Category Archives: work

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The power of no: being completely* unhireable until 2017 (and possibly longer)

When I started this 5-year experiment, I didn’t know if I could stick with it. My track record for sticking with interests is not that good. I’m delighted to report that (semi-)retirement gets easier and easier. I am learning to say no.

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By coincidence, two of my mentors (who had moved on to separate companies after IBM) got in touch with me one after the other to find out if I was interested in some upcoming job opportunities. Good stuff. Right up my alley. Wonderful people.

I said no. Actually, I said something along the lines of: “Thank you for reaching out! That sounds fantastic. However, I am semi-retired and completely* unhireable until 2017 (or possibly later), so I’ll just have to wish you good luck on your search. I’m sure you’ll find someone awesome out there. If I think of returning to work, I will be sure to reach out to you right away. Thanks again!”

*If a significant financial need comes up, I have no qualms about suspending this experiment and returning to the wonderful world of work. I enjoyed working with excellent teams. I’d love to do it again. While I have the opportunity and privilege to work on things entirely of my choosing, though, I should do that. Not everyone can do so, and I shouldn’t waste the chance.

Learning how to say no is amazing. I used to feel guilty about this. I wanted to be in more than one place at a time. Then I realized that I am not a special snowflake and there are other awesome people out there who can make things happen. Sure, they might not bring my particular configuration of skills, but they’ll bring other useful combinations. This makes it easier for me to say no, because it leaves room for someone else to say yes.

Pre-making decisions helps a lot. When I was preparing for my experiment, I thought about the conditions in which I would stop or reconsider. If something happened to W-, I might go back to work. If our expenses didn’t stay in line with my projections, I might go back to work. If, if, if. If everything was going fine, though, then any qualms or anxieties would just be the product of my irrational lizard-brain trying to run back to the safety of the known, familiar, and explainable-at-cocktail-parties. (Not that I go to cocktail parties, and not that “I’m in consulting” was really an explanation. But it checked the right conversational boxes, while “I’m semi-retired” throws people for a loop.) Knowing my lizard-brain helps me work around it.

I often sketch out basic decisions in advance. It’s the programmer way. If this, then that. Check for warnings and errors. Handle exceptions. It means not having to worry as much, which is great. It means knowing when I might need to reconsider so that I’m not blindly following the same plan when circumstances change. In a way, I live through many possible lives.

It’s been a year and a half since I started my experiment with semi-retirement. My living expenses are almost exactly on track. My aspirations are definitely off track. I hadn’t expected to be this comfortable with writing and learning, and I’m excited about where this is going. This is good.

The road isn’t lonely at all. W- has been absolutely wonderful and supportive, and I’m running into more and more people on some kind of sabbatical or early retirement. The path is surprisingly well-travelled, the kind of secret trail that you might not hear about in your guidebook but which gets passed on from person to person in whispers and geocaches. I say no so that I can say yes.

Image credits: Crossroads (Mopic, Shutterstock)

Sketchnotes: Conversations About Social Business (Jennifer Okimoto, IBM)

Jennifer Okimoto spoke about social business at yesterday’s Canadian Women in Communications (CWC, @cwcafc) meetup in Toronto. Since she’s a friend, former colleague, and all-around awesome person, I just had to catch up with her while she was in town. I was amused to turn up in a couple of her stories. =) Here are my notes from her talk. Click on the image for a larger version.

20130917 Conversations About Social Business - Jennifer Okimoto

Feel free to share this! (Creative Commons Attribution License) Like these? Check out my other sketches for more. You can find out more about Jennifer Okimoto on Twitter (@jenokimoto) or LinkedIn.

For your convenience and ease of sharing, you can find this page at http://sach.ac/socbizjen .

