The food styling contest that did not work in my favor

My team had a virtual offsite the last two days (budget cuts in a sad economic environment), and one of the “fun” activities we did was a food styling/photography contest. At first, I didn’t think much of the contest. I wasn’t even sure I was going to enter it because I couldn’t be bothered to cook and style something this past weekend, but then I remembered all the other food photos I had styled over the years, and I decided to go back to them and see which one I might enter. So I chose a photo I had spent quite a while on: apple cider donuts. It seemed like a good idea given we’re now in September, so it would be very appropriately seasonal. I spent a while figuring out how to style the photos before you even factor in how long it took me to make and fry all those donuts! I even added some props: I put the donuts on a warm brown cutting board, added a mug of hot apple cider, and made a festive background of autumn squash and apples. I figured: this has to win SOME award; it was shot really well in perfect light, not to mention I used an Adobe program to do some light editing. I posted it on my food handle on Instagram over three years ago, and people really liked my shots.

Well, there were three categories where you could be considered in this team contest: most stylish, tastiest, and most likely to be eaten on our team. I did not win a single category. In fact, I later got told, when I revealed that the apple cider donuts photo was mine, and YES, I MADE those freaking donuts, that more than half my entire team (we’re about 33 people) thought that my photo was a “fake”: they thought it was a card stock image that someone threw in as a joke to confuse people, and there was “no way that anyone on our team could take a photo that perfect.”

This is what happens when you are good at something: you end up getting penalized for how good you are, and it gets used against you. I guess it’s the world we live in, so what else is new?

The deluge that is a four-day work week after a Monday holiday

I cannot speak for other countries since I’ve only ever worked or lived in the United States, but I can say, without hesitation, that four-day work weeks after a Monday holiday are always brutal. I think about days like President’s Day, Memorial Day, and Labor Day, all federal holidays that land on a Monday, and historically how my work weeks have felt when I return on Tuesday. And I can say: I never feel great after. I feel like one day has just been taken away from me to be productive and just get shit done, and now, I need to scramble to make up for the day of productivity that was taken away. Not only that, but everyone else feels that way: everyone’s scrambling to get what they would have finished on Monday done, and what’s worse: When you have Type A people you are working with, whether it’s internal or external, whether they realize it or not, they’re taking out all their work-related angst… on you. What I thought would be a pretty uneventful week now has meetings up the yin yang and things that will likely bubble over by week’s end. The joys of being part of the rat race…

April Fool’s pranks at work

April Fool’s Day jokes are one of those things that some companies really embrace, and others just tolerate. For the last 2.5 years, I’ve been working at a company that truly embraces them. Some departments/teams literally start thinking about NEXT year’s April Fool’s Day joke as soon as this year’s April Fool’s Day has passed.

Last year when I came back from maternity leave in May, I was sifting through all the work emails I had missed while I was out for 20 weeks. And I I was trying to flag all the “mandatory trainings” I had missed (I do work at an online learning company, after all, so we do have to eat our own ice cream, too). After my company went public in 2021, we had to do a lot of new required trainings as employees of a publicly traded company. It was a necessary evil we all had to do. So when I saw this email in my inbox from our legal team that said we had to do a 96-hour long training as a newly public company, I completely balked. WHAT – 96 hours, and I still have to catch up on all my ACTUAL day to day work?!! I even complained to Chris about it over text when I was reading the email. And then, minutes later, it suddenly dawned on me the date/time stamp of the email: It was April 1, 2022. I just got angry and made a big fuss about an April Fool’s joke that got me.

UGHHHHHHHHHHH. I blamed that on mommy brain.

This year, I knew I was not going to be taken so easily. April Fool’s Day fell on a Saturday this year, but as soon as I saw the email in my inbox, I KNEW it was going to be a prank. Once again, the email came from our head of legal, and the email was to convey the message that all employees’ feedback have been gathered. We want to be one company and operate on one time, so they proposed everyone, regardless of where you were in the world, had to be online for the exact same set of hours for each quarter of this calendar year. This quarter, we’d start with India time, so everyone had to be online for standard India-time work hours from 8-5pm.

Ummmmm. No. There was absolutely NO WAY I fell for that. I already thought it was a prank before I opened the email, and when I saw the idea of everyone being on “one time zone” regardless of what location you were in, I smirked to myself. I also thought about all the parents of young babies and toddlers gettting infuriated about this, not realizing it was a prank.

I did see a lot of the replies in Slack, though, and I laughed out loud at the number of people who actually fell for this and did believe this was real. 😀

Workplace utopia

This year marks 15 years of being in the workforce full-time. In that time, I have seen and experienced quite a bit. I’ve had experiences with people who gave me great advice, people I’ve looked up to, people I’ve admired for their tenacity and how they’ve climbed the ladder. I made many friends along the way, and one of them even became my husband. I’ve also had experiences with people who define “uncooperative,” and contribute to poor, toxic, and downright nasty workplace culture. It’s been a mix of both good and bad, and I’ve learned quite a bit about the “real world” of work in the U.S.

