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  • rileysoloner

The Code

I don't remember exactly when I would start to freak out in math class. My disruptive behavior on account of my failure to understand became a problem in sixth grade.

It might have to do with "gifted child syndrome,” or whatever it’s called.

I had a complicated birth. My mom and I survived despite harrowing odds. As I grew, my mind overcompensated and developed faster to make up for my physical limitations. I was spelling, reading and holding conversations before I could walk. I was surrounded by a vibrant community that knew everything about my brush with death. So when I not only survived, but became this oddly perceptive “living legend” alien baby, I was showered with praise and celebration. It felt out of nowhere and overwhelming. I think this has to do with deep rooted habits. Rejection of praise, self doubt, perfectionism.

I had confidence in some unusual areas for a tot. I remember how comfortable I was onstage as early as kindergarten. I have always been disproportionately frustrated when I bump up against my limitations in more practical areas.

Mindset by Carol Dweck helped me gain some perspective on the lies I've told myself about learning. I'm not a "bad student." I'm not "stupid." I’m convinced I am this way. I developed a common closed mindset that I’m naturally bad at math. It was easy to come to the conclusion based on the evidence I was seeking out. It’s something I didn't want to be good at because the failure made me feel weak. And so I’m then justified by allowing myself to react emotionally. I allowed myself to go with the gut feelings that arise: I'm stupid, I'm not getting this, I'll never get this. I hate this. I hate myself. Fuck this shit.

It takes a lot of mental energy to stop myself from allowing that cycle to run its course, even today.

I'm learning JavaScript. It's one of the most widely used coding languages. Passing a test that proves I’m proficient is the key to the coding bootcamps to which I'm looking to enroll.

Learning the basics is kicking my ass. I force myself to open and read my textbook in timed 25 minute intervals. Slowly, repeatedly reading sentences that plainly spell out rudimentary concepts is humbling, to say the least. I go back to the first word. Reading one at a time. I still don't get it. My body heat, heart rate and breathing increases. I curse to myself. I flash back to my desk at Albany Middle.

I've been avoiding this feeling for over 20 years. I'm so lucky that I've had any success in my chosen fields. I found a way to evade almost any potential situation to expose these shameful blindspots in learning what doesn't come naturally.

I became passionate enough to put myself in the right places at the right times. I succeeded at a lot of things that were inches beyond my comfort zone. Gradually stretching from class clown to YouTuber, open mic kid, improviser, actor.

I took a 12 month acting class in 2018. It was a challenging program. I worked my ass off. There were times where I felt lost and confused. I trusted the process and made breakthroughs that allowed me to grow. I’m a good student when I show up ready to be challenged.

If I can capture an ounce of the persistence and curiosity that allowed me to succeed in that environment, I could go far with coding. I could find work in a field that’s actually hoping for more workers to show up. I could relax my money anxiety and thirsty, competitive creative career expectations.

The work to not only learn this skill, but to even settle into the discomfort is daunting. I think it's important to allow myself to be humbled in this way. There's a lot for me to gain in the practice of accepting confusion and sticking with it until I gain understanding. If I can do that with coding, I feel like I could do that with anything.

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