Archive for the ‘personal development’ Category

it's okay to be under construction

February 9th, 2016

During my sabbatical I had the time to re-examine my life, try a lot of new things and build some helpful new mental habits. This series is about those habits.

Under construction is the name I give to the process of learning a new skill. You've been building this skill for a while, you've made some tangible progress. But you're still a pretty long way from having mastered it. From having nailed it. From knowing it so well that you can apply it without having to think about it.

That's where we all want to be. We want to learn that skill and feel that we're indistinguishable from people who've had it (we think) all along. We want to fit in with that group and we think mastering this skill will get us there.

Those with a perfectionist mindset will find this very familiar. Whatever it is you're working on you don't want to share it before "it's ready". You don't want to be seen doing it until you're "good at it". You just don't want to allow the possibility of judgment from other people on something that you very well know "isn't good enough yet".

This mindset is particularly self sabotaging in language learning. Learning a language is a very long and difficult process. When we begin learning a new language we are reduced to toddlers in our ability to communicate with others. And it's not just a practical problem - it can put your identity into question. "I don't like myself when I'm reduced to this - it's not fun being me." It takes years of focused effort to be able to enjoy a similar level of skill and mastery as you have in a language you already know well.

This feeling of being "under construction", of being "in development" and not ready for prime time yet can be very discouraging when it persists for a long time. It's fun to tell people you're learning a new language after two weeks, but when you keep getting the question "so how is your Dutch?" after many years... myeah.

What all of these kinds of unhelpful thoughts have in common is that they don't stand up to scrutiny. We all have thoughts - some are positive, others less so. But do we examine them? Do we ask "is it really true"?

It's okay to be under construction. We spend a considerable part of our lives being "under construction" in various aspects of our lives. We should learn to appreciate this process. Under construction means work is being done, progress is being made. Under construction is the norm, not the exception. We spend much longer constructing than we do admiring the finished structure. It feels like it's just you constructing, but we're all constructing different things.

what would you do with 6 months?

January 24th, 2016

In the first months of 2015 I realized that I was burned out. Work was fun, but it had expanded so much that it had taken over my entire life. Fergus O'Connell gives this definition of burnout: you're at work, you're thinking about work, you're bringing work home with you, or you're cancelling other things so you can work. Open and shut case, Johnson.

I decided it was time to change, everything. It was my very own "everything stops!" moment. I would leave my job in June and take a six month break from work. From all work to no work. The cover story was "sabbatical", but the working title was "life improvement project".

And it has been the most liberating time of my life. There was much planning and project management involved - I'll spare you that. Here are the milestones.


  • Lost weight.
  • Experimented with the paleo diet.
  • Saw a physical therapist.
  • Saw a psychologist.


  • Swam in the pool.
  • Biked intercity road trips.
  • Practiced yoga.
  • Practiced strength training.
  • Went running. Ran a 10km distance. Ran a 5km race.
  • Practiced interval training.
  • Played football.


  • Saw friends.
  • Attended a Devnology weekend.
  • Gave pitches for Django Girls to recruit coaches and participants.
  • Took an improv class.
  • Took part in a theater workshop.
  • Hosted a friend for a long weekend.
  • Practiced speed dating.
  • Went on normal speed dates.
  • Attended my best friend's wedding.
  • Frequented 24 different social groups.
  • Attended 36 social events in total.
  • Met more new people than I've ever done before in 6 months.


  • To Dublin for a job interview.
  • To Friesland for Devnology weekend.
  • To Groningen for Django Girls.
  • To Bordeaux for Django Girls.
  • To Rome for Django Girls.

Language study

  • Had Skype sessions with Dutch tutors.
  • Completed a Portuguese course.
  • Attended language café meetups.
  • Read books in Portuguese.
  • Made polyglot-ish Youtube videos.
  • Wrote polyglot-ish blog entries.
  • Coached in French at Django Girls.
  • Coached in Italian at Django Girls.


  • Studied x86 assembly.
  • Read about computer architecture.
  • Learned some Prolog.
  • Wrote a memcached clone in Rust.
  • Read computer science papers.

Community work / Volunteering

  • Coached at three Django Girls events.
  • Taught a basic computer course at a community center.
  • Worked on organizing Django Girls Den Haag.
  • Submitted a talk proposal to PyCon Italia.

Career / Work

  • Reached out for career advice to my network.
  • Spoke to a lot of recruiters.
  • Interviewed with a lot of different companies, local and remote. Turned down many offers.
  • Applied for positions I wasn't qualified for. Was turned down.
  • Finally found the kind of companies that I was after. Accepted an offer.

Many of these were a first. Over time there has been a conscious trend from "things I do at home alone (in my pyjamas)" to "things I do with others". I started from a core of health and fitness and moved on to more and more social challenges.