Ever since I published my first Women 2.0 article and got invited to write for Medium, I’ve been afraid to write, afraid that I would unwittingly offend someone, afraid that my writing would just be another half-ass whiny ThoughtCatalog post, afraid that my boss or mom might be reading this. There’s analysis paralysis as well as consensus paralysis. I can’t please everyone much less my own mother. So, I’m going to write more. I’ve had a Medium post archived for weeks while I was afraid to hit the publish button. Now’s the time. The wait is over.
Embrace change and a good challenge.
"If you could give one piece of advice to a large group of people, what would it be?"
"When a wave comes, go deep."
"I think I’m going to need an explanation for that one."
"There’s three things you can do when life sends a wave at you. You can run from it, but then it’s going to catch up and knock you down. You can also fall back on your ego and try to stand your ground, but then it’s still going to clobber you. Or you can use it as an opportunity to go deep, and transform yourself to match the circumstances. And that’s how you get through the wave.”
You’re in your 20s, a couple years into your first corporate job and you feel stuck; you’re in a less-than-ideal living situation w/ a horrible roommate; you’re in an unhappy and unhealthy relationship but you just can’t seem to leave. Let’s be honest, life is pretty low, underwhelming and overwhelming at the same time, and downright shitty. Your post-college years are not what you imagined. You thought you’d move to NYC, go to grad school, meet that Mr. Right etc…Instead you embarked on a circuitous path full of unexpected twists and turns.
This was me at twenty five. Less than ideal.
After two years at a clean-tech start-up, I called my 20-something life malaise “one big de-bugging triage”. For some reason, ascribing a corporate, software, seemingly asinine name distanced my misery and unhappiness. How do you get unstuck when life is not what you imagined it to be?
After reading on Medium the notion of a live pivot, I quickly realized it was time for me to pivot. Unlike the Pinterest pivot, we’re not talking about a start-up—pivoting your life as a minimum viable product has a lot more at stake. We spend our entire life building this MVP, shipping it, and iterating it through time. We may have an idea or plan for where we want to be or what happiness looks like, we encounter unforeseen hurdles, readjust (iterate), course correct when necessary (pivot) to continuously ship the MVP called life. No one wants to claim a failed product especially when it’s your life.
So began my life pivot over two months: ended an unhealthy relationship, moved out of an unhappy living situation, and quit my job. In that order.
Scared shitless sums it up pretty well. I was scared shitless and ridden with anxiety. Anxiety about whether I would find a new apartment by the end of the month. Anxiety about whether I would find another job. Anxiety about being single again. Anxiety about running out of savings. Anxiety about managing my anxiety. Free flowing anxiety seeped into every crevice of my life.
Making a decision to change is easy, persisting to make that change is the hard part.
These are the 10 steps I took to embark on a life pivot:
1. Quit being unhappy - staying an extra day at a job or relationship where you feel like there is no room to grow robs you an extra day from doing meaningful, challenging, fulfilling work. If your role is not the right fit, if you’re under appreciated and overworked, if you’ve outgrown your job—quit. Quit being a cog in the wheel, quit being unhappy, quit giving yourself excuses. Quit so you can devote all your energy to pursuing to new opportunities and embarking on a new journey.
2. Set yourself a timeline - give yourself one week to sort out your angst, let go of the anger and the past, and start focusing on what you really want to do. Use this time to mourn, detach, purge, move on, and start exploring new options.
3. Increase your luck surface area - talk to people about your passions, your experiences, and what you want to do. Broadcast yourself. Let people know you’re on the market for a new job or apartment through social media outlets. Look at shared LinkedIn connections with your existing network and ask for introductions. Don’t underestimate the power of friends of friends. Two of my four job opportunities were referrals from friends of friends. Your friends and old coworkers may know you well but it’s the tertiary connections of mutual friends that expand your horizons.
4. Take the plunge and find your flow - you’re like a shark, keep swimmin’ or you’ll sink. Runners don’t look back when they’re sprinting ahead neither should you. Keep sending out new job applications, start interviewing, and gain traction. Once the momentum builds, you’re going to get into the flow. Work won’t feel like you’re working. Interviews will become conversations. Your performance becomes natural in the ebb and flow.
5. Fail fast and celebrate it - each interview that doesn’t work out, each demo presentation full of technical glitches brings you closer to what your ultimate goal. Learn from your mistakes early when it’s still cheap.
