Defining my career values

If you’re thinking about changing careers, or want guidance in determining whether your career is right for you, I hope this post can help you! It’s all about how I defined my career values and reframed how I thought about my career and my future.

Why I needed to define my career values

A couple years ago I was comfortable in my position at work. After four years in my career, surrounded by talk of the importance of having a growth mindset, I thought maybe I was too comfortable. As a technical writer, I was contributing to product management conversations, and thinking intensely about customer needs, and realized I wanted to be even more involved in what we were choosing to build. I took a training course, and found a job on the product management team in my company that appealed to my interests. 11 months later, I went back to documentation, after realizing that that pathway better suited my career values. Throughout those 11 months and in the time since, I’ve worked to determine what I really want to get out of my career, and make sure that what I am doing fits those values.

Ask myself some questions

I started by asking myself some questions, common ones that people recommend when you’re thinking about making a job change. I found that I was better able to answer these questions after I’d already made a job change, likely because I didn’t have that much work experience before making the career change. I asked myself the following questions:

  • What makes me excited to go into work?
  • What makes me dread going into work?
  • What helps me feel validated or appreciated at work?
    • Working with others? Contributing in meetings? Reporting project status on a regular basis?
  • What is my working style when working with others?
    • Do I prefer collaborative, consultative, or independent work?
  • What do I like producing when I’m at work?
    • Ideas, or tangible things? Concrete concepts or future-oriented concepts?
  • Do I prefer hands-on management, consultative management, or completely hands-off management?

After changing roles, I realized that many parts of my technical writing position, and the way that my team and my duties were structured, were very well suited to my working styles. However, since I hadn’t had much experience with other types of work, I hadn’t identified them as vital to my work. Switching positions forced me to reexamine what parts of a role were vital to my happiness at work, and in what way.

Find strategies that have worked for others

I found several strategies that worked for others by listening to some You 2.0 episodes from the Hidden Brain podcast.

I realized there were options to transform a job I was already in by finding more enjoyable aspects within it by listening to the You 2.0 Dream Jobs and You 2.0 How to Build a Better Job podcast episodes of Hidden Brain. The dream jobs episode helped me consider whether I was looking for too much meaning and validation within my job, and if I needed to separate those pursuits more. The how to build a better job helped me consider what I could shift within my day-to-day job in terms of focus or duties so that I could enjoy it as well.

I also looked beyond work-specific strategies. The episode You 2.0: How Silicon Valley Can Help You Get Unstuck taught me perhaps my favorite tidbit, which is to apply iterative methodologies to your life. Yes it’s kitschy, but one example he mentioned resonated deeply with me: the notion of creating multiple five year plans. Whenever I’d previously considered how my future might look, it was easy to get stressed about the fact that I have one future available to me and ~ people ~ expect me to have a plan for it. But this philosophy helped me realize that I can have multiple plans for it, and test them out.

I put together several five year plans to speculate about where I spend my time and how my life  might look if I stayed pursuing product management roles, or how it might look if I was doing tech writing for those years, as well as what it might look like if I took a different role entirely, moved cities, or even moved countries. This helped me consider what types of futures excited me, and position my work priorities alongside my overall life priorities. They aren’t separate, and I wanted to be sure that I didn’t consider them separately. I also realized that this exercise wasn’t about making these plans and then choosing one of them, but rather choosing the elements of each of the plans that made sense to me and got me excited about the future. I plan to revisit this exercise and continue to evaluate the spectrum of futures available to me.

The episode You 2.0: Decide Already! interviewed Dan Gilbert, the author of the excellent book Stumbling on Happiness. Both the episode and the book helped me consider the ways that being anxious about the future and planning for it and attempting to reduce uncertainty about it wasn’t necessarily making me feel better about it—and might actually be making me feel worse. So despite creating some five year plans, allowing room and flexibility in those plans, and welcoming uncertainty in my work and life is also crucial.