It’s taken a while to get to a company where I actually feel people are overall, all genuinely good and well-meaning, though, where everyone for the most part not only has the best intentions, but also assumes you also have the best intentions. That’s huge, especially in the competitive environment that is the technology industry. Sometimes, I catch myself in disbelief when I see how helpful people are at my current company. How is it when I post a request in the marketing or content or product Slack channels that someone not only immediately responds within two hours, but if they don’t know the full answer, they’ll cc someone else who may know, and THAT person not only has the answer, but also supplemental information that I could potentially find handy? People are proactive about joining meetings when and where they could add value. They are eager to hop on a Zoom or phone call to better explain (since so many things get lost easily over text on Slack or email). Sometimes, it really does feel like a utopia working where I do. Why are people so eager to help — all the damn time?! Maybe it’s because of the type of persona that an education tech company like mine tends to attract. People are less bloody and evil. Maybe they are less cut throat and just have bigger hearts. Who knows. All I know is — no where else I have ever worked has been this positive. It only took 15 years to get here. But exactly how positive and helpful people are here is also a reminder to me of all the past trauma I’ve faced and exactly how unhealthy and unproductive my previous work environments were.

I’m grateful to be working where I am, especially in this current economic climate, and at this time when many other tech companies are laying their employees off left and right. Though it is funny to say that this is the most positive work environment I’ve been in — and I’ve been 100 percent remote this entire time.

Working in an office vs. working from home

If you asked me before the pandemic and baby if I would ever consider a fully remote role, I would have given you a grossed out look and said I never would consider it. Why would I want to be alone all day? I’m a social person. I love seeing and talking to people all day long. I love having that comraderie and driving office culture. I love the free lunch (well, I used to have that), snacks (hehe), office supplies, and all the other little freebies and perks that go along with working at a tech company. But once the pandemic came, Pookster was born, and pumping breast milk became part of my life, my perspective on working from home and having that level of flexibility totally changed.

Now that pumping is over, I still feel conflicted about working in an office once again. It’s not that I have the opportunity to given my current company has no New York City office, but the thought at this moment really does not entice me at all: the commuting, the dressing/getting ready every morning, not having as much flexibility with my own non-work life. I don’t have anyone keeping tabs on me to see when I am coming in, going out for breaks, or leaving for the day. There are no spies watching or reporting back to some losers who care. There’s no office gossip. Going into an office every day feels very… ugh. I got this question a lot while at kickoff last week, and my general answer is… no, I don’t want to be in an office again. I’m happy with what I am doing now and the flexibility I have.

Mental health advocate – the emotional labor of fundraising for suicide prevention

I generally am pretty open about my brother’s death. I openly share that he died ten years ago, and that he died from suicide. Well, I kind of have to be open if I am fundraising for an organization called the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), and I say that I fundraise in memory and honor of my big brother. There’s really no way to get around that, is there?

I’ve been very fortunate and privileged in all these years fundraising. Family, friends, colleagues, ex-colleagues, acquaintances, even totally random strangers who have never met me in real life have donated money to my fundraising drive because they’ve been touched by Ed’s story and my desire to share it. Many of the people who have donated have donated year after year, since year 1. They don’t have to do it, but they do. But part of the reason I know so many people donate is because of how much detail and information I share regarding how Ed died and how he suffered. And so with all that detail means that people do have a sense of what I went through, and they then feel like they can openly share their own struggles, whether it’s with themselves or their loved ones, with me. And while I feel privileged that they feel they can come to me to share their most personal, vulnerable stories… it’s honestly a lot of emotional labor and burden for me. I’m then associated with mental health and suicide prevention in their minds, and so I’m someone they they feel comfortable sharing with when no one else “gets it.” I “get it,” right, because I lost Ed through suicide. So I’ll “get it” with my colleagues.

So I sat there and listened to a few stories of struggles of friends, family members, and children over the last couple of days at SSKO. And while it was touching to be remembered and thought of, it was also… tiring. It was already tiring to be around 400 of my colleagues nonstop for two days since I work from home, but then to add this additional layer of emotional labor just left me feeling beat. I like it when people come up to me to share what new food they’ve tried or made because they were inspired by me; that gives me energy. Having these conversations around mental health and suicide attempts, while I hope they are helpful… they drain me. I want to help, it feels good to help. But it’s definitely exhausting. Everything has its price.

Thoughts after layoff number I-can’t-even-count

On Monday, the company I have been working at for about 2.5 years had a layoff. Ten percent of my colleagues got let go. This company, in its entire 13-year history of existence, had never had a reduction in force before. And it was pretty obvious one was coming: we didn’t hit our Q4 numbers, spend has been pulled way back, especially on work travel. I was just waiting for when it was going to happen… and wondering if I would be impacted. Our CEO gave a cryptic nod to it on Sunday night, and then on Monday morning, he announced on Slack that there would be a layoff later in the day: if you were impacted, you’d get an email within 10 minutes of the all-hands meeting ending. If you were not impacted, you would get a calendar invitation to the all-hands meeting the next day. So after the meeting ended and we all got off Zoom, we sat there for ten minutes, wondering if we’d get cut. As a defense mechanism, once I saw the Slack message in the morning, I had just assumed I would get laid off. Because… if I assume the worst, then I couldn’t possibly get too upset, right?

