How To Navigate The Up And Downs Of Learning To Code

This is a guest post from Joyce Akiko who helps freelancers get their start in the working world. Enjoy the read and feel free to ask Joyce any questions in the comments. Also, check out her ebook and learn to make your freelance dreams a reality!

Learning to CodeLearning to code.

At first, it’s exciting. You’re embarking on a new journey! Learning new skills! Heading in the right direction. Your first freelance clients are just around the corner.

After a few weeks, though, a sense of trepidation starts to creep in.

If you’re like me, you start to realize that learning to code isn’t easy. It’s pretty hard.

You knew that going in, but now that you’re elbows-deep, it’s a little different. More real. Since you made the decision to start, took the leap, and invested some time (and perhaps money), there’s a lot more context.

It’s no longer simply “learning to code is hard”.

It’s now: “learning to code is hard. Am I really going to make it? Will anyone actually pay me to do this?” and “how will I know when I’m ready to start freelancing?” and “how will I find my first clients?”.

The future is suddenly looking very, very ambiguous.

Soon, there are mountains to climb. Peaks and valleys. Ups and downs.

You get hit with a problem and it feels completely unsolvable. No matter that people before you have solved this exact problem. In the moment, it feels like the biggest barrier that you’ll ever face. When you eventually overcome that problem, you feel great. You did it! You are elated. On top of the world.

Then the next problem hits and, once again, you’re mired in frustration and despair.

Why Those Peaks And Valleys Exist– And What To Do About Them

When we decide to start learning to code, we tell our friends and family what we’re up to. We spend time on tutorials and money on classes.

We put something on the line, and there are risks:

  • We risk being known as people who can’t follow through, who lack focus
  • We risk losing on our investments

When there’s something on the line, it’s normal human nature to get emotionally attached to the outcome. To start seeing progress as a reflection of our abilities. As a result, when stumped, we begin to question whether we can actually achieve what we set out to achieve.

The focus stops being about learning. It becomes more about what’s at stake: reputation, time, and money.

What can we do about it?
Which of the following options ring truer for you?

  1. Success is all about the abilities you possess
  2. Success is all about developing skills through practice

In a study led by Joseph Martocchio1, two groups started a computer course at the same time, with the same level of confidence. One group was told that their success depended on their abilities, and the other group was told that skills could be developed through practice.

The second group found increasing confidence with every inevitable mistake. The first group, however, lost confidence with each new setback.

Martocchio’s study found that mindset has a huge impact on learning. These findings were discovered by other researchers2 as well. Eventually the two types of mindsets were coined fixed mindset and growth mindset.

In the fixed mindset, failure becomes an identity (“I am a failure”) instead of an action (“I failed”)3.

Some of the results that come out of a fixed mindset include: feeling inadequate, experiencing anxiety, and learning at a much slower pace. In contrast, the growth mindset embraces failure as a learning experience and encourages action over rumination (or, getting stuck in your head and feeling like crap when you feel like you aren’t learning fast enough).

Fortunately, mindset is not fixed. A growth mindset can be purposefully cultivated.

Try these 3 specific tactics.
Here are some ways you can change your mindset to one that is more conducive to learning, so you can begin surfing those ups and downs of learning to code.

  1. When you hit a problem, check your thoughts. If they sound anything like “I’m so stupid, I’ll never get this” or “Everyone else is lightyears ahead, I’ll never get paid to do this”, change your thoughts to questions instead. For example: what can I learn from this? How can I improve?
  2. Don’t tally up successes and. setbacks. Instead, focus on all the things that you learned that day and imagine all the things you will learn tomorrow.
  3. Instead of comparing yourself to people who are farther along, think about how hard those people had to work to get where they are today.

With the growth mindset, you can get off the roller coaster ride of massive ups and downs.

You can level the field, learn faster, and most importantly: have fun again.

About the Author

Joyce helps people with self-taught coding skills know when and how to find their first freelance clients so they can work for themselves, have more freedom, and make more money. Download her eBook “How To Transition Into Tech With Self-Taught Skills”, free for Code Conquest readers.


1. Martocchio, J. J. (1994). Effects of conceptions of ability on anxiety, self-efficacy, and learning in training. Journal of applied psychology, 79(6), 819.

2. Robins, R. W., & Pals, J. L. (2002). Implicit self-theories in the academic domain: Implications for goal orientation, attributions, affect, and self-esteem change. Self and Identity, 1(4), 313-336.

3. Waldman, A. (1999). Why nobody likes a loser. The New York Times.

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