porcello: Thank you.
Kent C. Dodds: So that's a wonderful skill and it's definitely one that takes a lot of work to accomplish, the ability to make learning fun. Especially in some scenarios where you're going in to do enterprise training or something, and those people aren't there because they want to, but because their boss told them to.
Eve Porcello: Yep.
Kent C. Dodds: So, what are some of your strategies for making learning fun?
Eve Porcello: I think we just try to create an environment where all questions are welcomed and we really want to hear from people as they're going through the materials. What's working for them, and just creating a safe environment to ask questions. A lot of times when folks are learning something new, they feel, "Oh, I have to learn this really fast and my manager's counting on me to learn this", and everything's super stressful. And so, we like to come in and be kind of like a day or two of getting away from your desk, getting away from all the patterns that are kind of built in, and just having some fun. Building something that works, making people feel like they can do it, and then feeling like they can take what they've learned to their job, and feel more confident, and feel more prepared for building fun stuff, and taking some of that stress away.
Kent C. Dodds: Yeah, absolutely. For lots of these newer technologies, like GraphQL or React Hooks or all these things, it actually takes... it's more than just learning, it's actually unlearning first, and then learning new things.
Eve Porcello: Absolutely. Yeah, totally.
Kent C. Dodds: And that can be a challenge. And it's... especially if it's hard for people to justify the unlearning. It's, "Well why would I... things are working nice as I have it today, I don't mind spinning up a new end point for every new piece of data that I need", right?
Eve Porcello: Yeah, no totally. [crosstalk 00:03:40] Absolutely, making the case for that is sometimes tricky. But yeah, we try to show all of the good things that you could potentially get from that technology. And yeah, pulling people away from their desk for a couple of days is usually really useful, so.
Kent C. Dodds: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Cool. So Eve, in preparing for this, you gave me a movie quote that I absolutely want our audience to hear because I love it. You called it cheesy. And maybe it is a little bit, but I think it's great. So, do you want to tell us a little bit about that movie quote? And I'm actually curious where that came from.
Eve Porcello: Sure. So I live in Tahoe City, California. So, a ski town. My whole cultural life is very informed by skiing right now, so there's a guy, Warren Miller, who has made a ton of ski movies over the past, I think 50 years. He has this quote though about skiing that says, "If you don't do it this year, you'll be one year older when you do". So, he's referring to, if you don't jump off that cliff, or straight line that shoe on skis, you're going to just come back and do it next year. You're going to regret not doing that. But I think that really applies to life. I think that there's a lot of things that I hesitate to do, but I'm going to have to go do it at some point. So, just kind of getting that fear out of the middle, between when you want to do something and when you accomplish that thing, is something that I'm constantly working on and failing it to be honest. But, I try.
Kent C. Dodds: Yeah. Well, so that quote really speaks to me, "You'll be another year older", and especially in regard to skiing, it's, well, I mean you're not getting any younger and it'll probably be harder as you age. But when applying that to general life, and not just tech, but anything that you want to do, you'll be another year older, but there will also be other things that are vying for your time, and you don't know what life is going to be like next year. Maybe you won't... maybe something terrible will happen, and you won't be in a financial position to do this new... try this new thing that you want to try, or whatever the case may be. So, finding the confidence to go and do something new, and try something that you might be fearful or uncertain about, is... it's hard. So, how do you go about acquiring that confidence to just take the leap?
Eve Porcello: Well, I think... I was thinking about this a lot a couple of weeks ago. I was on a backpacking trip and it was something I really wanted to do. It was mostly my idea to actually go on the trip. But as the day came closer, I was really busy with work, and then my friends said they're all going to show up two hours late because people are getting off of planes and getting late, and it was really cold out that weekend, and it was starting to get dark and all those things that make you feel fearful of what's to come. So, I realized though that, even though it was cold, even though it was getting dark and I was worried about hiking too far too fast, none of those things really mattered because I had signed up for doing the hike anyway. None of my friends, my husband, they weren't going to let me get away with leaving, so there was nothing I could do.
