Tool Boxes

Dec 10

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I like to tell people to develop skills like they would add tools to a tool box. I think I first came across this metaphor as a musician and it made perfect sense: learn scales, rhythmic exercises, excerpts from different composers – combine in different ways later on when you encounter something new. Rinse and repeat.

And it applies to what I do now with software too. Except… I’m just not applying it. I’m not thinking about it in the same way that I would with music, which I approach very theoretically and like a puzzle. You would think that kind of thinking would be obvious with programming for machines, but I’ve been a bit stressed out. And when I’m stressed out, I stop trying to add new tools – I instead rely on the ones I have, and even then only the very familiar ones.

I thought of this again today with cooking. I was using my rice cooker and only now decided to measure out the amount of rice I was going to use. I used to do this when I would measure out rice when living with my family! But I lost my dad and with that stress I forgot how to cook. And it’s only until today I realized I could gain that tool back, measuring rice.

Going back to music, I want to reflect on how I succeeded reasonably well without practicing. And it’s because I created a bunch of tools and I became intimate with how they worked. Then when I was stressed out playing (which was, admittedly, most of the time) I’d still know how to use those tools.

It’s also worth noting that because I had those tools, I was also less stressed out about what I was playing. The same goes for cooking. The same goes for coding. And the same goes for whatever it is you’re trying to do. If you can develop an intimacy and familiarity with the tools of your craft, you’ll be able to wield them that much better when you’re under a lot of pressure and stress.