Embracing being lost

This post is more personal than usual, and I hope you can relate to some parts. I decided to share my struggle finding direction and goals. Let’s start with an introduction.

Hola. I am Gino. I am 27, originally from Spain but currently living in Copenhagen. I work on a not-so-demanding job that supports me and my partner in an extremely expensive city (my rent is higher than the base salary of my siblings). I have a nurturing group of friends and a supportive and attentive partner.

I workout five times a week, eat healthy enough and find joy in my hobbies. I am part of an amateur sports team, and I am performing improv on stage most weeks. I have even read more than two books a month for the last three years.

And I feel completely and utterly lost in my life.

My career

I studied computer science and easily found my career path. A place where I could use both my passion for understanding problems and my skills in building software: Testing Automation was such an easy match.

Working in automation was a clear winner. I was able to move abroad, have a nice salary and fill a needed role; and it wasn’t extremely demanding! I really value my spare time.

What I love about my job has been evolving during the last years. I love pairing with people and bringing pragmatic points of view early on the discussion. I enjoy understanding entire systems and providing a bigger picture while working on a problem. I also like leading, both managing and empowering my colleagues.

But there are many things that are not for me in my current position. Coding is less appealing to me by the day. I miss more human interaction. I would like more manual labour or work within a team more often. And I wish I could give workshops and teach more often.

But I am aware that my career is bringing me down. Each day I feel less motivated to step out of my home. I even find so many excuses to not spend time actually doing my job. I feel lost and stuck in this situation.

My relationships

I am lucky to have such a supportive partner on my side and many inspiring friends.

Something that defines my relationship is my fear of needing someone. I don’t feel comfortable when a connection is defined by necessity. I value when we spend time together because we want to, instead of needing it. I choose people because they make my life better.

Being a caregiver is also part of how I see myself. I love being useful while helping the people I care about, or by trying to make the world a better place. I can see the impact on helping some people around me. Those whom I know they are struggling. Those who just need a little push to take the reigns and change this world.

I stress too much about my relationships because I take unnecessary responsibilities, creating extra burdens.

My place in the world

I am not going to be the leader who will bring the revolution, and I am happy with it. Not everyone will change this world. And, for every leader, there is a need for a second in command. I usually fill a supportive role. I am comfortable giving my time and resources. I like enabling the people I feel will change the world.

I talk about things more than I do things. In any hobby, I am more concerned with finding the most efficient way to perform something; than performing it. I am usually a better coach or trainer than a player.

All the previous identity statements create a big internal conflict. Nowadays, many people think we are all achievers and I should aim for that, but I am actually comfortable in a supporting position. Understanding that the traits I like about myself can’t build on a career also affects me. WIll I only be successful if I partner with a doer?

Things that I’m proud of

Being a natural giver, I love the impact I have had on the people I care about. Seeing how the spark of inspiration, or just that little push, has helped them grow into such beautiful beings.

Due to my love for theory-crafting, I love endless discussions. And that makes me an amazing muse. I don’t know how to finish any project but I am amazing inspiring others and keeping them on track. I am also an excellent idea generator.

Pragmatism is something I easily bring to the table. I am quite good at offering realistic points of view. That has allowed me to plan ahead for many challenges which actually arose. I believe that if you fantasize about a situation, you will be better prepared for it.

Things that I certainly should change

Not wanting to need anyone is hindering my enjoyment of life. It blocks my ability for commitment. I can’t really lose myself in the moment. I can’t truly fight for something if I don’t believe I actually require it.

I generally take a supportive role because I see it as the only way to make an impact. It probably comes from the notion of not really accomplishing anything by myself. I take the “parental” role, supporting and nurturing others, making them grow.

Pragmatism can also lead to being too negative. Realising every way something might go wrong easily produces paralysis. What is the point of starting the problem with such a challenge? I should really be more mindful on the way I share this insight and find ways to express it in an encouraging way. “Let’s be prepared for these challenges” instead of “just be aware of these problems”.

I need stability in many aspects of my life, which heavily limits the kind of risks I am willing to take with my career and life. Unf*ck Yourself touches on the subject. If I want to grow and change my situation, my stability will be challenged; and I get really anxious by the thought of it.

What am I doing to get there?

In my career, I am looking for opportunities that are more social and less technical. Taking more responsibilities regarding people management.

Am I also looking for other incomes and toying with the idea of a less stable and more fulfilling path. There are so many skills I can learn about taking a different path.