Take a values-centered approach

In my personal life I was working on developing and defining my personal values, using a card-sorting exercise similar to this one from the Urban Indian Health Institute. Defining my personal values, and understanding them as a way to assess whether or not my goals and day-to-day tasks were fulfilling or not, turned out to be vital. I attempted to apply a similar framework to my work goals and fulfillment as well, and identify one or more overarching themes that I could associate with my career.

Putting all the strategies together to define career values

After assessing the structure of work that I thrive and find validation in, I was better able to understand what I found fulfilling about a career, and what I could look for in future roles to find fulfillment and the right kind of comfort. A work environment with clear expectations and measurable, tangible results, was vital. A team that I could collaborate with and draw support from, while also working semi-independently, was also important to me.

After creating multiple five year plans, I was able to realize that a career path more similar to the one I had as a technical writer was more valuable to me than one that was closer to product management, where I’d be busier and spending more time and stress on work than on my personal life. In addition, by engaging with the technical writer community, I realized that the futures available to me with a technical writing career were more broad, varied, and flexible than I’d previously realized. I didn’t need the power and recognition within a company that a product management position might offer me, because that power and recognition would also come with added responsibilities, time commitments, and stressful challenges.

I attempted to reverse-engineer my career values based on these experiences and my personal values exercise. I ultimately centered on a core career value of “Information Conveyance”. What this means to me is that if I spend my time at work learning and sharing information with others, I will likely feel fulfilled and be excited to go to work. Defining this as a career value allowed me to move past specific roles and titles, because multiple career paths can help me support this value. Right now I love technical writing, but other functions like communication strategy, developer advocacy, community management, instructional designer, and others align with this value and are available to me as other potential career paths.

Not sober curious, just sober

An article covering the “Sober Curious Movement” was published in the Chicago Tribune a few weeks ago. My brother shared it with me, and I’m still thinking about it. The article discusses a “sober curious” movement in America and interviews a number of people in Chicago that have chosen to quit drinking. Apparently because they quit drinking for different reasons than alcoholism or binge drinking, they are “sober curious” instead of simply “sober”. (It’s a book too).

My brother sent it to me because I don’t drink either, which can feel like an oddity in your twenties. I quit drinking at concerts when I was 22, after I went to a concert, had one drink, and ended up fainting in between the opener and the headliner. Thinking it was just a fluke of that night, I tried again at another show a few months later, and spent the headlining set sitting down in the back of the venue to avoid fainting a second time. After that I realized that it wasn’t worth it, and never drank at a concert again.

It took longer for me to quit drinking overall, and I’d make exceptions at time for special occasions when it just felt too awkward to not drink—weddings, parties, first dates—but after awhile I decided to stop making the exceptions. It was part personal challenge, and part health-conscious decision. My body had never responded well to alcohol, what with lightheadedness or nausea following anything more than a couple drinks. By the time I was 22 I had a short list of “okay alcohols” and quantities, and by the time I was 26 I’d grown tired of bothering.

My life had shifted to involve fun activities beyond drinking, and my friends weren’t drinking-focused either. I’d be going to concerts or to the gym/the soccer pitch every other day, and drinking just didn’t fit anywhere. I’d spent time in college not drinking at various parties, where I knew I had to be fresh for studying the next day, so I knew I could still have fun without drinking. Choosing to quit drinking overall felt like a natural progression.

So where does that leave me now, and why am I still so peeved at that article? For one, it only quotes women. I like to see women quoted by journalists, but by only quoting women, the choice to be sober felt somewhat trivialized. In addition, the women’s comments were contextualized with talk of mindfulness and yoga, as though this is a choice being made by a particular type and class of woman, and no others. It also perpetuates the notion that having fun without drinking is some strange novelty. There are a lot of people out there that have fun without drinking. Indeed, as one of the women in the article points out—it’s a challenge to your confidence to go out and be all of yourself, without alcohol. But it can be that much more invigorating in that way. You get to challenge your social anxiety and actively build confidence, rather than relying on alcohol and wondering if you can talk to strangers without it at all.

