I want to start a support group for beautiful, intelligent, charming, [insert positive attribute here] people. Like Alcoholics Anonymous, but instead of complaining about our yearnings for tequila shots, we’ll have a safe place to rant about how difficult life can be when one is so very beautiful, intelligent, charming, etc.
Disclaimer: I don’t actually believe myself to be exceptionally exceptional in these areas. But I’m only half kidding about this idea. We spend way too much time apologizing for our successes, and prefacing any complaints with a list of reasons why we have no right to complain. We’re conditioned to attribute all our wins to luck, but we’re free to take full ownership of our failures. This is not only irrational, it’s incredibly inefficient from a conversational standpoint.
There are of course legitimate reasons to downplay successes. It’s not very nice to whine about your exhausting, vibrant dating life in front of the girl who hasn’t been asked out in over a year. Or worry over your upcoming promotion in front of a jobless friend. This is probably why pretty people tend to be friends with other pretty people, and why it’s more comfortable to date someone in your general income bracket. Walking on egg shells gets tiresome, and being in the company of “equals” means you have to downplay your attributes a little less. But we still do it. Even among my closest friends, I find myself bookending what I want to say with prefaces and addendums.*
I think this is a uniquely American problem. Ask any foreigner, and they’ll tell you that we apologize far too often, and for things that don’t merit forgiveness. Maybe it’s overcompensation for the merit-based, self-made ethos of the “American Dream.” We’re now afraid to claim our successes as our own, lest we too closely resemble a protagonist from an Ayn Rand novel.
I guess one of the things I love about the tech/Silicon Valley scene is that there’s a lot of pride, but with relatively little ego. People are super passionate about what they’re doing, and they take ownership of successes without worrying that they’re belittling someone else in the process. They’ve also learned to fail quickly, and move on.
I think we’d all be better off living life unapologetically.
*Apparently the more common plural is “addenda”…but that just looks ridiculous.
I’ve been conducting a little experiment with Facebook and Twitter lately. Despite the fact that I’m friends with/followed by colleagues, business contacts, family and (on Twitter) god knows who else, I’ve more-or-less stopped censoring my content. I’m at times inappropriate, irreverent, goofy and even suggestive. Basically my real-world self, condensed into 140-character soundbites.
I don’t believe in privacy when it comes to social media. I think we’d all be better off if we recognized so-called privacy settings for what they are: an illusion. And once we’ve made peace with this, we essentially have two options: we can water-down our ideas and comments, creating a universally inoffensive but ultimately uninteresting online persona; or we can embrace the idea of leaving a more colorful – and far more honest – digital footprint.
Because our personal and professional lives have collided on these platforms, the first route may seem like the only real option – after all, it’s probably inadvisable to share on Facebook that the dog walker caught me walking around the house in my underwear (true story, eek) when I’m “friends” with reporters and analysts. But I disagree. My working thesis is that the people who wouldn’t otherwise have these more personal insights into my life/thoughts either: a) won’t care, or b) will feel connected to me on a more human level. Maybe the underwear example is a little distracting, but in general, I think that quirky, amusing or impassioned updates are what turn otherwise stale connections into opportunities for interaction.
I’m not very far along in my experiment, but so far the results have been promising. In general, the wackier the content I put out there, the more unpredictable the response and respondent. Which makes me happy. It would be a shame if technology empowered us to connect on an unprecedented scale, only to have us clam up. My hope is that rather than fretting about our digital track records, we’ll become increasingly accepting of our collective weirdness. Obviously, the golden rule of social media (“don’t be an idiot”) should be obeyed, but beyond that, let’s have some fun, shall we?
Boys are a lot like that entree you regret not ordering. It becomes all the more desirable when served to some lucky girl at a neighboring table. Especially if she’s channeling Meg Ryan from When Harry Met Sally (see below).
Fact: every girl has an algorithm of sorts for assessing the eligibility of a potential male mate. Some combination of attractiveness, intelligence and sense of humor, or quirkier proclivities for facial hair and motorcycles. But these equations are easy derailed by the introduction of “the ex-factor.”
The ex-factor can turn the boy next door into a Brad Pitt. It can make us second guess our intuition and overlook disqualifying traits. Because when we meet a past (or – let’s be honest – present) girlfriend who doesn’t quite fit the picture we’ve painted, we just have to know why. And there’s nothing sexier than an enigma.
Of course, sometimes it’s less about the power of surprise and more about the power of suggestion. Sometimes just seeing someone in a dating context is all that’s needed to spark interest.
Extreme example: a few months ago, one of my favorite people made his reality TV debut…on Millionaire Matchmaker. I kid you not. Usually any guy who goes on that show comes off as a total douchebag, but this dude proved the exception. Sure, there were some awkward moments (largely thanks to biased video editing), but overall his appearance was a success. Especially if you measure success by the deluge of Facebook declarations of love, swooning tweets, and the few ambitious (shameless?) ladies who even tracked him down in person.
There were probably a few gold diggers in the mix, as well as star struck ladies blinded by his 30-minutes of fame. But many of his female cyber stalkers seemed like cool, normal girls. Girls who don’t regularly send Facebook messages to strangers they see on TV. So apart from the fact that he is a genuinely awesome guy with some killer dance moves, why the frenzy?
