People Who Are Younger Than Me

And More Successful.

Sometimes you just need to wallow in self-misery. Let's blame Facebook!

Sarah. My friend just announced on facebook she has completed her MBA and is now working on her masters in Software Engineering. What the hell? She’s also married with two cute dogs and a nice husband and a really nice house. She has no student debt. How is this possible? This is a chick who spent the first year after college emailing me daily how much she hated her job and spent most afternoons googling how to become a nurse or stay at home mom. Now she’s somewhere in Middle Management, earning a lot of money and just being a badass. How did this happen? Where did I miss my opportunity?

Sam. Sam should be at least a decade older than me. Like Sarah, she has the nice husband and house. And the adultness only starts there - She and her husband are participating in marathons and training for triathalons. Having a friggin’ kid. And their house - it is such an adult house. Sure, it’s big. I mean, they’re both engineers. But more than that, it is nice. So well decorated. Everything looks like it came from a magazine. How do these people accomplish this before 30?

Randy. Randy went a very different direction than me - she got pregnant while in college and dropped out and became a nurse. Since then, she’s gotten married and had three more kids. I don’t understand how she can be the same age as me. First, her kids are adorable. Second, based solely on Facebook, she is the best mom ever. She’s always doing fun crafts with them, taking cute pictures. Her son likes to have his nails painted like his sisters. She’s even progressive! If I were ever become a mom, I would want to be one like that. How does she do all this and still be my age? I struggle to take care of my cat. I’m impressed that all four kids are alive, let alone adorable and well taken care of and happy.

Tim B. I recently interviewed this kid for an internship at my company. Neither my colleague nor I felt qualified to interview this guy. He created a non-profit when he was a sophomore in high school, that is still going. He worked at Intel and Stephen Hawking commented on his project. He was rejected from our school three times and kept re-applying. He studied hard once he got there - he said his college GPA was better than his high school. It’s an engineering school!

Jennifer Lawrence. She is three and a half years younger than me. She has an Oscar! And two more nominations! And while I don’t disagree that she is talented, no one should have won anything for Silver Linings Playlist. I mean, seriously. It was a glorified rom-com. But good job on the awards and the Hunger Games franchise.

Taylor Swift. She is three years younger than me. For years, I resisted her charms, thinking her stupid and her music lame. Then 1989 came out and I became a stan. Every one of her songs is now on my phone. I have a Taylor Swift Pandora station at work. It’s a sickness. But music aside, girl is damn good at business and public image. Her Tumblr, Instagram, and Twitter accounts are flawless and should be studied by all other celebrities attempting social media. She’s made being a cat lady (relatively) cool. She wears whatever she wants and does it well. She’s built an empire, knew what she wanted to do at the age of 14. And writes her own music! That wins Grammy's! Who can’t get behind that? She also has a very cute New York apartment with a closet full of very cute clothes and has cute friends and cute cats. It’s exhausting.

Keirnan Shipke. I am not going to look up her age because she’s probably at least a decade younger than me. Yet she still has at least twice the class and integrity. And she’s made Sally one of the most interesting characters on Mad Men. Can I be Keirnan when I grow up?

Jessica Williams.  I really like what she says the majority of the time and she manages not to make an ass of herself on twitter (*cough*trevornoah*cough*). Outside of The Daily Show, she has a few respectable parts, including a recurring character on a recent season of HBO’s GIRLS. But then I realized she was three years younger than me... This is crazy impressive. How did this happen? How did she accomplish this? She joined TDS when she was twenty-two, the youngest correspondent ever. And today, despite still being one of the younger correspondents, she is by far the best. Just look at her recent Beyonce defense!

Malala. She has a Nobel prize. She’s brilliant and passionate and has made the world a better place. I also primarily included her so this list wouldn’t just be friends from high school and celebrities...

Mark Zuckerberg. Okay, he is three years older than me. But what had he accomplished by my age? Literally everything. I’ve missed my chance to change the world and become super rich and have a David Fincher movie made out of my life. Also, this means he was younger than me when The Social Network came out. I rest my case. A fucking David Fincher movie! With Justin Timberlake!



Negative Nancies

This post is totally selfish (though, really, aren't they all?). Lately, I've had a negativity problem. At work, with friends, with family. It seems like negativity, primarily in the form of complaints, is everywhere. Maybe it's the season? But isn't it a little early for seasonal depression?

