Every Christmas season, as we gradually approach the day we are departing for Australia (or, last year, the UK and South Africa) to celebrate Christmas with Chris’s family, Chris and plan a special dinner out from our curated Yelp list, and then, we will have our annual “trip” to visit the Rockefeller Christmas tree. Yes, it’s touristy. Yes, it’s crowded as hell with both tourists and locals. But it’s our thing, our annual Christmas time tradition. And this year, I really did not want to go tonight. It was so cold and windy, and I felt cranky and irritable from the cold weather as well as the chaos and busy-ness of work and catching up from traveling this week. But when we actually arrived at the tree, all the complaining in my head stopped. It really is a spectacular sight every year. I get why people want to come to New York during the holiday period to see all the Christmas lights and experience the festivities. There’s something really magical about seeing this insanely tall and fat tree lit up with what is probably thousands of colorful lights that flanks the Rockefeller Center. When I saw this tree tonight, I thought… wow. I’m really lucky to live in this city that others marvel over, that others travel thousands of miles for just to see this freaking tree. There is really nothing quite like New York City.
My last meeting before leaving Boston today was in Burlington, a suburb that is about half an hour outside of Boston proper. I wasn’t sure what the traffic would be like, as Google Maps estimated that my car ride would take anywhere from 30 minutes to a full 55 minutes to arrive from the Downtown Crossing area of Boston. So of course, I left an hour early only to arrive half an hour too early for my meeting.
As I sat in the lobby of my customer’s corporate headquarters waiting for my hosts to come pick me up, I marveled at the fact that I was sitting right in the middle of what I consider hell: in the boonies of suburbia, a corporate office park where every single person, whether against their own will or not, likely has to drive to work every single day. They have to drive and park their car in the lot outside, and then, when the work day is over, they have to go to their car, pull out of the lot, and leave.
People love to hate on Manhattan and say it’s too crowded, too busy, that traffic is a mess. But really, I don’t care about traffic here because I’m not driving in it. I’m taking the subway, then walking a few blocks to work. One of the best things, to me, about living in New York City is that pretty much no one (sane, anyway) drives to work. We can literally take the train or bus, then walk right into our office. No car to park. No parking lot. None of that. Walk right in. That just sounds so glorious to me.
One of my brother-in-law’s absolute favorite topics to discuss is whether someone is an introvert or an extrovert. He especially loves to say that his brother, Chris, is an introvert, which is the opposite of what most people who know Chris would say. I guess the two of us are both in that bucket; we’re both fairly introverted, but most people who know us as outgoing, gregarious, friendly people would say we are definitely extroverted. I have a lot of extroverted qualities; I am fearless when it comes to meeting new people. I have zero problem going up to a stranger and introducing myself. I also frequently make conversations with strangers when I am alone, regardless of whether the other person initiates it or not. I’m just curious in that way, I suppose.
Well, I know for a fact that I am introverted because one of the most telltale signs that you are an introvert is that when you are around people you do not know well where you have to make an effort to get to know them, to dig deeper and peel away all those onion layers, you feel exhausted once the time is over. I had two nearly back-to-back customer meetings today in Boston, with two video meetings in between both, and I felt so tired after. I wanted nothing to do with anyone. I didn’t even really want to leave my hotel room other than to grab a quick dinner to go and bring it back to my room to eat in silence by myself. The meetings were productive, mind you; I got all the information I needed from these meetings. I shared what I outlined to share via my agenda. But when they were done, I was so happy.
These are the moments when you really do need time to yourself, when you’ve spent a lot of time socializing out of necessity, in this case, for business reasons, and need time to recharge. And the only way to recharge is to be alone, at ease in one’s aloneness and silence.
I was in Boston tonight and met up with an old college friend who still lives here for dinner. At 32, she has finally finished medical school, residency, and her fellowship, and she is now working full time in the Boston area as a GP. She said she wanted to do this as opposed to specialize since it would give her the most work-life balance, but as she has discovered, it certainly has not been easy at all. She’s experienced some very surprising and emotionally draining patients, bringing home a lot more baggage than she ever would have imagined. And as she’s seen, there are not enough GPs to go around for all these patients who need help.
