Having gone through a lot of hurdles, I can now clearly see how much time I wasted with pursuing things that felt good, but were definitely not good for me. I can see this trend in the lives of many people I have worked with or studied with.
You see, people who want to improve their careers often end up in the two traps that are called productivity and the passion hypothesis.
I have written about the traps of productive procrastination in my post “Productivity: The Role of Letting Go“. This post concludes that effective work is a lot more important than productivity. Yet, most people think that they can achieve their way to a better future through higher productivity.
I have also addressed the trap of the passion hypothesis in my post Design Your Career – Become So Good they Can’t Ignore You. This post gave you a lot of insights into creating a fulfilling career by building career capital instead of working on your motivation.
Even though these posts have been widely available, I get some questions from time to time whether The Developer’s Edge is a good motivational self-help book in the topic of improving your career. Hell no! Nothing is further from The Developer’s Edge than motivation. Motivation may be dangerous for you, especially if you don’t take action and follow your feelings. Let’s dive into this topic a bit more deeply.
Self-help and the Illusion of Progress
During my first job, I got to know a company providing stock market education. This company was rather interested in self-help, because their slogan was 80% mindset, 20% strategies. Beyond exploring the possibilities of the stock market, the customers of the company dealt with reading self-help books, and watching stuff from the major self-help coaches of the time.
When it comes to the ratio 80% mindset, 20% strategy, according to my perception, ironically, around 80% of the audience got the mindset wrong. Not because they were broken. But because they bought into the misconception that it is enough to read success books, visualize, write down goals, and experience certain feelings. They thought, if you get your mindset right, you will master the stock market.
The sad truth is, learning the topic of mindset for the sake of learning it is not enough. I saw people defy common sense, because they thought their self-help guru was a priest or God. They read and preached self-help concepts as if it was the Bible. Yet, they never did anything tangible, as they were waiting for the law of attraction to do its job. They felt entitled for the results, because they worked on their “mindset” day and night. They learned from Tony Robbins “Take action now!”. So they punched the sky, said yes, maybe made one phone call, and then continued learning more self-help to progress faster. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of what Tony Robbins does is founded on science. Yet, people who misinterpret his message will not get anything out of what Tony teaches.
It’s like going to church. The priests of the 21st Century are success coaches. Watch the first half of the documentary Status Anxiety from Alain de Botton. You can see how similar the work of a motivational speaker and the work of a priest is.
The only problem is, people go to church for spiritual reasons, not to change their lives through achievement. Achievement and success are not iconic idols that will save you if you prey enough by watching enough motivational videos.
Addiction to feelings
Motivational videos and guided meditations put you into mental states that are really enjoyable. When we want something, it feels good to watch a motivational video, where we believe for a moment we can kick ass, right? Right!
The only problem is, if you don’t use the leverage you created by going out and changing the world, you just built this leverage for no reason. This leverage will eventually fade, the good feelings will be gone. As a result, your self-esteem will shrink.
In order to get the good feelings back, people watch another motivational video. Then another. It’s like a drug. Their brains will be conditioned to watch a motivational video whenever they want good feelings.
Same holds for guided meditations. Therapeutic guided meditations are amazing tools. Even when all hope is lost, they can create a vision of a purposeful future, they can create and condition lasting changes in your personality by eliminating limiting beliefs, and they can uncover and clean emotional trauma from your childhood.
But then if you go out to the world and you do the same thing that you did before doing this emotional work, chances are, you will experience the same feelings as before. Eventually, you will conclude that nothing has changed. So in order to get the good feelings back, you listen to your favorite guided meditations or mantras over and over again. Then what happens? You become desensitized to the effects of the therapeutic meditation while you develop expectations towards it. So after a while, you don’t even get the feelings you expect. This leads you to pursue other methods that you believe will change you.
At the same time, the truth is, you don’t need to be fixed, and you are not broken. You just need one component that has been missing: constant and continuous action. Feelings do not take you anywhere. Action does.
What’s the truth?
Mark Manson, the author of the book The Subtle Art of not Giving a Fuck wrote an article with the title Fuck your Feelings.
According to Mark, there are two reasons why people do anything in life: either because it feels good, or because they believe their action is good or right. Once you start doing what is right, even if your feelings tell you otherwise, you will become emotionally resilient.
Let’s stop for a moment. What are feelings? They are nothing else, but your interpretations of events that happen to you. Feelings are the books you write in your memory bank. In some books, you are the bright one, the funny one. In other books, you are abandoned, desperate, worthless.
We write the worst books when we are children, because we just don’t understand why we can’t just have fun, live in the moment, and play. Unfortunately, those books often cause us suffer once we grow up. Those are the dark books that make us angry at the workplace. Those are the books that convince us to resign because we feel insignificant. And those are the books that make us choose browsing Facebook or playing a mobile game instead of reading The Developer’s Edge.
