What Does it Take To Be Successful in this Business?

Removing myself from the equation, I ponder what persona would be successful in a role like my own. I seem to care far too much personally about everything I do, which renders my work occasionally high quality but too often belated.  The quality, the “artistic merit” of the work is not valued – only its completion, it’s project management of other people playing their parts and getting their projects done faster and more effectively than anyone else, or at least making it seem that way while in reality surviving on little sleep to make sure everything gets done and no one has to ask twice regarding the whereabouts of a deliverable.

It’s the alienating daily experience of being an “NFP” in a strictly “NTJ” world… welcome to Silicon Valley, oh sensitive artistic one.

Everyone appears to be satisfied with this world, stressed, maybe, but focused, determined, and given those drawn to this industry are the types who always got A’s on their exams and submitted every last ounce of extra credit assignments possible, I feel like a complete outsider. I’ve never actually fit in anywhere, so the outsider role is at least my status quo. As I observe those in the world around me and age in the industry where I’m no longer the youngest in the room (now, far from it), I feel even further removed from the center of gravity here. I’m off kilter, wobbling about and hoping no one notices I’m slipping sideways, that is, until the inevitable face plant.

Before I fell into startups, I briefly worked for non-profits and even a large corporation, and none were the right fit. The non-profit felt too caught up in its own politics to make any process, and the large corporation wasted millions of dollars promoting a product that didn’t actually work. In all of these cases I felt frustrated by the inefficiencies yet could not help but fall into depression over having no control over a larger solution, or grander mission that make any sort of sense.

Over 10 years out of college, many who I graduated with who have a similar degree have gone on to do create amazing art. These people who were once on the tail end of adolescence in a classroom raising their hand at 8am after an all nighter are the subject matter in articles published on the great artistic talents of modern time. Although I feel a tinge of jealously, I also wonder if I hadn’t been so caught up in my own obsession with perfection then maybe I’d be that person making art for a living, or who knows who I’d be. It’s not clear that would be the right path either – I have some level of talent but it isn’t necessarily enough for a career.

But here, I’m ever the alien in this surreal world of extremely high IQ and a silent judgement against those who don’t follow the rules as if they were still working towards getting into the Ivy Leagues. For those who survive and obtain more senior roles into their 30s and 40s, the personality traits tend to veer standard corporate exec — superficially kind, strategic, slightly manipulative, and the greatest actors able to effortlessly hide the fact that they may very well lay you off tomorrow.

I do not speak ill of these types of people — they are remarkable in their own right. It is that consultant personality type with a base level of confidence and air of “I got this” I will never encounter internally. I’m more or less the absent-minded professor type who has no place in startups, unless she happens to be a brilliant engineer. I don’t see a path for me here because I see no one like me here. But, frankly, I’m not sure there are people like me anywhere. I don’t need to be working in a world of clones — that would be horrible. I tend to add value as someone who views things three dimensionally and upside down in a room full of people who are linear thinkers, should they care to value my opinion. They rarely do.

It is hard to go to work everyday, spending most waking moments at an office where I have no friends, no one that I can connect with, and know my best bet of maintaining employment is to remain agreeable – which is a large challenge for me as I fail to keep quiet when I disagree with something, despite that I know better than to open my mouth. When I’m at the point where not getting fired relies on people liking me enough to keep me around, I feel suffocated and afraid that any moment I’ll say the wrong thing and be shown the door. I find myself a shell of what I once was, too anxious to do my best work, too exhausted by paranoia to be as productive as I could be if all my energy weren’t wasted on feeling so lost and afraid.

When I was 20-something being lost and afraid was kind of cute… I was figuring things out… I was testing different roles and growing into my adult self. This state of mind is not cute anymore. There’s nothing to romanticize about my ineptitude and failure to fit in. If I were to take all my energy every day to pretend to be this person I’m not than maybe I could convince people I am one of them… but I don’t think I’d survive that for long.

I haven’t the heart for this life, or, perhaps, I have too much heart for it.

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