6. Count your small wins - small changes occur a day at a time, ultimately, a lot of change accumulates within a month or two. Small things going right when everything seems wrong will make your life pivot more bearable. Some of my small wins: 1. avocados on sale at Trader Joe’s 2. free washers during the day at the local laundromat w/ pin ball machines 3. my Birchbox arriving a day early.
7. Don’t conflate uncertainty w/ risk - embrace uncertainty and risk but realize they are separate notions. Some of the best things in life come with risk. You don’t need game theory to tell you to hedge your bets and that high risk yields high return. Take calculated risks and accept uncertainty as a double edge sword. Uncertainty is also a sense of possibilities.
8. Embrace serendipity - talk to that random recruiter who messaged you, entertain a spontaneous last-minute chat with a start-up founder, say yes to unexpected things that come your way. You’ll be surprised by what the universe can conjure up when you become receptive.
9. Find side projects - learn to knit, fix a light bulb, frame your pictures…do something to preoccupy and structure your day while you’re waiting to hear back from recruiters and interviewers. Do things that you can’t do w/ a full-time job like attend a 9am vinyasa yoga class or go on a mid-afternoon urban hike. Career woman, it’s time to get in touch w/ your domestic side. Bake rhubarb pie, drink wine while doing so, and enjoy it!
10. Celebrate - when you get that offer, apartment, or find that special someone, don’t forget to celebrate. Congratulate yourself for braving through the shitstorm, for staying gritty, for not losing hope. Realize that you’ll undergo many life pivots throughout your twenties and beyond. Each time, the pivot will be different but after each pivot, you’ll become fitter, happier, and more productive (Radiohead yo). You become one lean, mean de-bugging machine!
I use to think that if I were a smart, independent girl with unswaying common sense and a good head on my shoulders then I could go anywhere alone, literally and figuratively. Well…turns out, not everywhere, and certainly, not India. My trip to India this past Dec. taught me two sobering realities:
1) Unfortunately, in certain parts of the world, it’s still not safe to travel alone as a foreign woman. Whoever put New Delhi as #9 on this NYT travel list, touting Delhi’s bourgie restaurants needs to get out of their cushy bubble and into the streets of New Delhi.
2) Third world problems put first world problems into perspective. In fact, I will take it a step further and say third world problems put first world problems to rest (more on that later).
The horrific rape incident happened the day I landed in Delhi. I will spare you the gruesome details. It shook the entire country and the people rose up in arms after what happened to a young twenty three year old girl waiting on the side of a street after wedding dress shopping. The tension in the air throughout India from Ahmedabad (where I stayed for my best friend’s wedding) to New Delhi (where the incident happened) was palpable. In India, rape is a prevalent social problem that has finally reached a saturation point and the people, especially the women, are not tolerating this issue any longer.
First off, I want to thank my faithful travel companion/partner in crime, Maria, for sticking w/ me throughout this arduous journey b/c I would not have survived Delhi without you! Truth be told, I have no sense of direction (might as well have a paper bag over my head) but possess the uncanny ability to befriend anyone or anything that moves. Maria, on the other hand, is an engineer by trade with excellent navigation and research skills. When my default friendliness was putting us in jeopardy during shady situations, she reigned me back. When we were lost or needed tips, I sought help from locals or bargained with vendors for the best deals. Maria was the navigator and I was the diplomat. She memorized the entire Lonely Planet India Guide Book and I prioritized and coordinated itinerary items. Together we complemented each other in the best ways, just like Lewis and Clark (she was Lewis and I was Clark). I just wish we had a Sacagawea or a shaman to guide us…
When we got off our overnight train from Ahmedabad to Delhi, Maria and I were immediately shocked by the amount of unsought attention coming from Indian men. Whenever we were in the streets of New Delhi, men would stare at us, crudely proposition us, or even follow us. One man at Connaught Place, the New Delhi city center, said “I’m not selling you anything” and then proceeded to follow us for four blocks. As a result, we quickly learned to size up situations and take necessary precautions. There was not a moment when we felt safe or were at ease. Our spidey sense and cortisol levels were off the charts! Our priority was clear: securing safety was our modus operandi during this leg of the journey.
We took the following survival tips in Delhi:
Go incognito – The head scarf comes in handy at mosques and after dark in Delhi. One thing Maria and I noticed was you get fewer second glances when shrouded under a scarf or a hat. We A/B tested our hypothesis first with scarves then with hats. She wrapped her curly brown locks in a scarf and I tucked my black thick curls under a red star communist hat from my recent trip to China (my sign of psychological retreat under stress). See Exhibit A. Mixed with the harsh winter winds blowing in from Rajasthan and the excess attention, we found the scarf wrap (Exhibit B) to be both functional and stylish.