I think it comes down to context. These girls saw how much fun this guy was on a date (even when surrounded by cameramen), and automatically thought, “Hmm…that could be me.” And the eventual Facebook, Twitter and physical stalkers must have then decided, “I’ll have what she’s having.”
Now that’s not to say they wouldn’t have reached the same conclusion if they had met this guy in a coffee shop. But sometimes it’s easier to make a selection when another diner has already done the menu legwork. Now if only there were a Yelp for boys :P
In my about page, I explain the genesis of my virtual alter-ego, Madeline. I moved a bunch growing up, and with each move I wavered between my first (Ashley) and middle (Madeline) names. But my family didn’t move to satisfy my schizophrenia…we moved because my dad changed jobs. Again and again and again.
He didn’t just change companies, he jumped between industries. From banking to software to health care. And ultimately, it worked out very well for him…as well as his geographically disoriented family. So naturally I have always assumed that this is the way successful careers are made. Company loyalty is a thing of my grandparents’ generation. You have to move horizontally to move up.
But maybe not.
Last Friday, I stumbled upon this post by Mark Suster – Never Hire Job Hoppers. Never. They Make Terrible Employees – inspired by the (overblown, IMO) email skirmish between Mahola CEO Jason Calacanis and a wayward employee. In it, he argues that companies – and start-ups in particular – should steer clear of people who change jobs more often than they buy a new pair of running shoes.
First reaction: people fresh out of school should be granted a five-year grace period. For liberal arts majors like myself, especially ones who thought they were going to law school and then jumped ship at the last minute, figuring out what to do in the “real world” is a process, not a snap decision. And those who knew for sure that they wanted to be an investment banker might feel very differently 52 100-hr work weeks into the job.
Job hopping is a lot like dating. The older you get, the more you know about yourself and what you want. But initially, you’re bound to make a few mistakes along the way with the “wrong guy,” and what’s the point to staying in a relationship you know is going nowhere?
This analogy is also interesting from the recruiter’s perspective. It’s perfectly understandable if a youngish candidate has played the field a bit – it might even make them more compelling than a straight-up monogamist. But a serial dater? Odds are you’ll just end up as another notch on his or her belt. I love that Mark also uses a relationship analogy when responding to comments – in this case the “woman who is dating a man who has had 6 wives and cheated on all of them before divorcing them but she somehow thinks SHE will be different.”
I don’t agree with all of Mark’s rant, but he makes a compelling point – one that I’m not sure I would have agreed with three years ago. Especially when you’re dealing with start-ups, there’s such a family vibe (cliche, but it’s true), and when someone leaves it’s invariably personal and painful. And although I totally suck at long-term relationships, I plan on being professionally monogamous for quite a few years more. Who knows, maybe that consistently will spill over into my love life as well? :P
I am lucky to have an awesome manager in my current gig. She’s super sharp, funny, low-key and, when necessary, candid. During a meeting today, she suggested I might want to pay closer attention to how I present myself.
She’s right, of course. My voice always wants to go up an octave whenever I answer the phone. I often frame statements as questions. I tilt my head to show I’m listening. And apparently – this one makes me cringe – I twirl my hair.
Many of the same mannerisms we consider hallmarks of of femininity and politeness are in fact undermining women in the workplace. I remember reading a Forbes article last year that spelled out why non-verbal cues can be a girl’s worst enemy. In the workplace, where first impressions are king, a UCLA study did the math and diagrammed the first impression breakdown as follows: body language: 55%; tone of voice: 38%; our actual words: only 7%. Fold your hands in your lap, cross your legs, or – heaven forbid – smile, and you’re dropping percentage points by the second. It’s tough being a lady.
But I’m not sure it’s fair to blame my hair twirling and head tilting on my two X chromosomes. At some point in my early-ish childhood – during elementary school I think – I made a discovery. Being smart is not cool, and it’s definitely not attractive.
In a girl, intelligence is not only intimidating, it’s abrasive. Fact: women dig openly brainy guys. We’ll even settle for guys who really aren’t that bright, but fancy themselves intellectuals. But when a girl speaks her mind without apology, she’s got about the same sex appeal as Hillary Clinton. I remember telling a male friend about my plans to go to law school, to which he replied, “Good luck ever getting another date.” I ended up ditching the law school track, and I’d be lying if I said that his comment wasn’t something of a catalyst.
Which is not to say that this all comes down to sex (although it plays a big role). Really, it’s all about wanting to be liked, which for women, is on par with being respected. So from a very young age, many of us learn to intentionally downplay our brains by flipping our hair. And by the time we enter the workplace, these mannerisms are so ingrained that we’re completely unaware that our killer statement during a meeting was accidentally posed as a question.
But I refuse to believe that women have to put on a poker face and become pushy and irreverent – like many (not all!) of their successful male colleagues – in order to kick ass in the workplace. Personally, I plan to pick my battles. I’m going to continue to wear dresses to work, and I’m going to keep smiling. But I’m also going to make an effort to deliver my statements as (gasp) statements, and keep my voice at normal pitch so as to avoid sounding like a 13-year-old. And if I even so much as touch my hair, someone please slap me.