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When you try your best (at what you're already good at) but you don't succeed...

Some of the people around me know that I like basketball so much. I did watch "Slam Dunk" growing up (one of my all-time favorite animes), but I wasn't really that much into the sport, was a couch potato and not even an athletic person. I only started learning and practicing when I was in university. Even that was only the basic: shooting. I remember one thing that my senior said to me; if you can shoot the ball well, you can consider yourself good enough. This statement somehow stuck in my brain for years to come.

And it's true. I did at some point get pretty good at shooting. Played with my fellow classmates and they started to respect myself when I got the ball, defending me closely. That was essentially my reward, what kept me going. Whenever we did practice, I wasn't interested in anything else but shooting. Whenever I practiced on my own, I also only practiced shooting most of the time. I mean, that's what I'm good at, might as well focus on that instead.

Then come a bigger scene. I played with different people, full court 5 on 5. It was a whole different level of basketball, I was flabbergasted. I could barely get ahold of the ball, and even if I managed to shoot them, I could rarely make the shot, it was intense. Everyone started telling me this and that. I didn't have a good stamina, I should've passed more, I should've played better defense. I said to myself, they're not getting it; you guys should've given me the ball, cleared the defense and I could've scored better! I know what I'm doing!

And I was somewhat right. During practice, I could make my shots. I repeated the same shots on the same spots that I missed during the actual game, and I could make them. However, during the game, my shots weren't falling again. My teammates started to pass to someone else instead of me. I was befuddled at first, but then I thought, the hell with it, I'm not gonna play anymore. I mean, it was frustrating. I've practiced, I've shown great signs of improvements, I did my best, but it wasn't enough. There's always something else that everyone else demanded. My shooting works, why can't they appreciate what I can do and my efforts instead?

At that point, I've been learning basketball for at least 5 years, although it wasn't that intense. Probably once or twice every week, and it was an on and off thing. And then it hit me. 5 years... and I only know how to shoot? Even so, I was still struggling in making my shots at games? What have I been doing in these past 5 years?

So I started to watch basketball games instead. The NBA. Looking at how organized they played, multiple sets of offense and defense, how are they running up and down the court. That's where I realized what went wrong in those 5 years: There is a whole lot more to it than shooting in basketball (duh). Sure, what my senior said at the beginning was right, but I should have never stopped at shooting.

More importantly, I also realized that indeed I was not good enough. The skill gap between talented basketball player and me has to be acknowledged. It was wrong to keep repeating to myself that "my shooting works and I did my best", while ignoring the rest of my problems. I needed to get out of that shell and start listening and improving.

It wasn't exactly a fun experience. I remember practicing dribbles and layups for months, started to work on my stamina. Practiced harder and more frequent than I used to. I was basically doing what beginners do despite of starting way earlier than them. However, my game felt more complete, and I could really make it work with my teammates afterwards, started making my shots somehow.

You'd probably wonder, "How does any of these have anything to do with programming? This is and there's no #watercooler tag in this article!" My bad, I might have gotten carried away (I like basketball that much, to be honest). However, maybe some of you can already relate to it, when comparing with your work experience: being in the field for years, have been sort of good at insert-programming-language-here, but somehow your supervisors or your coworkers (or even yourself?) are telling you that you're not good enough?

I think, to overcome the fact that you're not good enough and you still have so many things to catch up, it is important to first acknowledge the fact that you're not good enough. I know this may seem like you're stirring up the Impostor Syndrome pot that is already boiling hot, but I don't think you can improve without acknowledging what needs to be improved. Patching it by saying "I did my best, why can't you see my effort" or "I'm already good at X Y Z" did not help, as you might have learned from my 5 years of practicing basketball; it is still not addressing the actual problems, which are the areas you're lacking. Then, make actionable items from those and start to improve.

I have to say that accepting the fact that you're not good enough is truly essential in terms of improving yourself, in my case at least. It teaches yourself to lower down your ego, and avoiding yourself to be pigeonholed into your own opinion. It also allows yourself to be able to properly listen to critics; if you found yourself getting easily offended or defensive when getting a feedback, maybe it's because you've been dodging the fact that you are getting a feedback. Acknowledge them first, maybe take a breather, and start to listen, and then see if the feedback makes sense.

Furthermore, it is okay to make yourself look like beginners once in a while, especially if you are, and you have acknowledged or accepted the fact that you are. If it happens that folks have been telling you that you're not good enough at Git despite of having been working in IT for years, it is fine to get that "How to Git for Dummies" book and get to the bottom of it. In my opinion, it doesn't make you less of a person, it's just that you happen not to know that thing in particular. That is super normal. And this is an experience that would make you a much humbler person, which is great in general.

Anyway, there's already a lot of articles about Impostor Syndrome and how you can get out of that feeling of not good enough or not deserving your current situation. I didn't mean to sound like a broken record, but currently this is an offseason in NBA and there isn't that much basketball topic to talk about, so I thought why not 😂. Also, it seems to me that it's still not the most obvious thing to point out when it comes to this topic, at least for me, so just to get the word out.

Still, thank you for reading my article, I hope this helps someone in some ways!

Cover image by Tamarcus Brown on Unsplash.

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