Beginner Fatigue

Friday, November 9th, 2018

  I have Beginner Fatigue. I imagine many others have been in the same place. Being a beginner is hard work. When we see the mistakes we've sent out into the field, or accidentally destroyed a company's property (in my case an EC2 instance), we feel like frauds. Often, the real problem is a lack of guidance or appropriate review when we make these mistakes, but they are damning to self-confidence nonetheless. These hits to the ego are salvos in a battle of attrition. It is not one setback that causes self-doubts, but the curse of a good memory that only seems to remember the mistakes you've made. It is death by a thousand cuts, and the psychological toll is severe.

  When we feel this way as beginners, our first impulse is to co-opt a syndrome that we already know to exist. Beginner Fatigue is a close relative of imposter syndrome, a well-studied and often self-diagnosed condition on Twitter. Imposter syndrome and Beginner Fatigue bear one key difference, the individuals dealing with imposter syndrome have solid physical evidence that they do not belong. If from an underrepresented group in any way, you have tangible feedback that you don't belong. You can get treated as a token and have all of your achievements diminished for being a diverse candidate. (Diverse people dont exist, diverse teams do.)

  Feeling incompetent on the job does not entitle anyone to the status of imposter. Putting on the beginner hat every day at work can feel exhausting. Making mistakes and learning from them often feels like a massively innefficient way to learn. Most of us are struggling to catch a break, and trying to learn where we can along the way. Going to work every day and feeling like you're not getting much better can be tough in a good job, but if you are in an ahem "less-than-ideal" situation, it can make the pursuit of self-improvement even more difficult.

  The coach Vince Lombardi said "Fatigue makes cowards of us all", and this certainly applies to mental fatigue as well. In athletics, cowardice is usually exposed by getting passed by, slowing down, and quitting. In any domain, the reaction is in fact the same; we give up. However, putting substandard creative output out into any domain is simultaneously the root of all growth and all self-doubt. When we learn in the open, we can fail. Thee only way to measure your progress is to open one's work to criticism. The feedback that we get might not be the feedback that we desired, and that failed expecation adds on to Beginner Fatigue. By acknowleding that everyone has an ego, and its okay for it to be bruised, we can move past it. By hiding their failures, those who have Beginner Fatigue are only making themselves more susceptible to burnout.

  I dont know if there is any key takeaway here. I've always been bugged when people quote JFK and say "The only thing to fear is fear itself". It may be the only thing to fear, but it still is extremely intimidating. In the case of Beginner Fatigue, personally, I am worried that I am never going to fix my bad coding habits. But this can apply to anyone, you can be so tired of putting on that beginner hat that you can refuse to take up new hobbies or transition into a new career. Acknowledge the fear of failure and you can move past it, but it is never easy.