What to do when the odds seem stacked against me?

May be a few of you have read my post, but it was in bad taste. Many times, during discussions during meetings, I feel like talking to a wall. I have forewarned of many issues we faced and no one ever seems to listen. All I can do is say “I told you so”. I don’t want to do that anymore. I want to fix the problem and not just say “oh well” after competition. Many of you have noticed my imposing and direct personality. Well, the truth is that I am like that in real life regarding things I love. I love FIRST, I cannot imagine high school without it. And again, this year, I give my warnings to my team. I give my whole life to our team; I even skipped the team dinner doing background work today, and I often have done before. I show up to every meeting early and give my all and leave the latest. Sometimes, I feel very unappreciated. What threw me off the edge was the complete lack of confidence in the team of them themselves. It really is hard working in these conditions. Keep in mind, I give countless hours of my life learning new challenging topics so that I can present to my team the finest David can give. I expect the same standards of commitment from a lot of the team members, but I just seem to be standing alone at times. I am not saying that members are not committed, but I feel very insulted by the decision that the team came to. I just walked out of the room before they even voted. I was sick of it; I already knew the decision. They chose the simplest design irrelevant to this year’s game. I just can’t tell if anyone is serious or not.

Why I post here is just so that I can rant; I just need to get this out there. Feel free to criticize me, but keep in mind, I pretty close to breaking down right now. So much commitment I have given to the team, and all they give me is that “we will get by” mentality. :frowning:

I am very close to just stop programming for the team this year. There just is nothing complex enough for me to do. I can just let the rookies do everything. We got a great new programming mentor this year. I think they will do fine.

That is very unfortunate. FIRST is all about pushing young minds to their highest level, and achieving what you didn’t know was possible.

Sounds like you have a leadership problem. At our first meeting, after I assigned manual reading and brainstorming for HW, I asked for ideas, presented some of my own, and we discussed them all. I had to insist that going for the easy build was fine for our rookie year, but not anymore. We had to plan a good, efficient, elegant design, and MAKE IT WORK.

In the end my students agreed with me. We have a LOT of work ahead of us, but I know it will benefit them more in the end.

You should talk with your mentors about this.

David, I know what it feels like to be the earliest one to arrive, last one to leave, and the most dedicated on the team. It’s tough sometimes, but ultimately it’s rewarding. Take a deep breath and a step back for a second. It’s day 7…38 more to go. Things could still turn around, but walking out on your team probably doesn’t help matters. They may feel like YOU have given up on THEM. Make sure your teammates and mentors don’t feel that way, that isn’t fair to them as the most dedicated member of your team. And while you love FIRST, keep in mind that there is more to FIRST than building an award winning kick-$@#$@#$@# robot. There’s the relationships that you build with your mentors and teammates, and other teams mentors and students. There’s also the learning that is involved with every step of the way. My team didn’t have a very successful year last year in my senior year. Do I wish things had gone better from a performance standpoint? Definitely. But I also learned more from the 2011 FRC season than any other experience in my life. If your team relies on you, it’s because they respect you. If you have earned their respect, don’t let it go by storming out on them. Good luck!

Never actually considered leaving. I mean even after last year’s season, I have been lobbying to allocate about $1-2k for “research and development” so that rookies can actually get experience and veterans can push our limits as a team. However, I have been told that “it is not okay to go to the cockpit of a plane and take control because you don’t like where it is going” from my mentor. He said that I can leave and join one of the local teams. But this was way before kick off. He knows that I’ll never leave.

That’s what I meant by storming out, not leaving the team, sorry if I wasn’t clear.

I disagree with your coach, but every team is different. On my team, we have a slogan “student led, mentor driven,” and many of the decisions are made by students, from structure of meetings, to schedule and division of labor, to what we do in the offseason. I have seen our team change directions multiple times and reorient itself to improve our skills and our finished product. I don’t know how your team structures its leadership, and I’m not recommending you demand your way, but I think you could try to explain to your coach and mentors what it is you want to change, how you would change it, and your vision of how that would influence the team. If he still ignores you, commit yourself to designing and building a good roobot despite the limitations of your team.

I can relate to this very much, in many ways. I would do anything, at any time, for GUS, and sometimes seeing kids with different perspectives toward the program frustrates me. But everyone receives different life experiences from FIRST, some small, some huge. So just remember, if you keep doing what you’re doing, and honestly giving it everything you’ve got, you are making a difference, even if it doesn’t show at this moment, at some moment in the future, it will. If you’re always right, or always have an idea that will end up being successful, people will start to listen. The best way to motivate is too inspire. So keep doing what you’re doing, it will pay off. I can promise you that.


