Saturday, February 02, 2013

You don't have to be awesome all the time...

In her post talking about the public-ness of mourning after the death of Aaron Swartz, Danah Boyd writes "...we’ve created communities connected around ideas and actions, relishing individualistic productivity for collective good. But we haven’t created openings for people to be weak and voice their struggles and demons."

Geek culture is, at least in theory, a meritocracy, and you are measured by your accomplishments. But that means the best of us, those whose work is held up as shining examples, suffer from Impostor Syndrome. Sometimes cripplingly so, even when they are accomplishing awesome things. Because awesome things sometimes look a lot less awesome from the inside, when you know the limitations, flaws and problems with what you've built and shared with the community.

But worse than that, it means when you have your moment of weakness (and we all do), and for a while cannot contribute, cannot accomplish the day-to-day awesomeness that qualifies you as a member of good standing of the community, things can look very bleak. Because we expect the most from those of us that deliver the most, and even the great and the good can fall sometimes, and need support.

We've built a culture where it's hard to acknowledge that you don't know something, because knowing things is intricately linked with the doing of awesome things  which in turn is linked to our stature with our peers.

For someone like me, whose career more or less relies on being on, and being seen to be on, the bleeding edge, this is painfully evident. If I'm asked "Have you heard about…?" and I have to answer "No?" you'll generally see a look of pain cross my face, something sort of like constipation, don't worry, it's just my career flashing before my eyes…

I have no solutions to offer, only the sure and certain knowledge, which I give freely to other geeks, that you are not alone. That the great and the good amongst us suffer as well. That it's okay to be weak and not know the answer to a question. That it's okay to rest and take from others for a while. We'll still be here when you get back, and we'll still remember how awesome you are. You don't have to live your life on Internet time.