Brian Gilham

Engineering leader, husband, and father

perfectionism

A Punch to the Gut

I fucked up pretty badly a few weeks back. The particulars don’t matter. I wouldn’t be able to share them, even if they did. But it was a big one; the kind of mistake that hits you like a freight train. People were hurt and angry — and rightfully so. It felt like I’d been punched in the stomach — the air rushed out of my lungs, leaving me speechless. I’m usually pretty good at picking myself up, dusting myself off, and moving on after I screw up.

I fucked up pretty badly a few weeks back.

The particulars don’t matter. I wouldn’t be able to share them, even if they did. But it was a big one; the kind of mistake that hits you like a freight train. People were hurt and angry — and rightfully so. It felt like I’d been punched in the stomach — the air rushed out of my lungs, leaving me speechless. I’m usually pretty good at picking myself up, dusting myself off, and moving on after I screw up. Not this time.

I spent the next day moping around, feeling sorry for myself. I wanted to run away; to get as far as possible from the person I saw in the mirror. That jerk.

But, on the second day, I remembered: This wasn’t the first time I’d screwed up in my life, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last. The fact that I’d made a mistake was important — I’d had a negative impact on other people. But how I responded to it would matter more, in the long run. I decided to focus on the people I’d affected, instead of my ego, and get to work fixing the situation. Time will tell if I’m successful or not.

On the internet, behind screens and keyboards, it’s easy to look at other people and imagine they’re perfect. All you see is their successes — the highlight reel. Fantastic vacation shots on Instagram. Tweets about crushing it on their latest project. And yes, newsletter articles about productivity. We all do it — selectively sharing things that present us in the best light possible.

But we’re all just regular people, trying our best to make today a little bit better than yesterday. And when you put yourself out into the world and try new things, you’re bound to screw up once in a while. Sometimes it will be minor. Other times, you’ll fuck up so bad you won’t even know who you are, for a bit.

In those moments, remember you aren’t alone.

Until next time,

-Brian


Make a (Public) Commitment

I’m writing this article because I have to – I’ve set a deadline. One new article a week, no matter what. It’s a time limit that’s entirely self-imposed, but I’ve committed to it publicly, and now I have to stick to it. Setting a deadline and sharing it with the world is the most effective strategy I’ve found to force myself to be productive. The more public the commitment, the better.

I’m writing this article because I have to – I’ve set a deadline. One new article a week, no matter what. It’s a time limit that’s entirely self-imposed, but I’ve committed to it publicly, and now I have to stick to it.

Setting a deadline and sharing it with the world is the most effective strategy I’ve found to force myself to be productive. The more public the commitment, the better. If I tell everyone I’m going to write one article a week and fail, I’m going to feel pretty awful. So, I work hard to make sure I don’t have to feel that way.

It’s a strategy I’ve used in my personal life, too.

For a long time, I hated running. I tried it a few times over the years, but always gave up. I’d look at the thin people running laps around me and decide, time and time again, that running just wasn’t for me. I hated that I gave up so quickly. So this summer, when a coworker started recruiting people for a 5k, I decided to make a change.

Before I could second-guess myself, I signed up for the race and paid the registration fee. This time I would have to stick with it. Otherwise, I’d end up looking pretty bad in front of my team. I committed. To up the ante even more, I tracked my runs with Strava and posted the results to our Slack channel, along with Twitter and Instagram. Lots of people responded with words of encouragement – which felt great. But it also made me feel accountable to them.

In October, I ran my first 5k without stopping. A small distance for most of you, I’m sure. But to me, it felt like all the distance in the world. It was easily my biggest accomplishment of the year.

To become good at our work, we have to put the hours in. A deadline, announced publicly, forces you to stop being precious. It kills perfectionism and resistance to just getting shit done. The more deadlines I set, and commitments I make to other people, the more I’m able to get done.

Until next time,

–Brian