Sketchnoter’s notes: I did these sketchnotes on paper because I didn’t have my tablet PC with me. I used a black Pilot V5 Hi-Tecpoint on a legal-sized sheet of paper. It turned out that my flatbed scanner can’t handle legal-sized sheets of paper and my margins were too small for the sheet-fed scanner, so I cut it in half (hooray for plenty of whitespace!), scanned the pieces, overlaid them in Autodesk Sketchbook Pro, erased the overlap, and desaturated the layer to get rid of the slight greenish cast. I added the blue colour by drawing a separate layer in “Add” mode. Since I drew in ink, I decided to leave the contrast as varying instead of redrawing everything digitally. Drawing on paper makes me miss working digitally (those nice, clean, confident lines!). <laugh> Next time!

Sketchnote: Managing Oneself (Peter Drucker)

Xiaoxiao asked me to sketchnote Managing Oneself, a classic article by Peter Drucker. Here are my notes. Click on the image for a larger version.

20130822 Managing Oneself - Peter Drucker

Please feel free to share this! (Creative Commons Attribution License)

In addition to sketching a visual summary, I thought I’d reflect on the points discussed in the article.

What are my strengths?

I’m happy, optimistic, appreciative, and resilient. I reflect a lot on what I do, how I do it, and why. I learn quickly, thanks to speed-reading and note-taking skills.  I know how to adapt to many of my characteristics, such as introversion and visual thinking. I’m comfortable with numbers, words, and drawings. I embrace deliberate practice and continuous improvement. I’m good at setting up little experiments, taking calculated risks, and finding ways to improve. I’m frugal and I’m decent at questioning assumptions. I work on being more rational and compensating for my biases, and I’m not intimidated by research.

Feedback analysis: I periodically review my decisions through scheduled decision reviews, blog archives, and other reflections. I’m good at breaking decisions down into smaller ones that I can try out or test. I can get better at involving other people in my decisions. I tend to discount things that are unscientific or that seem dodgy, but that hasn’t really gotten in my way. The main thing that gets in my way is my tendency to flit from interest to interest, although I’m dealing with that by learning how to create value in smaller chunks. I’m planning to improve my feedback analysis process by scheduling more decision reviews.

How do I work?

I learn primarily through reading, writing, and trying things out. I find it difficult to absorb information by listening to lectures or talking to other people. My preference for team or solo work depends on the project: for most development project, I prefer to work with at least one other person whose skill I respect, because I learn a lot more that way. I’m also comfortable working on my own. (I’m learning how to delegate, though.) I’m more comfortable making decisions than giving advice. I prefer some order and predictability in my daily schedule, but I minimize commitments. Routines give me a platform from which I can go wherever my interests take me. I enjoyed working in a large organization, but I’m also fine working on my own.

I know that it’s easier to make things happen if I adapt to my idiosyncrasies rather than wish I were someone else. I’m good at passing opportunities on to other people, and helping people see what might fit me.

What are my values?

I value learning and sharing as much as I can of what I learn with as many people as possible, which is why I prefer to share information for free instead of locking it down in order to earn more. I value equanimity rather than excess.

Where do I belong?

Where I am. (Yay!) This experiment is going well, and I’d like to continue it.

I know I worked well in large corporations too, and I think I’d get along with small ones. I definitely don’t belong outside my comfort zone (that time I had to do some Microsoft SQL Server admin? Yeah…) or in high-stress, high-travel, workaholic environments. (Which, fortunately, consulting wasn’t – at least for me.) I do better in situations where it’s okay to ask forgiveness instead of always asking for permission, and where 80% is okay instead of trying to get to 100% the first time around. I do well with some discretionary time to work on useful projects or help people outside my typical responsibilities.

What should I contribute?

I think people could use more examples of this sort of smaller-scale life, because it’ll help free people from assumptions about what they need or how much they have to sacrifice. I’d love to make it work and to share what I learn along the way.

I also care about helping people learn and think more effectively. Visual thinking is one way to do that, so I want to help people who have the inclination for it discover tools and techniques that they can use.

I care about learning in general, which includes learning about different topics and then creating resources or mapping concepts so that other people can learn them more easily.

Books, blog posts, drawings, presentations, and coaching are some ways I can make progress in these directions.