Negotiate and hustle – Accept the inalienable truth that people are going to rip you off not in a malicious, stick-it-to-foreigners, anti-globalization kind of way. But rather, locals see foreigners as a cash cow so why now milk them? We were quoted, double if not triple, the standard fare for cab rides. It helped to call our friend’s uncle for price comparison and negotiation.
Pro-tip: Don’t be afraid to say “no”. In America, we love to say yes to everything! Want to grab coffee? Yes! Want to help me on a project Yes! Our default mode is to “yes” but in India, you have to default to “no”. I learned this the hard way from begging children who had lost their youthful innocence. If you pay one kid, a dozen, possibly thirty will swarm around you asking for money. We were chased by two girls after the Ganges River Lighting ceremony. They offered us services we didn’t ask for—dotting our foreheads—and then pursued us for money. This how relieved we looked after running away from them barefoot!
STAY CALM AND CARRY ON – The British know a thing or two about surviving trench warfare and staying calm under two world wars. No matter how hard and alarming the situation is—trust me, we had plenty—realize that you are in control of your reactions. 90% of unsafe situations are out of your control but if there is 10% that you can maximize and turn in your favor—do it. We had to resort to our wits and problem-solving skillz when a fraudulent monk almost shanked us in Rishikesh, home of the Beatle’s Ashram. Looking back, something really bad coulda-shoulda-woulda happened but we stayed calm, problem-solved, and got out of a potentially regrettable situation.
Don’t underestimate the power of serendipity – There was a low point when my travel partner and I mutually updated our Facebook statuses: “Dear India, you are beating the shit out of me. Love, Maria & Bo”. However, every time we hit a low point in India, something magical would happen—a serendipitous encounter or solution would arise—restoring our faith in the universe and, most importantly, in shared humanity. Traveling puts you at the mercy of others and also in a position to see the goodness in others.
Enjoy fleeting moments for what they are – Take experiences as they come, don’t make things happen or feel contrived. You meet each person for a reason. People come and go in your life. Savor the present and relish in perfect moments from the past. Buddha was right: have no attachments. Life is ephemeral.
Happiness is relative – If a mother, baby, and three toddlers can live in a shack by the street w/ a single light bulb, what do you have to complain about? If two boys can playfully wrestle to the ground in a mosque, one w/ a burnt face and he is still laughing, what do you have that’s so unbearable? Remembering the youthful happiness of those boys despite their poverty and scars made me feel grateful for what I have. I thank my parents for setting me up for success and setting my baseline high so I can achieve more. We tend to forget that much of our lives is a function of when and where we are born. 70% of the world are not as fortunate as we are.
Adjust your expectations – India is no Eat, Pray, Love (more like Eat, Pray, Spend) trip. In fact, Elizabeth Gilbert never left a 4 mile radius from her Ashram probably b/c she was too scared to see the real side of India and risk bursting her zen spirituality self-absorbed bubble. It’s no Italy or Bali, that’s for sure. Our take on Eat, Pray, Love was EAT a lot and hope you don’t sick, LOVE some (mainly each other), and PRAY A LOT especially before every meal. You never know if you’re going to get the Delhi Belly.
Breathe. Despite all the physical discomforts and potential danger, in the end, just relax and go with the flow, seriously, breathe. India is the kind of experience that shakes you up, rattles your core, makes you question all your a priori assumptions, while finding what is true and pure (I’m sounding like Hemingway now). Remember, it’s suppose to be hard. India is both beautiful and grungy, spiritual and frenetic, simple and complex, jarring and calming, enigmatic and open. Realize that you will never experience anything like this again—regardless of all the hardships, scared shitless moments, shanty hotels, and crooks you encounter—you are alive and experiencing something unique, one of a kind, like an imperfect snowflake about to melt into your glove. If you can survive, the real, authentic, raw version of India, you can just about handle all your first world problems.
[DISCLAIMER: We took the Northern India route which is much harsher to foreigners. Our experiences were heightened by the rising social tensions during the Delhi gang rape incident. The country is moving towards a political and social cusp affecting our perception and experiences of India for the first time. My friend who took a much “foreigner-friendly” route South to Bombay and Goa after the wedding had no problems. He was partying on the beach in Goa at the Sunburn festival while we got lost in Rishikesh, searching for Lakshmanjula, the Bridge of the Gods near the Himalayas. There is so much cultural richness in India. I still need to go back for the calm backwaters of Kerala in the South, ride on the camels in Pushkar, watch the sending off of the dead in Varanasi, and dance on the beach in Goa. India, you are incredible and I will be back!]
