On Learning and Doing the Hard Stuff

— 8 minute read

Unedited. I wrote this on my phone. Apologies if this is a little bit all over the place!

Nothing brings me joy more than having the chance to learn/tackle hard problems. It's definitely the best way to learn something!

Why can I say that? Three years ago the entire CS was a hard problem for me. I'm not the most logically/mathematically inclined person around, & the idea of me getting into CS was literally a joke even to my parents because they've never seen letters other than C next to the line "Matematika" in my school reports. To this day I still can't multiply numbers in my head! Now I'm no Fibonacci but at least I don't cry my eyes out before math exams (which I used to do every time!).

To be fair though, CS is still is a hard problem for me. But at least I feel like I'm getting comfortable doing CS-related stuff now, & I feel like I'm making progress each day. This feeling multiplies whenever I have to learn hard stuff outside of my comfort zone.

However, I still feel insecure from time to time. "Why am I even doing this, I don't think I'll understand this, let alone solve this!" I'd say. This gets to me because what's scary about learning hard stuff is that, sometimes you still end up not understanding it after all. Sometimes it feels like it's embarrassing to have to do it all over again. Don't you wish you can do it all in just one swoop!?

One can wish! But personally, most of the time I "only" gain a partial understanding of something instead of a complete, in-depth one. Sometimes, I fail to fully accomplish a "hard" goal, only accomplishing a part of it... well, if there's any.

But then I realize that it's OK! You may not understand it now, but you may understand it later, aided by all the other learnings you made throughout. That tiny part of the paper you read but didn't understand may determine your understanding of other things later in life. It may take months, years until you realize it. But when your brain makes the connections, it could be a game-changing one!

How can one learn the hard stuff? There are a few examples:

  • Take harder classes. You may argue that harder classes might kill your grades, and I'm not gonna lie--the possibility does exist. True story! But you can look it from a different perspective, though: personally, harder classes give me chances to actually put more efforts, explore more, sometimes beyond what's in class & the textbook. Most of the time, that's where the fun is.
  • Read stuff that interests you, even if you don't understand most of the terms used. Don't get too intimidated, take your time, do whatever it takes to make you understand. Don't give a shit about how long does it take for your friend to understand it, because it doesn't matter. Focus on making you yourself understand it. Push through it! Reading English too was once a really hard stuff for me. I wanted to be able to read in English because on the 3rd grade I saw my friend reading Harry Potter: Orde of the Phoenix in English. Yes it's the thickest Harry Potter book and he read all of that in English! I remember asking myself, "HOW CAN HE EVEN". So I went to Kinokuniya, grabbed myself some Jane Austen books, tried to read Pride & Prejudice. Surprise surprise, I didn't understand EVERYTHING! Google Translate didn't exist back then so I had to flip through my dictionary's pages and find the meaning of each word I didn't understand (which was basically almost every single word). It was PAINFUL and let me tell you, I don't think I even remembered every word immediately. But now I'm getting better. Still learning, but better. I'm doing the same thing with French right now and it's just as painful as how I remembered it to be with English but hey you gotta push through!
  • Do stuff you've never done before that actually interests you, even if it doesn't seem like your thing! If somehow you've got the label as "the designer" but you want to delve into other areas, say software development, well, YOU DO YOU. It might seem hard at first, delving into a totally different thing. However if you like it then there's no reason why not!

Ok, now the reason why I'm writing this is because sometimes I'm still afraid of what people think. Something along "Lol u think u can accomplish that??? U are not [insert the name of a genius here]! Why are u even trying!" or "why r u reading that paper, do u even understand, r u tryna be a smartass!!" No one has really said it to my face, I guess, I hope!? Regardless I still have that feeling from time to time. So this serves as some kind of a reminder to me on why I shouldn't even be afraid of that. I'm writing this here because I think maybe this can help someone else out too. :)

Well, what do I do when I meet someone like that!? Do not give a flying fudge about what they think. You are the only person who knows full well what you are capable of. Trust me in this because I've been through this: you'll be surprised at how YOU can surprise yourself if you push through.

If you have friends who look down on you like that, do yourself a favor: stay away from them. They're just feeding off from your excitement to understand and conquer this world because secretly they wish they can do it like you.

Keep the ones who support you through, the ones who tell you "I'm sure you can do X!", the ones who will not say "well I had a feeling that you'd have troubles with it..." when shit goes down and instead say "it's not as bad as you think, you can learn a thing or two from this! Give yourself a break as long as you want then continue kicking ass!"

Another kind of my favorite people: the ones that trust you enough to tackle hard problems. This can be your friends, someone in the authority (e.g. your boss), your lecturers, your coworkers, or even your parents. Every time I stumble upon these people I feel like I'm the luckiest person in the world! These people trust you when you're even insecure of what you're capable of. They're the kind of people I think about before I sleep every night, while I pray, please please grant them a lifelong happiness, they deserve it. Find people like these in your life! How? Do not be afraid to reach out to new people. Be nice to everyone you meet, hold no prejudice before you get to know them better. I don't have any special tips because well, I don't think we can tell if someone's this kind of person just by looking at them, but increasing your connections & maintaining your relationships with them might increase your chances.

Last--if you're in position to give a chance for someone to tackle a hard problem (e.g. maybe you're hiring for someone?), please give them a chance! This might be different for each person but I think one of the most powerful feelings in the world is when you have people trusting on you EVEN when you're doubting yourself. Personally I'd feel like, "omg I want to prove to them that they're doing the right thing by trusting me! I'd do everything to do my best!". It feels like being given a superpower of some sort, and who knows what kind of great things this superpower might be able to accomplish!

TL;DR: go ahead, learn and do the hard stuff! Do not listen to others who ridicule you for it, even no one has done that to you, do not for a second worry about the possibility. Surround yourself with people who believe in you even when you don't. These people are your secret superpowers. Rock on! 💃

P.S.: To the people who have always believed in me--you may not realize it (or you may not be reading this after all!) but thank you so much, you guys probably have no idea how much it means to me. I'll always remember your kindness, I hope I can pay it back one day in some way, and I pray for your happiness every night. ✨