Sara Morgan e-mailed me to ask if I could tell any stories about self-employment for inclusion in her upcoming book, "No Limits: How I escaped corporate America to live the life of my dreams." I laughed and told her that I'm actually very much in
corporate [North] America, having joined IBM fresh out of graduate school a little over a year and a half ago. People often think I'm self-employed or an independent consultant. I guess they think I'm much too happy to be working for a large company. <grin>Big companies have gotten quite a bad rap.
Job security? Health benefits? Retirement plans? Lots of things have been scaled back. The benefits that used to differentiate large companies from small companies or self-employment seem to have dwindled. On the flip side, technology and society make it easier for people to start their own companies and provide products or services to a global market, so it's even easier now to get into the risks and rewards of entrepreneurship.
I didn't join my company for job security. I joined it because I wanted to work with these absolutely amazing people all around the world, and because I believed that we could make a difference in the way companies and people work, at a scale much larger than I could do by myself. After one and a half years, one worldwide economic shock, and lots of friends now at different companies, self-employed, or retired, I'm even more passionate, more engaged, and more amazed that I have these opportunities to make a difference.
What is it like to work in a large company? You probably don't hear many good things in blogs or news. It seems fashionable to complain, or to hunker down and just get through. So let me tell you what I love about my work, and maybe you'll recognize some of your own company in it.I love the people I get to work with all over the world.
When I think about how much my mentors have shared with me, when I think of all the talents sprinkled through the organization, when I think of how people are looking out for me and helping me learn, I feel just absolutely privileged to be in the same company, to have the same overall goals, and to share so much common ground with them. I can't wait to help as many people as I can, and I'm so lucky that the same infrastructure that helps me discover and meet all these inspiring people is also the same platform for me to try to reach out and help others along the way.I love the work we get to do and how it helps me grow.
I hear stories about the big projects that people work on, things that save lives and make difficult things easier. For me, even with the small project I'm working on, there's always something new to learn every day, and there's always something little I can teach others. I care about what I'm building, and it helps me learn how to build even bigger systems.I love it just because I do.
It's easy to get weighed down by other people's fears, anxieties, and complaints. But work is such a large chunk of life, so I may as well look for and maximize the things I enjoy about it!
I might try working with a small business sometime, and I've got endless lists of businesses I would love to try myself. But while I'm here in corporate (North) America, I'm going to be completely here, and I'm going to totally rock it. =) If I change that situation, it won't be because I've let the situation grind me down into misery, it'll be because I think that change would make life even better. Won't that be a fun experiment?
And no, this isn't just because I'm new around here. I know some people who are still like this after decades, and I think that's absolutely amazing. No matter which path I end up taking, I hope to grow up to be like them.
I'm living the life of my dreams, and my dreams just keep getting better and better. I don't think of myself as ambitious. I'm already
happy and successful. I'm just driven by curiosity: how awesome can things be, and how can I help others along the way?
May 8, 2012
So I get to give a proper update, yay! I had a lot of fun working at IBM, and I ended up rocking it for four years. After I built up my opportunity fund, I left in order to explore my curiosity about experimenting with business. This is turning out to be wonderful too. I still have a warm and fuzzy feeling about what I got to do in the corporate world, and I think I had the best experience possible. On to new adventures!
May 12, 2009 - Categories: love
W- and I got to know each other over lots of carpool conversations. One time, he gave me a lift downtown. I asked him to drop me off at the Lillian Smith library, which was just a few blocks from my dorm. I had just discovered that I could order books online and have them delivered to a branch close to me, and I was looking forward to a quiet evening with a pile of books.
I hadn't expected forty-two books to arrive all at once.
I called W- on his cellphone and explained the situation. He drove back, loaded the books into his car, and helped me take the books to my place.
I wonder what he must thought when he saw me with those two large piles of books and big puppy-dog eyes.
After we cleared the dinner settings, W- sat down with Neal Stephenson's Diamond Age. He was nearly done with it, and had been amused by Stephenson's occasional geek references (pirates and ninjas! Lisp!). I started reading You've Got to Be Believed to Be Heard. When I finished before he did, he said, "Sometimes, you scare me." I made slurping sounds, and he laughed. We joke about this--I practically inhale books. Most nonfiction books are easy to skim. On the other hand, fiction and really well-written non-fiction are meant to be savoured.