I already done that, I had the whole thing CADed out and presented a very professional and complete presentation on it yesterday. In fact, everyone commented on how great my idea is and how great my presentation was. The vote was a tie between those two designs. But the thing that scared the people away was the complexity and the level of detail that I went into. I explicitly stated that it is scalable down to a less complex version. Today, we had a re-vote, their main platform was the simplicity. Mine was that their idea filed before in a previous year and that it would be ineffective as anything. It simply will not kick high or far enough.

See the above response. Apparently, my ideas are “too perfect”.

It sounds like you’re very invested in FIRST and you really care about your team. Like any other life experience, FIRST comes with highs and lows. Since FIRST is so important to you, these ups and downs affect you even more, and it’s easy to lose perspective and get really frustrated. That’s not a sign that it’s time to walk away, though. A lot of us have been there before. I remember some days from high school when I would come home from meetings and say that I was done with everything, and I was quitting forever. Four years later as I’m about to graduate college, I’m still here. Sometimes, there are moments that can be disappointing and frustrating and you’ll want to tear your hair out… and that’s okay; it comes with anything that’s important to you that you make a big part of your life. Take a step back and look at the big picture, though. The majority of your time in FIRST, the parts that will stick with you for the rest of your life, are fun and inspiring and challenging and life-changing and all of the other things you hear people talk about. Try to focus on those moments.

However, it sounds like there are some issues you should try to address with your team. Choose your battles wisely - only pick one or two issues that are important to you to focus on. Explain yourself clearly and use data to support your thoughts/requests/concerns. Everyone should have the chance to make your voice heard, so hopefully your teammates and your mentors will listen to you. A team is made up of more than one person, so it is to be expected that your team won’t always follow your ideas, but it is expected that they at least hear you out before making a decision.

Good luck!

Similar issue last year happened to me.

Sometimes, people just don’t get things, and you have to accept that everyone can make stupid decisions, even if you don’t agree with them.

If you want a chance to rectify the situation, here’s what I’d do: HELP THEM. If it really is that bad, help them build the initial robot, get it programmed with basic code, and then show them just how bad their idea is so they can scrap it. Case in point: We went with a scissor-lift initially last year (no one tried them before for FRC, and thought it might work because it was “stable”). At week 3, we realized it was a really, really crappy idea, on top of the lift ripping itself in half under no load, despite all the reinforcement.

By chance, does the kicker happen to be based on some sort of arm, or involve pneumatics? :stuck_out_tongue:

It sounds to me like you have difficulty being part of a team. You might want to work on that before you rant much more about the direction the team is going.

It just turns out that my mentor and I have different mentalities. He would rather have a terribly performing robot that works and that would allow the kids to learn more. I would rather push the kids a little bit too far that they don’t quite get it and then learn from that experience.

Because from the sounds of it, his mentality sounded like “Since I know you kids can only walk a few steps, I am going to make you crawl your way through”. I think it is appropriate to push the kids beyond their limits and force them to succeed. Just different schools of thought.

Being part of a team probably is my flaw. I don’t even know half the kids on the team because most of them are rookies. I am the type that keeps to himself until needed.

I think by the time that you are a highly-experienced junior or senior on the team, you need to begin entering a mentor’s school of thought. You can relate really well with the kids if you give off the impression that you know what is best without saying it, and asking them questions about what they think. They can feel a connection with you being closer to their age, but you give off a vibe that you know what to do, as you’ve been in their exact positions before.

You sacrifice a lot of subjectivity, but you leave every meeting feeling satisfied.

It sounds like a mentor on your team and yourself are taking two wildly different approaches to the season. I think it would be best for you to reel in your “shoving” into a scary pit of complexity, and just nudge them down the hill on their bicycle. The team will realize how far they can get with just a nudge.

You owe it to yourself and your team to be the best you can be for everyone involved. Sometimes being a great teammate means sacrificing a bit of your philosophy in order to understand and appreciate theirs.

Another mentor told me that, in life, sometimes you just have to go with the flow and stop resisting even if you know you are right.


I have been here before and it nearly destroyed me. In fact, the issues in this thread are part of the reason why I currently not an active mentor.

as A student, I was in the exact same position. First to arrive, last to leave; I put in a lot of effort. often I would not get much lunch on build season Saturdays since I always finished my work (or came to a stopping point) before I ate.

As for the “told you so” thing, been there, done that. what you have to do is swallow your pride and move on; bickering seldom brings progress.

sadly, this level of involvement came to kill me as a mentor. I had a hard time letting go of where I was as a student. I had already done that with my electronics position; most of that was done by a well trained freshman at the point of my departure.

Programming on the other hand was the killer, as all 3 student programmers graduated and the new programming team was all rookies who knew nothing in the way of programming or labview. Apparently there was a miscommunication on what my mentor roles were and weren’t and well, I was put in a position where I was essentially the so called “bad guy.” At that point, I chose to leave rather than be left.

This issue wasn’t entirely why I left but was a good part of why, and perhaps at the core of why.

