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Why is teaching yourself how to code so hard? Here is the uncomfortable truth

December 05, 2017

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It has little to do with coding itself.

It’s hard to teach yourself how to code because you’ve been told your whole life that you are incapable of teaching yourself anything.

Since you were a kid, you were told that you can’t effectively learn on your own.

You were told that you can only learn if you go to school. If you get X certification, get X degree, take X class, and do it by the age of X. You gotta get an education. And if you don’t? If you — heaven forbid — drop out?

Then you’ll be uneducated and never know anything. So they say.

So you stayed in school. But now you’re out and you’re trying to teach yourself how to code and well–it’s so dang hard.

Of course it is. Because before this, you rarely spent time actively learning how to teach yourself things. And why would you?You just spent the last 20–25 years being told that the only way to truly learn is to complete a specific program, with an exact curriculum, led by certified teachers. Sure, you can learn a little outside of that, but everyone knows there’s only one legit way to learn anything. And that’s school

Since you were a kid, you were told that if you followed a certain roadmap, you’d have it made. Go to school and get into X college with X major and you’ll be successful at X for life. Where to next? Just follow the roadmap.But then you see people, outside of school, teaching themselves this hard skill of coding. Okay, you think. So —

Where’s the roadmap for teaching yourself how to code?

It doesn’t exist yet.

It is yours to create.When you teach yourself, you are exploring yourself, how you learn. You can’t explore if you are following someone else’s roadmap. It will never work for you as well as it worked for them, because it is theirs, built for them by them.When you teach yourself, you create your own roadmap.

But after years of college, you’re so used to following the curriculum, the syllabus, the semester, that the idea of forging your own path is terrifying. Where to next? You have to create your own roadmap now, for the first time in years. And that’s why it is so hard to teach yourself stuff — like how to code.

When I started to learn on my own again, it was uncertain and scary. When I left the roadmap of college and went off into unexplored territory, there were so many directions to go in. Where to next? For the first time in a long time, I had to answer that question for myself.When you ask, ‘How do I learn to code and why is it so hard?’ you’re really asking this: ‘How do I truly teach myself something and why is it so hard to do?’

It’s hard to teach yourself anything because you’ve been told for as long as you can remember that you just can’t do it.

Despite this, you can teach yourself how to code or teach yourself anything else you want to learn and master. Yes, it will still be hard at times — but it’s completely doable.Want to know how I know?

You can do this, because you’ve done it before.

You were born to do it, but raised to downplay it. You know how superheroes always grow up trying to hide or cover up their abilites from the world, then finally they embrace the abilities they had all along, and proceed to go kick ass?

Long before you were told you needed to pass someone else’s tests in order to learn, you knew how to teach yourself things better than anyone else could. You had an ability that you were born with but that the world discouraged you from using or strengthening. Can you remember it? Think of the time when you first beat your favorite video game.You can still remember the exact technique you used to beat the final level, you can remember every single piece of information you collected or strategy you tried as you taught yourself what you needed to win.

Learning and failing and succeeding were all part of a beautiful game, and you couldn’t stop playing. Where to next? You had no idea, and you couldn’t wait to find out. It was all part of your exploration, your chosen quest that strengthened your abilities and made you come alive.

Now think about a book you were supposed to read in school that you didn’t want to read. You were told that you would only learn about literature if you read that particular book, and then you couldn’t stop procrastinating. Do you remember much of that book now? Did you learn from writing the essay or did you B.S. it? Where to next? To the next assignment, to the next exam— you knew exactly where, and you didn’t really care.

When did you truly learn? When you forced yourself to skim through that assigned reading someone told you to do? Or when you stayed up late obsessively practicing the skills needed to beat the game you lost track of time playing?What if your ability to learn and master anything on earth was not given at graduation or issued with a piece of paper? What if it was here, within you, all along?You know how to teach yourself, you’ve just forgotten that you can. While you’re so busy asking what you’re supposed to learn when it comes to programming, you forgot to ask yourself about what makes you come alive when it comes to programming.

What’s one thing about coding that you would gladly stay up late learning about?

Start there. Just take a small step. It’s hard. Take a break and then take another step. Start to see a path that wasn’t there before.

Strengthen the ability you’ve always had to teach yourself anything you want. It will get easier as you get stronger.

Now, where to next?

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Hi, I'm Madison. I'm a self-taught software developer currently working @Mediavine. Sign up to my email list to get tips on learning how to code and a copy of my free coding course.