She recounted the two months she spent traveling through Europe before she started her job and how she met people 10+ years younger than her, doing the exact same travel route. She had conversations with them where she felt that they seemed far more worldly and mature than she ever was. “I feel like all this time I spent studying and studying and going through endless school that I let my life pass me by,” she said. “I love what I do, but I could have spent my twenties doing more exploration of the world, and now that time is gone.” She said she feels like at this age, now that she has a job and is figuring out her finances, sorting through her medical school loans and setting up her 401K for the first time that she is now legitimately and finally an adult.
I have no regrets about never going to grad school. I was terrible at science, so medical school was never an option for me. Business school sounded like bullshit to me. Law school – what a joke for me. I changed my mind in my early twenties about “climbing the latter” and not taking as much time off to prove that I was harder working – what delusional American lifeless thinking. You really only have each year of your life once, and if travel or cooking or volunteering is what you are passionate about doing, then you need to make time to do that. I want to lead a life of least regrets. It makes me sad to think that my friend feels that although she loves being a doctor now that she regretted not traveling, not doing enough self exploration in her 20s. Because each year we get older, there comes more responsibility, more things to do and get done. It never really gets easier.
Tonight, Chris surprised me with a Christmas concert featuring John Legend. This December, he’s releasing his Christmas album A Legendary Christmas, and this concert featured many of his Christmas songs, as well as a few of his mainstream John Legend classics. John Legend is one of those performers who, no matter what, always sounds so much deeper and more emotional live than on his LP. There are performers who are just fine or comparable to their LP singing-wise when live, then there are the ones who should just rely on lip-syncing (not that I was ever much of a fan, but Britney Spears live… is not for the singing). In Mariah Carey’s heyday in the early to mid-90s, her emotions were felt far more live than on her LP. Her live version of “Hero” is a million times more moving than her LP version, which to me, sounds lifeless.
Then, there’s John Legend, whose LP always sounds flawless, and then you hear him in person singing the exact same song, and you think, “How could you outdo yourself? How do you do those vocal reverberations?!” I’m mind-boggled by his voice. You just want to tell him, “Sing! Sing! Keep singing! Don’t stop! Never stop!” His voice is a paradise.
Every year at around this time, the air turns from cool and crisp to bitter cold and absolutely frosty, and every year at around this time, I just want to hibernate and stay in bed every morning. There’s the routine and goal-oriented side of me that says, “Hey, you have to haul your butt out of bed and be productive! Be efficient! Exercise! Your metabolism is slowing down, so you need to do more exercise to make up for that!” Then, there’s the other part of me that says… it is so cold. I just don’t want to do anything; screw productivity and getting things done off the checklist. So, that was me this morning in bed. Chris had to drag me out.
Sometimes, I wonder what it would be like to actually hibernate, to have zero activity for all of winter and basically be a sloth. I have a feeling that my muscles would atrophy, as would my brain. I’d be an antisocial zombie, having forgotten all my basic common sense and social skills needed to survive around other mortals.
But aren’t there already people out there like that, and I just set my standard higher than average and try to get too much done in too short of a period of time? Maybe I would benefit from slowing down and doing less?
We went to see a matinee Broadway show today, and afterwards, we walked up Sixth Avenue to see all the Christmas lights and decoration that gets put up every year. There are the Christmas “tree lights,” the red Christmas ornament balls, the many nutcrackers and trees that line up at the entrance of the corporate buildings along the avenue. Then, there is also the Rockefeller tree that has yet to come out and be lit. It was the first day of December today, and Sixth Avenue was packed with people, some tourists, some semi-locals. It felt so crowded, a bit too much so as we walked through the endless hoards of people trying to take selfies, posing for photos taken by other strangers with the various Christmas lights and decorations in the background.
“This is what makes New York New York,” Chris declared, as we zipped through the crowds.
