Tag Archives: future

When “I Can’t” is a Fair Assessment of the Situation

They say that the most productive people in the world don’t have the word’s “I can’t” in their vocabulary. When they’re asked to jump, they don’t even ask, “how high,” they just jump as high as they can and try harder next time. Whether or not they have a sociopathic and delusional belief in their own abilities is irrelevant, confidence, even over-confidence, begets success in many cases.

I think back to myself as a little girl and I wonder if she believed in herself – that if she believed if she worked through problems instead of getting frustrated and giving up in a manner of seconds – she’d be an entirely different person today. She didn’t realize that while extreme intellect enables a certain kind of success, not everyone needs to be a genius to change the world.

Little girl me flunked out of her smart kids program in second grade because she grew too frustrated with confusing logic problems and would rather doodle and daydream. Little girl me saw math and science as that thing my dad liked and he clearly wasn’t happy or a person I’d want to be like, so why bother? Little girl me sat and watched the second hand tick by in just about every class I had, waiting for the years to pass by.

My therapist this week said something that struck me in its crystal clarity – those who dwell in the past are depressed. Those who think too much about the future are anxious. It’s best we focus on now. And that is what being mindful is all about.

Then, today, a headline in the New York Times caught my eye – “The Cost of Daydreaming.” The author is a woman in her 60s who considers how much of her life was spent wasted lost in what could be, versus accepting and enjoying what is.

“Ever since I could remember, I had feared being found wanting,” Gornick writes. “If I did the work I wanted to do, it was certain not to measure up; if I pursued the people I wanted to know, I was bound to be rejected; if I made myself as attractive as I could, I would still be ordinary looking.”

Oh, how I can relate! How much safer it is to wrap ourselves in this cloak of disappointment in the now, with all this hope wrapped up in the future. But future is the now of tomorrow. The future will be a now sometime and it will never be enough. I don’t want to get to 60 and realize I’ve wasted my life daydreaming away time.

The essay continues… “Around such damages to the ego a shrinking psyche had formed: I applied myself to my work, but only grudgingly; I’d make one move toward people I liked, but never two; I wore makeup but dressed badly. To do any or all of these things well would have been to engage heedlessly with life — love it more than I loved my fears — and this I could not do. What I could do, apparently, was daydream the years away: to go on yearning for “things” to be different so that I would be different.”

I am already exhausted by yearning. There is some god-awful romanticism to wanting versus having – an art enabled by privilege-fueled guilt cradled by insecurity. The future is this amorphous globule which is so fucking pretty from the perspective of the hear and now, or ugly but salvageable with the grace of time. Then the future zips right up to our present and are we at all the better for it?

Elon Musk, a perfectly imperfect human (and some reporter’s lunch with him.)

I daydream that I’m actually as brilliant as Elon Musk – but I didn’t have quite the right upbringing to set me up to access the brilliance. I know it isn’t true. I was creating websites with a dozen too many iFrames at 14, not building computer programs with lightening speed at 9. We both had pretty insufferable childhoods and hated the structure of school equally. But Elon spent his time voraciously devouring science fiction and fantasy. Something stopped me from reading when I was younger – this strong anti-authoritarian rebellion which made it impossible to given in to anything that I deemed too “adult” or “educational.”

Dwelling in the past leads to depression. True. There are so many problems to solve in the world. In the little time I have left on earth – with my god-given abilities, or lack there of, what can I do to fix them? Or is the best I can do hold my breath and stay out of the way? And does it really matter – my inner Nietzsche rears his ugly head – tells me I can’t do a damned thing about any of the problems and even if we make interplanetary habitation possible, we’re still destined for nothingness as soon as the chance of the universe divides by zero.

Returning to present time, not future worry (anxiety) or past reflection (depression), I ponder on now. What am I now? What drives me now? I give myself permission to care about how I feel in this moment. And I feel broken down. I feel weak in my skin, cut up by a life of scripting persuasion and failing to do the exposition justice.  And I HATE the feeling of being unable to do something, but even more so I hate the feeling of not knowing what it is I can do. It is remarkably refreshing to say “I can’t” as long as it’s true and one can accept this and move on.

