Stubbornness In The Face Of A Problem

Stubbornness In The Face Of A ProblemConfession: I can be very stubborn at times.  I come from a long line of stubborn individuals so it’s ingrained in my blood.  When I want to do something and I can’t, my stubbornness will often creep in and give me the perseverance to keep trying until I get it accomplished.

However, at times, this can be counter-productive.  Saturday night, I was working on a programming project that I’m pretty excited about.  Unfortunately, I hit a snag.  Something very simple wasn’t working and for the life of me I couldn’t figure out why.  I tried everything I could think of and it still wouldn’t work.  I even made two very simple pages to test the code and it still didn’t work.

This was elementary stuff.  There was no reason that I could think of why it wouldn’t work.  What’s more, the same code worked just find on another site of mine on the same server.   and yet a Google search revealed a lot of people having the same problem.  What it didn’t reveal right away was one easy method of solving the problem.  Instead, it seemed as though this problem could spring up from a dozen different issues, each harder than the last to test for.

I was determined to figure this out, however, so I kept trying possible solution after possible solution.  I made effort after effort, but they all failed.  Time and time again, that brick wall of a problem remained there without so much as a tiny crack for my efforts.

Any programmer will tell you that there comes a point in trying to solve a problem where you need to step away.  You should put the problem down, walk away, and do something completely different for awhile.  Continually trying to solve the problem will eventually just leave your brain in a rut, trying the same failed solutions over and over again.  Doing something else will let your brain wander and eventually your subconscious will spring up with an idea.

This is what I should have done.

Instead, I kept at it until 2am when I realized that I just couldn’t think anymore.  I went to sleep and tried to put the problem away, but I think I’ve been hammering away at it for too long.  Even as I wrote this, I kept switching windows back to my coding project, trying to find something that would make this wall of a problem come tumbling down.  Finally, I discovered my error and it was such a monumentally small error that it was something I kept overlooking all last night.

What do you do when you find a seemingly insurmountable problem?  Do you tend to keep stubbornly trying to solve it?  Or do you walk away and do something else?

Note: The "brick wall" image above is by krosseel and is available via morgueFile.

Self-Doubt and Self-Achievement

After publishing my Voice of Self Doubt post, I began to think about it a bit more.  I went over it in my mind over and over.  Something about it was bothering me.  Suddenly, I realized a big gaping hole in my post.

Let’s see if you can spot it:

The truth is that blog postings often leave out the whole picture. Beyond that photo of the a perfectly clean dining room is a living room overrun with toys.  Beyond the recipe of the perfect dinner that was posted is the not discussed empty McDonald’s containers in the trash.  Beyond the blog post about a husband and wife having a perfect time out is the non-blogged-about argument the previous night.  Those details tend to get whitewashed out of a social media presence.  The result is that your average family, warts and all, looks perfect online.  Then, when you compare your situation (with the warts not glossed over) with the seemingly perfect online lives of others, I know this is true, but The Voice of Self Doubt twists it to play to my insecurities.

Did you see it yet?

The gaping hole is that I’m trying to prove to The Voice Of Self Doubt that it is wrong by discrediting its "evidence" of seemingly perfect people online by assuming their lives are airbrushed.  This has the weakness of needing their lives to actually BE airbrushed.  If one person is actually as good in real life as they appear online,  then The Voice of Self Doubt would hold that up as "iron clad proof" of my inadequacy.

I often say that a bully’s most insidious tactic is making the bullied play by the bully’s rules.  Someone who is bullied can often get the bully in trouble and stop the torment if they report it to someone.  Unfortunately, all too often, the bully has convinced his victim that getting any help at all is WRONG and NOT to be done.  So the victim continues to suffer while trying fruitlessly trying to find an escape from the situation that keeps within the bully’s rules.  Spoiler: There isn’t one.

When you get right down to it, The Voice of Self Doubt is an internal bully.  It belittles you and your accomplishments.  It tears down your confidence.  It tries to make you feel worthless.  Worst of all, it tries to set the "rules" for feeling good about yourself and it tricks you into playing by those rules.  This means it is easy to be trapped by The Voice of Self Doubt, struggling to find a nonexistent exit that The Voice made.

So how do you really escape from The Voice of Self Doubt?