So, I kind of was thinking about how all of that worry, all of that stress, all of that thinking about the future and not being in the present moment, really took me out of the joy of being with my friends and doing something that was fun. So, I think to get over that and to get over a fear with work-related, tech-related things, it's just kind of breaking things down into smaller chunks. So, I shouldn't worry about two days from now when we're going to be hiking somewhere else, and I'm worried about making it to this place on time, I should be worried about maybe hiking to that tree right there. I can see it, I can hike a hundred steps and I'll be there, and then I'll hike the next hundred, and the next hundred. So, breaking anything down into smaller goals, kind of eases the fear and makes you feel, "Yeah, I did it, I hiked to that tree. I hiked that a hundred steps", and it doesn't feel as big of a commitment or as big of a deal.
Kent C. Dodds: Yeah, I like that a lot. And that's especially useful when you're in a situation where you can't really get out of it. And that applies to hiking or it could apply to, your at this job and your boss is, "Hey listen, I know that you really, really hate dealing with RCI, but we just need somebody to do that, and just this week because this person's out", or whatever. And so, you can complain about it and be all gripey and stuff, and that's one way to approach that, or you can recognize that complaining is just wasted energy, and instead just make the most of it and take that opportunity, or see that opportunity for what it is. So, I like that idea a lot. So, when we're talking about new things that we're volunteering for, that... or decide, "Hey, you know what? I really want to learn a lower level programming language. I think learning Rust be interesting, very different one I've done in the past, but interesting", you mentioned breaking things down as a good way to accomplish the goal. How would you break down learning a completely different programming language like Rust?
Eve Porcello: Yeah, I would just think that... not worrying about being a Rust expert on day one is a great place to start. So, a lot of times when, and Rust is a great example because that's something that I haven't approached for this reason. It's, it seems too daunting, I don't know when I'll find time for that. But, I think a good place to start, and I'll write this in my notes for myself to actually do, is to think about just taking 30 minutes to take a tutorial or read some documentation. And even though I might not be building Rust applications today, that will make me a little bit farther down the path of learning. And I think that no block of time is too small for that. So, just kind of thinking about what can I do today to make me closer to that goal of knowing more about Rust, versus I have to build something production ready with Rust today.
Kent C. Dodds: Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah. And maybe if that is mandated for you, try to have as positive an attitude as possible.
Eve Porcello: Yeah, exactly. Totally.
Kent C. Dodds: No, but, so what I take away from that is, when we're making these goals and breaking them down, you need to be as realistic as possible, and just... taking the opportunity to, I don't know, realize that, "Hey, I'm going to be bad at this, and I'm not going to be an expert at this, and that's okay, and nobody expects me to be". And then also, diving in head first and saying, "Okay, I'm going to spend the next two weeks learning Rust, and by the end of that two weeks, I'm going to be a Rust expert". I mean, maybe if you like to sprint that way, that that'll work out okay, but I like the idea of saying, "Hey, I'm just going to take 30 minutes. This is going to be kind of a... I'm going to continue on with my life, I'll have other things that I enjoy and I'm going to do this thing that might be a little bit painful, just for this short time", so that there's some spaced repetition there. There's some... you get to... it's hard to learn these new things and try these new things, and so having a little bit of time between could be really helpful. That's kind of what I took away from that.
Eve Porcello: Yeah, and I like what you said about, not worrying about being an expert, just being a super beginner at stuff. So, I'm a beginner at Rust, so I shouldn't expect anything more. And just as long as I'm becoming a better beginner at something, I think that is, I don't know, a good way to approach learning anything.
Kent C. Dodds: Yeah, absolutely. So, what are the kinds of goals that you think will really help people to improve themselves, whether that be technically or professionally or personally? What are some good goals that have helped you, I guess?
Eve Porcello: Yeah, I think... So, my coworker/husband Alex and I wrote a couple books together and then we were talking to Joel Hooks and Taylor Bell from Egghead and they were, "Have you ever considered blogging"? And we were, "Oh, that seems very out of order". But we felt, "Oh, I don't know if we can write blogs. It seems too difficult for us to do". And so, they recommended this idea of just kind of maintaining a repository of blog content where we have all of these haphazard, sort of duct tape together ideas, that will someday become blogs and they have become blogs in many cases. But, I think that's been a really great way of kind of taking things that we've learned or insights that we've had, and really formalizing them and sharing them. So, I know a lot of folks reference Swyx, Shawn Wang's Learn in Public idea, but that has been helpful to us, because we felt, "Oh, no one really cares about an article from us", or something like that, but it's something that has helped us to crystallize our thinking on certain topics and helps us to incorporate those into our workshops.
