“I’m losing weight and trading hope for spite.”
—Ryan Scott Oliver, Crayon Girl
For the last year or so, I’ve gotten a lot of feedback about how I approach my work. Feedback about how I approach my life. I hear one thing consistently.
“You’re very negative.”
And it’s true. I have a tendency to notice things that are less than ideal, and point them out. Then keep pointing them out, hammering them home until they’re fixed.
And I’m not sure how to feel about this.
Because it’s no fun working with the hyper-critical guy. It’s no fun to hear ad-nauseum about the things you want to change, but don’t have the time to fix right now. It’s no fun to hear about how your work falls short of its ideals.
Because it’s no fun to constantly be dissatisfied with everything. I’m hardest on my own work, as hard as I am on the work of others. But I also hate that I can’t just enjoy something for what it is, without thinking about what it should be. I feel like all of my work at this point is a tension between what I know I should be doing and what I have the time to do. I subscribe to the idea that “if you don’t have time to do it right, when will you ever find time to do it over?” while simultaneously realising that until it ships, it represents a business loss.
Because it presents an uncomfortable amount of hubris to suggest that I can see how something should be, what its ideal version looks like. Especially when it isn’t my own work.
But the thing is, there’s another bit of feedback I consistently receive:
“You’re valuable because you care.”
Apparently, what makes me even sort of decent at what I do is that I care about providing a good experience to users. Probably to a fault, I care about what it’s like to use the things I make.
And how can I make a user’s experience better if I can’t see where it could stand to improve?
Maybe the fault lies in how I criticise things, not that I criticise everything. When I get frustrated, I tend more towards absolutes (e.g., “Our API is bad”) and less towards identifying what is making me frustrated (e.g., “Having polymorphic return types is really making my life more difficult than it needs to be”). Perhaps making the switch in how I criticise things would make others less likely to note my negativity.
But that’s the thing; it’s not just that other people think I’m negative that bothers me. Yes, I’d much rather be a positive influence on people’s lives. Yes, the effect I have on other people matters to me. But even if I said nothing, I think this would still bother me.
I haven’t shipped anything, really shipped anything, in over a year now. And while I have a post I’m mulling over about that, it’s worth bringing up here:
If I constantly focus on how things should be better, it becomes much harder to ever release anything.
I refuse to subscribe to the school of thought that I should ship something before it’s actually at a certain level of quality—until it actually provides a service to the user, really. But I find myself swinging to the opposite end of the spectrum, with years-long development cycles.
Which is insane and drives an unsustainable level of guilt in my life.
One of the things I love most about &yet is that they continue to push for better and better experiences, but they’re unrelentingly positive in how they do it. It’s a trick I need to learn.
In the meantime, if you see me being negative about stuff, just call me out on it. Part of the solution to this problem may be in becoming aware of how frequently I’m picking flaws in stuff.