unleashing my virtual alter ego

Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful

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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.


Written by projectmadeline

November 11, 2010 at 12:05 am

Just do (tweet/facebook) it

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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.

down with self censorship!

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?

Written by projectmadeline

November 10, 2010 at 3:30 am

Flirtation 2.0 (#fail)

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Technology is making us lazy when it comes to our love lives.

why call when you can text?

And no, I’m not talking about online dating, where you can say yay or nay to potential mates with only a few clicks. It’s much broader than that. The way we flirt, follow up and even break up has fundamentally changed. Our text messaging addictions and the advent of soundbite-centric social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Google Buzz have made us less aggressive and more passive. Less direct and more ambiguous. And instead of social media making our dating lives more connected, we are stuck with a serious disconnect between what we want and what we communicate.

Let’s take the super simple example of asking someone out. In the not-so-distant past, this required an invariably awkward phone call, or even (gasp!) an in-person invitation. Nowadays, a single, magical word via SMS will suffice: “drinks?” A colleague/gal pal received a very romantic (sarcasm) text message today requesting her company on a first date. She joked about it…and then she accepted.

I’m not judging. I’ve done it before, and I’ll do it again. Of course, by reciprocating these lazy gestures we’re condoning them, but it’s much easier to shrug it off and say yes than to take a stand. Especially in tech-savvy San Francisco, to refuse digital overtures is to condemn oneself to spinsterhood.

And to be honest, I’ve done far worse than continuing or initiating a conversation with a text or tweet instead of a phone call. I have crafted gchat and Facebook statuses designed to elicit a response from a specific person, but of course shared across my respective networks. For shame. (Disclaimer: while pathetic, this approach has actually worked on several occasions.)

For people like me who seldom know what they want, and don’t want to want it until someone else wants it first (read that slowly), tools like texting, twitter and gchat are an enticing cop-out from legitimate communication. They’re also great for people who don’t really give a damn. The problem is, it’s impossible to tell apart the texts “Dinner tonight?” (because I really really like you but I’m terrified of calling) from “Dinner tonight?” (because I’m bored and don’t want to buy groceries).

I love romantic intrigue as much as the next girl, but sometimes I wish dating were a little more explicit. It would be nice to know when someone is genuinely interested, and frankly, I’d prefer to get my feelings hurt with an “I’m just not that into you” rejection, rather than waste time interpreting ambiguity.

Of course, I should start by practicing what I preach…which isn’t likely to happen anytime soon. Especially when I’m seeing such great results with Gchat :P

Written by projectmadeline

June 16, 2010 at 9:00 pm

I’ll have what she’s having

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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.

the millionaire matchmaker herself

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

Written by projectmadeline

June 14, 2010 at 12:24 am

Workplace monogamy

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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.

beware the job hoppers

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

Written by projectmadeline

April 27, 2010 at 6:56 pm

Privacy is overrated

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There’s been quite an uproar over alleged invasions of our social media privacy. Facebook’s plug-ins that default connect to our Yelp and Pandora accounts. Google Buzz making our “super secret” Google Chat contacts public. (Granted, this did suck for a few wayward spouses.)

Better to overshare than shut up?

Honestly, I think we need to get over it. Not in the sense that we stop putting pressure on these companies to be transparent about their policies – we shouldn’t make their paths to total world domination entirely frictionless. But as consumers, we need to accept that social networks will undoubtedly socialize our content in ways we can’t always anticipate or prevent.

Which leaves us social media addicts with two options. We can freak out, delete any Facebook photos that could be mistaken for Smirnoff ads, de-activate our Tumblrs and protect our already watered-down tweets. Or we can embrace this new world of openness and over-sharing for what it is.

I’m choosing this latter route (duh). This blog contains my thoughts on topics ranging from plastic surgery to dirty talking, and because logging in and out of @projectmadeline was far to arduous, I now tweet posts from my real Twitter handle (on the rare occasions I actually write something). My full name isn’t officially attached to this blog, but anyone who wanted to make the connection could. And I’m okay with that. I’m okay with that for the same reason that I’m okay with my parents seeing Facebook pictures of last week’s drag show outing in Philly (so fun!), or anyone with Internet access reading my 2000 tweets. Because I trust my audience.

I trust people – friends and strangers alike – to respect that I am an opinionated, silly person with quirky views that are not representative of my employer. I trust them to not be offended that photos on Facebook might show me with a glass of wine in hand, or that I occasionally trash talk on Twitter. And if people really don’t like these digital glimpses of me…well, they probably wouldn’t enjoy chatting with me at a cocktail party either.

This trust goes both ways, and it takes some practice. I’m just now starting to warm to foursquare as my friends join en masse and it becomes somewhat useful…as opposed to my solitary feed looking suspiciously like my bank statement without the $$ amount. And it took me awhile to get used to an overly social media-friendly couple posting TMI photos and statuses on Facebook. But they’re hilarious, so now I’m more than happy to be a virtual third wheel.

Granted, some social media contributions will be annoying (like tweeting every single foursquare check-in, ugh!), but we’ll fast learn to tune them out as white noise. And in my opinion, they’re a small price to pay for all the offbeat, fascinating insights we’ll get from people we wouldn’t otherwise have access to. People who aren’t so worried about privacy and image that they self-censor all the juicy parts of their lives.

What are we left with? A little more awkwardness, and the occasional over-crossing of the line, but also people who are less wooden and more human. People who have a voice and aren’t afraid to use it.

Written by projectmadeline

April 26, 2010 at 11:23 pm

Dumbing it down

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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.

Paying attention? Or submission?

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.

Written by projectmadeline

March 29, 2010 at 9:52 pm

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