Kent C. Dodds: Yeah, I love that. First off, I just wanted to say that my blog is basically a bunch of random ideas, duct taped together.
Eve Porcello: Yeah.
Kent C. Dodds: I don't mind [crosstalk 00:13:58].
Eve Porcello: Duct taped together.
Kent C. Dodds: Right. I don't really mind just like throwing something together and hitting publish. I've gotten too used to doing that, but you can edit it later, right?
Eve Porcello: Yeah.
Kent C. Dodds: But, yeah. Well, the thing I took away from what you said though, is that you take something that you're already good at, which is writing content, writing books. Goodness, I'm not quite there yet on writing books, but taking something you're already good at and expanding it in a different direction. And so. here you were already skilled at a long form content, and you had the idea that, "Oh maybe we could try some more shorter form content that's a really similar idea just in a different format". And so, maybe somebody who is already doing a really good job at, I don't know, making some React components or whatever, that are functional, maybe they can start branching out a little bit into design-related components, like visual components or whatever. Just expanding slowly into areas that are related but still unknown for you can be a good way to... a good goal to start growing and stretching yourself a little bit.
Eve Porcello: Yeah, absolutely. Because all the topics are fairly related, but maybe teaching a workshop is a good next step, or step before speaking or something like that. But a lot of folks don't do both, so, and we were a good example of people who taught a lot of workshops but never really spoke at conferences. And so, it's all cross training the same type of skills, but branching out a little further and then, your reach is a little further and you can talk to more people and hopefully teach more people, so, all of that is really useful.
Kent C. Dodds: And lots of those things can... you can branch from programming if... I know a lot of people say, "Programming is my life. I eat, breathe, and drink, and sleep programming". But, it'd probably be a reasonable good idea to branch outside of that a little bit, and maybe you could take your skills of programming, and move them into board games and have people over to play games or whatever. Or find different areas of... start doing music. I know lots of programmers are musical, there's got to be something there. But, finding different areas to just expand your life a little bit, and take that goal setting pattern to whatever new thing that you want to try.
Eve Porcello: Yeah, absolutely. And all of that is being a beginner when you do some of that stuff. And that's really fun to try in other areas where you feel, "I don't know about this", but it is a good stretch for sure.
Kent C. Dodds: Yeah, absolutely. So, I want to talk a little bit more about developing the confidence to do and try these new things. Do you have any other strategies or ideas for how people can be confident? Especially when the new thing that they want to try is a very public facing thing, and they're were worried about getting ridiculed in public, or just doing a bad job in front of people. Let's say their goal is to start speaking, they're speaking in front of people, or their goal is to start baking, they're baking things for people. Or maybe their goal is to start, I don't know, rollerblading, and they go to a skate park or whatever, and now there's other people there, so that concern I think is a very natural one to be, "Well, what if I do a bad job? And everybody sees me do a bad job". How would you suggest people could get over that?
Eve Porcello: I think with starting small as well for this. I think for speaking, I know this is talked about a lot, but maybe start speaking at a local meetup, or if that's too daunting, which local meetups can be very overwhelming, maybe do that with your spouse, or your friend, or somebody who has your trust, who is more willing to give you feedback about perfecting your talk. That's something that I've really benefited from, is just being able to lean on my co-worker on that, and give talks in front of him, and he'll tell me, "This part's good. Why don't we tighten this section up". and Alex has been super helpful in kind of just formatting, and vetting ideas, and those types of things. So, practice is really, really key to confidence I think. And skipping that step can lead to feeling overwhelmed when you're giving a talk.
I've been there, I'm not quite ready. I haven't quite gotten these ideas out there before. Not that every talk has to be perfectly polished, but having the time to rehearse is really critical. My background is in theater and comedy and stuff, so that-
Kent C. Dodds: Really?