My advice to a mentor in said position is to take a break. be it a week, a month, or in my case, a build season (or longer). It sounds cruel, (and I might some bad rep for saying this), but sometimes mentors need time off to reset and try again. A mentor who doesn’t let the students take command of the design has little place on a team.

In my eyes, the ideal mentor is there to help design and teach and inspire. In a way mentors should be like GPS units. they guide the driver on where to go and when, but it is up to the driver to steer the car and chose when and when not to follow the suggestions.

I see mentors as the guardrails and those little bumps on the highway to make sure the officers of the team don’t veer the design into the woods. An ideal mentor also has a hand next to the emergency break in the car.

It’s important to make sure the mentors and senior students of the team have a good working relationship, since those members tend to be liaisons between the mentors and the other team members.

There are a few things going on here.

It sounds like your team maybe having internal mentoring issues that need to be addressed. When I was a senior student, the machine was very mentor driven, meaning the students had very little input as to the machines functionality. And I felt the same way you did, “this isn’t anything we want to build”. This maybe going on with your team, but I’m not sure.
In that final year where we had very little input, I personally stepped outside my comfort zone and became a part of a completely different sub-team and had to work as basically a rookie. I learned a lot about myself and about something different.

Now as a Mentor we are a rookie team of about 12 students and of those about 6-8 are there nearly every day we meet, and I personally had a lot of the same feelings of lack of confidence in our team. I’m getting through that and discovering a lot of things about my team that is really surprising, refreshing and we are growing confidence in ourselves nearly every day we meet. Many of them are trying their hardest to make this successful. After going to the local kickoff our small team discovered how big FIRST really is. Only 4 students were able to make kickoff in town and their eyes were opened and they were very intimidated seeing teams of 25 to 35+ students. We know we have a lot going against us, but we will be at the regional with more than a plywood box and we’re giving it our all and we are willing to work just as hard with others who are on the field with us.
I remember as a student that I, along with a small core of students were able to put in 6 days a week till midnight or later, because FIRST was all we really had this time of year. Now mentoring and discovering all the additional activities students do is mind blowing! Yes these cut into ‘FIRST time’. You should not penalize fellow teammates for other prior commitments.

I do agree with others on the more personal topics.
This is a team event both on the playing field, and at your own FIRST team. Unfortunately in life we don’t always get our way, but it’s how we deal with those ways that makes us successful. As hard as it is to hear, maybe you do need to think about how you work with a team and take this year to work on yourself, and less on some machine. I think you’ll find when the 2012 FIRST season is over that you really did help the team a lot bettering how you interact with a team.

Look, I understand exactly where you are coming from. I’ve been in your position where I felt unappreciated and completely blown off. Really, there are only a couple of things to do about that.

The first is to keep on giving your advice, and when they say no, try to get a more detailed explanation of why. Talk about it. Don’t let this fester in the dark. Let them know clearly what you think and, more importantly, why you do.

The second thing is that it seems like you are most definitely frustrated. I hate to say it, but when it is obvious that when someone is frustrated , then the people they approach will not react well, generally speaking. I know this simply because I tried it out at work one day. I spent a while being courteous but not all welcoming and generally just being emotionally cold. It was all business and that hour or so was one of the worst times at work I have ever had. It wasn’t fun, it was slow, it was just bad. But when I was being really upbeat, the time went way faster, and was more enjoyable.

As to how I try to be upbeat, I would recommend a video made by Sean “Day[9]” Plott on Being Relentlessly Positive. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iCqwwTfXr1Q

I have always been in the programming subgroup, which is far from mentor driven. This year is the first year in my tenure that there was a “serious” mentor, it is still mostly student run; the mentor is more like a babysitter position in software, or if we have any questions on life as a programmer in the real world. My rookie year, the software mentors were more like “tech support”. All the work was on my shoulders. Last year, there were no mentors, all students on software. Our team’s mentality is the student built mentality. I’ve heard that mentors have serious impact on the design of the physical robot. I would not be surprised. Most of the design group is rookies, and you know how easily influenced they are. I can even pick out who just “follows” me when we discuss. May be that is why my mentor called me a pied piper.

Well I have no option but to stay on the software team. I have told some of the students in the design group to push for something different.

You know what, I realize something… Stuff like this is going to happen all my life. My adviser and I may collide in grad school, my professors and I might collide during research, and eventually, I’ll be on the receiving end when I am a professor and the student and I will have different schools of thought. I need to learn how to be more diplomatic while not just agreeing with everyone.

I just was an aggressive, young, somewhat reckless risk taker. My mentor is an experienced, conservative engineer. He worked for NASA as a systems engineer, of course he would be conservative; his projects would have cost him years and millions of dollars if they failed. That mentality transferred over to Robotics. I guess mindsets shift as you age. He would rather have us fail at competing than fail at building anything.