Tag Archives: origins

Momentum II: (Slowly) Getting It Back

8 Jan

The ideas in this pair of posts actually came from a happy place :).  Steve Kamb, who runs NerdFitness (motto: Level Up Your Life), wrote an great blog post in September called “The Mario Kart Guide to Momentum” (my favorite video game).

The gist of Steve’s point (as relevant to this blog) is that there is always stuff that is going to get in your way (usually a banana peel, bob-omb, or a red shell fired by a particularly nasty competitor).  Dodging obstacles is great.  But if you can’t dodge, the key is to accept that the obstacle is going to get you and minimize your loss of momentum.  If you slow down as the obstacle makes impact, it will send you tumbling a few times, but you’ll be able to get back up to speed pretty quickly.  But if you try to outrun the damn thing, the combined force of your top speed plus the impact can send you flying off the track.  Then you have to wait until a dude with a crane comes to pick you up before you can move at all.  And if you try to gun the accelerator as soon as you return to the track, the car twists back and forth and squeals, wasting more time.

There wasn’t a way to avoid taking such a hard hit, at least not one that I can see from here. (We’ll see in five years.)  And when I see my little brothers with their A+ careers and their devoted fiances, I wonder (horribly) whether life would be different if I’d gone for broke and had a meltdown, forcing someone else to take over.  But until then:

  1. Make a list of three tiny things to do every night. Do them.  There are days when I literally cannot get out of bed. (“On the internet, no one knows you’re bedridden” :P.)  I have hated myself so many times for failing to learn a programming language or tackle a major project, or having to pull out of a commitment at the last minute because my body will not function.  There is no advantage to this kind of self-hatred: it’s demotivating, and it bleeds into the following day.  Now, I pick three tiny things: maybe a phone call, a Tweet, and printing a 5-page article to read.  Write them on a Post-It and put it and all those materials next to my bed.  I cross them off over the day, and anything else feels like gravy.
  2. Laugh. Or watch things that used to make you laugh.  Not happy or pretty or cute things necessarily.  I don’t think they engage your brain deeply enough to make an impact on a rut.  You may not be laugh.  But anything that cues a laugh memory is helpful (for me, that’s old episodes of “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”).

Hopefully there will be more in the future, and a third post on explaining this stuff to your employer in a way that doesn’t sound whiny.  I suspect there’s something to be said for the fact that from a complete stop, it’s easier to change direction without crashing into a wall.  But having just returned to the track, this is what I’ve got.

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Momentum I: Losses and Collateral Damage to Your Career

8 Jan

Today I want to talk about the place of momentum in building young careers.

There are a couple of tried-and-true methods for dealing with abrupt stops on your resume.  If you’re fired due to downsizing, you’re advised to fudge the dates to years (a job that ended in January 2012 becomes “2012”).  If you’re out for a long time due, particularly due to child-rearing, you’re supposed to populate that time period with activities that demonstrate transferable skills like leadership and management.  I have yet to see a post that tells you how to deal with the loss of momentum.

Four years ago, the s@#$ hit my own personal fan.  Within 12 months, I experienced (kid you not):

  • Death of a parent, close friend, to-be mother-in-law and two aunts, all prematurely,
  • Death of a grandparent from grief, and,
  • Exit of fiancee, who wanted to start fresh without baggage.

At that point, a background in classical drama became a blessing because, ye gods, Oedipus had it worse.

People understand grief: something like losing a parent is supposed to stop your heart for a while.  It’s stark, but clear.  We have well-wrought rituals for sending flowers and casseroles and eventually the person becomes okay.  What we don’t know how to handle is the collateral damage.

Because of all these losses, I

  • Moved home to take care of my father,
  • Ran the holidays and birthdays for younger sibs so that they could finish school,
  • Became the point person for lawyers, wills, and estates,
  • Turned in an incomplete thesis, dropping from summa to cum laude,
  • Got a low-stress, low-status job back in my hometown to be on hand in case there were additional complications, and,
  • Developed immune and emotional trauma disorders that messed up a few projects.

Looking at my resume from the last five years, it looks “fine”, just a little like “underperforming”.  But in a competitive industry, that’s damning with faint praise.  It reads like laziness.  People don’t believe that this sort of stuff happens to 24-year-olds, and most 24-year-olds for whom it does happen don’t end up with so much of the responsibility.

Next: how to offset the loss of momentum.

How Did I Get Here?

1 Dec

If you looked at “About Me”, you’ll see a pretty eclectic array of previous jobs.  Part of that’s a function of the fact that I started working at 16, and part of it’s a low-tolerance for boredom :).  But both of those feed into why I’ve decided now to train as a user experience designer.

When you start working at a young age, you don’t map out a career strategy.  Your mindset is to work as much as possible to build up a stash of capital, and to figure out the details of what you’re building towards later.  Similarly, I went through high school with a mind to excel at everything, because the goal was simply to get enough to get OUT on the way to the best possible college.  Keep your head down, read everything, and don’t get pregnant.  It always surprises me when I hear that people defined their current passions as kids.

Imagine the shock, coming from that mindset, when you actually hit college and have no idea what to do.  So I threw the net broadly (which is apparently another thing you’re not supposed to do if you want a job).  Instead of double-majoring, I took courses in 15 different departments and declared a major at the last possible second.  It was a toss-up between sociology and English.  It’s only in retrospect that I can see in both a fascination with studying the human experience.

So I fumbled around, unhappy, doing an M.A. in English lit and working at a special collections library.  And I finally started to think strategically about a career.  The academic job market started limping in the 1970s, and the recession knocked out any last plans to get a PhD for a tenured job.  But the library had a lot of subject-matter PhDs working as curators, so I looked towards a library school degree.  And in the research (research!) about digitization, human-computer interaction, and information architecture, I found the job of User Experience Designer.

Books and storytelling have been a constant in a scattered life.  According to the Holland Type test I’m an Artistic-Investigative type, but I’m not an artist.  User Experience Design has a strong footing in the Information Age (according to CNN), it’s new and interdisciplinary, and the speed at which it’s developing tends to cancel out boredom.  I don’t know – I always loved the Old West, that classic American idea of striking out into uncharted territory.  Unless you want to go to space, there aren’t too many places to do that in 2012.  We’ll see by the end of all this if I hit it rich or get bit by a rattlesnake :).