9 days ago, I began a journey that would most likely be the hardest journey of my life. I decided to enter the fast-paced and often mind-melting realm of Software Engineering. An artist by trade, the idea of switching hemispheres of my brain was nerve-wracking to me. Would I be any good at this? Would it come naturally? Will I have a life? Will I be able to control my anxiety enough to pass a whiteboard test?

To the latter question, where once I thought the answer was “no”, after today it has become a firm yes.

Allow me to expound upon that further…

Flatiron School for Software Engineering is a run ‘n gun, no rest for the weary, always studying and feeling guilty for not studying experience. It will test your limits to what you think you can learn in a single day, let alone 15 weeks. Every day is a 12 hour day or more. Need to learn more, do better, impress the teacher. Absorb the new material before the next day comes. Ah, shit. I’m already behind.

Through it all, I’ve been dealing with an extremely exposed case of anxiety. It surrounds many things in my life, and this is certainly no exception. Anxiety about learning a new language, about keeping up with the course-load, about meeting new people… the list goes on and on. Though I consider anxiety to be a normal part of this process of growth, I never really considered it fully detrimental until we were presented with our first “mock code-challenge” in which would would be tested on our knowledge to that point. A practice test, leading to the real deal the following day.

  1. Take the code challenge, aggregating all the information you’ve been cramming into your head up until this point.
  2. Did you pass? Great! You = rock star!
  3. You didn’t? Good news, you still have a chance to retake it in a couple weeks.
  4. You didn’t pass again? Welp, back to the drawing board. You’re going to have to take this course all over again, with a brand new set of people. (As an anxious person the idea of having to bond with 20 NEW people is exhausting!)

Woof. Stress. Inherent stress. The professors, TAs, and my peers are all absolutely top-notch and will work hard to make sure that you pass that test. However, that doesn’t remove the stress that comes as the rider.

So on one fateful Monday, we were administered our first mock challenge. Upon getting my system setup, cloned, added, and committed, it was time to get to work. That’s when I froze. My hands were sweating, my mind was racing, and I was unable to get a handle on my nervous system to get through. The results reflected that as well, with information being spread out over the wrong places and improper implementation. Upon concluding the test, I knew my fate was sealed.

But here’s the thing…

I knew all that information. I knew how to tie classes together, how to implement methods that call on other methods. All that data was in my head but my anxiety simply would not let me access it. Cramming all night to prep for the official test would be fruitless if I wasn’t able to get my emotions under control.

Everyone has their own way of dealing with stress and anxiety, and so do I. I had just forgotten to apply it to my new initiative. Don’t get me wrong, I still spent the evening running practice tests and conversing with cohorts about what methods they were using. But I was also prepping my brain for what was to come tomorrow.

The fateful day came. I was well-rested and well-hydrated. I had every comfort I needed within arms reach. I spent the morning breathing and focusing and putting good energy out into the world. I was there for others who were stressing out as much as I was. In the end, I was able to show massive improvement simply by getting my emotions under control.

When your anxiety races, so do your thoughts, and so do your FINGERS. Having all that extra energy coursing through you will just end up in all sorts of errors. Having methods in place to take care of yourself is just as important as your ruby code methods.

So to all those that come after me, in addition to defining your methodology about how to approach problems within a programming language, don’t forget to also consider your methodology to deal with the inevitable anxiety that comes from these tests, and, down the road, those fateful whiteboard interviews. Above all else, don’t forget to just .breathe.