If you missed the first installment of this two-part series, read How My Life Experiences Made Me a Better QA, also by Jonathan Guest.
As I progressed through my career, I started to notice that preventing issues was something I enjoyed. In every position I held, I became very good at recognizing problems and addressing them. In hindsight, I think this is why quality assurance was an instant fit for me. In this post, I’ll speak to some traits from Part I that, although great for my career progression, did not prove to be great for my mental health.
Risk Mitigation, Optimization, and Perfection
Trying to optimize everything in my work life led to me actively attempting to do so in my personal life as well. It was causing unnecessary anxiety and had become a large source of stress. Hobbies that I enjoyed — like golf and playing guitar — started to feel like work. I would spend hours and hours trying to write the perfect song or perfect my golf swing. I spent thousands of dollars over the years on guitar and golf lessons in an effort to perfect my playing and my swing. Until one day I realized that this pursuit of perfection was sapping my enjoyment of my hobbies. When I would hit a bad golf shot, I would start to analyze what I did wrong in that swing and how I could prevent myself from making that same mistake again. This would lead to overcorrection and ultimately regression. I would play a bad note during a gig and would get down on myself about how I could prevent that in the future. My entire life was taken over by optimization and risk mitigation.
Then one day as I listened to a talk by Shawn Achor, an expert on positive psychology and discovering happiness, he said something that stuck with me, “We keep thinking that happiness is something that happens to us. What we start to realize is that we can choose happiness at this moment, it’s something we can cultivate.” This led me down a path of self-reflection. Instead of cultivating happiness, I was cultivating my skill at recognizing problems. I realized that the reason I wasn’t enjoying my hobbies wasn’t that I needed to get better at them. It was because I needed to accept failure and imperfection. I needed to accept things as they were, and I needed to accept them in the moment — without worrying about the potential mistakes or issues of the future.
If you don’t ever experience or even entertain the possibility of failure, it’s impossible to fully understand the beauty of success. The only way to grant myself the opportunity to hit a great shot is to hit a poor one. The many years I spent hitting out of the trees taught me how to hit a better punch shot. The many years I spent in the sand taught me how to hit a better sand shot. Looking for issues in my life wasn’t making me happier; it was making me miserable.
From that moment, I decided that I would embrace failure, I would embrace imperfection, and I would learn to enjoy the journey and not the outcome. In my personal life, I would no longer actively look to prevent problems. I would make a conscious choice to look for the good in my life, the good in the world, and the inherent goodness in others. Because the things that will make you good at your job will not necessarily make you better at living a happy life.