It doesn’t matter what kind of organization you work at; there will always be some level of hierarchy, and that’s just life. In the tech industry, where people are always talking endlessly about being more egalitarian and democratic, a truly “flat” organization is a fantasy. You need leaders, decision makers who can be high level and set company goals. You also need people who are focused on the executional aspects of the business. You can’t have everyone do everything and have everything be a vote.
I was discussing with my manager today that I am about halfway done reading Radical Candor, and it’s been a really good read for me; it’s probably one of my favorite career books I’ve read thus far. I’ve been thinking about it constantly the last two weeks in terms of everything: my last ten years of work experience, particularly how awful the last company and job were. It’s made me think about how to be more direct in my communication style at work without coming across as an asshole.
My manager asked me a question today about the term “boss” vs. “manager” in light of this book. Kim Scott uses the word “boss” a lot. What do I think about these terms? I personally hate both. “Boss” feels very hierarchical, yet to my earlier point, hierarchy must exist at any organization whether we like it or not. But where the term “boss” doesn’t sit well with me is if someone says they can just make decisions simply because she’s “the boss,” and not provide data to back up that decision. “Manager” also feels shallow to me. It feels very tactical — you “manage” others’ workloads, their day to day. There’s nothing in that word that indicates that a lot of your job requires building a relationship with your direct reports, understanding what their goals are, and knowing them as people. There’s an absence of empathy in there. Both terms completely fail.
Maybe we should be creating new words to replace these to be more effective. Or maybe there’s too much focus on the language and the politics at work, and none of us will ever reach optimal effectiveness.
Today was International Women’s Day, where people around the world are celebrating the progress that we’ve made for gender equality…. at least, some of us are. It’s disheartening to know that there are still countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan where people believe that women shouldn’t even have a basic skill such as knowing how to read.
To celebrate the day, our office manager ordered afternoon-tea style foods from Bosie Tea Parlor in the city, complete with a tiered tea cake stand, tea pot, and cups with special tea bags. After my morning meetings off-site, I arrived at the office to see this setup, and it was completely untouched. No one was eating it.
“How come no one has touched the afternoon tea food?” I asked aloud.
A male colleague looked up from his computer and had an awkward smile on his face. “I kind of wanted to, but I didn’t feel I should be the one to touch it first.”
“Is it because you’re a man?” I responded pointedly. “You know, International Women’s Day isn’t just for women. It’s for people around the world who believe in gender equality and want the best for the women in their lives. That applies to you, doesn’t it?”
He looked even more awkward after that and continued working.
It’s already March, and yet we’re still getting snow. Yesterday, the neurotics of the Northeast all had their hands up in the air because of yet another “Nor’easter” that was scheduled to descend upon us today. I wasn’t super excited to hear this given this would result in a number of rescheduled customer onsite meetings for me, but I guess it’s a day to relish working from home on my couch, wrapped up in a blanket and drinking my hot loose leaf tea. Throughout the day, I peered out the window to see a mix of rain and snow, massive snowflakes and teeny tiny ones, sometimes delicately falling and other times flying furiously with the wind.
I had a moment where I realized exactly how lucky I am. My friend who works at Trader Joe’s texted me to ask if I was warm and cozy working from home in my apartment, to which I answered… yes, I actually am. In her job, she obviously doesn’t have the option or luxury of working from home, so she had to drag herself out of her Brooklyn apartment into Manhattan regardless of the weather conditions. I always had a choice of whether to go to the office or not. I decided to stay in and wear my pajama bottoms all day.
I know I’m very privileged. I have so many things and experiences that others probably don’t even dream of having. But I do try really hard to be mindful about it. I feel very grateful every single day to have what I have. Gratitude is everything, even if just for the little things.
