As 2018 comes to a close, I thought I'd thank YOU for reading my stuff! It means a lot.
I am tickled pink to see the likes, the loves, comments, and messages I got over the past few months from colleagues and friends I crossed paths in different parts of my life - from my most recent workplace all the way back to elementary school. It makes me realize the different communities I belong in, and it makes me happy that I haven't been forgotten by everyone who I've met in the past but haven't gotten in touch with recently.
If I haven't replied to you I'm not ignoring you! The past couple months were somewhat roller-coaster-esque (like changing jobs!) so once I settle in a bit I will respond.
I will continue to write in 2019, and hopefully continue for a very long time.
Befriending uncertainty (and myself)
For the longest time, I was terrified of uncertainty. (Maybe I still am.) So I ran away from it. I didn't even want to look at it from the corner of my eye. I was so afraid of uncertainty and taking responsibility for my own choices that I willingly relinquished my power to choose; I planted myself on rails and just went wherever the rails took me. And when opportunities presented themselves, I took them all because what if I said no? Then what would I be doing instead?
Consequentially, I took on whatever came my direction. My mind became really cluttered, and eventually I started to suffocate. I was overwhelmed to the point where it was damaging myself and my relationship with my loved ones - there was a time when I dreaded waking up in the morning. There were nights when I hoped I can fall asleep and never wake up.
Earlier this year, I started exercising that choice "muscle" because it had atrophied so much over the years (and led to somewhat alarming consequences). I joined a choir. I became a board member. I gave notice to my current employer. That was when this phone conversation happened:
"Where are you going?"
"I don't know yet."
That's right, I don't know yet.
For the first time in my life, not knowing what I was going to do in the future (yes, uncertainty) felt FANTASTIC.
I always had the impression that the what-am-I-gonna-do uncertainty was a void - a cold, dark, scary place. But when I had that phone call I realized that I didn't see the uncertainty as a void anymore. It looked more like this:
It turns out that I now do know where I'm heading but I will treasure that feeling, that sense of mental space that I felt when I said I don't know yet.
(Before I go into the topic of micromanagement, I will clarify that when I say "micromanagement" I'm not referring to the S1 or "Directing" leadership style. I'm referring to the S0 or "Controlling" style.)
Over the years I have learned to get skeptical when I hear people say something along the lines of "I hate micromanagement so I don't do it" because chances are:
I openly admit that I have micromanaged before. This stemmed from a hiring mistake that I had made back when I was managing the vision science lab in university. I was responsible for bringing some directed studies students on board to help me with my project. I brought in two students. One was the right fit for the lab, and the other wasn't.
The lab I worked in pretty much "ran itself" by motivated self-starters who are genuinely curious and eager to learn about how visual perception works. One of the students I brought in had said he was interested in vision science but I failed to see the truth: he really wasn't that interested. (The other student I brought in was beaming with interest. This was when I learned how important body language was in the context of interviews.)
So for the next 3 months, I had two very different management experiences. For the genuinely interested student, it was like putting a rock on a hill and it just rolls on its own; stuff gets done! For the other student it was the opposite - it was like pushing a rock uphill, or pushing a really heavy object on a surface that has a lot of friction. The moment I stop pushing, everything stops. So I kept intervening. It wasn't a good experience for me, and I'm sure it wasn't a good experience for that student either.
To me, micromanagement was a symptom of being bad at hiring. So now when I hear someone go "I hate micromanagement, it is the worst!" it gets me thinking - were you micromanaged? Were you micromanaging? Did it feel like you had to? Was it a result of a hiring mistake? How did it happen? Feel free to share micromanagement experiences in the comments (if you feel comfortable enough that is).
Usually, when I speak or write about my work and education history, I start from when I transferred into UBC from my second year in university. I don't often go into the times before that because the story gets too long and personal. So I thought I'd write it here, and you can read during your free time while sipping a cup of coffee... or tea... or hot chocolate... or wine, or scotch? A beverage of your choice :)
The Story of Two Gap Years
It was right before finals season in my first year of university. I get a message (on MSN Messenger - how nostalgic is that?) from my mom that she was diagnosed with breast cancer. This happened shortly after my parents had divorced. I was the only child. My mother was in Tokyo and I was in Boston. To me, it was just wrong to not fly back and be there for support (for... I don't know, chores? Shopping and cooking and stuff?) so I flew back to Tokyo. At the time, I decided to put a hold on pursuing my university degree.
My first year back in Tokyo was one of support and determination. My mom and I were both determined that we would get rid of this thing. (And we succeeded! More like my mom succeeded - I was just shopping and cleaning and cooking and folding 1000 cranes and stuff.) The treatment lasted for approximately a full year and consisted of chemotherapy (to make the cancerous growth shrink in size), an operation (to take it out), and radiation (to get rid of every last bit). Fortunately, it was nearly the best case scenario where there were minimal side effects from the chemotherapy (hair loss was the only thing, and watching it grow back is fascinating actually) and the surgeon who did the operation was one of the best in the field. So we were extraordinarily lucky. Except...
Money became a bit of an issue. The treatment bill was certainly not something to sneeze at. And in addition to that bill, my tuition and boarding costs were very hefty (even with a scholarship) because I went to a private school. So my circumstances had changed over the course of a year: going back to school had to be reevaluated because of the associated costs (I ended up withdrawing from university as a result).
My second year in Tokyo didn't have a goal compared to the first year. I felt lost at this time in my life. I worked part-time for two English-teaching jobs so that I don't just end up being a money sink. I was thinking of things like "I should've put in more effort into all the assignments and studied more for the exams and actually went to class" and "Would I ever go back to higher education again? What career opportunities have I missed? Will I be teaching English like this for the rest of my life?" I had lots of regret and anxiety. It was at this point where I stopped using social media because I couldn't bear looking at my high school peers move onto second year and eventually third year (and going to career fairs and doing internships and whatnot). It felt too much like only my clock had stopped and everyone else's kept on going, and I was going to be "abandoned". This may have been one of the reasons I lost touch with a good chunk of my childhood friends.
But life is weird. Long story short, circumstances changed and we suddenly had funds again. My mom encouraged me to go to school. We thought more carefully this time. That was when I had a flashback - back when I was still in high school and talking to friends and acquaintances about where to go for college, I remember hearing some people say: "Canada is pretty cool."
I was done with the East coast weather (disturbingly hot in the summer, blizzards in the winter) so naturally my eyes went to British Columbia. I found UBC. There, I found the Cognitive Systems program. When I read the description I thought "Yup, that's what I'm going to major in." It was love at first sight.
And so I applied, got accepted (yay!), flew to Vancouver and did just that.
I'm Candice and I doodle with the intensity of the doomguy.