Regressing in our behavior

Over the past few years, I strove for self-improvement in showing empathy, caring less about “hoops” (e.g. ratings at work) and practicing patience.  These last few months I did not excel at these goals.  In discussing my disappointment with my friend who practices psychiatry, I learned that adults as well as children can “regress” in stressful times and situations.

Overall, I feel grateful for my situation.  We’re safe, getting married soon, and eating well.  But, over the past few months, I’ve felt a lot of ups and downs.  I got engaged (yay!), started planning a wedding that got postponed, my grandmother who was my idol passed away and my aunt and mother were both in the hospital (luckily, they’re out and doing better).

During this COVID situation, I found I didn’t always do a great job at the three things I started to improve on over the past few years.  I thought about situations through my own lens versus others, got upset quickly, and definitely got frustrated at work with my progress.

Hearing that adults, just like children, can regress in behavior improvements in times that produce stress, made me feel a bit more relaxed in my setback.  So, while I am still aiming to get back on track, I wanted to share this with you all in hopes that you too will give yourself a “pass” if you feel a bit setback from your achievements.

Regressing in our behavior

Post-Vacation Reflections on Vacations

I got back on Friday from a 12-day vacation to New Zealand.  Besides feeling lucky and jet-lagged, I feel fortunate to remember one of the main reasons I love traveling: traveling reminds me that there are other ways to live.

I like my life in NYC and all that comes with it, but traveling (or, as I call it, “living in”) a new place reminds me that there are many places and lifestyles that could make me happy.  There are costs and benefits to each way I could live.  

Right now, I feel a little sad to live in a concrete jungle so focused on material wealth after spending two weeks with people who often care more about beauty, the climate, and being outdoors than procuring a nice apartment. 

But, we’re never stuck in the path we’ve chosen.  I’m not planning to do so, but I could–like many Europeans and Australians do–decide to take a year off from work and travel the world.  Or, I could decide to get a less-great job than I have now and trade a few rungs of prestige for sailing on a beautiful lake each week. 

Remembering that we have constant choice in the big things in life (such as where we live) makes me a bit more fidgety but also a bit more free.  I’m glad that vacation reminded me of that.

One thing I actually will change based on the last two weeks is that I want to take longer vacations more frequently (like Europeans, Australians, and seemingly the entire world outside of the US!).  This was my first two-weeker and I found it much more calming than just a quick few days or even a week. 

I hope everyone else had a relaxing holiday, and I look forward to seeing all that 2020 brings!

Post-Vacation Reflections on Vacations

Risk taking means taking risks

I spent a lot of time during the past few weeks talking with friends, classmates and peers about jobs that are not working out.  There are many different reasons why: unexpected clashes with a boss, a lack of meaning in the work, little autonomy, geographical coordination, etc.  One common thing that I found myself reminding each of these people is that taking a risk really is risky–and, that’s okay.  A successful career may only require one risk to work out.

For example, if you look at almost any successful entrepreneur, the first idea he or she tried likely wasn’t successful.  Right now, I am reading Super Pumped (the Uber story) right now; we all think of Uber as being successful, Red Swoosh, Travis Kalanick’s first company was not.

Risks aren’t only for entrepreneurs either.  I know plenty of people at Google who rose quickly because they put themselves onto projects that didn’t have much admiration or attention yet, and when those projects succeeded so did their careers.

We all know we should take risks.  But, we also seem to think that if we’re smart, we will rarely see failure.  In reality, not seeing failure often means we’re not actually taking risk.

Our current education system does a poor job of teaching smart people how to take risk and be resilient when the risks don’t work out.  For example, in order to do well in school, you study hard, and often the work you put in usually equals the grade you later receive.  So, we’re taught that hard work equates to success.  

That’s not at all what jobs are like.  You can work really hard and still fail.  Based on our experience in early education, though, failure makes us think that we must have just not been diligent enough.

The most important part of failing, though, is reminding ourselves that failing is  essential to the risk-taking process over a career.  If we can see failing at one risk as our actual preparation for the next, we are actually, according to a 2013 Harvard Study, more likely to think of failure or stress as a way to help us maximize performance, and thus have a much better attitude towards it.  And, there be more likely to risk again, and succeed that time!

A few more good reads on failure:

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What do you want to do next?

I was hesitant to attend my HBS five-year reunion, largely because I thought I’d see a lot of posturing about how happy and successful everyone felt.  However, I was pleasantly surprised to find people humble–and still a bit confused.  It turns out that many of my classmates are still figuring out what they want to do with their lives. (As am I!) On that front, an HBS career counselor gave some advice that resonated with me. She suggested that we stop thinking about our careers in terms of where you want to be in 10 years. Instead, she suggested that we make career decisions by asking ourselves: “What do I want to learn next?”

