Fear of sharing, fear of failing

Janet Clarey posted a link to a great blog post by Rajesh Setty entitled Why some smart people are reluctant to share? Setty’s insights resound with me, not because I think I’m smart — quite the opposite, actually — but because the more I learn, the more I’m aware of my limitations.

Setty tried to determine why “smart people” are often reluctant to share their knowledge with others. His conclusion was:

Smart people want to give their best and as they learn more, they learn that they need to learn a lot more before they start sharing. They learn some more and they learn they need to learn some more. What they forget is that most of the expertise that they already have is either becoming “obvious” to them or better yet, going into their “background thinking.”

I agree with the points in Setty’s post completely, except in I’d substitute the word “experienced” for “smart.”

Setty’s line “Smart people want to give their best” seems to be something of a passing thought in his post. I’d like to give it more attention, because I believe conscientious experienced folks have a fear of giving bad advice.

Zeldman had it right when he said “If your old work doesn’t shame you, you’re not growing.” Experienced people look back at their younger, inexperienced self and either chuckle at their own gumption or get rosy-cheeked from embarrassment. I’m more of the rosy-cheeked guy. My old work shames me all the time, and it often causes me to hesitate when sharing my work or giving advice to others.

This may sound funny to some of you… anyone who follows this blog probably knows I spend a lot of time doling out technical advice via places like the SWFObject and eLearning Technology and Development Google Groups.  The truth is, I question myself in almost each and every post I write. Why? Because I’m experienced enough to know that maybe I shouldn’t be so quick and cocky with an answer. Maybe there’s a different solution I haven’t heard of. To paraphrase Setty, maybe I need to learn more first.

So why do I even try to give advice if I have a fear of giving bad advice? Because I want to learn more. I often find that helping others is the best way to teach myself. I’ve learned a ton through helping others, and find it rewarding in many ways. Except when I’m wrong, and then it plain sucks.

Bye-bye 2007

For 2008, I resolve to be more resolute when working on my resolutions.

And for once I don’t mean screen or print resolution! I mean actively working towards achieving one of my MANY professional and hobbyist goals.

2007 was a great year… I had quite a few happy moments, including getting married and building my own video game arcade cabinet from scratch (my brother has visited our house more in the last two months than he did all of last year!). Good times.

I enjoyed 2007 in a professional sense, too: I renovated my website, contributed to a bunch of small and large projects at work (2007 was the year of ‘putting out fires’ in our office), presented at the eLearning Guild’s DevLearn 2007 event, attended a few great web design conferences (esp. @media2007 in San Francisco, where I got to have a beer with some world-renowned web development experts and all-round nice people), and helped hundreds of people with code problems in the SWFObject forum. Helping people makes me happy.

Most importantly, I feel as if I’ve grown by leaps and bounds as a coder/programmer, especially with JavaScript, ActionScript, PHP, ASP.Net (C#) and SQL. I value personal growth more than just about anything, so this means a lot to me. 2007 was a good year.

But, like everyone else, there are a few things I wish I had taken care of in 2007. Yes, I’m among the millions of middle-aged men (is 34 middle-aged?) who regret not sculpting abs of steel over the past summer. I have a great job but still don’t make $1,000,000/year salary with a Google-esque working environment. And don’t even get me started my guitar downtime — I played guitar steadily for about 18 years before getting sucked into a lifestyle of long hours of sitting in front of the computer, coding web development and/or e-learning projects. Now my fingertips are soft… I lost my callouses on my fretting hand! That’s downright embarrassing. But I digress.

What I really wish I had done in 2007 was get started on some of my personal ‘professional’ projects. I have about 3 or 4 professional-grade personal projects that need fleshing out, and will continue to drape the floor of my closet until I give them the respect — i.e. time and energy — that they deserve.

I won’t list them here. Not for fear of being called out if I don’t finish them, but because I’m not quite ready to reveal my plans for world domination just yet. Rest assured some charitable work (perhaps in the form of open-source, Creative Commons or MIT-style licensing) should rear its pretty head before I write my next eulogy for unaccomplished tasks, scheduled for December 2008.

In the meantime, here are some things that made me happy in 2007 (in no particular order, and forgive me if I repeat myself):

  • My wife, stepkids, family, and friends (aww, shucks)
  • Google (esp. GMail and Google Reader, my new best friend)
  • Mozilla FIREFOX!!!! (esp. the extensions, most notably the Web Developer Toolbar and Firebug)
  • Adobe CS3 (esp. Photoshop, Dreamweaver and Flash)
  • The support of my boss and coworkers for all of the crazy projects I work on
  • Good books
  • TiVo!
  • My stepkids’ Wii
  • My new iMac
  • My arcade cabinet! (FYI even after buying all the tools and materials — including expensive power tools — it was still cheaper to build it myself than buy a pre-built kit)
  • Web 2.0 goodies like Meebo.com, Flickr.com & picasaweb.google.com, RSS feeds, etc. These things made web life interesting again.
  • ESPN.com and si.com (I hate to admit ESPN made me happy, but I’m a baseball news junkie).
  • My 1TB external hard drive. Backups have never been so easy!

I’m sure I forgot something… I always do. 🙂

(Heroes, you’d have made the list if the first season’s finale didn’t suck so bad.)

Happy new year to all of you! Haoli Makahiki Hou!

– philip