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 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 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 for 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 realise 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 realise 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 realised 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 realise that carrying a passport everywhere, everyday, is not necessary when in 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 authorisation 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 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 mail to my host explaining why I wouldn't come on time and waited. It opened 4 hours later.

Must've imagined every possible scenario in 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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