The Worst Blocker

I spend a lot of my time in software development cycles nowadays. So every day is an exercise in clearing blockers. This thing won't work until that thing is done and so forth. I've been thinking a lot about how most technical blockers or even people blockers, however annoying, are completely manageable. They can be defined and triaged through consistent application of a variety of unblocking routines. The blockers that are harder are always those that are tied less to the product and more to the person. For myself, and for better or worse, that blocker prances around in popular imagining as “perfectionism”; I'm not quite sure what it is to me anymore. I've spend a lot of effort chipping away at it. It is an echo of its former volume and a mere whisper in many spheres. But when it comes to most of my solo developer efforts, it still roars.

Perfectionism is an imperfect term. We all know that. It's one symptom for a complex condition, like saying you have a cold or a fever when the true cause is a virus, infection, injury, or any other ailment and the symptoms extend far beyond body temperature. It is most of all, for me and I suspect for many others, a cycle of anticipation and fear, a cold sweat under the mask of imposterism. The cause is, ironically, success and competence. The better one gets across a wide variety of things, the more likely it seems — to the deranged perfectionist brain — that it is all a mirage, a conspiracy of the senses to convince me it's ok to go further when that further is right off a cliff. I think a lot of musicians and artists at the highest levels (because I'm an amateur or prosumer in that regard and so can gaze at the lofty peaks while knowing that's not where I'm bound). The better one gets as a musician, the more one knows that every performance is flawed. That imperfection drives further refinement, but the number of performances that are just right is vanishingly small. (Even practice sessions lie somewhere on that curve with very few reaching the peak that one knows can, occasionally, be achieved.) Measuring everything by your best effort is both exhausting and unfair; it is also the worst blocker for any technical work.

Any technical domain, any technical art, from music to writing to coding, is susceptible to this perfectionist blocker. It's insidious because it's not really about the stuff itself. It's about the person and insecurity. There's good reason that Agile and Scrum are about cycling through and clearing blockers, good reason why delivering early and often is a mantra. That's the structural antidote to blockers outside of the code itself. It's the reason why, for writers, daily writing or daily notes can unblock things. Just the procedure of it all can have therapeutic effects.

Which is all to say, time to grab a ticket and dig in.