Mistakes are okay


Hey... Whoever is reading this.

This article has been sitting in my mind for a week now, and I finally decided to write it. So, a week ago, a guy messages me to ask for some tips on GSoC. I like that, it makes me happy to know that I can help someone. However, it was obvious that the guy didn't have much confidence in himself.

I guess that's fine. Anybody who has seen me during exams and interviews would know how much I panic before anything important. But there is a key difference. I never feel like I can't do something. I don't like it when people say that they don't have what it takes to do something.

Anyway, the story goes something like this. I'm advising this guy, and it comes up that he feels like he makes too many mistakes. Hmmm, alright. Then he goes on to say "It's all right with you, you don't make major mistakes.". Sigh.

Wait, I know where the problem is! People (myself included) always write and tell people about things they've been successful at. Nobody writes about things they didn't achieve. Nobody blogs about the things they failed to do. The mistakes they made. Let me rephrase. When you seek advice from a person who achieved 'X', you ask how they achieved it. You never ask what Y, Z things they tried and failed. This leads to a very strong "survival bias". And for the people on the other end, it leads to imposter syndrome.

There are plenty of things I could write about. There was the time when I deleted my whole blog experimenting with git. Recently, I ended up breaking around 30 targets in production, at Google, causing a flood of bug reports being filed to my user id within an hour. There was the time when I was explaining my algorithm to my host, and didn't realize that I was speaking in Hindi instead of English (he obviously, not being Indian, did not understand a word of it) and made a complete fool of myself on my 2nd week of internship.

But all of these things don't get the same vibe of stupidity that I want you to realize that anybody can have. So let's talk about how I almost screwed up my internship, and almost put everything at stake. A few weeks ago, I lived one of the worst days of my life.

I woke up and realized my bag was missing. You know... the one with visa and passport and office laptop and office badge. (A bit of info here. At the time of writing this article, I'm in New York, U.S., on an internship in Google, while I am from India).

Now there are a couple of things of interest here. Why was my passport in a bag and not in my room? Because I'm stupid enough not to realize that carrying a passport everywhere, every day, is not necessary when in the US. :(

Do you know what happens when you lose your passport? I do. Because I spent the next hour trying to figure out what to do. Anyway, it's not pretty. You have to go back to your country on a temporary identity, then get a new passport and then a new visa (which takes time), and then you may be allowed to come back IF you can get your work authorization verified (and you have time left on the original work authorization documents).

So obviously, I did the most obvious thing that came to mind. I started panicking. After a while when I had convinced myself that losing one internship and summers is not the end of the world, I started retracing my steps.

Then I remembered I had the dinner at a restaurant. Hoping that that's where I'd left it, I went to the restaurant. But it was obviously closed as it was 8:30 am. So I sent an email to my host explaining why I wouldn't come on time and waited. It opened 4 hours later.

Must've imagined every possible scenario at that time. Everything from getting kicked out of Google to getting deported. Anyway, once the restaurant opened, I went in. Well... The first few employees I asked were a bit rude. I was not willing to give up so easily, so I kept asking whoever I could find in that restaurant. After a little while, a man heard the word 'bag', and came inside, and said he knew where my bag is. He went to the cash counter and retrieved the bag from a locked drawer underneath the counter. I have never been more relieved in my life.

The point of this article is for you to stop thinking that others don't make mistakes. That others are capable of being silly at times. Stop comparing other peoples (successes) with your (successes, failures). Please.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Pallav Agarwal Image
My name is Pallav Agarwal. I am a recent graduate of the department of Computer Science and Engineering, Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur, India. I love experimenting with tech, and this blog is a way for me to give a little helping hand to other's who are like me (but don't know it yet).

I am ambitious, intelligent, competitve (sometimes too much), loyal and brutally honest. People I respect the most are teachers, which is partially why I myself like to teach too. Apart from programming, I also like travelling, adventure sports and trying new food items. If you like a post, have a query, or just want to chit-chat, let me know here