S09E13: Scala, conflict, and grasping for control

I realised something this week while doom-scrolling Twitter, browsing Zoopla, and applying for jobs that I don’t really want.

When the world around me doesn’t make sense and seems more chaotic that usual, I try to exert control on it. I can only control my life, and I get the urge to wrench it around to prove that I still can. I’ve walked out of jobs before to prove that I could still control my own actions. To prove to whom? There’s a question.

Learning a new programming language has been on my mind for the last couple of months. I’ve been exploring the edges of what Python can do as a functional language, and ran into some edge cases where it simply can’t perform. I’ve also been meaning to work on a strongly-typed language for a couple of years, because these two approaches cover most programming languages and I figure I’ll benefit from both.

The a couple of weeks ago a friend of mine asked my advice about an assignment she was completing for a data science MSc she’s doing (very cool), and it just re-ignited all of that interest all at once. And, luckily for me, I get to use Thursday afternoons for focussed profession time.

So I’ve picked up a course in Scala, and I’m enjoying it. It’s quite stretching, and I’m struggling to learn concepts like flatMap and foldLeft, as well as a different syntax. It’s not impossible, and I find myself rushing to the assignments so that I can actually apply the material. I’m not great at purely theoretical ideas. But, having completed the assignments, I struggle to find the motivation to watch the lectures. I’m going to keep pushing myself though, because it’s fascinating.

That being said, I do wish more programming courses started with tests. I’m on week three and so far they’ve been written for us, but not explained. The best way to cement test-driven-development in my opinion would be for lesson one to look like this:

def test_hello_world():
    assert hello_world() == "Hello world!"

def hello_world():
    # let's show you how to write code here!

And that would be a good thing for everyone.

Rowing update!

Rowing is hard!

End of update!

I have now rowed about 10km, and all I have to offer by way of advice are the words of an animated baboon:

“It gets easier. Every day it gets a little easier. But you got to do it every day. That’s the hard part. But it does get easier.”

Friends, I’m not doing it every day. It really is the hard part. But it definitely does get easier.

Shall we talk about that control thing? Maybe. I mean, you’ve read this far, likely with the assumption that I’m going to come back to that. Because, you know, that was Kind Of A Big Thing To Drop On Us Without Warning, Bro.

Listen, I completely agree with you. I had that recognition at breakfast time, and that was the entire day essentially ruined. Massive lightbulb moments really ought to be confined to mid-afternoon or, at the very earliest, elevensies.

I’m prevaricating, of course. So let’s get into it.

So as I said, at breakfast this week I had two realisations. The first is that I’m apparently very uncomfortable with ambiguity. I see this reflected in my work as well: I find I flop around if I don’t have a clear purpose or goal in mind. This is going to be more difficult if I want to keep getting promoted, because it does feel like the more senior one gets the less purpose and vision there is. Mind you, perhaps as a senior leader you get to set the purpose and vision, and you don’t have to deal in ambiguity and vagueness. I suspect that – in the same way we thought adults knew what they were doing and then we became adults and realised it was a total lie, nobody knows what they’re doing – our senior leaders are surprised to be as senior as they are and are muddling through the best they can.

But I was surprised to see where in my life I was trying to apply control. For me, they surface in micro-management – spreadsheets, budgets, ‘clean’ code – and big, sweeping changes, like the urge to quit my job, buy a new house, move countries, or all three in one go.

The second realisation was that my feelings are valid, but their expression is not always healthy. This was difficult for me to hear the first time, so I’m going to try to explain.

Sometimes I feel overwhelmed at the world and like I can’t control anything.

That feeling is valid. It is – true is a loaded word, so I suppose that’s why I’m saying valid. But it is true for me, and it comes from, well, a lot of places, fear and anxiety and traumatic experiences where I didn’t have control as a child. You know the drill. You’ve felt it too.

But: buying a house in France is not going to make that anxiety go away, because the anxiety is a natural and illogical response to the state of the world and the world is not going anywhere. It’s certainly not going to calm down because of my real estate purchases.

This obviously isn’t the only area where I’ve got unhealthy expressions of valid feelings. Even you, perfect and wonderful as you are, probably recognise that your emotion is justified and your reaction appalling.

I’m logging this here as a reminder to myself to focus up and reflect more carefully on the decisions I’m making, and what’s driving them. I hope it’ll make my decisions a little better.

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