Rule one is to ditch any comparisons with other people.  It doesn’t matter that she has a better body than you, that he is smarter than you, or that they can afford to take better vacations that you can.  Similarly, don’t try to tie your happiness to the fact that someone else is uglier, dumber, less wealthy, or somehow "worse" than you are.  Instead, look to yourself.

Yesterday, I finished up my "sew my own bow tie" project for my Doctor Who costume.  Now, if I were comparing myself to others, I’d notice every single flaw in my project.  Every single stitch that didn’t go quite right.  Everything I could have done – had I been more talented – to have made my project more elaborate.

I didn’t do this, though.  I didn’t waste time feeling sorry for myself because other people are able to do more in depth and more amazing projects than I can.  Instead, I just revealed in the pride of having just made my own bow tie.  I quickly put on a dress shirt, took out the fez that I made a few weeks ago, grabbed my sonic screwdriver, and took a few photos.

TechyDad_The_Doctor bow-tie-fez-sonic-screwdriver

Do you see The Voice of Self Doubt in that picture?  No?  That’s because he’s not there.  He’s tied up in the corner with quite a lot of duct tape over his mouth.  He’ll be back, I’m sure.  He’s pesky that way.  But I’ve realized that the key to beating The Voice of Self Doubt is to focus your attention on yourself and not others.  In other words, to beat The Voice of Self Doubt, listen to The Voice of Self Achievement.

The Voice Of Self Doubt

The Voice of Self DoubtOver the weekend, I began reading Just A Geek by Wil Wheaton (one of my purchases from the Humble Bundle – a website that offers packages of eBooks, games, and more at a price that you choose and with the money going to charity, the authors, etc. as you define it).  One of the things that stood out instantly was a voice in Wil’s head was the same voice as one that I’m plagued by.

Wil described two voices (at least up to the point I read).  The first was Prove To Everyone That Quitting Star Trek Wasn’t A Mistake.  That voice I don’t really have a counter for.  Perhaps it’s from Asperger’s or years of bullying or something else, but I don’t really care what people think of me.  There are exceptions, of course.  I would really hate it if my wife suddenly thought I was a horrible person.  For the most part, though, I don’t care if Random Stranger In The Store #17 thinks I must be a bad father because I’ve been forced to pull my son out of a store while he screams bloody murder.  (On the flip side, I’ve learned not to be judgmental if I see a parent doing the same thing.  If anything, I almost feel the need to walk up to said parent, give them a consoling hug and say "Boy have *I* been there too!  You aren’t alone."  I don’t do that, though, because people tend to get the wrong idea when complete strangers give them hugs.  So I just send some mental good vibes their way.  Much less efficient, but much less likely to get security called on me.)

Back to my point, though.

Wil’s second voice was The Voice of Self Doubt and boy do I have that one!  I’m not sure what my Voice of Self Doubt’s origin was.  Perhaps it was navigating a neurotypical world as an Aspie (especially one who didn’t know what Asperger’s was and just knew that this "socialization" thing was easy for everyone else but not for him for unknown reasons).  Or maybe it was from constant bullying which left me paranoid that anyone and everyone was out to get me.

Whatever the reason, I’m pestered by The Voice of Self Doubt constantly.  This past weekend, while working on my "sew my own bow tie for a Doctor Who costume" project, the project started to go wrong.  The Voice of Self Doubt immediately chimed in.  It told me to give up.  It said that I’d never be able to do this right and I shouldn’t have even tried.  Thankfully, The Voice of Stubbornness decided to interrupt and tell me not to give up and that I should keep trying until I got it right no matter how many times it took.  After one more try, I got the project back on track and The Voice of Self Doubt went silent.

Unfortunately, sewing projects are only The Voice of Self Doubt’s opening act.  Earlier this year, I wrote about my Imposter’s Syndrome.  That’s the Voice of Self Doubt there.  It’s constantly telling me that I really know nothing about making websites and one day someone’s going to just realize that I’ve fooled everyone into thinking I’m a good web developer.  Any successes the Voice writes off as dumb luck.

In reality, I’m a very skilled web developer.  I just happen to know of some people whose skills dwarf my own.  That’s pretty par for the course.  No matter how good you are at something, there’s always someone better than you.  On the other hand, I don’t like to judge people so I don’t tend to present people who are worse than me to The Voice as counter-evidence.

