Success: A good memory is unpardonable (Pt 3)

The point of my mountain getaway was to figure out some next steps. The thing about next steps is that they often lead to a backward glance. The thing about a backward glance… it’s not very reliable. But it can be constructive, regardless of accuracy.

We know that memory is unreliable and malleable. We also know that it plays a large role in building self-identity. So it stands to reason that we could theoretically shape our selves into what we wish for the future, by slightly mis-shaping the past. This could go horribly wrong. Or it could embody the very core of “fake it till you make it.”

But wouldn’t your personality eventually take over? Aren’t there traits that will always dominate and veer you back to the original, supposedly “less desired” path? You will always be too shy to speak up during that meeting, leaving you overshadowed. Or you will always be too friendly to be taken seriously.

Some psychologists disagree. They assert that it’s not so much the consistency in personality that predicts behaviour, rather the “power of the situation:” the roles we’re put in and the nature of the relationships in which we engage.

The glance over my shoulder this weekend was an exercise in both memory shaping and re-situation.

This week marks one year since I moved. One year of being generally frustrated with most aspects of my environment and personality.

At least, that’s what I thought.

At some point I had painted a narrative that my reality was not meeting expectations and so I had “failed” at being “happy.” After that framing, everything conveniently fit the narrative. I continued to collect supporting evidence for my “everything sucks and no one understands” soliloquy.

And then it happened.

Somewhere in between all the fun I was accidentally having, the love I was inadvertently feeling, and the learning I was happening into – somewhere in there, my sob story fell apart. So much so that as I sat watching the sun rise over the range of tectonic accidents, I couldn’t even remember why I had spent the better part of the year so upset. My re-telling of the story was much more made-for-TV-holiday-special, much less Kafka. I had essentially placed an Instagram filter on my memory and hashtagged it #iwokeuplikethis.

And you know what? It worked. By tweaking the brightness settings of my memory, I also changed the position from which new memories are being formed. It’s as if by cleaning up the pieces that were bothering me, I learned how to leverage them to inform a better, calmer, more thankful version of myself.

It may have be an uphill battle for most of the year, but looking back, most of what I see, is simply remarkable. I’d call that a Success.

 

Writer’s note: Thanks for joining me on my little 3 part introspective journey into the world of “Success.” I hope it was at least mildly entertaining. Part 1 here, Part 2 here.

Success: Creativity & Empathy (PT 2)

I find walking downhill a frustrating exercise. I don’t sweat. My toes get squished up against my boots. My left knee grumbles at me. And my footing is only half-intentional, mostly I’m simply avoiding a fall rather than actually walking.

Climbing up, however, well this is among my favourite activities. My entire body feels engaged. Sweat drenches my clothes and curls my hair, letting me know how hard everything is working to get me to where I’m going. I’m sure footed, choosing every rock as if it was put there exactly for me. When I reach the top, the view, the breeze, the first gulp of water- all of these are well-earned.

This is not a “what goes up, must come down” metaphor. It’s just fact. Hiking, is about the climb, the up. The downhill is a side-effect.

But it did get me thinking. Is success similar? Is it also about the up? Are we supposed to be moving toward something in a subjectively upward manner to be considered “successful”? Is this where the anxiety of stagnation comes from? If I’m not gaining “more” of something – degrees, publications, impact factors, LinkedIn followers – am I unintentionally scrambling downhill on the success spectrum?

To touch on these questions, I want to go back to the question posed to my remarkable friend from part one of this post.

What part of you do you want to share most? The most widely that is.

Her answer was simply complicated:

Creativity and empathy. You?

Her creativity and empathy are aspects of her personhood that she’s deemed significant enough to share with the world, leaving behind something of note.

Throughout the rest of our conversation, I realized that any combination of ways I tried to answer the same question still resulted in the same two words: creativity and empathy.