Yes, the crowds are what make New York New York, this city that I’ve called home now for over ten years. But there are so many times when I absolutely hate the crowds and would really like to just appreciate these decorations with no one around and in near silence. That’s probably what this area might be like if we came back at midnight on a weeknight, or extremely early in the morning any day. After a while, the crowds really do wear on you here. I can tolerate it when I’m visiting other new cities as a tourist myself, but here, it can really get to be unbearable, especially in the cold. But this is Christmas in New York, and we definitely do it well here.
I met my mentee after work today at Starbucks. She’s had a really dramatic last week, which included her mentor (through a program where people formerly in foster care mentor foster care children) x-ing her out of her life, accusing her of breaking and entering, and having her granddaughter threaten my mentee over text; a good (now former friend) getting admitted into the hospital for a pill overdose/suicide attempt, who is now ignoring my mentee and saying she only causes more problems and doesn’t genuinely care about her; this former friend’s boyfriend threatening my mentee. It was an earful for the hour we spent together.
I was exhausted. I was already tired from the work week, which felt way too long after the week away we had in Portugal. My morning workouts, full-days of work, plus going out or having to work the first three days of this week really were catching up to me in the form of a regular splitting afternoon headache every single day after Monday this week. This conversation didn’t help. I want to be there to her, to give her suggestions and offer guidance. She does take a lot of my suggestions, but I always think it won’t really help in the long run. She needs to break herself out of all this mess that she is inclined to be a part of, and that’s going to take the power and strength within herself to get that done.
I told Chris about this before we met our friends for dinner tonight. “You attract dysfunction, and she given her life circumstances is going to keep attracting dysfunction,” he said.
Well, I can’t really do anything about that, can I?
I was the only one who rated this person as a “maybe to a no.” Everyone else gave her stellar reviews. But I had to say what I needed.
“If the question is, ‘can she get the job done and is she competent,’ then I would say, yes, she is, and yes, she is qualified for this job,” one of my colleagues said.
This job is not rocket science. You do not need some advanced degree for it. We are not doing open heart surgery here. This is a customer facing role at a SaaS company that has a complex product. But we really are not looking for people who are going to cure cancer or bring world peace. This is not that difficult.
“I don’t think I’m questioning whether she is competent or can do the job,” I countered. “What I am really saying is — what is this person going to contribute to this team and to her customer in her potential book of business that is compelling? Because frankly, if I had to sum her up into one word and be really honest, the word is ‘boring.’ That’s what I took away from this conversation. My eyes were glazing over.”
That drew a lot of chuckles and laughter. The hiring manager grimaced at me, but eventually let a smile out.
And funny enough, I just finished reading Adam Grant’s book Outliers tonight, in which he argues that organizations should not be hiring for cultural “fit,” but rather “cultural contribution.” So exactly what I said — what is this potential employee contributing to our organization that is notable, or perhaps something we are lacking that we need more of or could benefit from?
She’s moving onto the next and final stage, but she has two other strong candidates competing against her. I really just do not want to talk to anyone who is bland and boring during an interview. Otherwise, what is this company going to become?
It’s only Wednesday, yet somehow, this week has felt so long, likely because I came back from the beautiful fairy tale land of Portugal to a boat load of work and drama this week. It wasn’t made better by the fact that I had to sub in to do an interview of a San Francisco candidate for our team, which meant that not only did I have to spend time interviewing and watching this person’s mock presentation, but I also had to participate until 7:15 my time. So I left the office early to do both the interview and the presentation at home.
It was the most excruciating interview I’d been in. I’ve had good interviewees and bad ones, but this one, if I had to sum her up in just one word, I would say she was the most boring candidate I’d ever interviewed. She gave long-winded answers to the point where I’d forget what my original question was. She constantly was thinking out loud, so it was hard at times to follow her thought process. And although she was trying to appear enthusiastic, she kept using this nasal part of her vocal chords to speak (is that the voice thing that millennial women are accused of doing all the time?!). It was just painful to be in and to pay attention.
For parts of the interview where I did not have my earbuds in, Chris heard it, and he texted me one word in all caps: BORING.
Aren’t we supposed to be looking to hire dynamic people who have personalities that would win over our customers?