The A List Apart Blog Presents:

Stop Cringing and Embrace the Unknown

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You know those moments when you’re shown a new feature to build, a description that needs to be written, or a design that needs to be translated to code, and you just freeze? When you aren’t sure where to go or how to begin?

This happened to me recently; the designer I was working with wanted to include a small animation on the homepage. I’ve taken an animation workshop, and I’ve done very small things on sites before, but I’ve never done something quite like what he asked for. At first I thought it was completely unnecessary, why bother? But as I worked through it, Googling madly and using Mozilla Developer Network a lot, I learned. When I got it working, or at least got it started, it was fun to see.

We’ve all had those moments when we’ve been asked to do something in our work, and cringe. I get it, some days you just want to coast, use the knowledge you have, get the job done. But on those same days, you may be thrown a new idea or concept that you need to make happen. How we handle these moments, can make a difference in how our days go.

Lately, instead of cringing, I’m pausing to think of the task differently when something new is thrown my way. Instead of feeling like I can’t do it, or searching for an argument for why we shouldn’t do it, I’m trying to look at these moments as a possible way to learn.

I can be old fashioned at times; I like the code that I know works, and sometimes I’m slow to warm up to new things. But, I’ve found when I keep an open mind to the possibilities and try something out, I learn and sometimes I even have fun.

We have so many tools at our finger tips that can help us learn quickly, and I know when I learn something on the job, the new ideas stick with me longer. Truth be told, I’ve gotten fond of reading the drier specs and documentation—it’s a way I’ve found I can learn on my own in these moments of uncertainty.

So now, instead of cringing when the new idea is presented to me, I’m pausing to think through what a plan of action could be. Can I figure out how to make it happen? When I get something to work, like I did recently with that animation, it’s a gratifying feeling, knowing that I pushed through the fear and learned. Truth be told, this is often how we grow, by pushing through those moments, we realize that we’re capable of figuring it out and getting it done.

About the Author

Susan Robertson

Susan Robertson is a front end developer working with Fictive Kin who focuses on CSS, style guides, responsive, and accessibility. In the past, she has worked with clients such as FiftyThree, Imprint, Cloud Four, and worked for Editorially, The Nerdery, and Cambia Health. When not actually writing code, she can be found writing about a wide variety of topics on her own site as well as contributing to A List Apart and The Pastry Box. When not staring at a screen, she reads comics and novels, cooks lots of yummy food, and enjoys her Portland neighborhood.

10 Reader Comments

  1. Well said @susan. I think the root cause of this is the feer of the unknown and the strive to stick to the certainty. Some people prefer to stay in their comfort zone and do what they are good at doing and loose the ‘Beginner mindset’ which gives you the ability to stay open to ideas and pursue yourself to try new things.

  2. I like this topic. I think it could be argued that we’re only learning when we’re uncomfortable and pushed past the coasting gear of comfort. Uncertainty just sucks! It’s amazing how refreshing (and inspiring) the feeling is when you break past that wall of discomfort and just leap– I think this is the point where we’re finally standing at the door of our potential and something truly amazing. Thanks for the post.

  3. This is so good. Thanks for writing this Susan. Non-action and deflection is the natural response that dwells in the recesses of our lizard-brain. We will naturally seek safety and comfort for fear of failure and external perception. Like water, we tend to take the path of least resistance forgetting all too easy that all the magic and growth happens outside of our comfort zone. A great reminder for all of us to lean into discomfort.

  4. Nice article.. my experience is the reason for not wanting to dive into the unknown is not wanting to disappoint the client. You want to build the best and you don’t know what that is for things you do not yet master.

  5. Thank you all so much, glad you enjoyed the post 🙂

    As for quoting this type of thing for client work, I often find that there are things in projects I’ve done a lot so they are easy for me, so to have one new thing to figure out can balance this out a bit, hopefully. But it’s always a tricky balance.

  6. Thank you for writing this! I always try to do something new with every project I work on, whether it is simply optimizing something better, building it with a slightly better method, or going all out with a new feature.

  7. The blog was absolutely fantastic! Lot of great information which can be helpful in some or the other way. Keep updating the blog, looking forward for more contents…Great job, keep it up..

  8. I very often have this cringing feeling. In college when you are given load of assignments the majority of which is useless you feel like skipping a class (which is kind of bad for the overall mark). So I started doing what you did in this article – pausing and looking on things from a different angle. It helped a lot. And now when I’m starting working as an online essay writer, I’ll have lots of jobs which I’ll think are impossible to do but as you said pausing and thinking of the task differently is way better than feeling helpless and wanting to give up.

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