"I have some more books for you," W- said as he walked in the door. He had dropped by the library at his workplace and picked up a few books: one book on women and success, and another book on design.
He often brings home books he knows I'll like. Two weeks ago, he brought home books about leadership, management, and workplace engagement. Before that, he brought home books on productivity, life, and comics.
He reads them as well. He likes how I bring a constant stream of books into his life, and often enjoys reading my finds.
We went to the library today. W- and I were browsing through the section for graphic novels. Flight Vol. 4 (Kazu Kibuishi) caught my eye. I picked it up and browsed through it, then tucked it into my to-read pile. When I looked up, I noticed that W- already had the next volume in his. That made me smile.
"There seem to be about fifty new books in my account," W- said over lunch.
I'd borrowed a great idea from a friend and had someone go through my long list of things to read, requesting them from the library if available. My assistant must have put the requests on W-'s library card instead of mine.
He laughed and corrected himself. "Okay, seventeen outstanding holds." He read a few titles and smiled. He knows who I am, what I read, and why I read what I read.
I often tell people that my two main reasons for putting up with Toronto's winters are W- and the Toronto Public Library. In some countries like my homeland, books are hard to get. I want to change that. Someday.
May 12, 2009 - Categories: work
I spent another hour this morning coaching Milind, a developer in India who's starting on the Drupal project I worked on a year ago. I helped him set up Eclipse, the PHP Development Toolkit, and Subclipse, and import the project into his workspace. <laugh> What do you know - a month and a half after I started my experiments with delegating to virtual assistants, I'm learning how to delegate to and coach someone at work!
I learned two interesting things from our session today:I'm really lucky to be working with other people who are good at asking for what they need.
Milind not only asked me to provide more details in my bug reports, he also explained how that helps him build confidence while learning the new system. I understood his request right away and I was happy to add step-by-step guides. (Hey, all that practice in documenting processes for my virtual assistants is paying off!). He probably has way more experience working in a globally-distributed team than I do, and I'm glad I can learn from him!I enjoy making sure that a smile carries through in my voice.
Technological challenges and timezone differences make remote collaboration tough enough, so I'm always looking for ways to make it a little bit better. For example, today's call was scheduled a little after Milind's typical office hours and a little before mine. We might not be at peak energy time--he might be tired, I might be sleepy--but I think it's important to make sure that the conversation has a lot of positive energy.
Imagine if it didn't! Imagine if we went through all of that with sleepy or impatient or frustrated or tired voices. I think that would've wasted a lot of time and energy, and we would've gotten very little done. Now imagine what an awesome remote coaching session might be like: full of time-saving tips, acknowledgement, and feedback.
There are plenty of reasons to be happy--he's making the effort to meet after his own office hours, he's picking up the concepts quickly, and he's indirectly teaching me how to be a better communicator. If I can make the call a little more pleasant, a little more effective, then that's terrific! I think the ideal kind of call that would leave him happy with his day and looking forward to the next one, and leave me happy about his work and looking forward to my own day ahead.
Then there are all the other bits of work I can do to support project progress, happiness, and growth. If I spend some time adding more details to bug reports, not only would Milind be able to work more effectively on them to solve the problems in less time, but he'll also improve his skills, grow a little more in knowledge and confidence, and feel happier about his accomplishments. That'll make both of us feel good, and it'll all make the project better.