In my life, I should stop waiting for motivation. The perfect situation is not going to come, and I will always be able to find a thousand reasons why things will crumble. But I am going to just chase opportunities. I will keep moving and inventing, and if something arises, it will be handled!

I can’t get enough of so many new activities! I never thought of them before. Activities like engaging with an audience. Or bringing playfulness to a team, with games and fun competition. Or keeping a group motivated and happy, fostering a better team spirit. I wish my career involved more of these skills.

I am also going to take more risks. I will assign a quota of resources I am willing to gamble with trying new things. Let’s spend a little bit of time building a blog, even if it will never take off. Let’s invest some money in building the prototype of an app, even if no one will use it. I have to rethink commitment as giving my all for as long as it is relevant, not the need of sticking with something till the end of time

Conclusion

I feel lost. Society makes me feel that I shouldn’t feel lost, but there is no denying how I feel. I didn’t have any big trauma during my childhood. I had an amazing parental example. I have never had any big problem. But I still can’t find myself, regardless of all the privileges I am enjoying.

I am ashamed of being lost, but that is nonsense. It is just part of my life. And, if you’re lost, hopefully knowing that you are not alone helping.

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5 Audiobooks to start listening to right now!

If I had to choose the habit that made the biggest impact in my life during 2018, it was for sure listening to Audiobooks. This allows me to enjoy my commute and training time more, adding up to more than 10 hours of “reading” a week! That is the main reason why I could beat my challenge reading 29 books on the last year! And I even have four books under my belt so far on 2019.

One of the reasons why I decided to listen to audiobooks is because I am obsessed with efficiency. It is actually a treat that I am working to improve, as it also affects my ability to find joy, but I think the impact this is having in my life is invaluable. It also made my commute more enjoyable, encouraging me to walk and be active more often! This is not even counting all the hours I have listened to amazing podcasts, such as the Backline (a didactical podcast about Improvisation) or Tim Ferris’ Podcast (inspirational interviews with different “Titans”).

Trust me on this one! Give this a try. Find a moment when you could focus on what you are listening to and pick an audiobook to start learning from! Nowadays it is extremely easy, especially using Audible. You can sign up freely (like using this referral link) and pick two books right now. Oh, you can’t think of any interesting book to listen to right now? I have you covered! Here there are some of my recommendations!

Five amazing audiobooks that you can start learning from right now!

Mating in Captivity – Esther Perel

I fell in love with Esther Perel after listening to her interview by Tim Ferris, and last year I decided to read two of her books. In this book, Esther explores the complexities of sustaining desire through many case studies. The stories hooked me while also making me rethink my previous relationships, as well as gave me the tools to build a stronger connection in my current one.

You can also listen for free to the first episode of Where Should We Begin?, a podcast where she shares some of her counseling sessions. It is such an intimate experience!

Essentialism – Greg McKeown

Greg McKeown explains his definition of essentialism: “less but better”. It shows a way of thinking about productivity and business, helping you find which is the biggest impact you can make and the importance of focusing on that (and reducing the noise). He shares numerous examples and techniques, like asking yourself “how much would I pay to get this if I didn’t own it already?” to discern what do you value the most.

I personally agree with the pursuit of “living by design, not by default”. This is a read that I highly recommend to anyone managing people, as it contains many lessons I wish my managers would share. And it’s less than 6 hours!

Mistborn – Brandon Sanderson

If you enjoy fantasy, give yourself the treat of enjoying this masterpiece. It might even be your gateway to the incredible work that Sanderson is doing. He has become my favorite epic-fantasy writer, and his world-building work is more impressive every step you take down the rabbit hole.

I personally get caught on making “the most out of my days”, and sometimes I forget the importance of play and joy. His work has been my drug of choice. I personally find it deliciously immersive, and I can easily enjoy it through my day (in opposition to watching Netflix when I get home!).

Tomorrow Will Be Different: Love, Loss, and the Fight for Trans – Sarah McBride

Sarah is a leading activist on the National Press Secretary at the Human Rights Campaign. Her book explains (with depth and brutal honesty) some of her struggles with gender identity and finding her way as a political person. It is a powerful tale of confusion, pain, empowerment and lost; all while keeping a stoically positive view and fighting for what it is right.

I didn’t know anything about Sara McBride prior to reading this book (even worse, I barely knew anything about Trans struggles in North America), and reading this book broadened my view. I am extremely inspired by her work, and I’m sure you’ll find it as enlightening as I did.