I think there’s also harm in talking about sobriety distinct from alcoholism. A lot of quitting drinking is about realizing that you don’t like who you are when you drink (or after you drink). The recent essay about the Joe Beef restaurateurs makes this clear. Some people have the lifestyles, genetic predisposition, or experienced traumas that escalate their alcohol consumption to recognizable alcoholism. Others have a dependence on it that they dislike, even if others don’t see it as an issue (as one of the women interviewed in the Chicago Tribune article mentions). It’s more than okay to share that common understanding, rather than separate ourselves into different groups, “the sober curious” and “the fully sober due to addiction”. That’s harmful. Indeed, the sober curious meetup in Chicago also includes “young women in recovery”. They get it.

Often, quitting drinking feels like a social choice more than a personal choice. It feels that way largely due to the fact that there often aren’t that many sober social activities out there. It’s hard to stay out late with friends sober when the only places open late are bars. It’s harder to choose yourself over alcohol, when it can often mean isolating yourself from friends. So while I struggle with the rhetoric and the patronizing presentation of the “sober curious” movement, I absolutely support it as an overall societal direction. Here’s to more late-night diners, pastry places like Mission Pie, and sober pop-ups like Brillig Dry Bar that help us sober people stay up late and out with friends.

Rediscovering Me and Moving Forward

After a breakup, how do you rediscover the activities that you enjoy and make you you?

if someone
does not want me
it is not the end of the world.
but
if i do not want me
the world is nothing but endings.
nayyirah waheed

For myself, I spent several years in a relationship where I slowly let my own needs, wants, and desires be subsumed by those of my partner’s, and what I anticipated to be his needs, wants, and desires of me. Explicitly and implicitly, I lost myself in becoming who (I thought) he wanted me to be. After we broke up I was left with a profoundly distant sense of self. The last time I’d felt truly myself I was living at home (and that wasn’t a strong confident self). I was nothing like the person I became… or was I?

What followed has been an attempt to rediscover a sense of self and a sense of strength. I retried things I’d enjoyed with my partner in different contexts, and with different people (alone or with new friends), to derive new meaning. I needed to know if I truly enjoyed these activities or if I was only doing them because of him.

Something simple like making a bucket list helped me make real what I care about. Why would I want to go to one place instead of another? What sorts of things do I want to put on my list, activity and location-wise? How do I prioritize myself enough to get to go to those places and do those things? This also helps me tap into the sense of freedom and unpredictability in life, but in an ordered way (because that’s how I roll) that helps me discover my “true self”.

A bucket list also helped me think through shared goals, hopes, or dreams. How can I let go of a dream, or hold onto it, knowing that they might still hold that dream too? How can I travel to certain places without being reminded of them and a future I thought we’d share? How can I separate my dreams from those that we shared, created and dreamed together? Maybe I can’t. But that doesn’t mean I have to give them up. I can assess them, and see if I want to keep those goals, hopes, and dreams in my new life.

I worked to find comfort and strength in art and poetry. I asked a friend of mine for some poems about “living your best life”. I wanted some spiritual salve to learn how to remake myself after the relationship ended. She sent me poems like “My Dead Friends” by Marie Howe, “What the Living Do” by Marie Howe, and “The Journey” by Mary Oliver. I went to art museums, lingering amidst the modern art from Germany, a longtime favorite.

I also revisited things from before we started dating. I had to test things that I once cared about (to see if they still mattered to me). I’d neglected them or moved on from them or never gave myself the chance to fully commit to them. For me that was things like climbing, and going to concerts, or out dancing. I’ll attend my 100th show next month, and I recently got back from the Flash Foxy women’s climbing festival. I found myself again in the familiar experiences of going to shows, and in the community of climbing.

The crux of this process has been learning to feel like myself and like I know myself again.

 

Moving Forward

With a stronger sense of self, I’ve started dating again. This is hard. (All things involving people are hard). This has led me to think a lot about what makes people compatible, and what qualities are important and which ones cannot be compromised on.