I don't know if other people think about this, but it's interesting to think about how these tiny human interactions affect the way we work, and I look forward to learning even more. =)
May 14, 2009 - Categories: drupal
Our customized Date+Calendar-based Drupal event calendar is coming along quite nicely. The information architect's design called for extensive customizations, such as:
- hiding the year view
- creating a context-sensitive year navigator that displays the entire year, and linking that to the title of the image
- adding AJAX effects
- adding a pop-up callout with three of the day's events
- displaying times in the user's timezone generally, and in the user's timezone and the event's timezone on the actual event page
- including dates for the previous month in the month view
- allowing people to subscribe for notifications for new events in their interest group
- allowing people to get iCal feeds for their events, all the events, or a group's events, and these feeds should work without login
- allowing people to sign up for e-mail reminders
We went with Date+Calendar instead of Event because Date+Calendar seemed more up to date, and its integration with Views meant that it was easy to add in domain access and other constraints. I learned quite a lot of new things in the process of implementing these features, such as:
- writing test cases to check event subscription, event notification, timezone handling, and so on
- programmatically creating a CCK node type with a date field
- overriding calendar.inc to modify the way Drupal prepares the calendar
- overriding calendar.theme to modify the way Drupal presents the calendar
- making my own set of functions to generate the year navigator, based on the year view in calendar.inc
It took me a bit of time to figure out how this Date+Calendar AJAX patch
worked, and I ended up modifying it extensively. I had been getting confused by mini= and view=ajax and all the other parameters floating around. I tried different approaches, including creating a callback function that generated just the HTML for the block, but then I found myself passing in too many parameters to control the URLs for the links.
This approach of generating the whole page didn't quite work when it came to the subscription form that we embedded in event node page templates, though, because it printed out the node content before it generated the form. I used jQuery to retrieve the entire page, and then I extracted just the DIV I wanted to keep.
I still don't like fussing with CSS (particularly when it comes to collapsing borders or dealing with browser issues), so I'll leave that in the capable hands of our information architect. But now I'm the jQuery ninja on our team, too, and I know I can rock CCK+Views and calendars for future projects. =D
(p.s. Left out details, but if you're curious about any of the bullet points, comment and I might flesh it out into its own blog post!)
May 15, 2009 - Categories: sewing
After I sewed the zipper on the Vogue 8020 dress I made using the butterfly blue fabric from Fabricland, I checked the fit in the mirror. I was beginning to think that the dropped waistline that hovered about my hip wasn't the best place to put it. I tried smoothing my crooked seams, but they refused to behave. The more I looked at the dress, the more I noticed all the little things I needed to fix.
Then my happy-do defense mechanism kicked in, and I realized I was letting myself do negative self-talk. I focused on the positives instead. The dress was wearable, the fabric was pretty, and my friends would let me get away with amateur creations. =) It was my first time to make a dress with princess seams or a dropped waist, and I was happy about how the princess seams in the bodice turned out. And the blue ribbon was a nice touch, although other accents might be more practical in a house with two cats.
I told W-, "Sewing is good practice in celebrating the small wins."
He said, "Everyone starts somewhere."
I said, "It's all about throwing more pots." I started telling him the story. It turned out that he already knew the story. But you might not yet, so here it is:
There's a story about a pottery teacher who divided the class into two groups. A student in one group would be graded based on the quality of one pot that they turned in at the end of the semester, while a student in the other group would be graded based on the sheer number of all the pots submitted throughout the semester. At the end of the semester, students in the second group--those measured only on quantity--had produced better pots than those who had focused on quality. In the process of creating a large number of pots, the second group had learned from their mistakes, while the first group had been paralyzed by endless theorizing about what a perfect pot would be.
Go ahead. Make mistakes and learn from them.
Here's pot #4:
I'm going to hem this dress, and then I'm going to practice straight and curved seams on some scrap cloth, and then I'm going to work on that white embroidered-border dress. I'm going to fill my wardrobe with clothes I've made. Over time, the quality of those clothes will just get better and better.
Last week, W- told me that he'd been thinking about what house-related tasks we might try delegating. He's been helping me learn more about delegation in my experiments with virtual assistance, and he thought it might be fun to give real-life delegation a try too. We decided that housekeeping and gardening were easy ways to get started.
I checked the Toronto Craigslist section for household services, and I came across this ad for organic vegetable gardening:
Backyard Harvesting offers a full range of customizable services from
seed to harvest to solve your backyard dilemmas and put fresh, organic
produce on your table at reasonable prices. We take care of all the
heavy lifting and you enjoy the fruits of our labour. Check out
www.backyardharvesting.com for more information.
I found a number of other gardening services, too. I asked one of my virtual assistants to send e-mail and call the services without websites, and I e-mailed the Backyard Harvesting service to set up an appointment so that we could see what the process was like.
We set up an appointment with Backyard Harvesting for this Saturday at 2.