What is it about moving to a new place and settling in that makes us constantly compare it to home? What is it that makes us always nostalgic and think how much better home is than the current place we now call home? I don’t actually do this because I think it’s stupid, and at the end of the day, after three months, the novelty of living in a new place should really be over. Well, maybe I can ask my cousin who lives in New York this. He constantly complains via text and in person about how awful and selfish New Yorkers are, how stupid they are, how no one knows anything here. He complains about the slowness of the subway, the dirtiness of the streets. Yet, I know what he’s really doing is saying that San Francisco is so much better than here.
The reality check that he wants to ignore is that… people are really the same here and in San Francisco. There’s just as many selfish people in San Francisco as there are in New York City. There are just as many incompetent fast food and pharmacy workers there as here. The Muni there is by far worse than the MTA subway system here; in fact, the last time we both visited home at the same time and sat on Muni together, he wouldn’t shut up about how slow the bus was. He conveniently forgets that, though. He also doesn’t visit the parts of San Francisco that are overrun by homeless people who are actually shitting right in front of you while smiling and making eye contact with you.
Home isn’t really better. It’s only better if you keep romanticizing senselessly that it is and refuse to accept reality where you are.
I’ve been living in New York City almost ten years. I spent my first four years living in Queens, in a not-popular or well known neighborhood unless you’re a Queens native. I’ve spent my next near six living in the Upper East Side, and now on the border of Hell’s Kitchen and the Upper West Side. I’ve visited all five boroughs repeatedly, but somehow, I’ve never quite made it up to Westchester County. As far as I am concerned, anything north of the Bronx is “upstate.” I never really. had a reason to go to Westchester County. It’s not like I have friends who have parents who have invited me to their homes. So it wasn’t until today that I finally made it there for a customer visit in White Plains, which is about a 45-minute car ride from the Upper West Side, or 1.5 hours in traffic.
I had a customer meeting up there, which ended with a visit to my customer’s manager’s office. He’s the chief digital officer of this organization. We made some small talk, and I quickly realized he was a born and bred Westchester County boy who had pretty much never lived outside of this area before. He was shocked to hear that I’d never set foot in Westchester all this time.
“You’ve never been here… even once?” he said this repeatedly to me.
This reminded me of Trevor Noah’s comedy clip, during which he gets annoyed and makes fun of his friend for giving him such a hard time when he first moved to the U.S., and his friend just cannot fathom that he’d never had a single taco in his entire life. “How is it possible for you to have a completely different life experience than I do?” He half-joked.
There’s nothing really in Westchester County that would draw me up there. And in my short time there, I realized why: I was the only person of color everywhere I went. It was as though I was the diversity up there for my visit. And that didn’t sit well with me.
This afternoon, I went uptown to my cousin’s place to drop off a very belated Christmas gift for his son and to spend some time with his son. He’s just over five years old now and in kindergarten at the autistic school in the neighborhood. It’s been really trying for my cousin and his wife to be a parent to this little innocent child, and for the short time I was there, I was already feeling a bit impatient and tired being around him. You can’t really help what kids end up with, and so as I am trying to interact with him, play, and read with him, I can tell his focus isn’t quite there. I’m having a hard time gauging what he wants. He’s interested in me one second, then physically pushes me away another, and his eye contact is still poor. One minute he wants me to read him a book, and the next, he takes the book out of my hands, throws it against the wall, and wants to play with his toy guitar. It finally took some coaxing from his mother to get him to sit on the couch properly with me and read together. It was short-lived peace, though.
I felt terrible as I was leaving. I don’t think the best of my cousin or his wife. But I do feel sorry for them. I was barely there an hour and already felt frustrated. How do they probably feel every single day?
This morning, I met my friend for a coffee catch up at a popular Australian-style cafe that opened a few years ago called Little Collins, named after a street in the Melbourne central business district. In the last few years, Australian-style cafes carrying what they claim to be “Australian quality coffee” have been popping up all over New York City. One of them has even become a mini chain. Bluestone Lane now has multiple locations in Manhattan, and even has expanded to have two locations just in downtown San Francisco. These cafes have now gotten so popular that you have to line up just to get your carefully crafted flat white.