I saw author Kim Culbertson speak at a panel at the Bay Area Book Festival, and she said “Lots of people are uncomfortable when they hold themselves up to another person and the edges don’t match.”

That’s a lot of what dating feels like (that’s a lot of what talking to other humans feels like, honestly). One inclination to ease that discomfort is to disengage—this person is different from me, so I won’t talk to them (or share much of myself with them), or befriend or date them. Another way to ease that discomfort is to soften my own edges so that the mismatched edges are less apparent. And that’s where this essay comes in.

I had to re-sharpen the edges that make me me. Now I’m working to remind myself not to soften my own edges, but instead work to find a way to appreciate mismatched edges. I don’t need to find a person that perfectly interlocks with the edges of myself to find joy, happiness, intrigue, and personal growth. I do need to find someone that appreciates my edges (and whose edges I can appreciate).

With that in mind, what does it mean to be compatible with someone? Is it the mutual appreciation of edges, or something else? I think there are various levels of it.

  • The surface level compatibility that provides the initial intrigue—you find each other attractive, there is some chemistry, you started talking about a shared interest.
  • A deeper level compatibility when you share interests or passions. It’s easy when someone shares my music taste, or shares my appreciation for music. It’s harder to appreciate the edges of someone who doesn’t like music as much as I do.
  • The more fundamental, deep levels of compatibility reveal themselves as you get to know someone. You start to learn whether or not your communication styles complement each other or conflict with each other. Maybe you each communicate feelings differently, or miss each other’s “love language” signals. Maybe you want to discuss deep, introspective, existential questions over lunch, and your partner just wants to eat.

The edges of the people I meet and date won’t match up with me perfectly, but part of knowing where my edges are is knowing which edges of mine need to line up with those of someone else, and which ones can be different. (I’m still learning this, and I probably always will be).

That knowledge can help me keep my edges intact as I get to know someone. There is a distinct difference between learning to appreciate or respect the interests and passions of someone else and adopting those interests and passions wholesale for myself. I’m trying them out to see what they’re like. As I experience the interests and passions of others, I might be adding new facets to my edges.

But I’m also learning that it’s okay not to share the same interests and passions as the person I’m dating. It’s enough to appreciate that they have those interests and passions. As a perfectionist, I often try to not just to be perfect, but to be perfect for someone. So I have to take a step back (often) and remind myself that other people are flawed, that I’m also flawed, and that not everyone will appreciate raisins in baked goods, or disco music, or staying up late. And that’s okay.

We’re all human, we all have edges. Keep yours sharp, and admire those of others.

Best of 2017: Books

The best books I read this year, loosely categorized.

Favorite Book

Uproot: Travels in 21st-Century Music and Digital Culture

Fantastic. Jace Clayton has an unnervingly well-placed finger on the pulse of modern music culture, in a way that makes you feel out-of-touch no matter how much music you listen to. I feel like I understand the music industry, global commerce, music-making, and people around the world better after reading this book. It blends together all those aspects and manages to be writing about music without making you miss the music (but the website for the book has playlists, just in case you do). A personal non-fiction book, a style I turn out to like quite a bit (Word by Word has a similar style).

Beyond Historical Fiction

The Atlas of Forgotten Places

A book picked up at the library on a whim turned out to be one of my favorite books of the year. Tying history with stories of personal struggle and tragedy, this doesn’t tie up neatly and doesn’t come across as try-hard either. A reminder of reality in a novel.

The Nightingale

This story follows two sisters in World War II through their wartime decisions and the present-day. Not quite as brilliant as “All The Light We Cannot See” but just as moving.

Manhattan Beach

Egan’s research shows in the vividness of the storytelling and the mental imagery constructed. You can feel the weight of the decisions made by the characters and their physical burdens in the novel.

The Three-Body Problem

I didn’t manage to finish the trilogy, but this novel stunningly takes the prospect of alien contact and puts it in context of Communist China, with some perspective from competing American, and Russian global interests too. Reading it the same year as Arrival (Stories of Your Life and Others) leads to echoes of similar themes, but the approach is so vastly different that I only thought of the comparison in writing this, not in reading the novel. This book is solidly sci-fi, but the role of history seemed so relevant to the story that I’m categorizing it here.