Negativity Monster

Negativity Monster

Source 1 - The Cat. If he isn't eating or sleeping, he's meowing. The only time he stops is to purr while I pet him. Come home from work and he's meowing, demanding attention. On weekday mornings, he's meowing as soon as he realizes I'm really getting up. Weekends are worse - he's meowing in my face and poking at me by seven, demanding I get out of bed and do something. Feed him? Nope that's full. Refresh littler box? Nope, that's fine. Is he in pain? Nope, just meowing.

Source 2 - Friends. It seems like some of my friendships revolve entirely around complaining. Complaining about work, complaining about other friends, complaining about family, complaining about boys. What is the point of our relationships? To make each other miserable? Oh, you're having a good day? Not after our chat over drinks after work!

Source 3 - Work colleagues. This is the big one. While I really like the majority of people I work with - and how important is that to job satisfaction - there are a couple of guys who just always have something to complain about, no matter the topic: Everyone else on the team is stupid. He isn't getting enough responsibility. Then he's getting too much responsibility. There's too much work or not enough. No job security or he's overloaded. There's never seems to be anything happy in anything. Even free food! He often complains about the food provided in meetings. And the free coffee the office provides. If there's free healthy food for something, he complains it isn't sweet or savory. If it's cake and soda, he's suddenly on a diet. But then you actually talk to him about we can improve the process, improve the team, he is out of solutions, just devolves to bitching about the current state of things. And maybe he doesn't want stuff fixed - he likes having something to complain about!

I have tried several approaches - being positive and finding that silver lining no matter what, ignoring the negative comments and just continuing with the conversation, being negative back and just adding to the shit pile, and finally, just saying 'oh that sucks'. None of it works. The positive attitude just makes the Negative Nancy find something else to bitch about. Ignoring the negativity just makes it pop back up later. Being negative in response just brings me down. Saying 'oh that sucks' somehow seems like an invitation to keep bitching to me, even if I am burying my nose in my computer screen and typing away.

So I need to admit to myself - Negative Nancies exist. They are assholes, their main form of communication is to bitch about something, usually something beyond their control. Friends, okay, I can manage them by minimizing the contact or changing the conversation. But those at work or the checkout at the grocery store or anyone else I am legally or socially required to interact with? I need to face the truth: These people exist and I have to know how to handle them in a way that doesn't give me an ulcer or make me pick up a bottle of wine on the way home.

So how?

The number one Google search is avoid them. Well, that is not always an option. Next?

This list provides what I have discovered to be common recommendations: don't engage, hang out in groups, switch topics, minimize time with the Nancies, try to make a positive change in his/her life, or drop them. These aren't necessarily super helpful for a workplace situation, since you are pretty much stuck with him/her, but it is useful for friends and acquaintances. It also includes this quote from Jim Rohn - you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with - that I like. A reason to be more mindful of those with which you spend your time!

Over at Life Hack, there are similar tips: avoid arguments, empathize with them, stick to the light topics, offer help, praise the person for the positive stuff, be responsible for your reactions, and, the ever popular, avoid them. The most helpful here, for me, is to own your response. Yes, Nancy is frustrating, but I'm the one that allows him to put me into a bad mood. I can own that, even if I can't manage his negativity. Just acknowledging that I have the power of my own reaction, I think, is helpful. 

WikiHow has some handy pictures to go along with its list: in the short term, provide support, don't engage, use positive questions, steer the conversation to happier topics, help the person improve the situation. For long term, identify the Negative Nancies, avoid lecturing to these people, act instead of react, point out the positives, hang out in groups, take responsibility for your own happiness, evaluate the person's role in your life. And of course - avoid the person. Mostly reiterations of the Life Hack and Zen lists.

Psychology Today gets into the 'why'. As in, why are people so negative? In those Negative Nancies around me, I definitely see a lot of external blame. People feel they aren't respected enough, aren't valued enough. Everything is someone else's fault.

As for dealing with them, Psychology Today offers a few non-starters - talking it out with the person (which will only lead to more negativity as no one likes critical feedback), providing them the love and respect they need (which may lead to a larger need for love and respect and therefore more negativity and a larger tax on you), or finding a third person to engage in discussion. The latter is not happening. I don't think I can drag a co-worker to couples counseling.