In some ways, isn’t that the essence of being human? Creativity in the form of art, invention, problem solving. Empathy in the form of understanding different perspectives, offering support, guiding each other through difficulties and celebrating each other through triumphs?

We all have our different versions of creativity, and it’s often what we yearn to share most in our thirst for “Success.” The musician goes to school, makes the right connections, practices for hours to be able to share their creativity on a stage of significance. The researcher subscribes to a brandname institution, seeks funds, obsesses over H- indices to share their creativity in a journal of significance. And so on.

Imagine how successful the world would be if we all had the privilege to tap into that inherent creativity to do good. If it wasn’t some race to have your creativity overshadow someone else’s, but rather to complement. Imagine if our social networks were actually about connecting with one another and practicing empathy rather than self-promotion. You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.

If we shift the focus away from how can I be successful to how can I be part of a success-filled world, wouldn’t “Success” be defined as contributing to an environment that enables all of us to have the capacity to exercise our creativity, and the tools to flex our empathetic muscles in support of such creative pursuits.

Sure, some of this is naive, but even more naive is the attribution of success at the individual level. We don’t exist in vacuums. Yet.

Writer’s note: Part 3 of grappling with “Success” while scaling up (and unfortunately down) mountains, coming soon. 

 

Success: Are you unremarkable? (Pt 1)

“Excuse moi mesdames. Je vous pose une question: c’est quoi la réussite?”

It was 1:30am. We were in a post-Biryani state, having served as taste testers for a spontaneous feast. Sash and I looked at each other, then back at the man, shaking our heads in unison.

Nope.

Having the conversation on “What is Success?” with a stranger, at 1:30am, on deserted streets wasn’t really in our plans.

But dear stranger, to make it up to you, I’ll attempt to entertain your question over my next few posts.

This conversation comes up often. At various points in our lives, we all ask ourselves…

What am I doing? What’s it contributing to? Am I supposed to be contributing to something?

How can I be successful in a mash-up of 7 billion people with dreams and struggles of their own?

How do I stand out? Where is my uniqueness?

In my pre-Biryani state that same day, one of my dearest friends was having a similar moment to the stranger on the street. She texted,

I don’t wish for an unremarkable life.

Not exactly your average Wednesday text. But hey, not exactly an average friendship.

Below is what followed:

mermaidAfter this, we obviously spent some time reassuring each other that we were indeed remarkable.

And then I got more curious. Where does this need come from? I have it too. Most of us do. I’ve spent most of the summer trying to understand my own interpretations of success and the paths I want to take to get there.

Some days, success means “remarkable.” Some days, it means “awake and outside the house.” Other days, it’s a flattering email. And on really good days, it’s just knowing you were a part of something useful. And that’s enough. We would all benefit from learning early on that the latter is a goal worth aspiring to.

Millennials are often accused of being the “participation trophy” generation.  In principle, why is it so horrible that participation is celebrated? The real problem arises when you’re not simultaneously taught to think about what participation really means. The participation trophy is a missed opportunity in understanding that nothing happens unless a collective either decides or is convinced that it should, and then engages with the process and the outcome. Even if that’s just a local race. Instead, we’re given mixed messages. We’re supposed to be unique individuals (this is obviously culture-dependent), special snowflakes with startups and billion dollar ideas. And we compete. A lot. For jobs. For graduate posts because there are no jobs. For life partners who have jobs. And thanks to technology, the pool of competitors is bottomless.

This need to be remarkable is therefore cultivated. And it’s distracting. But it’s not new. Nor is it necessarily just a narcissistic pursuit of recognition. Rather, it’s a compulsion to share pieces of yourself, almost as an affirmation of existing. To contribute, but to contribute in a way that is uniquely yours. To sign your art, whatever that art may be and to be remembered, revered, replicated. It’s become a biosocial instinct. Similar needs continue to convince our species to keep reproducing.

So in an effort to understand what it is that we all want to share so badly, I asked my friend…

What part of you do you want to share most?  The most widely that is.