The Japanese Lover

The first I’ve read by Isabel Allende, and a love story hidden inside a story about the Japanese internment during World War II and the havoc it wreaked on families, alongside the present-day immigrant experience in the United States.

Pleasant Feel-Good Discoveries

The Hating Game

A brand new author on the romance novel scene wrote this and it is delightful. Doesn’t rely over-much on existing romance novel tropes, and manages to be well-written even while you’re rolling your eyes occasionally. Depicts the internal struggle that prevents many of us from believing something is real all too well.

The Royal We

This may be loosely Kate and William fanfic, but I. Am. Here. For. This. It made the rounds at book swap this year and I maintain that it took the classic trope of “ordinary person meets royal but doesn’t know they’re royal” and makes it unexpected and a delight.

Morgan Matson novels

The Sarah Dessen novels of a new age, with less tragic character backstories. Enjoyable discoveries for this year, and I’m looking forward to her next one due out next year.

Eligible

Curtis Sittenfeld is a delight. I didn’t realize this was a Pride and Prejudice rewrite until the end, and that made me like it more. An enjoyable read that helps you realize just how much of modern romance fiction is based on the tropes (first?) established in Pride and Prejudice.

Proper Literature or Vague Classics

The Unwomanly Face of War

This was devastating. A vivid window into the reality and the legacy of women who fought for or worked for the Soviet Union in World War II, her work manages to be both a record of history and an critical eye cast toward the Soviet government. Just as unrelenting as Voices of Chernobyl. I am inclined to seek out all of her work.

Stories of Your Life and Others

The first eight stories were great. Skip the rest of the collection. Perfect for the overly-analytical people that try to analyze rather than experience their emotions. The film Arrival was based on one of these stories.

On Immunity

A beautiful book of personal essays interwoven with research. Brings the human back to science and medicine. Also swapping this book at book swap led to my first encounter with “the first page” and my friends’ desire to have me read the first page of books aloud for a podcast.

Snow Crash

Finally read this novel and it has stayed vividly with me over the past few months since reading it. A clear precursor to so many novels that followed it, and a great reminder that what is online is never truly only online.

Fantasy

Graceling Realm series

Court of Thorns and Roses series

Six of Crows duology

I grouped these three series together because they handled in varying degrees:

  • Mind control and/or a race of superpowered/magical people
  • Romance (from hints at beginnings of love, to explicit seduction)
  • Warring states and the steps that those embroiled among them must take to win power
  • Redemption of the self in the face of personal insecurities

The Graceling series was the best of these three, I’d wager. I read the third and the second books in the wrong order on accident, and might prefer that order instead of the intended order. That could be because I’m a less attentive reader than some.

For a focus on heist and revenge adventures, read the Six of Crows duology. Not much of a romance thread through these books, it focuses more on coming of age and learning what matters.

For the most romance, make it through the near-insufferable first book of the Court of Thorns and Roses series and follow it through to the end of the third book (then reconsider rereading the first book). The next few books that aren’t out yet are spinoffs, so if you, like me, have a rule about not starting series before they end, never fear. This series has the most similar tropes to the Graceling series, so consider reading them far apart.

Homemade Döner Kebab

Earlier this summer I vacationed in Germany and Switzerland. This was my third time in Germany, and my absolute favorite thing to eat there is Döner Kebab — a Turkish-German fast food that is flat bread, shaved lamb/turkey/chicken from a vertical spit, lettuce, tomato, onion, sometimes red or white cabbage, and a white sauce, and sometimes with a spicy red sauce or just red pepper flakes on top.

It. Is. Delicious. And you can pretend it’s healthy, since there are vegetables in it and the meat is cooking vertically, so much of the fat roasts out. I set out today to make my own version. I had to collect recipes from all over the place, so none of these recipes are mine (but I have linked to their sources).

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