If things at home don’t go perfectly, The Voice starts whispering in my ear.  It starts making me doubt whether I’m a competent husband and father.  The Voice will often show me blog postings of people who keep their house perfectly tidy, who cook exceptional meals every day, who engage in elaborate crafting projects with their kids, and who earn enough money to often take their families on lavish vacations. The Voice tells me that this is proof of my inadequacies.

The truth is that blog postings often leave out the whole picture. Beyond that photo of the a perfectly clean dining room is a living room overrun with toys.  Beyond the recipe of the perfect dinner that was posted is the not discussed empty McDonald’s containers in the trash.  Beyond the blog post about a husband and wife having a perfect time out is the non-blogged-about argument the previous night.  Those details tend to get whitewashed out of a social media presence.  The result is that your average family, warts and all, looks perfect online.  Then, when you compare your situation (with the warts not glossed over) with the seemingly perfect online lives of others, I know this is true, but The Voice of Self Doubt twists it to play to my insecurities.

The Voice of Self Doubt seems to enjoy having me wallow in misery.  The more miserable I am, the more I resort to my old high school anti-bullying tactic of "hide your feelings down deep and avoid all social contact."  The more I resort to that tactic, the more it’s just me and The Voice there.  The happier I am, the less time I spend with The Voice of Self Doubt.

I’ve fought The Voice of Self Doubt for many years and will likely fight it for many more.  As I continue to read Wil Wheaton’s book, I’ll be sure to keep an eye on how he handles his Voice of Self Doubt.  Maybe it will give me some ideas for silencing my own.

NOTE: The "question face" image above is by nicubunu and is available via

What I Learned While My Wife Was At TypeACon

life-lessonsSince Thursday, it has been just me and the boys (and – when they were in school – just me).  While I’m sure that B will be coming back today with plenty of new lessons to put into action, I’ve learned a few lessons as well.

Yes I Can

All too often , I sell myself short.  I’m always my biggest critic.  Sometimes it’s that the websites I make aren’t good enough (no matter how much people rave about them).  Sometimes it’s that I can’t learn a new skill and – all too often – it’s that I couldn’t manage at all without B.

Now, mind you, I wouldn’t be able to do this every single day.  I’m glad that I have B as a partner to share the parenting load.  Still, if need be, I can remember things like medication or which clothes the boys need to wear given the days’ weather without B looking over my shoulder.  I’m perfectly capable of doing the household chores while taking care of the boys.  I’ve got to stop doubting parenting abilities (as was well as doubting myself in other areas).

Learn To Pick My Battles

That being said, I did have a parenting fail moment. We had arrived early to school Friday morning and I suggested a walk around the block to kill time. Everyone was for it until we just got underway. That’s when NHL began to protest about how he hated walks, had gym that morning, and WASN’T walking any more.

What I *should* have done was given in and waited inside with the boys as they usually did.  Instead, the planned walk became fixed in my mind as "the plan" and, as often happens with me, I stubbornly persisted.  As the walk wore on, NHL got more and more agitated.  By the time we walked into school, he was completely wound up.  As I walked out of the building, it suddenly hit me.  I just put "the plan" ahead of my son’s well being.  Thanks to me, he was now starting the day on edge instead of calm.  His day would likely spiral out of control from this point and it was all my fault.

The guilt ate away at me for the rest of the day.  Out of necessity, I’ve learned to be able to put these kinds of worries out of my head lest I obsess over them.  (A topic for another day.)  This time, though, I couldn’t.  No matter what I did, I just kept picturing NHL having a horrible day all because of me.

When I picked him up, NHL said that he had a wonderful day.  Thankfully, his teachers and him were able to turn it around.  Still, I apologized to him for my behavior.  I’ve got to learn to spot when I’m obsessing on something and figure out how to pull myself out of the obsession.  It’s not going to be easy, but it’s something I need to do.  Not for me as much as for my boys.

Sometimes Simple Activities Are The Most Fun

As much as I loved going with the boys to the Museum of Innovation and Science in Schenectady on Sunday, my favorite day of the long weekend was on Saturday.  The boys and I had eaten breakfast (homemade French Toast) and watched two episodes of Doctor Who (Silence in the Library and Forest of the Dead).  The boys had a blast seeing the Vasta Nerada and meeting River Song for the first time.  It started them talking about counting shadows and "Spoilers!" for the rest of the weekend.  After watching some TV, got tired and took it upon himself to take a nap.  While he napped, JSL played and I made some slow cooker apple sauce.   After NHL woke up, we went to lunch, had some play time in a local park, and then went for frozen yogurt.  It wasn’t anything grand and elaborate, but it was a lot of fun just spending time with my boys.