 

Stay tuned for her answer in Part 2.

Writer’s note: I’m hiding in the mountains for a long weekend. Two parts hiking, one part grappling with how the way I choose to define “Success” will affect the decisions I make in the upcoming year. This is therefore the first in a set of 2-3 mountain posts. If posts appear nonsensical, blame it on the altitude.

Do or Dye: Blondes have more… leadership?

Ever heard of the Glass Cliff? You know, the one that Cinderella comes tumbling down after her if-the-shoe-fits approach to matrimony fails in a blur of play dates and Teflon.

Just kidding.

The Glass Cliff is a theory that picks up where the Glass Ceiling left off. It stipulates that women tend to be put in “leadership positions that are associated with an increased risk of criticism and failure,” that they are often allowed to rise to leadership roles during crisis, downturn or interim shifts.

Hi Theresa May, how’s the view from the cliff? Need some windex? I’ll get Hillary to bring it up in November.

The term came about after Professors Michelle Ryan and Alex Haslam of the University of Exeter set out to disprove the notion that women leaders cause financial collapse or failure in FTSE 100 companies. They found that, in fact, women were appointed to leadership positions as companies were already headed for failure while men rose to cushy positions in periods of stability and growth.

This obviously has a few implications:

1) To a lazy observer, it would look like women leaders are underperforming. It’s the equivalent of having to race against Michael Phelps while wearing 50 pound weights. Or, you know, racing against Michael Phelps period.

2) As other, especially younger, women watch their mentors slip n’ slide off the glass cliff, the resulting demotivation hinders social progress and belief in equitable systems.

3) It maintains the status quo — women in precarious leadership positions are seen as less threatening and easier targets of criticism and blame, especially with regard to their femaleness.

I want to zone in on that third point for a second. There seems to be a bit of fine print associated with the ability of women to break glass ceilings and rise to the top, at least in name. The secret ingredient is apparently relatively simple: be as non-threatening as possible. How, you ask?

Well, an article I stumbled across today has the perfect answer. And you can buy it in aisle 3 of your local grocery store. Revel in Revlon and watch your status rise. (Revlon should put me on its marketing team).

I’m just going to paste the last paragraph of the article here because I want you to experience the incredulous joy too:

Why you need to dye your very own hair.

Should really we all be battling in opposition to stereotypes like these? Of program we need to. But if they at any time go away it certainly will never be in the close to long run. And which is why wise ladies who want to be revered as leaders so typically switch into blondes, Berdahl says. “If ladies are selecting to dye their hair blonde, you will find anything strategic about the option,” she explained to HuffPo. “If the offer is female, disarming and childlike, you can get away with more assertive, impartial and masculine actions.”

So go ahead–make that appointment with your hairdresser. We may well want to adjust the entire world. But initial we have to achieve the positions that will enable us do it.

Hi again. Still here? You didn’t throw your device at the wall? Just me? Ok, good. I have some numbers for you:

5.5% of S&P 500 companies (Standard and Poor 500 index) are women.

Of these, about half are blonde. The aforementioned Brexit cleaner-upper? Blonde. Ms Clinton? Blonde.

Research out of UBC’s Sauder School of Business is investigating this phenomenon of overrepresentation of blonde women in positions of leadership as compared to more pigmented women. They’ve identified four types of bias that may explain what’s happening:

1) Racial Bias. This one’s obvious. A blonde mane is not only useful in getting through airport security faster, but it’s also an extra little booster of whiteness for your next promotion.

2) Attractiveness Bias. There is an actual century of evidence on blondes being the better looking, more fun, more accessibly sexy counterparts. Betty & Veronica, I’m looking at you.

3) Preference for warmth in women. Apparently blonde women are seen as “kindler and gentler.” Given the vitriol I’m spitting on this very post, I’ll just go ahead and take their word for it. I’m decidedly not blonde.