Eve Porcello: Yeah, that has been sort of a good thing to lean back on. Speaking of incorporating your hobbies and skills into making yourself more well rounded, I think that has saved me a lot in giving talks. It's just, I know how to... I don't necessarily know what a tech talk is, a few years ago, but I do know how to rehearse something, and I do know how to learn all the details and think about the audience and put it in front of people early who will tell me what is bad and what is good about what I'm trying to do.
Kent C. Dodds: Yeah, fail fast.
Eve Porcello: Fail fast, yep.
Kent C. Dodds: Yeah. Well, so what I got out of that I think is a really key and that is, I think it's a good thing to start small. And you could start, if it's baking for example, then you can start baking something for yourself and you know whether it's good or not and that's fine. And if that's all you want to do, just bake for yourself then that's fine, but if your goal is really to become a really skilled baker that people just really enjoy eating the things that you bake, then at some point you have to make the leap from baking for yourself, to baking for a real person. And that's what I pulled away from what you were talking about is, speaking in front of your husband, or a friend, or some confidant, and getting feedback from them. From a separate person other than yourself. And that can be a little bit nerve wracking, but taking it smaller... smaller steps, if it's speaking, then maybe you start speaking in front of stuffed animals.
Eve Porcello: Yeah.
Kent C. Dodds: Maybe you have to buy a stuffed animal if you don't still have your old ones or whatever, but speaking in front of it... at some point you're going to be speaking in front of people and each step is going to potentially be a little more uncomfortable than the last. But the important part is that you have turned your goal into multiple steps, so that it's not one giant leap of this huge amount of discomfort and things, but smaller steps of minor discomfort that you eventually learn to kind of cope with that discomfort. Maybe that discomfort never goes away, but you've got the experience to cope with that a little better.
Eve Porcello: Yeah, absolutely. And I think taking those small steps gives you a process for doing it all over again. Because as soon as you're done, you'll feel, "I'm a little more confident this time. I learned a lot from speaking at this one place, so I'm going to go through that process again", and going through all of those steps, not skipping the rehearsal steps, and not skipping the... just time you need to put into that stuff is really useful. But you have a process, you have a sort of playbook for how you're going to approach that stuff in the future.
Kent C. Dodds: Yeah, that's great. So, hmm. So, why would somebody... let's say that there are people listening, who are just, "Eh, I don't know, I'm pretty happy with life as it is, and I don't feel... I know that there are areas I could improve, but I don't really see why I should subject myself to potential ridicule or whatever by trying something new". What benefits are there to stretching yourself?
Eve Porcello: Yeah, good question. If you are really happy, I don't want to mess anyone's life up at all, but I do think that sometimes you, when stretching yourself into other areas, will get some benefits that you don't really expect. So, going and speaking at conferences I thought would be a good way to kind of promote by business and get better at public speaking, but it really has led to a lot of friendships. It's led to a lot of people who I love catching up with when I'm in their city, and I can look... I can ask them questions about things and they can ask me questions about things. And it's really built my network of just friendly people that I can make my life a little better with. And then the same goes for skiing and outdoor stuff. Before I moved to Tahoe seven years ago, I didn't really do anything outside, and I thought that's not really for me.
And I had a really good definition of who I was and what types of things I was going to do. I was not a person who would go skiing. It was too scary. So, now I think back on that, and it sort of makes me sad about what I could have missed out on during that time. Because it's been a lot of great vacations, and a lot of great conversations, and being outside in nature that I wouldn't have had a chance to see, if I had just kind of accepted that limited view of who I was. So, I was definitely a beginner at skiing for a long time, but it's still something that, even during those times of struggle and fear, and I guess that is always going on, because you're always trying to push a little farther. With that, it becomes, I don't know, just a lot of good experiences that I wouldn't have had, had I been so limited.
Kent C. Dodds: Yeah. And that's kind of one of those things that you don't know what you don't know, right? Where, you didn't know the friends that you would make by speaking at conferences or whatever it is. So, when we're trying new things, sometimes things don't work out quite very well, and it can be really easy to just give up and say, "Oh I'm not meant for this". Especially I see this a lot when people are brand new to coding, and a lot of people just kind of somehow get in their heads that there's a coding gene and "Maybe I'm just not meant for this coding thing". And so, what would you say to those people who feel like the goal that they've set for themselves is totally unreachable? And those kinds of goals do exist, right? I could make a goal to play in the NBA, but that's not going to happen, right?
