The access to information most people enjoy today is completely and utterly unprecedented. What once required potentially vast amounts of time, effort, and pre-existing knowledge has been simplified and made convenient with modern technology. My father, who had steadfastly sworn by his flip phone up until last year, now uses a combination of voice-activated Google Now and his Chromebook to sling Youtube videos onto his living room Chromecast to learn about anything from model planes to the latest tech craze he's heard me babble on about. How much more inundated are we web professionals (designers, coders, admins, UXers, et al.) with information that we can actively leverage? No more a relevant time and place is this seen than at the start of someone's career into web technology.

Who, What, When, Where, Why Bother?

Any active, user-content driven communities is sure to see a regular chorus of "What should I learn?" and "How should I learn it?" questions. These are almost too easy to answer. Everyone has their personal gospel of favorite things to learn, and sure-fire methods to become a rockstar with them. The more awkward question that can be a deciding point in many ways then becomes "Okay, I read that book / did that tutorial. What now?" Here lies the uncanny valley between concisely understanding the theory of how to perfectly do something, and the ability to do it. Worse, in many cases, the insurmountable obstacle of not having enough experience to be allowed to work to get more, actual experience! Many grand efforts and great talents go to waste right here. After three or four weeks of building a masterpiece webpage involving moving jQuery, smarty-pants SASS, and hand-made graphics, the magic is just kind of... gone. The discouragement often stems from not knowing when to call it "done", or what quality the work done truly is. Even if something seems finished... what do you do next? Pick another specific facet of a language or design theme and start from scratch with that?

Purpose and Momentum

So much of this trouble arises from having too many options, too much potential, and not enough reasons. Even if it's artificial, providing yourself with a purpose will add unbelievable amounts of impact and value to your own work and growth. Rather than starting a new project "because you wanted to try this new code", find a need or opportunity that could conveniently leverage what you're interested in. Does your local theater's website make the hair on the back of your neck stand up? Is there an event in your area that could use the web to be much bigger and better? Use these to frame your work. If you have the skills and confidence to build and project and then pitch it as a sale or pro-bono service, awesome. If not, that's okay. Those can be built with time and experience. The entire reason of framing your work with a purpose was to benefit YOU. Your purpose is both a tool and a lens. It can be used to inform your project planning, and act as a measure of success once you're done. Skills for skills' sake are, honestly, quite nebulous and boring. I can't remember the last time I gave up my free time or a night of good sleep to learn "just one more Javascript tag". On the other hand, it's not an uncommon thing for me to completely forgo plans, events, and even risk the ire of my wife to make sure "this site is just right" before I turn in for the night. Wouldn't you know it, getting that goal-oriented project functioning as I wanted also happened to involve learning and remembering a good amount of new skills I probably would have never considered otherwise.

To Err is Human

I may be biased, as I was never very good at learning without a purpose. I've found that most things people do have a cause-and-effect relationship. Even my love of random trivia is directly tied to how much I enjoy surprising (and confusing) people I know. The facts themselves are rather inconsequential to me. The largest reason people lose their way when taking on a task like learning coding or graphic design for the web, is that they've paired their cause and effect too loosely to genuinely feel the purpose. Time and again, I hear very skilled but very confused industry starters say that they're learning all they can today, to get a career tomorrow. Admirable, yes, but highly unlikely if you're still learning. By the same token, though, who wants to buckle down today, if that same payout is distanced by a year or two? There goes the motivation. Instead, it becomes very important to find the connecting dots between A and B to make something happen for yourself. Work backwards, work forwards, however you work, break it down into more approachable pieces. Say you want to get better at your back end coding and you're a movie buff. Try building a database of your own movies, or pick through work done by other professionals. Apply the abstraction of code or design to something tangible that you can care about. Instead of struggling for new ideas and then barely retaining half of what you learn, I promise, you'll be looking back in a few months at the robust projects you haven't been able to stop thinking about, and remember every last hard-fought victory to make them awesome.