2018, Week 1

I said I’d read and write and move and some of that actually happened!

I was sufficiently annoyed at reading Antifragile that I knew there was zero chance I would finish it (or even continue for the week) so I grabbed John Scalzi’s “The Dispatcher” that was on sale last Monday and read it that day. Very readable ūüôā A bit depressing. But that means I finished a book this week! I also got a copy of “Principles” and haven’t opened it at all! ūüėÄ But based on the point of that one, I suspect it’ll be a much friendlier read once I start.

I’m also re-reading “The Fifth Season” (So! Good!) – do re-reads count? (I guess that’s up to me.) I also realized that I checked the wrong account for Audible and although I thought I’d cancelled it, I do still have a subscription with a. couple of credits. I might cancel it yet, I’m not sure. Really, the only thing I’ve ever enjoyed as audiobooks is Buddhist books, and even those are hit or miss based on narrator. I like my fiction to be in my own head voice, y’know?

This is writing and I’ll post it today (hideously unedited and unreviewed) and reading is covered above. Moving was… mixed this week. I am happy to report that I seem to have found a groove that sees me go swimming twice a week midday and I don’t even whine and complain when it’s time to go. I even found myself wanting to go early one day when I was feeling anxious and restless! And even on the days I feel like just giving up, I still start and then I keep going! This is exciting! My normal distance is 1km and I all too often forget where I’m at while counting. But this past Thursday it was 1.1km. I want to keep the time consistent so if I want to swim further, I’d better speed up.

I haven’t done much else, activity-wise but then it’s only the first week of the year and it was a short one. I still have to finish “American Vandal”, which I’m restricting myself to watching on the Exercycle. That was really hard because I have to find out who drew the dicks* but I am proud that I haven’t broken that rule. I’d have thought it would get me on the bike but so far, no.

On the learning front, I was asked to try to figure out how much of my company’s code shipped last year was open source (compared with closed). This is exciting! I haven’t done much programming in a very long time but I did spend a focused bit of time a couple of years ago and some of the JS/Node neutrons are waking up. It’s a dog’s breakfast at the moment, glued together with text files & bash, but I do have a decent base for something I might use as a jumping off point for learning proper JS dev again – ideally practicing TDD as well. I spent more of my own time than I think my boss would be happy with on this (work-life balance is a Real Thing at Buffer, y’all) but I was enjoying that dopamine hit of solving things. And isn’t the dopamine of learning and accomplishment preferable to constantly refreshing social media or checking mail to see if there’s something new?

Yes. Yes it is.

* this is only for people who’ve seen “American Vandal” or don’t mind partial spoilers (as I say, I haven’t finished it so this doesn’t actually give away any ending) the #1 proof of Dylan’s innocence, in MY mind, is the complete stylistic difference between his everyday (and it does seem to be every day) dick-drawings and the ones on the cars. No. Damn. Way. As mentioned, I don’t know the actual answer, but he really doesn’t seem smart enough to think of disguising his signature style.

Start. Start again. Start anew every day (or year)

There’s something about the WordPress New Post window that shuts my brain down. Actually, most typed text composition options do this to my brain. I quite like writing with pen & paper but I think I need to find my sweet spot, tool-wise, that will let me get the words out without having to re-enter them – I describe my handwriting as a great example of a write-only storage system. Part of why I like writing by hand is that it slows the words down just enough that I end up being more thoughtful and deliberate – there are fewer superfluous words and I end up questioning what I’m thinking more.

See? That’s 103 words of nattering right there (ok, the WP edit window helps with that ūüôā ) and I haven’t even started on what the point of this post was.

It’s New Year’s Day, 2018 and That Year is over. It was a Bad Year in a LOT of ways but it was actually a pretty positive year for me personally, so I’m feeling guilty about that. But maybe that’s one of the #2018Liberations¬†ideas (h/t Cate Huston) that I should be trying out – not feeling bad about my own successes while there is so much pain in the world. Not gloating about them, not being successful at the expense of others, but learning to be happy for myself.

In early December, I started what might just be my dream job. I’m an Engineering Manager at Buffer, a company that I set my sights on a couple of years ago when I started really thinking about what I value in life and what I want to contribute my few hours on the planet towards. One of Buffer’s values is “Show Gratitude” and wow do the people I work with live that value. It’s a bit of an awkward one for me because I get quite shy when people thank me for things or praise me and I have that impulse common to a lot of people (more so women? I’m not sure) to deflect praise and positive attention. But I think I need to work on that. Not just for myself, but also for others – both people who I can act as a role model for, showing that it’s ok to hear positive things about yourself and accept that gracefully, and for the people offering that praise. It’s not a great feeling to have tried to show gratitude to someone and to feel like that’s not appreciated, so I think I might need to get over my discomfort there ūüôā

I am not much of a goal-setter. Some people are really motivated by setting goals but I tend to end up demotivated by them because as soon as I ‘fail’ to complete exactly whatever the plan I came up with for myself, I give up. Jean Hsu’s description of

being mostly effortlessly high-achieving through high school and college, and never really developing a great deal of grit and persistence.

resonates a LOT with me (not high school, because I was completely disinterested and didn’t even try then, but in university). I don’t think I have grit. I tend to give up easily. ESPECIALLY after I’ve failed to meet some arbitrarily strict standard I set for myself.