So, maybe there's something to be said for making more realistic goals. But when you have a realistic goal, and you start questioning your capabilities there, what do you think people could do to make themselves feel like they can accomplish this and to persevere? Or maybe to say, "You know what, this isn't my thing". And they can cut their losses and move on to something else.
Eve Porcello: Yeah. I think that when approaching anything new like that, when looking at a big, lofty goal, there are a lot of moments along the way where there's failure throughout that period of time. I'm speaking for myself, I guess only, but I have definitely run into just countless, thousands, hundreds of thousands of times, where I've felt like I can't do this thing. I should quit. I'm not cut out for whatever I'm trying to do. And I think just maybe taking a step away for a day or so, or a couple of hours, or even 30 minutes, and going for a walk is just a really nice way to sort of reset and think, "Okay, this didn't go well, let's still try. We're still going to push things a little bit farther down the road and maybe I will hit that final goal, but maybe my goal will change a little bit and maybe a door closes and I get into something else".
There's a lot of examples of... I applied for a full time job a while back and I didn't get the job, and it was really hard, because I had gone through a lot of steps of the interview process, and I felt, "This is the job, this is going to be what I do for the next decade or whatever. The start to my career in this new way". But, had that opportunity worked out for me, even though I'd put a lot of work into it, a lot of prep for the interview and a lot of time invested in that, I thought, "That's the end of the line for me. I'm not going to... this is not the career for me", but I think about my job now and I love my job now. And all the experiences that I've had through my job wouldn't have happened had that opportunity happened. So, tons of examples of that in my own life, of just doors slamming and then getting re-routed into something that's actually a better fit for me, so.
Kent C. Dodds: Yeah, that... no, that's wonderful. That actually made me think of, Meet the Robinsons, where they're, "You failed. Congratulations".
Eve Porcello: Yeah, totally. It's not a failure necessarily, because it's just pointing you in the direction of something better for you.
Kent C. Dodds: Yeah, absolutely. I actually had a similar experience where I was rejected for a job and it was really sad, but things work out.
Eve Porcello: Yeah.
Kent C. Dodds: So, yeah, I think one thing that you also said made me think of, when you're in that moment of, "Boy, I'm not doing well at this. I'm probably not... this is just not my thing". Maybe stop and turn around on the mountain that you're hiking and look down and, "Whoa. Actually I've made a crazy amount of progress. A ton of progress". And so yeah, appreciating how far you've come I think can help with that too. That's wonderful. So Eve, I, we're coming down at the end of our time here together, and we decided on giving some people a little bit of homework for improving themselves in this area. So, what we want you to do is to think of one goal that you have, and take 10 minutes to break it down into smaller chunks. And so, whatever that goal is, tech-related or not, just think, "I want to speak at a conference", or, "I want to fly to Mars". Okay, maybe not that one. But I mean, I don't know, if that's what you want to do.
Eve Porcello: That sounds good, yeah.
Kent C. Dodds: But take that goal and break it down into smaller chunks. Small enough that you can consider that a step rather than a leap, and see where that takes you, and then take that first step. I guess that should be part of the challenge too, take the first one. Cool. So Eve, is there anything else that you'd like to share with people listening before we wrap up?
Eve Porcello: I don't think so. I'm definitely going to do that homework too though. Because there's always a million things that I feel like are too big and I need to break down, so I'll definitely do that.
Kent C. Dodds: Great. Good, good. Eve, what's the best place for people to connect with you online?
Eve Porcello: You can find me at Eve Porcello on all the social media things, because my name's a little weird, and you can find out more about our classes at moonhighway.com.
Kent C. Dodds: Wonderful. Thank you so much Eve. It's been a pleasure to chat with you, and I hope you have a wonderful rest of your day. And for people listening, I hope you have a good morning, afternoon, evening, or night, whenever it is that you're listening to this, and yeah. With that we'll just say goodbye. See you everyone.
Eve Porcello: Bye. Thank you.