Challenges Make You Better

A few days ago, the United States Women’s National Team played Spain in the SheBelieves Cup. It was a fantastic match, despite being a low-scoring affair. What made the game particularly interesting was Spain’s complete lack of fear of the two-time defending World Cup champions. The Spaniards controlled much of the match, dominating possession and dictating the pace of play. It forced the Americans to play a completely different style.

The USA women managed to eke out a victory with a late goal from Julie Ertz, but the lesson was clear – not everyone is afraid of Goliath. Throughout the match, it was clear the USWNT was uncomfortable. They’ve faced challenges before, but not like this. They had to adapt on the fly and play a completely different game. It took 87 minutes, but they succeeded. There’s a huge lesson there.

Comfort Zones Be Damned

You’ve heard the phrase time and time again: “Get out of your comfort zone.” It’s a scary concept, especially for someone like me. I thrive on routine and doing the same things every day, every week, every month. It takes me hours to get back on track when my routine is interrupted. Sometimes though, that interruption exposes an inefficiency. I am able to recognize it, re-evaluate, and adjust. I adapt and improve. Without that interruption, I don’t change.

Complacency is a serious problem, particularly for developers. The web is constantly changing. Look at WordPress right now. Themes as a concept are being completely redefined by the Block Editor. No one is really sure themes are even themes anymore. People are scared. Change is scary, but it doesn’t have to be.

Embracing Change

I’ve spent the last month or so building my first big client project with Gutenberg (the Block Editor). In my initial consultations with the client, they repeatedly brought up change. Specifically, they lamented their current site’s inability to change. So much of their theme was hard-coded that even updating basic social media information on the site was a nightmare. When I mentioned Gutenberg as a concept, they lit up. They bought in right away. Custom blocks were particularly exciting to them. Too bad I’d never built one.

Avoiding JavaScript is a thing for me. It has been my entire career. I’ve slowly embraced it this past year to mixed results, but I’m getting better. I viewed this new project as a chance to push myself, and that has paid off in spades. Building custom blocks for the first time forced me to re-evaluate everything I’ve been doing. How I build sites had to change. How I structure plugins needed to adapt. I needed to be more flexible. More importantly, my code needed to be more flexible.

Becoming More Flexible In Code

Wyvern – my framework for themes and plugins – is built on flexibility. I got tired of constantly having to rewrite stylesheets that were ultimately the same, save for colors, so I switched to a variable-based system. The idea initially came from conversations led by Jo Murgel during my time working with them at WebDevStudios. They mentioned making our color system more flexible by defining variables not by color names, but their purpose. With Wyvern, I’ve taken that concept and ran with it. Maybe too far.

The nature of CSS custom properties (variables) allows me to define various styles once and re-use them throughout my projects. By using a child theme, I can overwrite these styles for the client’s needs without altering my defaults. Spinning up a new site is now a breeze. My initial project startup has dropped by almost a full day.

The plugin framework works in a similar way. The WordPress Plugin Boilerplate project, while incredibly helpful, can be a little cumbersome. I’ve taken that idea and made automating things like custom Gutenberg blocks and custom post types easier. It’s not perfect yet, but I’m working on it.

A Better Developer

This whole process has made me a better developer. From a technical standpoint, I’m learning new things. I’m writing better JavaScript. My thinking about CSS specificity has changed to be more flexible and modular. I’m staying far more true to the DRY principle than I ever have before.

None of this happens without me embracing change. None of this happens without me accepting that Gutenberg is here, that it is the new standard.

The challenge and the fear have pushed me in ways I didn’t think possible two months ago. I’ve learned to adapt faster. My company was founded on the Walt Disney quote that “it’s kind of fun to do the impossible,” but I haven’t always lived up to that idea. That stops now.

Photo by Kateryna Babaieva from Pexels

Adam Soucie
Adam is a WordPress developer based in Orlando, FL, and the founder/CEO of Impossibly Creative. He is a member of the WordPress Orlando organizing team and a frequent speaker at the WordPress Orlando meetup.

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