I came home to find W- chatting with Laura, the gardener from Backyard Harvesting--a young woman with a notebook and some sheets of paper. As she was going through the list of plants she could get from her suppliers, I asked, "By the way, did you bring a portfolio?"
Laura replied, "This is my first summer, actually. I'm a student. I couldn't find a summer job, so I made one."
After some discussion (which mostly involved things like "Have you thought about growing heirloom plants?" "Oooh!" "Did you know carrots didn't always come in orange? They were bred like that. You can get purple carrots and white carrots." "Oooh!"), she filled up a page of notes and sketches. She promised to send us a plan and estimate by Wednesday.
There are other services like Under the Sun
which also offer edible landscaping, and we might get other quotes. But if it all comes out similar, I wouldn't mind supporting a Gen Y entrepreneur! =D
This is a draft for an upcoming talk called "The Read/Write Internet" for high school students at Sir Wilfred Laurier Collegiate this Friday. I plan to have very few slides, and a lot more discussion than indicated here. Actually, what's likely to happen is that I'll show up there with the headlines on slides, and then I'll ad lib the rest of the way. =)
What advice do people give students on how to use the Internet?
"Don't plagiarize, especially from Wikipedia."
"Don't trust everything you read online."
"Don't waste time surfing, chatting, or playing games."
"Don't talk to strangers."
You've probably heard all that advice before. It's common sense, really. But it doesn't give you an idea of what you can do with the incredibly wonderful tool that's the Internet, so that's what we're going to talk about today. At the end of this session, you're going to be full of ideas on how you can make the most of the Internet, and you'll be able to use those ideas both inside and outside the classroom. Whether you're researching information for your essays or you're figuring out what you want to do with your life, there's a whole lot of good stuff on the World Wide Web.
So let's take a look at the first one:
"Don't plagiarize, especially from Wikipedia."
When I was in second year high school, I once wrote an article for a small magazine. The editor sent it back and said it looked like I'd plagiarized it. I thought I'd done my research well, and I didn't even copy things word for word. The editor suggested ways to cite the sources properly. I still remember how embarrassed and confused I was, and that reminds me to be extra clear about where my thoughts come!
What's the difference between plagiarism and research? Wilson Mizner (an American playwright) once said, "If you copy from one author, it's plagiarism. If you copy from two, it's research." (He had an interesting life. You should look him up--on Wikipedia, of course, which is where I found that quote.)
Plagiarism is when you take someone else's work and you pass it off as your own, even if you do it accidentally. This is particularly bad in school, because if you plagiarize, you'll be missing the entire point of the assignment or the project. School projects aren't for the teacher's benefit. They're for yours. They're there so that you can have an opportunity to learn about different things, practice your communication skills, and learn about all sorts of other useful skills along the way (such as time management and dealing with mistakes).
Let's say you have a friend who hasn't worked on her project, and it's due tomorrow. If she takes a shortcut and just copies things off the Internet, she'll miss out on the learning experience. If a teacher catches her, it's really embarrassing. If the teacher doesn't catch her, she might end up with the idea that plagiarizing is okay, and then she'll wake up thirty years later feeling like an imposter and being afraid that someone will discover she's such a fake. Don't go there. Life can be so much better than that.
Write things in your own words, draw on your own experiences, add your own thoughts. If you're going to write something, you might as well write something only you can write. It might be hard in the beginning, but trust me, you'll be much better off developing your own voice and building your own experiences. If you use material from other people, give credit where credit is due. I won't go into all the details on how to properly cite Internet articles, but you can find out about that on your own.
So plagiarism is bad. Learning from and building on what other people have shared, however--that's good, and that's something you don't learn nearly enough about in school. One of the fantastic things about Wikipedia and about the Internet in general is that you can learn about so much, and you can learn about things related to that, and things related to that, and so on. It's incredible! Compare that with a traditional book
And you can learn from all sorts of different perspectives, too. Interested in learning about the politics in China? You can read a (probably outdated) book or encyclopedia, or check paper newspapers for stories. You can also go online to read debates and blog posts, watch videos, and explore links, and you'll probably find quite a lot of knowledge shared by people who are actually there. If you're interested in any topic--science, gadgets, sports, or even retro car racing games--you'll probably find lots of people who are passionate about those topics and who share what they know on the Internet.