So that’s my goal for this year – to keep getting back on the horse. To work on building habits – to keep re-starting when I stop or don’t think I ‘measured up’. The habits I want to work on are:

  • moving more – I’m intrigued by the “217 in 2017” that the folks over at Fit Is A Feminist Issue blog did last year. I particularly appreciate the definition of what ‘counts’ as a workout that they provide – anything outside of their normal day. Bill and I have started going swimming midday on Tuesdays and Thursdays (thanks for the flexibility, Future of Work!) and that would cover a good number of a potential 218 in 2018 ūüôā
  • ¬†writing more – This is a first start, but I’d like to ‘ship’ a post per week. Hopefully some of the other habits I’m working on can help provide inspiration for some of the things to write about, but I’d also like to write some fiction.
  • reading more – one of the amazing perks that Buffer offers employees is free e-books. Like, for real, you say “Hey, I’d like this book” and they give it to you. Unfortunately, the first one I picked is a bit of a slog so far and I’m really not enjoying the author’s tone, but at the same time, that’s a good lesson for me on the writing side – if your audience feels insulted or lessened by what you are writing, they’re going to put your work down sooner than they otherwise might. I do actually have a goal here – I want to finish one book a week. I know that some of them (like the current one) will take more than a week to get through so I expect to supplement completions with fiction/humour (too bad I devoured the whole “The Broken Earth” series in one week in September. Credit for three books in a week! (see what I mean about goals being a problem for me? ūüôā )) I mean, technically, I finished John Hodgman’s “VacationLand” today, which could count as finishing this week, but since it was a re-read, I don’t know if that’s cheating.
  • serving more – I want to find ways to help make the world a better place that involve more than just giving money (although I want to do more of that, too) but involve me actually doing things that have an immediate positive impact on people.

And more self-compassion. I’m going to fall down on these goals. That’s ok. ¬†The real habit I’m trying to build is starting again after I ‘fail’.

Is it obvious?

I was in San Francisco yesterday, interviewing for a job with my ideal company. In the first interview, which was a more technically focused one, I noticed that I often prefaced what I was saying with “well, obviously” or just “obviously”. When I noticed that, I commented on it out loud: “hunh, I’m not sure why I’m saying that – I don’t know what’s obvious to other people – it’s all based on individual experience and familiarity with things.”

The fact that I thought “why am I saying that” led me to re-read Nick’s post “Why am I saying this?” and to¬†really reflect on what the word ‘obviously’ means when I say it and what it might mean to others hearing it. When I was saying it, I wasn’t really meaning that what came next was necessarily obvious to anyone – myself included. It’s¬†a verbal tic that I developed at some point along the way, and probably an inherently defensive/self-protective one. I don’t feel like delving into all the subtle biases and one-upmanship that often happens in tech, and how people who don’t look like what everyone thinks of when they think of someone in tech learn coping habits, but I suspect that’s where my ‘obviously’ comes from.

So let’s walk through what it means to me and what it might mean to others.

What is going through my head when I say ‘obviously’ at the beginning of a sentence?

  • “Oh, shoot, I wasn’t thinking – I know the answer but still needed a cue to pick up on it. Dammit, they probably think I’m an idiot now!”
  • “This feels like a trick question…” [the answer to this question can’t possibly¬†be the obvious one (to me), so saying ‘obviously’ is a way to prompt them to provide more hints/details]
  • “…” (i.e. nothing at all) – the word can be just a linguistic space-filler or habit. I have a few of those & I’m trying to identify and remove them (‘definitely’ is definitely top of that list)

What goes through my head when I hear ‘obviously’ at the beginning of a sentence? (putting myself in the listener’s place)

  • If I didn’t know what was being said: “Oh shit, I’m the only person here who didn’t already know that. I should¬†have known that. I’m horribly under qualified to be here!” [Depending on how they said it, I might also think they were a bit of a jerk who wasn’t supportive of people with different experience and knowledge.]
  • If I did know: That depends on how they said it. If it was neutral/verbal tic, I might not even notice the word. That’s the best case. In the worst case, I’d probably¬†think they were a bit of a jerk who wasn’t supportive of people with different experience and knowledge.

So where’s the upside in using ‘obviously’¬†word to introduce a statement? The only value seems to be¬†protecting my own identity/ego. And since I’m working on not doing things to protect my identity/ego because that protection leads to lack of real communication and connection between people,¬†any¬†upside to me is heavily¬†outweighed by the potential downside to others. Allowing myself to be vulnerable, and to be wrong, and to be¬†seen¬†being¬†wrong is an important growth goal for me.

In fact, there seem to be a lot more obnoxious ways to use the word ‘obviously’ than helpful ones and I’m going to work on purging it from my spoken¬†usage *. Even if something does seem obvious to me, what value in stating that? How does that help anyone with anything?

* I was trying to think of genuinely inoffensive ways to use the word and the best example I could come up with is play/stage direction notes and narrative:

  • “Kara was obviously moved by the story she heard”
  • “Michel was obviously upset with the situation”

But for first-person usage? I’m not sure it’s ever a good idea. [Maybe in cases where defensiveness is actually warranted (Barty Crouch has just accused you, Harry Potter, of casting the Dark Mark, I guess?)]