When Mentors Move On

I was recently reminded how far I have come. Last year in September I was juggling the on-boarding of a fourth addition to our team in as many months, reviewing code written by team mates on the other side of the globe, and still getting to work on any tasks myself. Two years ago I was struggling with my involvement the decision to terminate a new hire I had been training who was not a good fit for the role. Three years ago I was working on some of the first projects I took a lead in designing and implementing, which turned out to be some of the most frustrating projects at the company for the year.

Continue reading “When Mentors Move On”

Everybody’s Little Sister

Some days in life I like the feeling of being coddled like a younger sibling. As an eldest, any opportunity for this comes from someone outside of my family. Usually it comes from my friends. Almost all of my friends are older than me, by various degrees. I’ve got a group of people from college, people from church, and people from work, all of which are able to provide me their unique perspective on the world.

When I first arrived at college, I went from being the oldest in the group of people I spent time with, to being the youngest. From being a high school senior among a few dozen home schooled kids, some even a decade younger, to being a young freshman in an unfamiliar environment. I suddenly made a lot of friends, where I was used to having a small set of people I would interact with, who I had known for years. My bubble got a lot bigger and filled with people whose advice was valuable. Even though there were annoyances in my dorm experience, I truly felt adopted by many of the people I met in my first weeks of school.

While a lot of those friendships were formed by convenience, or forced community, I treasured the experience of being mentored and listened to by people who could have just as easily chosen to ignore me. I garnered a whole host of big brothers and sisters, whose life experiences I could use to gain some perspective outside of the insulated world I grew up in.

I loved that feeling. The sense of value from people’s willingness to give me their time and attention. I don’t presume that they all perceived me as their little sister, but in a lot of ways I felt treated that way: treasured and nurtured. It didn’t matter if I felt clueless or confused when there were so many people around to help me grow.

Many of the people who filled that role for me when I first reached college have passed out of my life. While a few of them disappeared from my life gradually, as I spent more time with certain friends, others grew distant themselves, or left the college altogether. I am glad to have met them, and experienced their comradery and kinship.

I still run into this feeling with most of the people I spend time with. I’m a very team oriented person. Always saw my own sisters as equals, and family unity is important to me. I care about the people around me in the same way. I value my team mates and friends as members of an extended family, uncles, aunts, cousins, siblings.

I’ve mentally adopted all these relations as part of my emotional investment in their lives, as part of the exchange where they have invested in me. I want to value the incredible people around me, and spend as much of my attention learning from them while they are a part of my life. I want to learn skills from them to be a good listener and mentor myself.

Photo by delfi de la Rua on Unsplash

There are still so many people around me who I can spend time listening to and investing in, more of my own “little sisters”. Although my own sisters, who are my first and very dearest friends, can never be replaced. I like to think of it like my sister-in-laws do, they have adopted me as just another member of the family.

I love being everybody’s sister, it gives me a good perspective on how to interact with others, valuing them and treating them with respect.

Friendships in a Male Dominated Field

In my profession, the disparity between the number of men and women is stark. Twice as many women computer science majors graduated with my mother than with me at the same school. I have always expected that any place I work will have fewer women than men because of this fact.

It’s kind of sad that I never expected anything else, but I have always been OK with the fact that I would end up working with a lot of men. Sometimes it even feels like I’m working with a bunch of boys whose senses of humor are stuck at a middle school level. Which can be both entertaining and very inappropriate. Then again, I never really enjoyed spending time with girls at that age anyway.

Despite growing up with two younger sisters, by the time I got to college, it was easier to talk to guys than girls, especially if those girls were in my Computer Science classes. In fact, the first few weeks at school I was approached by some older girls on my floor who wanted to warn me that it looked suspicious that I had half a dozen different guys up to my room over the course of a week. Little did they know it was always related to homework, just a side effect of the fact that I was one of two freshmen girls who had declared my major. I guess they were more right than I wanted them to be, since I ended up marrying one of those boys from my first CS labs.

That other freshman girl in my class didn’t end up sticking with the major (the girls I graduated with came over to CS from math and engineering). Some part of me still wants to take some of the blame for that girl leaving the program, because I never really talked to her to encourage her to stay. At that point in my life, I was taking great pleasure in being the favored child in class, flitting around talking to the boys and showing off how much I knew. I felt like I needed to prove myself and that somehow she was my competition more than the guys were.

I kick myself now for such behavior, because I recognize how immature it was, but that type of attitude is still something I’m working on. I don’t need to be the best in the room, and I don’t need to show off for attention. I can be kind and friendly without discriminating who I show those attitudes to. And without looking or acting like a terrible flirt (thanks again floormates for that epitaph).

I imagine avoiding the perception of flirting is somewhat easier for me than it would be for a single woman, since I’ve got a ring to indicate I’m taken, but it’s sad to think that friendliness could be so easily misconstrued. But everyone should be able to form friendships without being perceived as having an ulterior, romantic motive. How can we treat our colleagues and friends as uniquely valued individuals unless we put aside such attitudes and perceptions of others.

The men in my life are really all throughout my life. At home, at work, with friends, I’m constantly surrounded, and often out numbered. Finding a way to relate to and engage with the people around me has necessitated forming friendships with them. Friendships with these people come out of the environment and attitudes we share, and help me to grow by giving me access to different perspectives. Perspectives that are different and valuable to me, regardless of what gender they come from.

I value and trust my male friends, but I also know the importance of being able to relate more easily in some ways to my female friends. There aren’t nearly as many around me to be friends with, but that means I value them even more. I’ve learned, since those early days of college, that I cannot be in competition with people in a way that will push them away. Their successes are not my failures, but admiring their skills should help drive me forward in developing mine. Friends build each other up and challenge each other.

