Two years ago today, I walked into my first class of my Front-End Web Development course. Shortly after that, I laced up my bargain Skechers and went out for my first run as part of a couch to 5K program.
These two things don’t sound like they could be any more different, and my motivations for both were different at first, too. But two years later I can say that they’ve both taught me more valuable lessons than I’d ever thought possible.
I wanted to learn how to code because it was a culmination of a life-long fascination with technology that I had always thought I wasn’t “good enough” or “smart enough” to handle. I loved hacking together custom Myspace layouts as a teenager, so I took a Java class my senior year of high school to see what it was all about. I was the only girl in the class, and it was the only coding class my high school offered. I flew through the lessons and labored over adding little features to every project. I was hooked. But when I got accepted into college and began to decide on a major, I saw Calculus in the first semester requirements and panicked. “I’m TERRIBLE at math”, I told myself. I could never handle the classes. Better to just stay in my lane with what I thought I could handle, which happened to be graphic design.
Growing up, I was an awkward kid. My hand-eye coordination was non-existent, and I was always picked last in gym class. When we had to run the mile, I would cry through the entire thing as I lagged behind all the other kids. As I fumbled into adulthood, my relationship with exercise was predictably terrible and relegated to the occasional recreational game of volleyball with friends. When I hit 26, I was embarrassed when I heard my coworkers talking about the long runs they were doing on the weekends and I couldn’t remember the last time I had run outside of gym class. My coworker asked me to do a 5K and I reluctantly agreed. “But I’ll never be an athlete,” I told myself. I’ll just do a Couch to 5K program, just to say I did it, and maybe lose a couple of pounds along the way.
Why did I decide to embark on both of these journeys at once? Who knows, probably nagging thoughts from a post-quarter-life crisis. While only one journey had its heart in the right place (coding), there was a lot of fear surrounding both (can I really do this?). Summer came that year, and with it came my first finish line and my first development projects at work. And with both of those milestones came two realizations: I actually made it! And, I have SO much to learn!
My love of coding never faltered, but my love of running began to creep up ever so slowly until the following spring, when I realized how much I had come to love both of these things that once scared me. And that with time, dedication, and thousands of hours of practice, I COULD handle both running and coding, lack of hand-eye coordination and mathematical skills aside.
The journey was never easy. I suffered my first running injuries this past winter. I have flat feet, and for some reason, it didn’t catch up with me until a year and a half into running, but when it did, my knees failed catastrophically. If there was a silver lining, my injuries developed in the off-season as I trained through Chicago’s brutal winter, but both injuries required time off running, which was unfathomable to me. Running had become part of my identity, and being unable to do what I loved so much was devastating.
As my two-year developer anniversary grew closer, I began to reflect on what my coding journey has been like, and I realized that it was surprisingly similar to my running journey, and even more so during my injuries. I recalled the many times in the past two years that I became “stuck”, and unable to move forward on a project due to a seemingly insurmountable bug. In my first year, I would silently panic until I was able to get a senior dev to help me, but in the past year, I learned to slow way down and walk through the problem step by step until I found the solution. Do I still need help from other devs from time to time? Absolutely, and I love soaking up their wisdom. But I’ve become so much more self-reliant, because I believe in myself and I KNOW I can handle the problem, one step at a time.
As I reflected on that, sidelined by my bad knees, I realized that pushing through the injury was as useless as trying to hack my way through a bug. I needed to slow way down and take it step by step, ask “senior” runners for wisdom, and believe that I could handle my injury. I’m two weeks into my recovery plan now, adding 5 more minutes of running every other day (as long as it’s pain free), and I’m hoping to be able to run the Shamrock Shuffle at the end of the month. One step at a time.
As a developer, should you be a runner too? Maybe, but that’s totally up to you. What I do know is that coding opens up so much more than you realize, and teaches lessons of self-reliance that are hard to find elsewhere. Find joy in the journey, and you’ll be surprised by what you can handle along the way.