“Just do it” vs “Make it count”

I was standing on stage last week when I realized that the words out of my mouth were in direct contradiction to advice I normally give. Nothing like having a couple hundred people and a video camera staring at you as you try to figure out what you really mean.

Just do it

In the past, I’ve pointed out that it’s really hard for people to make their first contribution. Think back to that very first time you posted to a mailing list or newsgroup. It was a bit intimidating. You don’t know how many people will read it. You don’t know how people will respond. And it will be public forever. That’s pretty intimidating.

So I urge that you just have to do it. And community managers and mentors need to help people to Just Do It.

Make it Count

And then last week, I said first impressions count. So make sure your first point is one you want people to remember you by. And in the context of my talk, I said you should especially pay attention to first impressions if you are in the minority. Do you want to be remembered for that crazy red shirt? Or for the great question you asked about the target audience that started an awesome debate?

When I first started at GNOME, they added me to Planet GNOME and my very first post was about traveling alone. I wish I could take that back. It’s not a bad post. It just has nothing to do with GNOME and it’s not what I wanted the whole community to know first about me.

You can recover from less than stellar first impressions. All the GNOME posts I’ve written since then about the GNOME Foundation and projects have surely made up for that first off topic post.

Finding balance

The balance between Just do it and Make it Count is even harder in some circumstances.

  1. Representing multiple groups. If you feel like you are representing others, especially as a lone representative of a minority group (the only woman, the only American, the only Asian), you will feel like your actions have to be even better, and that your first impression has to be good.
  2. More experience. I also think that more experience makes it harder to “just do it”. Once you are seen as an expert, posting to a mailing list is probably no longer scary. However, you might feel like your work is held to a higher standard and that more people are watching you. (And I think this ties directly to the Impostor Syndrome.)
  3. Other disadvantages. I also think it’s hard to just do it if you have another disadvantage. For example, if you first language is not English, it’s much harder to make that first post.

What’s your balance?

How do you find balance between “Making it count” and “Just doing it”?