Carve Out Some Time By Yourself

Second to my time with my boys was the time by myself.  On Thursday, after dropping the boys off at school and B off at the airport, I came home to an empty house.  After just enjoying the peace and quiet for a bit, I set to work sewing a fez.  Without any distractions, I was able to focus entirely on it and the work went quickly.  Pretty soon, I was done.  As the final glued pieces dried, I was amazed by how much I enjoyed being by myself.  I don’t get much "just me" time.  If I do, I tend to feel guilty that I’m not spending the time with B or the boys.  With both of them elsewhere and unable to be with me, I had nothing to feel guilty over and was able to just enjoy the "me time."  By the time I picked up the boys, I was feeling very relaxed and happy.

Fezes Are Cool

Yes, I know that the Doctor loves saying this, but they are.  I keep finding myself coming up with odd reasons to put on the fez I made.  I just can’t help myself.  Yes, I’m wearing it right now.


The fez project hasn’t quite itched the crafting bug, though.  Instead, I can’t wait to start my next crafting project: Bow ties.  I’ve already purchased the materials and might start this week.  After all, bow ties are also cool!

The Importance Of I Don’t Know

Importance-Of-I-Dont-KnowI ate ham.

Let me back up a bit.  Those that know me know that I keep kosher.  For me, this means, among other things, not eating foods containing pig products.  So no bacon, no pork sausage, and no ham.  To keep things simple, I usually eat vegetarian out.  If a dish is vegetarian (or even vegan), I know it will meet my dietary restrictions.  (Besides, it’s simpler to say "I’m a vegetarian" than it is to explain my complex kosher rules.)  Within this restriction, however, I can be quite adventurous when it comes to food.

Last week, B and I got to eat lunch out without the boys.  We went to a local branch of a popular restaurant chain.  (I’m keeping the chain nameless… You’ll see why later.)  This chain has a lunch special where there is unlimited self-serve soup and an entrée for a reasonable price.  When we go, we usually order our food, fill up on soup, and then bring the entrée home to have for another meal.  This way, we make the deal twice as good.

Anyway, I had just had my first bowl and went for a second.  I saw two soups that I knew were fine for me, a third that I knew wasn’t, and a fourth that I had never seen before.  The name should have been my first clue:  Cuban Black Bean and Lentil.  A hostess was setting out more bowls and I asked her whether this soup was vegetarian.  Without hesitating, she said that is was.  Specifically, she said it had no meat in it.

I got myself a big bowl of it and went back to my seat.  The soup was thick, almost like chili, and had a great taste.  I was a quarter of the way through the bowl when I noticed something tiny in it.  A cube about a quarter of an inch wide.  I asked B what she thought that it was and she agreed that it looked like meat.  But the hostess had said there wasn’t any meat.

Luckily, the restaurant has a computer system with the ingredients of all of their dishes.  I went to that and – sure enough – the second ingredient in the soup was ham.  Needless to say, I was disgusted.  We told our server who brought over the manager.  The manager apologized, took my meal off the bill (something I didn’t ask for), and said she would speak with the staff about this.

In my case, the infraction was bad, but could have been worse.  Apart from some lingering feelings of disgust, I was fine.  Had this been a situation with an allergen, it could have been much more dire.  (Imagine if I had a peanut allergy and they said there were no peanut products in a soup when there were.)

This (in a very roundabout fashion) gets me to my point: The importance of "I Don’t Know."

All too often, people feel the need to fake knowledge.  They feel that admitting to not knowing something is a sign of weakness and it is better to feign knowledge than to reveal ignorance.  In fact, it is a sign of great strength to admit when you don’t know something – especially if that admission comes with a quest to learn the answer.

Other servers in that restaurant, during previous visits, have told me they didn’t know and would check on the meat content of various dishes.  When NHL or JSL asks me a question that I don’t know the answer to, I don’t make up an answer to seem all-knowing.  Instead, I’ll say "I don’t know", will pull out my computer or smartphone, and will look up the answer with him.

The next time you encounter an inquiry that you don’t know the answer to, don’t be afraid to admit that you don’t know.  If we never admitted to our ignorance and sought out the answer, we would never learn anything at all.

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