I know its cliché, but the best way to make a friend is to be a friend. And that means being a friend to the people around you, regardless of their gender. Friends support one another, and I know I would not have made it where I am today without the support of the people around me.

How To Say No

People Pleasers unite! Sometimes I feel like I can do anything and everything that I am asked to do, and volunteer for even more. It’s part of what I need to work on when I invest in others to my own detriment, I just want to help, and so if someone asks, it is really hard to say “no” to a well-meaning request. This is especially true if I am signing myself up for something I know I can do better or more easily than the person who asked me to do it.

Does this mean I’m a bad delegator? Sometimes. Other times my need for control manifests in telling others what they need to do instead of just doing it for them. I’ve been getting better and better at knowing when I should trust someone else to take care of a project for me, but a lot of times I still want to take on the responsibility, because I believe I’ll enjoy it.

For example, I have this project I’ve been working on for myself, but I’m administrating several other sites as well as favors for different individuals and groups. I also have commitments to teach and lead club meetings for groups I am passionate about and whose members matter a lot to me. I love saying “yes” to these types of things because I enjoy doing them, but it doesn’t always mean I have the time or energy to do them all.

A person’s priorities are revealed in how they spend their time and energy. Whether that means they spend time on work, relaxation, volunteering, family, it is all motivated by what that person values. It’s easy to over simplify this, claiming that a person makes one of these too high of a priority, without realizing that each person has their own motivations and reasoning for why they do things. For example, it might be easy to say a workaholic prioritizes their job or money without reflecting the fact that they spend time at work to maintain job security or sufficient funds for their family. Without knowing the personal perspective of an individual, judging them by what they spend their time on can never give an outsider a clear picture.

By saying “no” to some things, we make conscious decision that we have other commitments that we are treating as more important. It’s OK to make those choices because time and energy are limited resources.

Every once in a while it becomes necessary to reevaluate and reprioritize, and that’s OK too. Just because I have been doing something for a while doesn’t mean there isn’t something I would rather be doing if given the opportunity.

This is where navigating these decisions gets tricky: when you have to tell someone else that you have prioritized out a task that you were counted on to get done. It feels like you are letting people down, and that you are breaking commitments, and I won’t advocate that either of those things are OK in all circumstances, but in most situations there is a gracious way of letting people know that you need to step down from a role. And most mature people will recognize that such a decision is made out of a healthy preservation of self, not out of selfishness.

Be honest, sincere and brave. You know your own life better than anyone else ever could, so you know when you’ve bitten off more than you can chew, and the best course of action is to avoid overextending yourself, because that will have a negative outcome in the end. Even when others question your choices, you are not obligated to justify yourself to them. It is your life to live, and you choose what to say “yes” to.

Life Is Not A Competition

One again, one of my “strengths” is also one of my fatal flaws. This time it is my competitive drive, to do the best, be the best. And most of the time I can keep that in check and focus on myself without comparing me to others.

During college I took a somewhat lame personality test that was all about finding traits that a person is strong in so that they can cultivate them. I don’t put a lot of stock in personality tests, for a variety of reasons, key amongst them is a distrust of labels. Since that time I’ve learned how labels can be tools for understanding and empathy instead of just alienation, and I can appreciate the use of such analysis to foster conversation about personality by providing vocabulary.

However, before I came to this understanding, I was dead set against taking a test to tell me who I am. My results from my college experience were a set of five traits that included empathy and competitiveness. I’ve already addressed and acknowledged my tenancy towards extreme empathy, but learning to deal with that behavior has been a wholly different animal than learning to balance competition.

In some ways the empathy and competitiveness combine to produce a horrible result: jealousy. My empathic heart lets me feel what others are feeling, but my mind just wants to compare my situation to theirs. I struggle with maintaining a sense of my own contentment when I am pushing for continual improvement in myself.

As the oldest child in my family, there have been a lot of things that I was the first to do: first to learn to drive, first to graduate, first to have a romantic relationship, first to purchase a home. Some of these things are a rite of passage, but others are never a guarantee in life.

I struggle a lot seeing other people get things that I want faster or more easily than I can. It sounds immature, but here’s an example I’m willing to admit: I want a puppy. I have wanted a dog for a long, long time, and it hasn’t ever been possible due to our housing situation. My family even got a dog after I went off to college. Visiting family and friends’ dogs isn’t the same as having my own, and I always leave feeling disappointed that other people can have something I want while I have to wait a long time or work really hard to make it happen.

It’s not just trivial things like wanting a pet, I have spent a lot of energy trying to accept the fact that my life’s path is not the same as anyone else’s, that my version of contentment and success is unique. I don’t have to have the most glamorous job, the most put together home, the most exciting vacations.

I can’t keep living like this. I can’t continue to envy everyone else’s successes. I have to choose not to see someone else’s successes as my failure in comparison. There’s no need for comparison.

If I can stop myself from trying to one-up everyone else…

That doesn’t sound quite right.

My life is nobody else’s and if there is something anyone else has that I want, I either need to use that as motivation to make it happen, or realize that I don’t care enough to make it happen…

Nope.

This one’s hard. I just don’t know. It’s not a healthy way to live, and I’m trying not to, but right now, I don’t think I have the answer.

And maybe that’s OK.

Stop Solving Other People’s Problems

In my family of three sisters we get told a lot how similar we are. And it’s true, when you spend your formative years with someone all day every day, as our homeschool family did, a lot of behavior rubs off. But I see more differences between us than most people notice, especially in our motivations and the way we relate to the world. I oversimplify if I say we don’t still each have these traits, but in different proportions. The balance between them is what gives us each our unique personalities and motivations. Continue reading “Stop Solving Other People’s Problems”