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life – Anne Lammot

Writing is an integral part of our interactions in this digital era, and the understanding of how to deliver a story is one of the skills I am actively working on. Anne empowers a beginner writer with many insights, tips, and tools; while keeping it entertaining. She is actually hilarious!

I am spending more and more time writing on my social media, so learning some basics of writing is already having an immense impact on my interactions. Being a non-native English speaker feels already like a disadvantage to me, so the more (good) lessons I can enjoy, the merrier!

And you, what are you listening to?

I am constantly looking for new books to listen to, as I am listening to more than 10 hours a week! Is there any book that you have loved recently? Is there any podcast that has changed your life? Which are the habits which impact you the most? I’m looking forward to hearing from you!

What makes a good leader, and how I will become one

Much of my job experiences have been heavily influenced by the leaders and managers I worked with. This seems to be a relevant topic, as you can also read many case studies of the heads from very successful companies scrolling through our social feeds. There are even science talks about the impact leaders have in organizations! So I decided that there are some thoughts I want to share on the subject.

I have met a wide array of leaders on my career, both being directly managed by them or feeling their effect in the company. But there are few who I consider had a lasting positive impact on my life! I remember having a manager who shielded us from external pressures so we could have the biggest impact, and how much that impacted our daily Job. Other times I felt heard and supported, allowing me to focus on my tasks. And I loved seeing how they embraced playfulness, fostering a funnier (and more engaging!) environment.

Most middle management is pushing for more productivity and longer work hours, without taking into consideration the impact that has. There are many traits from traditional management that really put me off, even when they sugar coat it with phrases like “we will share the success together!”. I understand there are deadlines. I know we are talking about work, and many times it will feel like a chore. But if we are trying to make something creative, that style of leadership will alienate me instead of bringing my best self.

Luckily, there are some leaders who are taking a completely different approach, and you can clearly see the effects. When I feel inspired by a mentor, I bring my A game every single time. It can be because I can focus on my small area of expertise while feeling supported on all those that make me struggle. Other times, I just have so much joy (and respect for their work) during my interactions with them, that I can help but look forward to meeting and working together!

What makes an inspiring leader

So, which traits define these magical leaders? They can be many and varied. Some have such a passionate vision that most of us can’t help but jump on their wagon regardless of what is required from us; like Elon Musk and his contagious passion. Others show how they prioritize their life and family, earning my respect and making me dream of becoming like them one day; like Jeff Bezos talking about quality over quantity of working hours. There are also the ones who include some level of playing or showing how to deal with a problem by setting themselves as examples; like Dick Costolo and how improvisation made him a better leader.

What do I value the most from a manager, then? Bringing a well-defined vision makes a huge impact on me. When they believe in the direction we are heading and feel passionate about our goal, I easily get on board. And that is no easy task! A big part of my job is offering counter-arguments and adding reality to our vision, and I feel that passion is the best way to win me. Another thing I strongly value is showing real competence, while still deciding to trust and delegate some of their tasks to the team. I feel empowered when I am trusted with a task by someone who is capable of doing it but recognizes their value of focusing on what they can impact the most.

What makes me run away from a manager? Feeling micromanaged easily makes me lose the motivation, even if I understand the value of checking for progress regularly and finding blockers early. Being managed by someone who focuses heavily on a strict process, without really understanding how it affects the rest of the team and lacking the fluidity needed to grow. I can also have difficulting if I am led by someone who doesn’t show expertise on our tasks, making it way more difficult to share success stories and explain the difficulties that I am facing.

Am I ready to become a leader?

I am approaching the point in my career when I am no longer scared of management tasks, and I really want to understand what shall I focus on if I want to become a manager. I would love to learn more from game theory and gamification, to create rewarding and engaging environments. And I should improve the ways I give and receive feedback, being a critical part of any leadership position.

If you are interested in the topic and you would like to learn more, there are many books which have inspired me on the subject. As I previously mentioned, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less taught me the importance of focusing on your biggest impact. Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most helped to build your tools in those moments that matter the most. There are also many skills from improvisation that easily translate to team environments like focusing on listening, embracing the fact that you will have to drop your ideas, the joy of playing or focusing on this exact moment; just to name a few!

Let me hear from you!

What do you value from a manager? What would you recommend to some of your previous managers? If you are a leader, what do you struggle the most with? Do you agree with the points exposed here? Please, I would love to hear from your experience!