I guess that’s how I deal with layoffs now. Because I’ve gotten laid off twice before, fired once (yep), and every single company I’ve ever worked at has had endless layoffs where was unlucky and “lucky,” I always just assume the worst. I cannot even count how many layoffs I’ve seen happen across the last 15 years I’ve spent working full-time; I’ve lost track. I feel sorry for the people who think that their individual contributions are so great that they couldn’t possibly get selected. That type of naivete should only exist if you’re super inexperienced and in your early 20s; after that, that type of thinking is just flat out stupid and ignorant. We’re all disposable. Even the CEO of a company is at the hands of their board or shareholders. At the end of the day, we are all just a number.

Was I happy I wasn’t affected? Obviously. Who wants to look for a new job in this miserable environment where pretty much every company is reducing its staff and cutting everywhere? But I honestly just felt numb in general. There’s really no such thing as “job security” anymore, anywhere.

“How was your weekend?” “Awful, thanks for asking”

I had a call with a colleague of mine on a separate team. He knew I was out sick the last two days. He asked me what had happened and how the weekend was, so I point blank just told him everything. We also had some annoying topics to discuss regarding customers, so all in all, it wasn’t the most uplifting conversation ever. But we both joked about it and he said, “well, I’m not used to seeing this animated version of Yvonne, but I can take it!”

Even when things really suck, and when all you can see is that dog meme, the one of the dog with the house burning around him, saying “This is fine,” I still try to inject humor into it all. Because at the end of the day, your disposition is a choice. You don’t really always get to choose your circumstances, but you do choose your attitude about it at the end of the day. And if you can’t laugh about dumb things that happen, then what are you going to laugh about?

Impending recession and potential layoffs

Even when we haven’t been in a recession, my dad has always complained that we’ve been in a recession for as long as I can remember, as far back as I can remember, So, you can imagine what it is like when there actually IS a recession happening, and what the general negativity and tone is like from my parents. My mom has been calling me the last several days, but I haven’t been calling her back because by the time I remember to, it’s either too late and I’m tired, and the last person I want to talk to when I’m really exhausted is my mom because she will probably say something to annoy me, and then I’ll just have to cut her off. So I waited until I finished work yesterday afternoon to call her back. Of course, she asked how my job was going and if I thought any layoffs were going to happen. She’s nervous we’re all going to lose our jobs. But then again, it’s my mom: she needs to be nervous and worry about SOMETHING, anything. She will just grab anything that could be a potential scare. But to be fair, the news has been endless when it comes to all the tech and financial companies laying off now. Most of these companies do not even need to lay people off; they’re just doing it preemptively or because other big wigs are doing it, which is even more fun for employees.

The truth is.. I’ve gotten laid off so many times now that I generally have become numb to it. I no longer take it personally. Sure, it sucks in the moment and in the 24 hours after that. But then, you get over it and move on. I realize it’s just a game of chances and luck. Sometimes, sure, I could have probably played the politics game more at work, but because I don’t care to, I realize that anything could happen to me. I’m just another employee, another number, and when people finally come to terms with this and realize that they aren’t “special,” they won’t be so hard on themselves when they lose their job in a layoff. Some people have been lucky and have never experienced what it’s like to get laid off in their career. That’s great for them. But once it’s happened to you, and has happened a number of times, you just kind of get jaded. It doesn’t matter how hard you work, and sometimes even how little you work — it’ll probably happen to you sooner or later. So because of this, there’s really little reason to worry. It’s perhaps too logical, but we should not worry about things totally out of our control. And given all my past experiences, I know that if I were to get laid off, I’d eventually find something else and just continue life. Life moves on. Pretty much no one stays at one company their entire career anymore.

Mental energy exertion during in-person meetings

For the next two days, I’ll be onsite with customers for multiple-hours long meetings. Today, I was onsite with a customer for 2.5 hours, and I felt completely, mentally drained after that. First, I was already feeling out of practice with getting ready for the meeting in the superficial sense- deciding what to wear, how to style my hair, etc. Then, while onsite, I realized, in real time, how much more exhausting it is to be in person in real life with customer meetings than to be on the same meeting via a Zoom call. There is something about being in person that feels so exhausting and draining now that it makes me wonder if going back to a regular cadence of in-person meetings is even feasible or enjoyable for me at this point in time. With the world opening up more and companies looking at the current time as an “endemic” rather than a “pandemic,” more in-person meetings will be expected. And well, it’s part of my actual job description — to meet customers and build relationships. But with three years working from home and having very limited in-person customer contact, I feel a bit out of it. It was fun in some ways to be onsite again and have that type of interaction, as having in-person interactions is obviously a lot more real and stimulating, but I can’t help but admit it was just tiring. I passed out pretty quickly this evening and will likely do the same after tomorrow’s all-afternoon long meeting, as well.