Yesterday was not a great day for the Year of Fun annals.

You’d think it would’ve been. I’m on day three of being home from work due to Winter Storm Pax, so my time has been entirely my own. Tuesday went well enough (though the real weather hadn’t hit yet and I was able to be out and about some.) And yesterday got off to an auspicious start, with me enjoying a nice breakfast and cup of coffee in my comfy chair while I wrote a blog post. Then I headed to the gym, a luxury in the middle of the day instead of at 6:00 a.m.! And finally I settled in with my computer to work on those things that I always feel like I wish I had time for, because for once I had nothing but time.

I started out looking at the Ruby exercises on, but I could immediately tell they were too easy for me. I’m in a weird place with my programming: I’m definitely not a true beginner, but I don’t have the confidence or all of the tools yet to just set out on my own and build something. I keep looking for the perfect framework, the perfect structure that will egg on my learning, and I’ve yet to find it. But I thought, “What the heck? I’ll just build a small app.” I’ve been getting ideas from this person who built 180 apps in 180 days. They’re all pretty approachable, or so one would think.

I picked the app from Day 70 and proceeded to stare at my screen. And stare. And stare.

I felt paralyzed. I couldn’t even think where to start. Everything about programming that I thought I knew flew out the window and I lost all confidence. And I proceeded to go down a “shame spiral” a la Brene Brown’s [Daring Greatly]( You know, where it starts with, “I’m not [fill-in-the-blank] enough,” and then you fill in the blank with more and more adjectives until you end up feeling not enough of anything at all.

All this from trying to write a program.

There were tears.

I felt ridiculous while it was happening but I couldn’t break out of the cycle.

Andy was very kind and helpful and told me I was not stupid and I didn’t suck, and he helped me build the app. (It works but it’s not pretty or deployable yet, so I’ll hopefully get back to it when I feel strong enough. Hah.) But I came away from it feeling like I hadn’t done any of the work. That’s the plateau I feel like I’m on with programming: I still can’t quite manage to get over the hump on my own, so I ask for help, but then I feel like I haven’t accomplished anything. Given my emotional response yesterday, I bet a lot of that “can’t quite manage” is in my head. I’m probably perfectly intellectually capable of doing it, I just psych myself out.

All that to say, my afternoon felt wasted, and it was so frustrating. For the rest of the day I just sort of piddled at various things. And by 10:00 last night I felt exhausted.

I didn’t feel like I deserved my exhaustion. I hadn’t done anything, after all! I hadn’t accomplished anything on my ever-present list. I hadn’t learned anything. I hadn’t hit flow.

I’m reading this book Quiet by Susan Cain and coincidentally just hit a section about flow this morning. I first encountered the concept of flow in a college class I took. It was a pretty horrid class, but Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s theory keeps cropping up and I’m glad to have been exposed to it. Cain’s book is about introverts, and the more I read the more things about myself I recognize. She summarizes Csikszentmihalyi on flow:

Flow often occurs, he writes, in conditions in which people ‘become independent of the social environment to the degree that they no longer respond exclusively in terms of its rewards and punishments. To achieve such autonomy, a person has to learn to provide rewards to herself.’

She writes of “the fulfillment that comes from absorption in an activity outside yourself.”

And I never felt that yesterday. Not only did I not experience flow, but I really didn’t even enjoy any of the things I did after about noon yesterday.

If I’m honest, I don’t know why exactly I’m learning to program. It seems like a thing I should be doing. It’s useful, and I want to be a part of the culture in which it’s done, so I know I need to know some about it myself. But as yet I don’t enjoy it. It doesn’t bring it’s own reward to me, nor do I even really know what the external rewards might be. So it’s doubly hard for me to delve into a sticky project.

But if I’m even more honest, I don’t know that I ever experience flow as it’s described here. The most absorbed I tend to get in an activity is when I’m reading a good book, but that’s a passive activity. I’m consuming rather than creating, and I’m not sure that counts as flow.

I’m great at checking things off a list, and I tend to feel fulfilled when I can outline what I’ve done in a day. But I think there’s a deeper level of experiencing life than that and, as an introvert, it’s possible I’m uniquely situated to enjoy that. And I think my exhaustion last night stemmed from a lack of fulfillment, and that lack of fulfillment stemmed from not having become absorbed in anything.

I want to be more than I am.
I want to be able to fill in the blanks that I am [everything] enough to myself.
I want the confidence and ease that come from being grounded in a passion.
So I want to find my flow.

Laura Lindeman

Laura Lindeman