Shame is good

Shame stops you from merging code you know is crap. It drives you to turn working code into maintainable code, and fix bugs that only you (and your users) know exist. It makes you work harder because you know you haven’t been giving your best effort. It tells you when you’ve screwed up, and pushes you to put in the extra effort to make things right. It’s the voice that helps you stand firm when you’re pushed to violate your values.

Fear of failure keeps you humble, hungry, and lean. It makes you work beyond all reasonable measure, to prove to the world that you can, to overcome self-doubt, to silence your inner demons. Fear makes you push yourself harder, demand more of yourself, and look for creative alternatives when you run into dead ends. Fear stops you from letting up, from giving in.

Peer pressure is the glue that binds successful teams. It creates a virtuous cycle in which the team has a set of expectations that you strive to live up to, which validates and strengthens the expectations, which pushes everyone around you to meet them as well. It makes you feel accountable to your team, and deepens your sense of ownership of the team’s results. It pushes you toward a longer-term perspective – more than company or project, you care about the people, and don’t want to let them down – and protects you from a short-term job-hopper’s mindset.

Each of these can be destructive, of course, and that’s how they’re usually cast. Shame can be exploitative, and can lead you to hide problems (with inevitably disastrous consequences). Fear of failure can be crippling, and peer pressure can keep you in an abusive situation or push you toward actions with terrible consequences. But in their positive incarnations, they’re essential characteristics of a healthy work environment. Without shame, you wouldn’t care about quality, productivity, or output. Without fear of failure, you’d be disastrously overconfident. And without peer pressure, you might work alongside your team, but you’d never be part of it.

Shame is good.

Fear of failure is good.

Peer pressure is good.

Just don’t overdo it.

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