The book of the five rings: Why

I’m enjoying The book of the five rings (Miyamoto Mushashi) way more than what I thought. It’s not only teaching m about martial arts and war but all the lessons are easily applicable to professional and personal situations. Even if I wish to never have to apply this knowledge about sword mastering in my real life (although with my passion of role games, I know they’re going to be handy!), revisiting some experiences in my head as they were a duel, running through all the points Mushashi explain in this amazing book.

What hooked me to continue reading (on top of my inner nerd feeling like a ninja!) was how surprisingly relatable were the lessons and statements to my career. And we’re talking about a half a century old manuscript about surviving duels to the death.

For instance, Mr Mushashi talks about how a bad rhythm can kill you. Moving too fast in a fight is as bad as being slow, as you might make a mistake. That’s why he always keep a steady pace: fighting, walking and living. It allows you to study your opponent and plan a strategy.

He also says that repeating a technique that previously failed will kill you. You might be tempted thinking that the failure was because a bad performance, but the chance of another failure is really high. If you tried it and manage to survive, your adversary will be ready for the third time. And you’ll die.

He stays the importance of your environment. Every one of its details might be an advantage, and you have to avoid that they become an adversity. You should also have expertise with a large variety of weapons, not just mastering a few of them like other duelling schools. Adaptability is required if you plan to keep duelling and survive. People will bring new weapons and tools, and they’ll focus on countering the common techniques.

As he says: no technique is invalid if it makes you survive. I want to end talking about the book with some if its quotes:

“Do nothing that is of no use”

“It is difficult to understand the universe if you only study one planet”

“You can only fight the way you practice”

“You must understand that there is more than one path to the top of the mountain”

― Miyamoto Musashi, The Book of Five Rings

May the force be with you,

Gino

Efficiency obsession: Power Reading

My biggest quirk is this stupid obsession with efficiency. I’ve spoiled every aspect of my life because of this, and the saddest part is that I enjoy it. When I have a new toy the joy of discovering it ends pretty fast, and I just want to learn how to get the most out of it afterwards. Most of the times, I don’t even need to apply that knowledge; just learning, discussing and testing it is more than enough.

I do it with almost every aspect of my life. When a get a new video game and I enjoy the mechanics, I start learning and theorising how to min max it. How to get the most spending the least time, how to break its virtual economy with handmade cost-related spreadsheets, etc. When I walk, I always think the fastest way to get somewhere, even when there’s no hurry. When I have several episodes of a TV show pending, I watch them at 1.5x. Daenerys listing her titles improves at 1.5, believe me.

And obviously, it also affects my career. I won’t talk about its implications for my daily work now, but how it changes how I face my continuous learning. I’m in the first steps in my career and have plenty of free time, so I usually try to spend a fair amount of it trying new technologies, reading about last trends, doing courses and reading. It’s not always related to my field (like The game or The Book of Five Rings), but instead of reading fantasy literature (which I love doing), I’m focusing on amazing papers that teach me something.

But how is my stupid efficiency obsession affecting my reading? I don’t know how familiar are you with power reading techniques, but lately, I’ve been following this one. I’ve always been a fast reader, although my speed is heavily hammered with technical English-written books. That’s why lately I’ve been trying some of these techniques, to get better comprehension and faster assimilation of the concepts.

I know, the main concern is: you should be enjoying the reading, not rushing it! And that’s completely fair. But as I said, the main reason for reading these books is to increase my expertise in an area, expanding my knowledge, learning new approaches, and summarising the best ideas of it. Power reading achieves all these purposes, along with training a very useful skill in my opinion: reading a really long text and assimilating its key concepts.

“But reading fast is really easy, you only have to skip some paragraphs and voilà!”. I’ve also been there. I remember my tedious maths reads, and how I tried to skip everything that didn’t seem enough important. But this time, I have another powerful tool: this blog. For every of this book that I read, I force myself to think about a lesson learnt post, and I start writing a bullet point list of the main subjects and the things I enjoyed the most. Even if I don’t polish and publish the post, it forces me to understand and pay attention to the read!

May the force be with you,

Gino

How my desk affects my work

One of the amazing perks of a startup is the small office and teams, allowing you to spend plenty of time with colleagues from other fields. I’ll write a post with all the amazing things I’ve learnt working with product managers, designer, developers and customer support; but today it’s about something different. I want to talk about how changing who are you sitting with will drastically change your experience in the organisation, and even your career.