It was fortunate and unfortunate situation. Because the snow had stopped last night, I was honestly a bit sad because I realized that would mean that people would not be deterred to go outside for coffee this morning. When the weather gets bad in this city, like I said yesterday, people can’t hand it even a little and refuse to go outside. When the weather is sunny and mild, like it was this morning, the queues are just endless. There was a crowd out the door of Little Collins, so we decided not to wait and went a couple blocks away to Ninth Street Espresso. No, they didn’t have the same drink selection as Little Collins, nor did they have anyone there at all except two others. But at least we could talk comfortably in peace without fear of having what would have been our $4-5 coffee spilled or knocked over by the crowds in the crammed interior of Little Collins.
Since Chris had to leave this week for an Australian work trip, he ended up also leaving me with an extra ticket to see a show we’d planned tonight. I asked a few friends, and eventually one of them who lives in Hoboken agreed to come with me. Our plan was to grab a quick bite for dinner, and then walk over to the theater about 12 blocks away.
As I was watching the mix of rain and snow falling and the howling wind outside my office window today, I was wondering if he would cancel on me. I was actually wondering when he would text me to let me know he wasn’t coming. If there’s one thing you can almost certainly count on, it is the flakiness of New Yorkers (or tri-state people in general) when there is even the slightest inclement weather (see yesterday’s post).
In the end, about an hour before he was supposed to meet me, he texted me to marvel at how crazy the weather ended up being today but that he was on his way. We had dinner and then went to the show. And we had a really good time and a good chat about the show on the walk back to his car. Well, he actually is originally from Chicago. I guess I shouldn’t have doubted him. But I doubt everyone because that’s my nature.
It’s comforting to have friends who won’t bail on you… even when you expect that they will. It gives me more faith in humanity. I thanked him several times for making the drive out from Hoboken in this disgusting weather. But we actually got lucky in the end because after we finished dinner, the snow completely stopped. And it barely stuck to the ground, either, because of the amount of rain that likely washed it all away.
I originally looked at the weather forecast for the week and didn’t think much of the end of the week. I saw that there was rain, but I didn’t realize that the weather reports on the major TV stations were calling this yet another “Nor’easter” storm. At around 4pm today, most of my colleagues were complaining about the weather tomorrow, all saying it would be stormy and scary outside, and everyone plans to work from home.
I read the report myself and still didn’t think it was a big deal. Yes, there will be wind. Yes, there’s some pretty consistent rain and “snow mix” in the forecast. But is that really a reason to not go to the office, or are we just finding the easiest excuses possible to be lazy and not leave the comfort of our apartments?
I don’t care what they are doing — this is just another case of New Yorkers being too neurotic and not being able to handle reality. At the slightest mention of light snow, people immediately freak out and think it’s the end of the world. I’m still going to the office for work. Our office manager is going — she doesn’t really have a choice unless the subway shuts down. I’m going. I’m usually more productive at the office anyway when fewer people are in and it’s quieter… and I can actually think. There are still a lot of things that I think I have not been able to adapt to while living in New York, and here is another major reason: constant neurosis and panic at things that really don’t warrant it. Unless you are getting on a train to another city or need to fly, there’s zero reason to worry if you are living in New York City and will be going to work tomorrow.
This week, I started reading the book Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity by Kim Scott. It’s been on my reading list since last year, and since we have a small but solid “library” at the office on books that help with professional development and our industry, it’s nice to be able to borrow a real hardcover book and take it home to read at my leisure.
The thing about these books is that even though they are categorized as professional development and targeted at white-collar working humans, the techniques they discuss are actually helpful in life. It’s helpful to give honest feedback, even when it’s not pleasant, because it helps people be cognizant of where they fall short. It’s helpful to develop a thicker skin so that you can withstand criticism and actually grow and learn from it. It’s helpful not to be stagnant in the way you think and develop. Those skills should not be workplace-specific; they should really be about everyone’s life if we’re all choosing to have a “growth mindset” and constantly learning and improving ourselves.