Fix It Before It Hurts: How Prolonging Pain Can Cost You

Alvin Arulselvan
Aug 18, 2023

In 2018, I messed up my back. I tried to deadlift more than I should and I incurred the wrath of poor form. What exactly did I do to fix my back? Nothing, to be honest. I got back to the gym and tried to make myself stronger in other areas of my body because I believed (incorrectly) that building other areas of strength would override the pain in my back.

Why did I think this was a good idea?

Early on in life, we are generally taught that enduring stuff is good, and enduring stuff makes you a warrior, a true superhuman. We are also taught to focus on your strengths and try to hide the weaknesses. 

This is flawed thinking. 

The biggest problems arise when you decide to act way too late, and you spend way more than you ever should trying to fix what could have been fixed with low to moderate cost very early on. Focusing and building on strength is one thing, fixing a potentially debilitating problem is another.

In 2023, I finally decided to see a specialist and he confirmed what I suspected: 2 slipped discs. Bummer. Could I have fixed it earlier? Maybe, but It doesn’t matter now because it’s too late, nobody can go back in time and hindsight will always be 20/20.

My health journey surprisingly relates to my industry. I’ve known tons of companies in tech who have built products or features which are wildly broken, heavily in tech debt and just plain unusable. And how do companies go about solving these issues? They scale horizontally. Simple right? Just hire more people to solve the problem.

I’ve realised that, just like me, a lot of people choose to ignore pain. Sometimes they feel that they should wing it, be a warrior. They also think that if they build on their existing strength, it will mask the issues that they have. Why do they do so?

Because like me, many people and organisations downplay actual pain points. They choose to ignore it because when you’re still flying, moving well and thriving; you feel indestructible. Well, this comes at the cost of it increasing significantly as time goes on, and the perceived pain can actually surpass the initial pain scale.

Here’s a chart of pain levels, the red line represents when I actually did something about my injury and the blue line is when I should’ve actually fixed it. Early on, when I felt the tweaks in my back and a slight loss of flexibility in my hips.

Companies should do this too, sometimes the issue is cost, sometimes it’s that solving technical debt doesn’t bring revenue to the company etc. The perceived pain is ignored until it’s too late. That’s when the dangerous ideas of “let’s refactor this app completely” or “let’s build a version 2.0 totally separate from the current product and build it the way we want to” emerge. Those are usually famous last words.

How can companies not suffer in the future, like me with my wonky back? They could have done what I should have done in the first place. Remember, it may not seem to make sense when the perceived pain is low but nobody can turn back time when shit hits the fan later on, and I assure you; shit will hit the fan with a vengeance.

So what are the steps? Well, surprisingly similar to dealing with a health issue.

1. See a doctor and get a referral

Getting an existing tech lead and/or CTO to go in and diagnose issues within the application would be the first step in knowing what needs to be done and what should be fixed. Identify these issues and present them in a Pareto manner (solve 80% of issues by fixing 20% of the problems)

2. Get the specialist to diagnose you 

Get the buy-in of people, especially top level staff in charge of top level decision making in the organization to focus on the problems before it is too late; be succinct and be convincing. This will help them understand that there is a need to do this now, before things turn out to cost them dearly.

3. Get the treatment required e.g a physio

Once you are confident of what you need to do and given confirmation that you can do it, the real work begins. Picking the parts that need work urgently and leaving the parts that work is a decent strategy, but reading this article about being Uncomfortably Simple will help provide further insight.

Does this mean that all these problems will lead to an optimal solution. No, unfortunately, some things just can’t be helped and you have to deal with it. What I can guarantee is that dealing with it sooner provides more options rather than dealing with it later. 

Sometimes, being a warrior is not the way to go. Get help as soon as possible and nip issues in the bud before it’s too late. If you don’t have the requisite experience to know how to do this or where to start, I know for a fact that the well qualified tech doctors and specialists at MISSION+ can help. 

So while you focus on your strengths, also remember to address the pain that is slowly creeping in, before it becomes too late.

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