Elon Musk doesn’t say I can’t. That’s why he’s Elon Musk and I’m not. And I don’t have to be Elon Musk or Tina Fey or Barak Obama to lead a meaningful life filled with the wonder of the present. And that starts with saying “I Can’t,” and it’s time to start down the path of whatever it is where I can proudly one day say “I Can.”

 

It’s Not Impostor Syndrome

As I’ve been thinking more lately about the next 5-10 years of my career, I’m trying very hard to be confident in my abilities yet realistic. Everyone talks about “Impostor Syndrome” these days, thanks to Sheryl Sandberg (who clearly suffers from a case of it herself), but that’s not what I’m facing. Or maybe, a teeny tiny bit of my struggles is self-doubt and feelings of being and impostor, but most of that feeling is fact, supported by hard evidence. While I have some learned skills and natural talents, I’m not prepared for any sort of next step in my career – whether that be a step up, step sideways, or even down.

I’ve read numerous job listings, applied to a few just to see if I could get any bites, even partook in a couple of interviews as an exercise. While I’m not devastated that none of them landed at an offer (I am focused on adding value in my current role at least for the next year), I’m also hyper aware that I’m not setting myself up for long-term success.

This is not the first time I’ve written about this, of course, but every day that goes forward is another day passing where I imagine a future for myself of under or unemployment. Yes, I can definitely take steps to improve my prospects, but I feel like I need to commit to a clear direction before I move forward.

My social anxiety and general anxiety is crippling, yet I hate using that as an excuse. But any job that requires constant nurturing of numerous social relationships is not for me. This pretty much excludes most, if not all, senior-level marketing and business development functions. There is a small space for someone like myself as an expert in content production and data analysis, the later area which I can certainly improve in, but I’m not sure I want to spend my life dedicated to hiding in a cubicle crunching numbers.

That leads me back to the question of whether I want to stay in technology to begin with. I completely fell into tech, and I’m glad I did, but it’s also an industry filled with highly intelligent, well-pedigreed individuals who are so talented at learning quickly and effectively to continue optimizing their daily process and deliverables. That said, I do really enjoy working in an industry that values brainpower over fluff. I could have ended up working in media given my background, maybe even having found myself in LA instead of San Francisco after college, and I imagine now I’d be lost in how to move up inside a highly social, “who-you-know” relationship-based industry.

Nonetheless, in Silicon Valley, those who succeed without seriously high IQs are brilliant on the people side, and as I’ve already stated, while I’m an extrovert my social anxiety limits me greatly on this front. I cannot have a job that requires me to go to drinks and sustain conversation with a business partner, prospect, or industry analyst. I might be able to do this once in a while, and at times enjoy engaging with other people, but the amount of stress it causes each time I imagine must cut into my overall life expectancy.

Even if I was to successfully obtain, say, a content marketing manager job in the future, where does this lead? At 20-something, content marketing is a good role because it exposes you to a lot of areas within marketing and business overall, and then you can pick which to pursue. That said, a good content marketer looking to move up the food chain will have similar options (and limitations) to what I have today. The content marketer could just build out a team of content writer in a large organization and manage global content strategy – which is a good and important job but seems to end at that. I don’t think I’d feel fulfilled in a role limited to content creation. Or, the content writer could move into a more external-facing role, but I’ve already discussed that I’m not suited for such a position.

Work is work, yes, and no job is perfect. It’s possible over the next 10 years, when/if I have a family I’ll realize that my “kids” are what’s most important and my job requirements will shift dramatically. Perhaps then becoming a terminal content marketing manager with clear deliverables and reliable hours will seem more than palatable. Or then I could freelance as a writer and charge heaping fees for each document I create, which by then would be high-quality due to years of high velocity output for some global 2000 technology organization. Maybe I need to tell the little girl voice who wants to change the world to shut up because it’s time she grow up and find a stable, albeit unsexy career. I’ve spent too long at startups that no one has heard of, and this makes me unemployable.