In addition to those five questions, Peter Drucker also gave these career tips:

Taking responsibility for relationships

One of the things I learned as a kid was that you can take responsibility for the way you interact with people and you can help them get better at interacting with you. (Yes, I was the kid reading Parenting Teenagers for Dummies and How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk.) At work, it was great explicitly discussing communication styles and motivational preferences with my managers, who helped me tweak things to play to my strengths.

The second half of your life

… why wait until your forties? Winking smile

I’m a big fan of having at least two good things on the go at any given time. I learned this as a software developer. That way, when you run into a setback or delay, you can always work on the other thing in order to keep yourself moving forward.

For me right now, there’s writing, drawing, and software. In the future, who knows?

How about you? What do you think about managing yourself?

Dealing with professional envy

One of the things that both rocks and sucks about the Internet is that it’s easy to find people who are better than you.

This is great because you’re surrounded by inspiration. It’s easier to figure out what “better” looks like when you can see it. You can try on other people’s styles to see if they fit you, and when you do that, you’ll learn more about your own.

Being surrounded by all these role models can be hard on your self-esteem and your determination. Not only are you surrounded by all these people who have spent decades into being amazing, you’re also getting overtaken by younguns who come out of nowhere.

Such is life. I could get caught up in it, or I could see it for the game that it is, step outside of thinking of it as a contest, and invent my own rules. I’ve gone through this before, and it gets easier and easier to choose a way to see life.

I’ve been learning about drawing in the process of cataloguing the sketchnotes that are out there. It’s difficult to imagine getting to be as good as the people I see, but I make myself remember that they started from somewhere. Besides, the alchemical combinations of life are what make things interesting. Maybe my technical background or my interests can open up other possibilities.

Envy is good as long as it’s useful. Self-doubt often tries to creep in, but the truth is that it’s optional.

Thinking about ways to help people who are in between

A number of people I know are in transition, looking for their next job. Some people are giving the independent lifestyle a try. What can I do to support people?

Let me break this question down in order to make it easier to think about.

What do I know? I know about building a reputation and growing your network by sharing what you know and what you’re learning online. Many people are curious about this, but don’t know where to start. I can help them start sharing. This isn’t something for immediate payoffs, but it’s a great professional habit. I also know the basics of consulting, and I can help people get started. I know about lots of books on career advice and entrepreneurship, too. I know Web development with Drupal, Rails, and WordPress, and I can help people learn. I know what it’s like to be an immigrant, and what it’s like to be introverted.

Who do I know? I know tech meetup organizers and participants in Toronto. I know enterprise social business consultants. I know mobile, web, and open source developers and designers. I know marketers. I know writers and bloggers. I know independent consultants, freelancers, and startup founders. I know sketchnote artists and illustrators. I know virtual assistants. I can help people with informational interviews, and I want to get even more organized in terms of keeping notes on what people want and what people can offer.

What do I have? I have sketches and notes from business and technology books, meetups, and products. I have a place where people can get together. I have a website where I can share ideas. I have a fledgling that’s doing well. I have blog posts from my business experience.

What can I do? I can keep in touch with people, especially those who feel suddenly cut off from their professional networks. I can help people get started in freelancing by coaching them, referring clients, and connecting them with people who have complementary skills. I can help people brainstorm ideas, stay motivated, and improve their communication. I can share what I’m learning from business. I can cheer them on as a friend.

Are people around you in between opportunities too? How can you help?

Sketchnotes: Dave Ley, Jen Nolan, Leo Marland and me at the University of Toronto Faculty of Information’s career panel

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(Click on the image for a larger version)

Kelly Lyons and Isidora Petrovic invited Dave Ley (CIBC), Jen Nolan (IBM), Leo Marland (IBM), and me (… figuring things out! also, formerly IBM…) for the March 12 career panel for the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Information students. People were curious about the job process. They wanted to know what managers were looking for when hiring, and how information graduates could differentiate themselves from people with more technical backgrounds. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I had lots of stuff to share about learning, sharing, working with passion, and getting hired even if you don’t have any actual work experience. It turns out a few people were interested in entrepreneurship too. Yay!

I’ve condensed some of the points from the discussion into this graphic, and the organizers say that the video will be up on YouTube sometime. =)