Don't just settle for the summaries that you might get in an encyclopedia or in a news entry. You can get so much more than that! Look for the actual people involved, find out what their stories are, learn from their experiences, and express what you've learned in your own words.
There's a lot out there to learn from, and that takes us to the next point:
"Don't trust everything you read online."
Lots of teachers are nervous about Wikipedia and the Internet. If you do your research using something like Encyclopedia Britannica, for example, you can be reasonably sure that some very smart people have double-checked the facts. Wikipedia, on the other hand, was built with a bunch of volunteers--some of whom might be more interested in seeing if they can get away with adding "facts" that aren't true.
But printed books have mistakes, too. The scientific journal Nature found that Wikipedia was pretty close to Encyclopedia Britannica in terms of accuracy. And of course, things can change. When they kicked Pluto out of the planet club, I was heartbroken! People updated the Wikipedia page right away. Print books? That might take a while.
The real lesson here isn't that the Internet is better than printed material, or vice versa. It's about thinking critically about what you're reading, no matter where you're reading it. You probably wouldn't want to rely on what a used-car salesman says about how good a car is, whether that's on a website or in a newspaper article.
When you're thinking critically, you might even find it fun to read people who are obviously biased. One of the great things about the Internet is that it's so easy to find different perspectives on any particular issue. Read a lot and make your own decisions about what to trust.
When you're doing all of this reading and learning, you might hear this next bit of advice from well-meaning parents:
"Don't waste time surfing, chatting, or playing games."
Have you ever heard that? We hear that all the time when we're doing something other people don't see the point of or don't understand. The important thing here is: Know why you do things, and make sure you're getting those benefits.
Surfing is a great way to learn a lot about things you wouldn't have otherwise come across. It's not fine when you're just flipping through pages without learning. Chatting is a great way to get to know people. It's not fine when you become really dependent on it and you feel terrible when your online friends aren't around. Games are a great way to try new things. They're not fine when they suck you in and you play so much that you ignore other things in your life, which can happen because companies have figured out how to make games really addictive.
Know why you do things, and make sure you're getting those benefits.
In fact, the Internet can be a wonderful way to improve your skills and reach out to people. You can learn from all sorts of websites and all sorts of people, and--this is important--you can share things yourself.
I have to confess: when I was in university, I got Ds in my English classes. I just didn't care about the irony in the Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, and I got tired of writing essays that only my teacher would ever read, working on projects that went into recycling bins. (Looking back, thought, most of my work wasn't really special.)
The thing that changed everything for me was starting a blog. I started a blog when I was in third year university, which was about seven years ago. I started by writing about my classes, sharing my notes, asking questions. And other people occasionally came across my blog, shared what they thought, and taught me new things along the way. I could write things that other people could read! I could make presentations that could teach other people something new! Wow. I thought that was pretty awesome considering that I was a university student in the Philippines, and I was reaching people all around the world. You can too, and you can do even more. You can even make movies and share them on YouTube, although you probably don't want to do anything you'll find embarrassing.
Anyway. Writing about what you're learning is an excellent way to learn even more effectively, and sharing what you're learning with other people is an excellent way to reach out and learn more. If you're interested in this, learn about blogging, podcasting, or making videos, and then rock on.
Which leads to the last clichéd bit of advice which you've probably heard:
"Don't talk to strangers."
There are a lot of scary people in the world, and there are a lot of scary people on the Internet. It's a crazy world out there, which is why you should be careful about the personal information you share, and if someone invites you to meet up--even if the invitation's from someone who seems to be your age--always use your judgment. If you do decide to meet, meet in a public place, and bring someone you trust.
The second part of this is that you should also be careful about what you share about yourself. Blog posts complaining about your summer job, pictures of you at wild parties, videos of you doing that crazy dance--your future employers, clients, and significant others might come across that, you know. If you're going to share that, make sure you check your privacy settings very carefully (sites sometimes let you restrict who can view something). Even then, those safeguards have been known to fail. The safest thing is not to do that.