This is what goes into getting hired in a non-technical position in Silicon Valley, from most to least important:

  1. Pedigree: Where did you go to school and what company’s have you worked at in the past? What was your degree(s) in? One successful company that is respected, even if you spend just one year there, helps greatly. (If there were some pedigree score on resumes from 1-10 I’d say at this point I have about a 2.5.)
  2. Analytics Savvy: Can you speak data? What results have you generated from your work and how did you measure them? How can you use data to add more value to an organization?
  3. Social Skills: Are you able to maintain a hour-long conversation with different types of people on topics ranging from how great they are to last week’s football game? Do you come off as not somewhere on the autism spectrum*? (*The tech industry has plenty of room for people who are brilliant aspies, but mostly in technical roles. However, if you are very strong in analytics than this is acceptable and expected even in a non-technical role.
  4. Writing Ability: Can you write in complete sentences? Have you ever created any collateral which drove quantifiable results (sales revenue metrics are best if you can figure out how to measure this.)
  5. What Have You Done? If you pass all of the qualifying items above, then, and only then, does what you’ve actually accomplished matter.

So if I want to stay in Silicon Valley I need to work on at least #1 and #2. I’ll never be strong at #3. I’m ok at #4 and can focus on improving this in my current role. For #2, I want to figure out how to become a quant-minded marketer. I’m trying to get the right analytics set up to measure goals and such, but I don’t know where to start. For #1, well, I think my goal needs to be really beefing up my analytical skills in order to obtain my next position at an established, soon-to-IPO startup. I desperately need that at-least one year of a success on my resume to be taken seriously in the Valley. Alternately, if this still proves impossible, I could get an MBA in order to get into one of those “just about to be successful” companies, but that requires getting into a Stanford or Harvard, which is just as hard if not harder (esp as a 30-something.)

So I just am taking a hard look at myself and my future to decide how badly I want this. It’s not like if I go into another industry suddenly I’ll have a clear career path and not have to work at it, but I have a feeling that outside of tech there’s a bit more opportunity for people who aren’t former valedictorians and student council presidents. I definitely can make something of myself here – I feel I’ve established a wavering baseline of competency as a tech marketer – but it’s going to be a lifelong uphill battle. Yes, it’s even harder as a woman, with few female role models at the top to look up to (not that I’m a typical woman and not that I get along with women anyway, but it is what it is. There are additional unspoken limitations when you are female and cannot have a close yet informal mentor relationship with a senior executive without dirty looks from fellow employees.)

I really need to figure out how much I want this. And what is “this” that I want?

Well, this is what I want, but can I get a job that fulfills this, and how on earth to I pivot from communications to something that does:

  • To create a product or experience that many other people use and that improves their lives
  • To be able to get to the end of my life, look back, and think of all the great things that I’ve built (or been a part of building)
  • To disrupt industries that are inefficient and limit value to the everyday person
  • Enough money to afford a house, infertility treatments for 2-3 kids plus the resulting 2-3 kids, international vacations at mid-tier resorts
  • Time to spend with my future family, traveling, painting, writing
  • Being around smart, witty people all day and laughing whenever possible
  • *Or, maybe, I just want to take a road trip to anywhere, picking up stories and experiences, and become an author, somehow, and creating stories that address psychological and sociological issues generated by our current and future technologies and economies… hmm.

The Broken White Picket Fence: Realigning Dreams with Reality

Thank you to everyone for your thoughtful comments on my last post: Getting to Where I want to Be. Your commentary made me feel a bit better about my current situation. I’ve responded to your comments inline, but a few of them merited a longer write-up:

Mrs. Pop @ PlantingOurPennies writes:  “I’m impressed with your certainty at having kids. And I think that’s a big plus in your favor that you’re not seeing. Right now, I’m 30 and totally up in the air on kids. So that means I’m feeling like I need to plan for scenarios with them or without them at the same time, and those are two very different paths in my eyes. As for big fancy-pants weddings, FWIW – we eloped and couldn’t have been happier with how it went.”

It’s pretty hilarious that I come across as certain on having kids. I just can’t imagine my life without them, even though I’m not ready to be a mom today. As far as eloping goes my parents would kill me, and I’d be sad to miss out on the big fancy-pants wedding, but my logical PF blogger self really thinks that’s the way to go.

Ashley left a series of great points in her comments, noting “From the amount that you write about having concerns re: your partner’s earning potential, it seems like it is a bigger problem for you than you are allowing yourself to realize.” Continue reading

10 Financial/Personal Goals for My Life

It’s time to get serious about these personal financial goals, beyond “try to save $5M for retirement and fail because that’s near to impossible on $100k a year.” Below, I’ve prioritized my top 10 goals in life, tied to personal finance. It’s good to make one of these lists every five years are so to make sure you have your personal priorities in order before making any life decisions.

