Learning to Pace Learning

As with all my life lessons, I had to learn how to pace design and development studies the hard way.

Becoming a web designer has been one of the more enjoyable and exciting decisions I have made. I love it. I feel guilty each day being able to do this for "work". I literally jump out of bed most days (not all, I'm not a monster) excited to get started.

Web design and development is truly unique and amazing in that people love to share and teach what they know. You can absorb everything you need to know to get started without attending a single class or spending a dime; an endless stream of highly accessible information. It's exciting, powerful, and all-consuming.

Learning how to manage this excitement, however, was one of the bigger challenges I faced in 2014.

Joni Bologna pig illustration getting super excited about learning web design.

At the beggining of 2014 I was working especially hard to advance my CSS and SVG skills. Responsive design? SMIL animations? I needed to know all of it in and out as soon as possible. Or, at least I thought I did. Have an idea? Write about it before someone else does! Have a concept for a neat demo? Stay up all night building it! How can I rest if I need to learn more about grids?!

This was my thinking, and it was exhausting. Sure, it was a lot of fun and I learned tons in a very short period of time, but it just wasn't a sustainable lifestyle for me at all. I would lose sleep to dig deep into a topic just to emerge from the haze realizing that it really was just the tip of the iceberg. It felt like running in place.

I didn't feel any closer to achieving my goals. It's never ending. There is always so much to learn. I gave up hobbies to produce more study time. I declined social outings, because surely this time would be better spent making or learning something?

I made lists. Lots of lists. I can't move forward until I learn more about: ________. But how much do you need to learn about something before it feels appropriate to check it off a list? Surely I would need to know all about something before crossing it off, such a definitive action. My standards for what constitutes being able to cross one of these items off was too high and the list was growing each day. I couldn't reach it anymore.

When this notorious list got to be about as tall as I am, I couldn't help but ask myself "What's the point? Should I even bother?" I will never know everything in this field. Probably not even close ... so why even try?

It became so deflating. Towards the end of the year I realized that I simply may never feel like "I got this" or have the amount of confidence in my work that would solidify, in my mind, my title as a real "web designer".

As a result of all this I started to slow down. That list was just too heavy to carry around. I needed to catch my breath, all the while terrified of what my near absence from my working world would do. Surely I would be punished in some way? Fall behind so much I would never be able to catch up?

Joni Bologna pig illustration becoming frustrated and yelling due to information overload.

But to my surprise, nothing terrible happened.

Twitter can be especially draining. A nicely laid out newsfeed to remind you of how little you actually know. So I shut it off. The design and development world kept going. People kept publishing and building, but I took dedicated time to tune it out so I could knit something I will never wear. So I could work on my allergy friendly food blog again. So I could just be with family without a computer between us.

Slowly, I began to realize that it's OK not to rush this. It's OK not to know everything right away. It's OK to take a break, to shut it all off once in a while. To have hobbies outside of the web. To learn things at your own pace.

I now try to remind myself about how neat it is that there is in fact always something new to learn. A thing to be celebrated and not carried around on our shoulders, weighing us down and eventually leaving us immobile. My ideal career, I always joked, was to be a student forever and luckily in this field I will be just that.

My goals for 2015 will still be to learn and develop my skills as much as possible while documenting things as I go, but I also want to learn how to play piano, read some more fiction, and take more naps.