Instead, more realistically, Psychology Today suggests showing compassion but protecting your own happiness and attitude. Minimizing the time with them if possible. Adopingt a mostly positive attitude around these individuals. The final and biggest act - be a mature and well-rounded person. Don't get negativite because of their negativity - isn't that ironic? Instead, take ownership of your emotions and attitude. Be secure and act like someone who is loved and respected. Your productivity shouldn't be impacted by their assholeness. Finally, realize that other's negativity's impact on you suggest you also have negativity and aren't fully secure in your emotions. Thanks Psychology Today for making me feel like shit, too.

Also, handy tip, these people are sometimes called energy vampires. Personally, I prefer Negative Nancy - I like alliteration and do not like Twilight.

For me, I feel that I have tried to minimize contact and change the subject. I even set one guy up with his current girlfriend! However, I will continue to try these things but add a few new ones based on today's research - groups (aka, pull in a nearby colleague) and occasional praise. The biggest one is going to be self evaluation. Is there personal negativity I need to deal with? How can I take ownership of my response to negativity? I would like to really focus on this for about a month and then report back. If it doesn't work, I'll be moving to Germany and can re-evaluate with those colleagues! 

An interesting take on this research though - don't be negative. Because all of these articles said the same thing in the end - avoid this person, this 'energy vampire'. Is this person really important in your life? Can you afford ditching them? So don't be a Negative Nancy or everyone will avoid you!

So that's the people. The Cat is just an asshole, no suggestions there, but look how cute!

Definitely cuter while asleep.

Definitely cuter while asleep.

Career Yoga

I recently attended a panel hosted by a women's leadership group. The topic was stretch assignments and how to expand your skill set. Luckily, I've already got my next career assignment identified: A year in Germany! Starting in January, I will be working at our RnD site in Deutschland. I'm excited but my German is still really, really bad. Sehr schlecht!

Ich bin in Deutschland!

Ich bin in Deutschland!

While I'm not sure how successfully the panel stayed on topic, there are a few things I wanted to comment on and keep in mind for future motivations. For when I'm super excited and ready to 'lean in' or ready to give up and start looking into gold digging as a career.

One panelist: "As long as you're doing it." Her point being that failure is expected and perfection isn't going to happen, especially early in you career. But you aren't going to get any better if you hide in your cubicle or doodle on your note pad in meetings. Get out there. Do it.

Another woman was very blunt and forward about why she started her career - to earn money. She got the degree that she did because it earned more money. She started with the job that she did because of money. She made her first job change to get a pay increase. But that mentality didn't last long. Soon, helping people and providing meaningful work and learning new things, that took charge. But given that she was a panelist and her job title, she's probably not living in a cardboard box today. I can certainly empathize - part of the reason I got an engineering degree was because I knew it would end up in a decent-paying job and wouldn't require an extra decade of school. But now that I'm actually working and putting a huge chunk of my time and effort into this job, this career, money is less and less of a motivator. Sure, I need to be able to pay all my bills and I can't live off ramen. But I also need more out of my job and with each new challenge I'm learning more and more what job satisfaction looks like for me.

Another way to think of and ensure job satisfaction - think of the energy. Where is it going, where is it coming from? For me, I don't get energetic sitting in front of my laptop in my cube. I get excited about new ideas and discussions with team mates. That powers me to get work done at my desk. And where does my energy go? Where am I exhausted. The work should be energizing rather than draining. Sure, there's grunt work or busy work in any role but a career needs a balance.

Recently, Forbes released their 100 Most Powerful Women list. And once again, IBM's CEO, Ginni Rometty was high on it. During the panel a quote of hers came up: "Comfort and growth don't co exist." 

As new assignments and roles change your point of view, be cognizant of it - goals change. Find things to strengthen those competencies. There were three women on the panel, all in their forties or fifties. All leading full careers in impressive positions. And none of them predicted they would be anywhere near where they are today. So those people who have their whole life mapped out or demand to know where you are in ten years? Screw 'em. Understand your competencies and interests as they develop and follow them.

The panelists at one point mentioned the three C's but then threw out a bunch of words starting with C: clarity, competence, courage, communication, connections. I've found PIE to be much more useful - Performance, Image, Exposure. When ensuring you have a well-rounded career and are ready to move forward, these three things need to be addressed, whether it's in getting the next job or a promotion or even just taking on a new task in your current position. Performance is a gimme. You have to be able to do your job. Expect everyone else in your position can as well. Image. What is your reputation? What does your image project? This isn't just what you're wearing but any way you present yourself, from personal hygiene to communication styles. The biggie though is Exposure. Who knows your name? Who can you work with to make sure you have that opportunity for the stretch assignment or who could suggest you for that upcoming position? As you go from P to E, you have significantly less control over each element, so it's important to manage what you can and take advantage of those opportunities to interact with different people in the organization and take leadership roles.