  1. Contribute to a series of successful startups or projects from the ground up.
  2. Found my own company/product that helps people (potentially a health or finance product) or own a brick & mortar business.
  3. Understand that business well and make a few million dollars off of that business or product.
  4. Have a large circle of friends with a small number of close ones that I see frequently and can travel with.
  5. Travel around the world – there is so much I haven’t seen yet. I want to live a long life and when I’m on my deathbed, smile at the memories of all the places I’ve been.
  6. Rent or own a property where I can feel like it is my “home” and decorate accordingly.
  7. Have enough money where I can start to give freely instead of being an inconsistent miser.
  8. Raise a family of healthy, well adjusted children who have great self confidence without being pretentious. Potentially take time off when my kids are young.
  9. Nurture a successful and happy marriage – till death do us part. Love relentlessly. Compromise. Stay young and laugh together always.
  10. Have enough money for early retirement so when I get to 50/55 if I want to I can stop working and travel the world painting *or* I can found another company without the risk of going broke.

Ok, so how do I frame my life and my investment portfolio to meet these goals?

Would Career Counseling Help?

I’m tempted to go to a career counselor, but they’re super expensive and I’m not sure they could help me. I just feel like, even though my current job is great, it’s a dead-end career. It’s one of those hyper-specialized positions where, if I’m good at it, there will (probably) always be a job available, but every (related yet not exactly the same titled) job ad I look at that sounds interesting (even if not for “right now”) the professional and academic prerequisites are nowhere near what I have.

So, I’m wondering how I’ll ever get from point A – where I am now – to any other letter / point in the future. There isn’t really room in my job to explore other options, I pretty much get scolded (or ignored) when I attempt to get involved in something not in my job description. Which is totally fair, it just leaves me confused about how one can move up the career ladder when there’s no where to move to.

Granted, my ideal job (for the time being) requires technical skills that I don’t have yet, that I’m taking classes to learn, but even with that I’m not close to where I’d have to be to get hired. Is it grad school that I need? It seems the whole idea of grad school is already to have the skills, and then to just refine them, to research something very specific, to get a piece of paper saying you did it. Not actually to learn the skills. You need the skills to even get into the program.

I just feel so stuck. Not in a totally negative way because I’m stuck in a good place. But I just think about the long term, and what I want to be doing, and how impossible that goal seems. I want to be an interaction designer, but even that statement alone means so many different things. Even UX designers say that their job is fading now that its becoming more accepted within computer science programs that user experience education is necessary and important. You can major in human computer interaction and learn all about research — but I’m pretty sure I don’t want to spend my entire life as a researcher. You can focus more on the computer science end and be one of those “UX Developers” – the most popular job for the field that I see posted – which basically requires you to be able to code and also create great user experiences. Then there’s the UI Designer, which is more of a graphic design position, one that would require design school. That alone is a huge part of the reason why I’m so confused… do I go to an HCI program? A computer science program? A design program? And realistically, could I get into any of these?

Then there’s a part of me that thinks I’d be better off going for an MBA. Ultimately I want to be an entrepreneur, maybe even a serial entrepreneur if it goes over well. But… I’m not a people person. I’m shy. I rub people the wrong way when I open my mouth. In that sense, I feel like my only option is to become a brilliant programmer. They seem to be able to get away with lacking social skills. But CEOs? Entrepreneurs? Marketers? They need to be extroverts. And I’m definitely not an extrovert. I’m a socially anxious introvert who can’t deal with being alone. I like working in small teams. But I like being in charge. I also acknowledge that in order to be in charge, I need to know what I’m talking about, which is why I think… well, grad school would help give me some cred. But how much can you really learn in one or two years of school? If anything, you get a degree that says you’re smart enough to get into a program and to get through it. It doesn’t say a whole lot about what you know.

Anyway, I just had a minor freak out in front of my roommates… I just started crying and I couldn’t stop. Typical quarter-life crisis break down. I’m very overwhelmed by all the potential options, and the fear that, well, fear of failure will keep me from any of them.