4) Youth bias. You look younger I guess? Embedded in this point is the fact that women cover up their grey religiously because if they don’t, it’s a sign of having “let themselves go” or being tired and haggard (the horror!). Greying men instead merely look like silver foxes with well-padded wallets and a youth bias of their own.

Preliminary results in this work are also showing that blonde hair can prove disarming and alleviate perceived threats that non-blonde women may pose, such as being bitchy or bossy rather than simply authoritative. From the words of the researchers themselves, blonde women are “judged to be less independent minded and less willing take a stand than other women and than men.” So obviously, they are “allowed” to lead more often.

So yes, here we are, in 2016, walking on eggshells, touching up our roots, trying to be as non-threatening as possible in order to be afforded the right to demonstrate competence and the capacity to lead. Cool.

My super threatening brunette locks* and I are annoyed.

*Admittedly, if you’re my shower drain, I completely understand the threat.

Three o’clock walls: a take-down

It happens every day. Sometime halfway between picking at the salad bar and fleeing the premises. Three pm. I have a not-quite-midlife crisis. Everything I’d ever hoped to accomplish comes flooding through my senses, reminding me that I desperately want to be anywhere else.

Some days, anywhere else is a cafe, sipping a flat white and bringing antagonistic protagonists to life with perfectly manicured nails and an effortless casual chic. Other days, anywhere else is a hut in Mwanza interviewing a little old lady about her health-seeking behavior. On Tuesdays, anywhere else is generally bed. Wednesdays, a gym… with a trainer. Thursdays, a concert hall… and not in the audience, but front and centre.

I know I’m not alone in feeling stuck at a 9–5, but that doesn’t stop the daily restlessness from invading my veins, screaming at me to stand up and walk away from my less-than-ergonomic prison. Sometimes I listen. I grab a coffee. I convince myself that bean water is the answer. At the coffee machine, I have robotic conversation in interchangeable languages with equal banality.

“How are things?”

“Busy. Thank god for coffee.”

“It’s almost Friday.”

“Yea, I can’t wait.”

The math is all wrong. We do realize that Monday through Friday are 3 whole days more than Saturday and Sunday right? Monkey barring from weekend to weekend is clearly detrimental to quality of life.

I don’t have a job I hate. I just hate the number of hours I have to spend doing it when I’m not being effective. Honestly, my efficiency would be higher if the monotony of a work day could be broken up with feeding other facets of my personality. Give me flex time. Make skill development in an area other than my primary area of work mandatory. Offer design courses (it would have the added benefit of making our products less esoteric and more usable by the world). Subsidize gym sessions (it’ll lower your eventual health insurance payments). Understand “Innovation” rather than just paste it into mission statements. Be Google. Or better.

The 9–5 is on its way out. We all know this. The rate of change of businesses is indicative of it. Disruptive technologies are winning the economic battle. Businesses are offering shorter work weeks. Complex problem solving, creativity and critical thinking are projected to rank as top 3 on the list of skills workers need at the cusp of the “fourth industrial revolution.” * (Revolution counting guide below because when did we get to 4??). These are generally skills that are stifled by the restrictions of the traditional 9–5. Employers need to create better enabling environments for fostering the very skills that are going to eventually determine their survival, relevance and success.

But I’m in the social sector. And the shift just isn’t happening fast enough. I feel like all the multiple dimensions I spent my childhood building are being stripped away as I slip into adulthood survival mode, sponsored by the subterfuge of a Merlot lullaby. Complex problem solving, creativity and critical thinking? They’re gasping for air in the foamy playground of my burnt cappuccino.

Final note: It’s currently 3:15pm. Let me out of this concrete box. I promise you it would save my brain, and in turn, benefit the organization.

*Guide to the industrial revolutions: 1) water & steam power, 2) electric power/mass production, 3) information technology & automation, and 4) rather undefined fusion of technology, biology and everything in between.