From one panelist - Everyone fails - it's a learning opportunity! It's only failure if you don't use that as an opportunity to improve. Own the failure and learn from it. If someone faults you and rubs your nose in it, that's their problem, not yours. Your failure is manageable. You didn't cause global warming or kill the dinosaurs. It's just this one thing, this one instance. Not the whole universe.

More advice: Try to have an area where you don't measure your performance. Some place in your life that is calm and relaxing and fun and just is. To quote that Mel Gibson movie - just sports, not games. Like running. Or kitting or painting - I suck but I enjoy it. I'm never going to win a marathon or find my stuff in a museum, but it is relaxing. And the running necessary to balance out the wine. It's just fun.

Advice from one panel member: Think about who you want to be like. Find things to try on. Connect with those who resonate with you. It doesn't have to be someone above you. Peers or even people with less experience can still provide insight or a new perspective. I like the idea of trying new things as you go throughout your career. And I absolutely find myself doing it, whether it's something small, like a way to word a request in an email that I pick up from a colleague whose phrasing I found especially effective. Or picking up a way to control an unruly meeting from my manager or even a leadership style from my mentor. Sure, you may need to adapt it to fit you or disregard it completely if it's not a good fit, but there are ideas all around.

The panel was agreed and blunt about work life balance - it's bullshit. There are times when you really need to focus on work and others when you really need to focus on personal stuff. Overall there might be a balance, but mostly it ebbs and flows. According to Forbes, Millennials are focusing more on work life integration rather than work life balance. Here's another article on the death of work life balance and the birth of work life integration. Honestly, this might be a topic for another post, but my colleagues and I have been practicing work life integration more and more without realizing it. Two years ago, my company put a gym on campus. My colleagues and I now go there whenever - between meetings, lunch breaks. And work hours really have stopped meaning much. Sure, we need to be around for meetings, but even then, a good chunk of our meetings are online conferencing as the team is global, meaning you can be at your desk or at home. As I work more and more with my German colleagues, I find myself getting up at five for a meeting in my pajamas on my couch, then going back to bed for another hour. It's not uncommon for me to take an hour in the afternoon to do personal things, then get back to work after dinner. This makes sense for me; I've found I'm most productive in the morning and the evening. I don't have kids at home to bug me at night and my cat loves helping me work. It's not nine to five any more, especially when you're on a global team and time itself is almost irrelevant.

The Cat, helping me out at my home office, the Couch.

The Cat, helping me out at my home office, the Couch.

Periodically, self evaluate. Both at home and work - Is what you're doing useful, either to yourself or others. Is it bringing you joy? Sure, not everything is happy go lucky all the time. For work, is what I'm doing useful? Sure, I'm helping design medical devices that help people manage their disease! My specific role helps the design and development go smoothly and gains agreement from the team on device functionality. That's useful! Does it bring me joy? Honestly, yes. Of course I would rather stay at home and sleep or watch Friends all day. But I enjoy the satisfaction of seeing a thing I helped build in development, knowing that it really is helping someone rather than just making some shareholders rich. I also enjoy (most of) the daily work - having important discussions on the future of our group, providing meaningful input and training to team members, leading my team through analysis and decisions. So I think I am safe to keep going down this path, career-wise. As for home, I knit, paint, read, and write this blog. I've been knitting for a few years and I honestly don't much any more unless it's making something for someone else. And right now family and friends have all the scarves and head bands they need. I've stopped painting for the same reason - my walls are full and the Etsy shop is closed. Reading, however, keeps me sane. I guess I learn something? And I love it. This blog though.... It's only been up for three weeks but it's definitely a stretch for me. I'm trying to keep these posts from veering into journals or stream of conscious stuff, which is what I usually write. I'm sharing something that I hope is useful to whoever reads it, even if that's just my mom and the few friends I've shared this site with. And I'm making something. I'm not wasting my time online entirely - I've got articles to show for it! I'm enjoying finding my voice, finding stuff I want to talk about.

So there it is - all the advice I picked up from a one hour panel from women in the healthcare industry. I don't know how all of it applies to stretch assignment, but still useful.