Trust and believe in Ganesha,
Growing up as a nerd, I always felt a bit out of place—too precocious, too neurotic, too philosophical—except when I was communing w/ my fellow geeks at debate tournaments, math competitions, and yes, science bowls. Granted I learned enough social saavy to have a well-adjusted childhood.
Dreamforce is everything a reformed nerd would wish for. And MORE.
To sum up Dreamforce, it’s a cross b/w the People’s Temple cult (etymology of “drink the kool-aid”) with Steve Jobs religiosity (ditto, both had cult following)! Dreamforce is an incredible out of body physical and digital experience. The keynote product launches alone rival the intensity, entertainment, and presentation of Apple product launches—no joke. In middle of MC Hammer’s “too legit to quit” performance, I realized that Salesforce is too BIG to fail—it is too legit to quit! It’s the new Google yo. You’re either on board or you’re off. Regardless, nobody wants to be like the Outlook users who had to force-migrate over to Gmail two year too late. Ouch.
What I learned from Dreamforce:
1. Business is social. Customers are interacting w/ businesses rapidly through social media. If your customers aren’t tweeting about your business, Facebooking, or posting angry/happy Yelp reviews, they will be.
Chatter is the future in business collaboration.
Chatter is facebook for businesses and partners.
Chatter enables swarming aspect for customer escalation to solve real-time problems faster, respond to social media comments live, and conduct sentiment analysis via Radian6.
If your company is not using Chatter, get them on it! Be a driver in Chatter adoption by finding specific pain points and use cases Chatter can help address.
2. Salesforce is built to be imperfect on purpose. Salesforce leaves cracks in their platform to to allow room for growth in their app ecosystem. Smart move. Marc Benioff and Parker Harris have built a platform that is constantly expanding like the universe, no kidding. With each acquisition, the Salesforce platform becomes more and more fragmented. As a result, app developers come in to fill in the voids. Salesforce only needs to focus on a couple of core initiatives (as noted by their “true to the core” initiative) cherry-picking what they want to improve and leaving the rest up to app developers to fix. If they find a market they want to take back, as in the case of Chatterbox this year, the app developers are screwed. A very Apple-esque move. Well played Marc, well played.
3. Speak the language. Do you talk Salesforce? You don’t have to be a kickass developer to become a Salesforce ninja. Just have enough language fluency so next time Premier Support or consultants says something can’t be done, you can call bullshit. Sitting in a middle of an intro to Apex and Triggers class for non-developers was a pivotal moment for me at Dreamforce; I began to see the code behind the matrix. Yes, a Nemo moment! Know basics in SQL for database and ERP systems, SOQL for programing Salesforce apps, and become friends w/ force.com, the developer zone for Salesforce. I promise, you won’t regret it!
4. You don’t have to code to leverage Salesforce (see #3). I use to have a huge inferiority complex a la this Quora article b/c I couldn’t code. Only in the Bay Area do people have this #firstworldoverachieverproblem. Jaap, co-founder of dutch company SelfService, helped me realize you don’t have to code to be good at what you do. I want to bridge the gap b/w Marketing/Customer Experience (business needs) and Engineering (technical execution). It involves playing a fine dance b/w left brain and right brain, understanding business needs and translating that into actionable items to engineers. Whenever you’re a nexus b/w two worlds, you have be bilingual.
Working at a tech company as a non-developer brings perspective to building products. Instead of being confined by the coding constraints, you push the envelope. You’re an visioneer. You can be foolhardy at times. Janine Yoong, my mentor and VP of BizDev at Tokbox, subscribe to a “trust and verify” philosophy when working w/ engineers who are probably smarter than you are.
5. Make real connections at Dreamforce and grow them. I never thought whilst biking at a green cellphone charging station, I would meet a Salesforce engineer who develops the very search function I need to improve for our Knowledge Base. Or when getting lost at Dreamforce, a senior technologist would help guide me to the right booth and put me in touch w/ a metadata expert—score! Make the most out of your opportunity to go straight to the source. Network the heck out of Dreamforce. You never know who you’ll end up talking may introduce you to something new or have the very answers you were searching for.
I plan to keep dreamforcing throughout the year by constantly learning/customizing/leveraging new Salesforce features, dabbling in coding, grabbing coffee w/ my new Salesforce friends, and keep drinking the kool-aid b/c it tastes so damn good.
Keep dreaming on,