The Cobbler’s Children Have No Shoes

So there was this cobbler, right?cobbler

A man who was so devoted to his craft and clients that his poor children went forgotten.

Could the children at least grab a few leftover shoes from dad’s shop?

Would it be bad marketing for a cobbler to have barefoot kids running around?

Or, the children actually had decent shoes. Maybe not the fanciest or most expensive but shoes that suited the purpose for which they’d be used…most likely working in a cobbler’s shop.

That old saying comes up in situations where one finds themselves reluctant or unable to use their skills for themselves. Surprisingly this sort of mentality isn’t restricted to cobblers, it rings true across many other professions. We take on a different perspective when we turn our skills inward, the conflict of being both contractor and client interferes with total objectivity. There are examples everywhere: Doctors are restricted from treating themselves or their family, a lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client, maybe somewhere there’s a fisherman who hates fish, who knows…

The ‘cobbler quote’ got personal when I began revamping my website while moving it over to WordPress. I wanted something original rather than an off-the-shelf theme, other than that, I really didn’t need much as far as site features go so the work should be quick and satisfying, or so I thought. Instead, I found it tedious, overly time consuming and I…just…didn’t…want…to…do…it…

Challenge or Chore

Working on client projects is exciting. Its always a challenge, there’s always a solution, its always different, and there’s a prize at the finish line, let the fun begin! … when the project is for ourselves, it feels like school work.

What is it about being our own client that changes our perceptions to the point where some professionals are banned or discouraged from applying their skills inward? Web developers actually are encouraged to have a decent website but speaking for myself the simple reality is that my site isn’t going to be my main source of income, therefore, by the simple nature of business, clients must be my primary focus.

The time allocated for client work doesn’t only involve working with clients. Research and reading is an often forgotten but consistent factor in web development. (I make sure to cram in some time for studying whenever possible). So we must consider the volumes of continuous reading, the avalanche of articles, the twitter feeds, plus the subsequent reading that it all provokes. Add that to the overall time devoted to client work, even if indirectly, and we can see why projects for ourselves can start to become a chore.

However, our site will probably be our main source of contact with the world and there’s a lot that needs to go into that so whatever this invisible barrier is, it’s there and needs to be dealt with.

Ask yourself “Why?”

Why? That simple question thankfully often brings about a clearer perception whenever that nagging guilt-like feeling pops up saying “You’re a developer! You need to blow the roof off this thing. Show ‘em what you got!” Then you go off and try to do just that for no particular reason.

“Why?” helped me decide not to continue creating the alternating sliding <div>’s with copy machine/matrix transition effects, thereby saving a ton of time that otherwise would have been spent on an unnecessary feature…though it would have been really cool.

Still, spending time on something useless just adds frustration. So when you ask yourself “Why?” and the answer is “I don’t know…” its time to move on to something else.

Stop talking to yourself!

Working within our own minds is rarely productive. Talking to others to bounce ideas off of or even collaborate with, adds dimension to our work. Think of a musician playing solo compared to playing along with other musicians. While the musician may be great solo, putting him together with other musicians opens a world of possibilities adding dimension and a sense of fullness to the music.

A big headache for me is that I’m not a web designer, I’m a web developer. I know enough about design to not cause a total train wreck, but at this point in my career, I leave design to the professionals. Does anyone want to spend a ton of time learning a new trade just to finish a project? I sure don’t.

For my site, I enlisted the help of Stephanie Schechter, a real designer, to put together the look and feel of my site. Using the designs Stephanie came up with saved me from a dump truck full of aggravation and provided a nice spark of motivation. The project was no longer a necessary chore because now that I was outside my comfort zone, it became an exciting challenge.

What did you say?

One would think that working on project for ourselves would be fun and exciting but it’s still work. It’s work that sometimes has to be done during the free-est of our free time but it allows us to evaluate ourselves from the outside.

Treat yourself as if you were the client. If an element isn’t necessary, it takes away from what is important no matter how cool it is. Our time is scarce everything needs to have a purpose, so don’t waste your own time.

Doing work for ourselves ironically sometimes requires outside help to break through our internal walls. Embrace it. Leaving our comfort zone is the only way to grow and avoid getting stuck in a rut.

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