The reason that I love this framework is that I think it emboldens people to take more risk. Here’s why: if you base career decisions on where you want to be in 10 years, you’ll have a tendency to be careful not to deviate from the path. But, alternatively, if you make career decisions based on what you want to learn now, you’ll be open to not moving in a straight line.  You may go from managing a team to being an individual contributor, or from sales to product management and then back again. I strongly believe that taking these non-obvious, winding routes often leads to faster success in the end. (As a student of the Sharpe Ratio, I believe that more risk leads to more potential return!)  Worst case, you’ll learn what you want–and what better way is there to define success than that?

What do you want to do next?

Getting off the hedonistic treadmill

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In the past few months, I attended a few talks and read a bunch about how education is changing.  Kahn academy is personalizing it and bringing it online.  The NYTimes did a profile on Summit Schools.

All of this focus made me think about what the current education system provided me.  On the positive end, I think going to an all girls school helped me feel entitled to ask questions.  It gave me the confidence to think that I was smart and if I had a question, it was justified to ask it.  However, on the flip side, our current education system teaches us to be hoop jumpers, which both helps and hurts us in the future.

In school and college, we’re taught to get As, honors, proceed to the harder class.  That creates a reward system consistent with human psychology to be happy about an achievement and then quickly return to your baseline happiness (and seek the next achievement).  How can we teach children to be happy with their personal advances for longer than a second?  Obviously, children benefit from continuing to push themselves to learn, but our system creates, or perhaps just reinforces our natural tendency, to always look for the next best thing: the next promotion, the next stage in a relationship, the next accolade.  How can we not only inspire children to strive but also remain pleased with past achievements?  Once students finish jumping the hoops of the school system, they replace those hoops with promotions.  When do the hoops end?  Or, even better, how can we end them for ourselves?

Dr. Halvorson suggests gratitude and variety.  I am curious, what have you done to keep yourself excited for longer about your accomplishments?  Or, slowed down your speed on the hedonistic treadmill?

Getting off the hedonistic treadmill

For your next role: consider a big company

IMG_20190315_185922Over the past week, I helped several Googlers and others think through what to do next in their careers. When speaking with people who didn’t work at Google or a different large company, we discussed next roles and next companies. However, when speaking with people who work at Google, the conversations centered exclusively on what to do next within Google.

I don’t think large companies advertise internal mobility enough when selling a position. I think internal mobility is one of the best things large companies offer to their employees. Simply due to their size, smaller companies can’t compete on this front. With the possible exception of fast-growing start-up (and, the future of a start-up’s growth is hard to judge!),  small companies have fewer positions to fill overall, thus have less liquidity.

In my four years at Google before business school, I tried three different roles. Right out of college, I was a customer service agent in AdWords. Next, I sold AdWords to mid-market companies. Finally, I launched Google Fiber as an Associate Product Marketing Manager. These three roles don’t even include the 20% of my time that I spent experiencing how different teams worked (such as when I got to work with the Search Marketing team to launch Google’s 2009 Holiday WiFi campaign).

In other words: I was able to try working as a customer service agent, an ad sales rep and a marketer–all while keeping the same benefits, systems, and colleagues. Significantly, I also maintained resume consistency: I did not look like a “job-hopper” even though I absolutely hopped around to various jobs.

I’ve seen the small company side as well: after business school, I went to a start-up to lead marketing. I soon realized that acquisition marketing was not my passion, and I essentially needed to leave the company to switch disciplines.

When you are next looking to join a new company, you’ll of course focus on how excited you are about the job you’re thinking about taking. But, one other thing to think through when considering your next move is whether your new company will provide an environment where you can move around as you learn and grow in your career.

For your next role: consider a big company

Write down your ten big bets

At the beginning of the new year, sales organizations get their new quotas. For people who work in sales, something that always accompanies this moment is the frenzy to figure out how-in-the-world our organizations will make these new, seemingly huge numbers. One action that helps me to achieve my sales goals is to write down my plans.

Putting my plans into writing is helpful more broadly as well.

I know that I am easily distracted by new projects, new goals, or even an interesting newspaper article. When I have a written plan-to-achieve that I can reread regularly,  I am able to remind myself of how excited I felt about my original objectives. And remembering that excitement helps me to better avoid the daily distractions that inevitably arise.

In order to follow my advice to write down your plans, you need to be willing to write down (1) things you know you can accomplish and (2) a longer list (i.e. a “funnel”) of goals that you are not certain you can achieve. The key to the second item is that you need to be comfortable commemorating ideas that may fall through. Over time, you’ll then whittle down the funnel. My rule of thumb is that if I want to get two big deals, I write down ten ideas. Then, over time, I do good research on those ten (read 10Ks, job site research, news articles, etc.). I aim to spend about twenty minutes thinking through each deal. After a bit of qualification, I focus on three to five. With some luck, at the end of the half, I’ll arrive at two active deals.

I encourage you try this and let me know how it goes.

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Write down your ten big bets