There was an intern who once e-mailed his manager, saying that he couldn't come into work. His manager found a photo on Facebook from the Halloween party the intern had attended the night before, complete with Tinkerbell costume, fairy wings and wand. Not only that, the manager forw
This is not to say that the safest thing is to just not be on the Internet at all. If you're not on the Internet, you're just leaving your reputation to what other people say about you, and that opens up all sorts of confusion or even cyberbullying. At other schools, there are problems with people creating pages for people they don't like, and putting all sorts of nasty things on those pages. Not good. Be online, keep your future self in mind, and share what you do want to share.
So that's the public service advisory part of this. What's the flipside?
Getting to know strangers can actually be a wonderful thing. I've met lots of people through the Internet. Some of them turned out to be just plain weird, but that's expected, and many people turned out to be good friends. Share what you're interested in, keep yourself (and your future self) safe, and look for ways to create value for other people, and you should be fine.
"Don't plagiarize, especially from Wikipedia."
Build on what other people have shared, give credit where credit is due, and use your own words and experiences.
"Don't trust everything you read online."
Read a lot and think critically.
Don't waste time surfing, chatting, or playing games.
Know why you do things, and make sure you're getting those benefits.
Don't talk to strangers."
Reach out to people, keep yourself and your future self safe, and have fun.
Next steps: Learn a lot, think a lot, share a lot, and have fun. What do you want to learn more about?
I've been coaching a senior architect on a Drupal site he's developing on a tight schedule. With a little bit of help, he was able to build all the functionality needed and keep up with constantly changing requirements. Now it was time to theme the site. As I was walking through how to modify the Zen theme to use the HTML, CSS, and images that he received from the designer, flipping between Vim editors in two Putty sessions connected to the web server, I saw his eyes start to glaze over. Hmm. He was definitely interested in learning how to do it, but I knew he'd enjoy learning it more if he had most of the framework already in place.
I offered to get things started. The senior architect asked me how much time I thought it would take. "Two hours," I said, which was the first number that came to mind.
After lunch, I headed to the senior architect's desk with my laptop and wireless mouse. I thought about asking him to change his password to something I could easily type, just in case I needed to start multiple sessions. Then I realized a much better way to do it would be to use my Emacs environment, which is already set up for doing really cool things with Drupal. So I switched my keyboard layout to QWERTY, used ssh-copy-id to copy my authentication ID to the server, and then opened the directory in Emacs using the location /ssh:user@host:/usr/share/drupal6.
Emacs worked like a charm. I edited files on the server as easily as those on my own computer, with all the syntax highlighting and keyboard shortcuts I'd gotten used to. I split windows, moved windows around, copied and pasted regions, and even did a little autocompleting.
I think I made the senior architect's jaw drop.
I finished almost all the basic theming (minus a few quirky CSS things) in one hour and fifty minutes, ten minutes less than my thumb-in-the-air estimate. The senior architect said it would've probably taken him 16 hours over the weekend.
While we were chatting about the changes he'd need to make and the other things he could learn, the senior architect asked me if I played any games. I told him that I play one computer game--Nethack (an old text-based roleplaying game)--and I only play it in airports. I pointed to my laptop and said, "This is my game." Programming has its own major challenges and minor opponents, it has progress, it has points, it has that adrenaline rush of trial and triumph. Programming is my game. Life is my game.
And it's tons of fun. =)
May 28, 2009 - Categories: web2.0
I help people learn about social media and Web 2.0 through stories.
Bullet points and screencasts aren't enough, but stories about how real people use these tools to reach out and connect can help inspire others to learn about and try those tools themselves.
But I don't just tell stories. I make them, and that's my favourite, favourite way to teach.
Take this week, for example. I was coaching a client on how she and others could make the most of LinkedIn. She called me up to ask me some questions. She started the conversation by asking, "How are you?"
"Fantastic!" I replied, as I almost always do.
"I know! You're living an awesome life."
That made me laugh. And then she told me that she'd been reading about my gardening
, and that she's looking forward to hearing more about it. Turns out that she's also growing a garden, and has rather ambitiously planted fifteen tomato plants.
Fifteen! That'll be quite a harvest. =)
We had a great laugh about that... and now she has a story about finding common ground that she might not have come across in ordinary conversation.