Keeping your team in sight-distance is easy with our size, and it gives us freedom to move around without compromising the Agile manifesto. We’ve also moved three times offices since I joined, and completely changed the org and teams a couple of times; so I’ve changed my desk on several occasions. I’ve been sitting close to the development team to convince them about the testing importance, with my manager to better define the roadmap and priorities, with the designer just because we’re close and I’m so funny she wanted me there (OK, no), with our customer support guy… and every single of those experiences gave me a better understanding about our product and mission, and taught me something. Both personally and professionally.

Some experiences were more enlightening than others. For example, working close an introvert colleague might produce less conversation about life, the universe and everything else; but you might be able to ask more details about his daily work, and how you can assist him. Other times is your colleague who directly asks you for help. And bonding just talking about the weekend is always a huge morale boost in the office, and you never know when you’ll need it!

For example, sitting with our Customer support guy has completely changed how I approach testing and building the product. It gave me a lot of insight about what the users are complaining about, he engaged me with the community (it’s really useful the I think I found a bug forum!), helped me understanding how to test something, and taught me some legacy parts of the platform. I also helped him understanding how we’re building the new one, reminding him when a change was going to be released, teaching how to find technical details of the cases, and giving faster answers to the user.

With this, I just want to point out that you should care about where you’re sitting, especially if they let you chose! This is going to be part of your onboarding, and it’ll shape your career and experience in the company. If possible, I encourage you to change your place from time to time and visit some of your colleagues pairing with them some days (more about it in future posts!). Less process and organisation empower us, and this is one of the main reasons why!

So look around your desk and think Who should be sitting with to better learn how things work? Who is going to teach me more about X? Where I can be more useful?. No good manager will block you to change providing a valid reason, and testing your manager with the question is valuable on its own. And then… share your experiences with us, please!

May the force be with you,

Gino

 

It’s always worse elsewhere

Yesterday I share a couple of beers with some old friends who also work in the Software industry. They’re working on a small Consultancy agency building websites using the same core, cutting most of the production costs as most of them use fairly similar implementations. Everything sounds right until they get surprised when I asked about their testing framework. “Well, before sending them to the client, we navigate through the site checking that anything breaks”. Fair enough, I don’t expect everyone to use Selenium. “The problem is when a client finds a bug. Most of them are part of the core so that bug is probably on every one of our projects, and we’re afraid of refactoring anything”. If the core is not a volatile piece of code, probably it’ll be a good investment to build some functional tests verification on top of your unit test. “Unit what?”. Bum. And then I remembered.

I was also part of a Consultancy brand (it was my first job in the industry). I remember the “we can’t afford to write the unit tests, our problem is really complex and we don’t have time, we’ll just verify it at the end”. I bought it. I truly believed that we were good enough that unit test was only a plus, and the projects were difficult and fast paced… NO WAY we could afford wasting time on tests! I remember some senior colleagues explaining that to me. Why would I don’t follow their example? They had way more experience than me, and they developed way faster. I wanted to be like them.

And I remember the struggles. I remember that every single bug fix carried weird and unexpected regressions. How the clients complained every week, and the constant fight about who is the responsible for the fix (Was it a bug, or a failure in the requirements?). The hellish deployments, the tedious manual verifications of just what was needed, the numerous problems with our version control tool as we always realised too late that the release didn’t contain that change.

I also remember the change. When I left the company and learnt something new in the next one. And then the next one. On my first day, one of my new colleagues was disturbed because I wasn’t writing unit tests. He didn’t even ask a reason, but I tried to convince him that they just slow my momentum. I remember his face. He just taught me how to make it easy, and handled me a copy of Clean Code. I had to pair with him and… Oh God, that was beautiful. He showed to me what TDD feels. And I started realising that, actually, the team didn’t spend that much time dealing with the horrors I was used to. It was so simple and beautiful.

That’s why I spent some time yesterday trying to show them the importance of this practices. Explaining to them why most of the companies they want to work in ask for TDD practices or writing functional tests. Exampling to them how they’ve been important during my projects. Giving them resources, guidelines and the chance to ask any question. But, obviously, I’m just a QA, so what the heck I’d know about coding.

Yeah, dear readers, it’s always worse elsewhere. That’s no excuse to not try to be the very best you, including the best professional you can be; but sometimes appreciating what you’ve learnt and why you’re doing it is needed. It is also important to identify who would use some help, and offer it. For me, life is how you feel sharing with the people you choose your knowledge, resources and smiles. I’ll talk in further posts about some of the

I’ll talk in further posts about some of the anti-patterns I’ve seen (and do) during my career, and some lessons I’ve learnt fighting them. But, for now,

May the force be with you,

Gino