If our feelings are just our interpretation of our events that happen to us, then we can conclude, many of our feelings are just myths. And if they are myths, perhaps, we could clean house. How can we clean house? By considering new meanings to events that happen to us.
This is why it is important to examine our truth behind any feeling that comes up. This way, we can uncover our path worth pursuing. When you act based on your feelings, you may experience a short emotional high. When you do what you think is right, you start respecting yourself more. This leads to a higher self-esteem.
The only problem is, our brain tells us, whatever feels good is good for us. We can eat a lot of chocolate, after all, it feels good, right? Even though our workplace is horrible, instead of finding a new one, it makes perfect sense to play computer games, watch movies, and get drunk every Friday, because at least I can forget the burden of the workplace. It is Friday after all. I have earned my right for good feelings. So I will go and get wasted. Some fun time won’t kill me, I deserve it.
On Monday, it’s time to get back to reality. You think back at the fun time, and wish you were there partying or playing games. You are not doing what you want to be doing right now. Therefore, you respect yourself less, so your self-esteem decreases.
I grew up believing that it is our duty to work on our challenges and break through them. Therefore, I have linked pain when I put my challenges aside, and just act based on my feelings. This pain is a feeling I very much welcome, because it is in alignment with who I want to be. This is why I had an easier time than most people when I had to identify what is really good for me.
The real importance of feelings
If all that you took away from this article is the phrase “fuck your feelings”, it may be an unhealthy emotional reaction. In this case, go for the concept of emotional resilience.
Feelings are important. But not in the way how most people use it. The masses use the following strategy:
- Feel something
- Act based on the feeling
- In the long run, actions build a character
We are aiming for the following strategy instead:
- Determine who I want to become, what my life is about, what I value
- Act according to my path
- The resulting feelings give me feedback
For instance, a sign of a good workout is that it feels very painful. This is when you grow and progress. Ultimately, progress brings happiness. If you listen to your brain saying that the workout is bad for you, you will avoid the gym and watch Netflix instead. Same holds for your personal brand, your tech skills, your soft skills.
What brings success?
We have seen that motivation, self-help, and personal development is not there to give us good feelings. Good feelings don’t make you successful.
On devcareermastery.com, we are dealing with practical things that lead you towards career fulfillment. These practical things include creating your personal brand, tangible deliverables that enhance your profile, and clear actions that create lasting changes in your behavior.
We do target mindset, and to a certain extent, even visualizations are somewhat helpful. But visualization is not the Secret to a fulfilling life. It’s just a tiny ingredient that will steer you in the right direction. One factor out of many.
A vast majority of the self-help literature is about the mindset you need to have to be successful: “Think in a certain way, then you can achieve success.” If you had a chance to talk to people you personally admire for what they have achieved, do you think they would tell you, the reason why they got successful was that they worked on their mindset?
People who want to tell you that mindset is enough, either want you to buy their products, or they are consuming these products themselves on a regular basis. My point of view is that mindset is important, but it is just one ingredient.
This is why I decided on restoring the balance by delivering tangible results that can work in everyday life. Some of these results have worked for me, while others have worked for people I know. I share this research with you on my blog, my books and courses.
- How Blogging and Teaching Online Courses can Skyrocket your Career as a Software Developer
- Seven Common Mistakes I Learned from Reviewing 500 Software Developer Résumés
- Asking for a Raise – and Getting It
- The 10.000€ Salary Research Mistake – and How You can Avoid it
- Design Your Career – Become So Good they Can’t Ignore You
- Secrets of a Successful Tech Interview
Life is a game. My work is based on understanding the rules of the game. This game is about cause and effect relationships. If we understand them, we can turn a game around even if we feel we are losing.
Do interviewers appreciate people who voluntarily produce valuable content? Yes. Does this activity earn you money and opportunities? Yes, I have done it, and I have written a book about how you can follow my example.
Progress is everywhere. For instance, do you want to get a five figure raise? I have been to more than 500 interviews, and believe me, there are obvious patterns. Many people who don’t get hired, tend to make the same mistakes. Both in the HR interview and in the tech interview. If you uncover these mistakes, these could mean a five figure increase in your negotiated salary.
This is what this blog and The Developer’s Edge is about. Tangible results. SMART goals.
Feelings are important. As long as your actions don’t depend on them. Avoid the motivation trap.
Mindset is important. As long as your actions are consistent with them.
As soon as your actions drift away from where you want to be heading, feelings create obstacles and dependencies. Working on your mindset to get good feelings is just as useful as going to a gym to see other people work out while you sit on a machine fiddling with your phone.
Many people, including myself, have proven that consistent and continuous action with the right mindset creates results. Eventually, these results give you good feelings that last.