You can give a hundred presentations on social media and Web 2.0 without getting through, or you can make stories and cultivate the kind of environment and culture where other people will make stories. Focus on being part of other people's stories, and make magic happen! =)
Helping people create even more stories for others
My manager recommended me to the "Taking the Stage" workshop series, a leadership program that helps women develop a more powerful presence and good communication skills. The first session was about choosing to take the stage.
Many women are brought up to play supporting roles, but hesitate to be in the spotlight. Instead of talking about their individual accomplishments, they talk about their team's. Instead of talking about what they're interested in, they talk about their families. Even the way women sit shows a habit of self-minimization. While men might stretch over more than one chair, women can often be found perched on a corner of their chair, with legs crossed as if to minimize the physical space occupied. (I think wearing skirts has much to do with this!)
We watched a video by the leadership training group who developed the program. Then the facilitator asked us about our first impressions.
I told the group that the video was different from the way I'd grown up, and the part that interested me the most wasn't the part about overcoming fears (which I recognize to still be useful), but about envisioning what kind of leader I wanted to grow into.
In general, I prefer focusing on growing towards things rather than growing away from things. I wanted to think about this a bit further, because maybe something about what I'm learning can help other people develop their inner leaders too.
I'd never felt the need to blend into the background or to minimize my accomplishments. Perhaps it's because I saw both of my parents achieve remarkable things, or because I saw my two older sisters establish themselves, or because I was in the spotlight at a young age. The first news article I remember my mom saving was when a local tabloid had an article on me as a child genius who uses computers. I remember my dad asking me to put the floppy disk into the computer so he could take a picture. I said, "But it's not even on!" And the reporter spelled my name incorrectly, too. <laugh>
Yes, I was the kid who cried when her Grade 1 classmates made fun of her name, and I was also the kid who wrote down an explanation of what made her upset (on a half-sheet of intermediate pad paper - I still remember!) and figured out how to deal with it (I think I decided I needed a day off). I was the kid who was unafraid to raise her hand and try to answer a question, unafraid to get it wrong--or right!--in front of almost all the students in the entire grade school. The principal invented a whole new award for me in graduation. And yes, I still get those agh-I-don't-know-if-I-can-pull-this-off
moments, but I know that no matter what happens, I'm sure I'll get a great story out of it.
So it had never been about whether or not I would take the stage, but about what I would take the stage for, what I would do with the opportunities that came up, and how I could share those opportunities with others--how I could help other people discover their own spotlights.
Taking the stage isn't about being boastful or elbowing other people out of the way. I learned that from my parents, who always ended up with press attention when it
came to their major projects. They never did something just for the exposure. They
did whatever they wanted to do, and they made things happen.
I remember when my mom told me how difficult it was for her to encourage the employees to talk about their accomplishments, and how important it was for them to do so because otherwise, it was hard for her to find out about their strengths. Culturally, Filipinos look down on boastfulness, saying that boasting is like trying to lift your own boat. Many cultures have similar sayings that discourage people from sticking out, from distinguishing themselves. But my parents showed me that accomplishments don't need to separate you from other people. It's not about being superior or inferior. It's about making things happen, inspiring other people, and teaching them about you and about themselves.
So there are a few interesting ways to look at this:
- It's not about telling other people you're better than they are. It's about teaching people how you can serve them, and learning more about your talents along the way.
- It's not about trying to grab a larger piece of the pie. It's about making the pie bigger for everyone.
I believe that being female--or being a foreigner, or being Asian, or being young, or being a geek, or being Filipino, or being a person of many interests--doesn't put me at a significant disadvantage when it comes to what I do and who I want to be. I've worried about this before, and every so often I think about work-life balance and other topics. Yes, these things may make some possibilities harder than others, but there are still so many that would be a terrific fit. I see more opportunities than most people think about. I don't need to claw my way to the top and struggle with organizational politics so that I can enjoy a position of power. (Knowing me, I'd probably get bored along the way). I trust that I can find or shape a life where I'll be happy along the way, and as I grow in skill and understanding, people will help me find ways to help more and more people.
So what would I like to learn from this program on Taking the Stage?
- I'd like to meet other people interested in developing themselves and other people
- I'd like to develop a good vision of the kind of person (or kinds of people!) I'd like to grow to be, and learn a little more about growing
- I'd like to reflect on leadership, how I can grow, and how other people can grow