Category: Self

Disclosing and Consequences

Before writing “Disclosing,” I would’ve given anything to peek into the future and see this post I’m about to write. I was fearful of the consequences of putting information out in the world that I could never take back. I don’t know what I expected. I just know I’ve never been so worked up about a piece of apparent non-information ever.

Afterwards, I was happy to have ripped the bandage off and have done with it. It did ease my anxiety in a lot of ways. I’ve formed a lot of habits around controlling information about my private life (even up to being cagey about my full name), and it’s freeing to lower that boundary.

It reminds me of the attitude I carried with me early in my transition, about the importance of visibility. It was important to talk to people, even do activism (including lecturing before doctors and nurses). I didn’t necessarily like the position I was in, but I knew that I had had so much false garbage in my head about transsexuality growing up that I went through years of needless self-inflicted pain. It felt good to shed that, once again.

The long and short of the actual response was that nothing happened at all. There were no consequences whatsoever, whether good or bad. The tweet got some few supportive replies. (Many people missed it entirely and possibly are learning about it from this post.)

One other nice consequence of all this is that it might be possible now to revive some of my past writing from about five years ago that I had to hide away. I learned a ton; no reason not to share that now.

Disclosing

I’ve dog-whistled this relatively loudly already, but just so everyone’s on the same page—I have a transsexual history. Reach out to me privately if you have questions, but I’ll cover a few points here.

  • To clarify, I’m a woman, and I consider myself transsexual. Specifically, I say I have a transsexual history. I also consider myself homosexual, attracted primarily to women. I consider intersexuality as part of my history, but I don’t claim intersex as an identity (a really complicated topic).

  • I have a complex relationship with this history, my body, and my gender, which includes a history of activism, lots of therapy, and in general, lots of feelings. Consider the delicacy this implies if engaging me on the topic.

  • It’s cliché, but if you didn’t know my history before, this changes nothing you know about me.

  • I prefer to retain whatever control possible over this information. I understand this post constitutes a public announcement, and that necessarily means I’ve sacrificed most control, but when possible, avoid assumptions about my history, my body, or my gender. Point people to me for clarification or questions.

I’m doing this now for a few reasons.

  • First of all, I trust the people around me in my life and in my work enough that I feel this disclosure won’t risk me bodily, psychologically, or financially.

  • Also, it’s pained me for a very long time to keep the amount of distance I need to dissimulate my history. It’s prevented me from explaining much about why family isn’t in my life, why I’m in Portland in the first place, or what my life has been about in the past.

  • It frees me to pursue medical interventions without having to come up with a weird cover story.

  • It gives me a voice, once again, on issues of transsexuality and gender which I used to self-censor out of fear of speaking out.

  • Finally, it reaffirms why I did this in the first place. The goal was always to look and feel more like who I’ve always been, not just to sell an identity or history to others.

The Discomfort of Being New

It’s sort of incredible after all this time that I get so uncomfortable with not knowing all the answers. Setting aside my personal and spiritual development (“What is the stars, what is the stars?”), I also stumble over this issue professionally.

I finished my fifteenth week at the Simple last Friday, and during my short tenure, we experienced one of the most trying times in our short history. It has been a difficult time to ramp up, and I’m still pretty new to having a programming job at all. The first of August marks three years since I started at the first one. I learned a lot at my last place, but I’m probably still a little too green to hit the ground running the way I’d like.

Now in my second programming job, I’ve identified a pattern that may have more to do with me than with the jobs I find myself in. I get frustrated very quickly when I’m unsure what to do. I haven’t always dealt with it very well. I expect to sail forward without bumps. Instead, I quickly blame setbacks on lack of process, documentation, opaque code, bad tests, unfamiliar culture, and a number of other externalities. The truth has a lot to do with just being new. I can’t speed past it, avoid it, or outsmart it. There’s no other way to become a veteran than by the pain of experience.

It’s like I’m so used to being able to hand in my test first in science class, and now in calculus I’m squirming while watching the others looking breezy. I figure it’s the teacher’s fault, curse the awful textbook, and complain how uncomfortable my chair is.

If I get to a point where I can internalize the discomfort, I start beating myself up with it instead. I finally reached that point a couple of weeks ago. I began questioning myself. I don’t have any good coping tactics for this stress. I’ve found I end up swinging to the other extreme; it’s not everything around me being awful and wrong, it’s just me. I feel like a new firefighter losing control of the hose, watching the fire burn out of control and screaming apologies.

It’s neither of those extremes. It’s just being new, and it’s uncomfortable. I’m in the same boat everyone’s spent time in. Whatever I do, as long as I hold faith with the process, it’ll pass.

Waiting

I keep repeating to myself, this moment has never happened before.

When I remember that, I find it disrupts my life narrative completely and brings me forcefully into the present moment. It’s one of the few coping mechanisms for impatience that I have. Most of the time, my narrative thread I carry with me extends into the future, attempting to impose my past experiences onto it. I live bound within expectations, whose tension I wait to resolve. I array my life along this thread and look both behind and ahead, longingly.

I feel like there’s a lot of waiting going on in my life right now, taking me out of the present moment constantly. So I have to say to myself, this moment is new, nothing like it has ever happened, and I find myself right here and now. I have no idea what’s going to happen. Sometimes it helps calm me, and other times it makes me even more anxious.

Work Retrospectives

Screenshot of my first weekly work retrospective

First retrospective of many

I decided I didn’t want to get caught next year trying to write my review without any idea of what I had done the year before, so I’ve decided to start tracking what I get done from week to week. I’m going to try to write a weekly retro every week of 2014.

I have time blocked off at the same time every Friday morning to spend about half an hour referencing salient tasks, time spent, people I’ve worked with, and projects I had involvement with so that I can scan through in 2015 and catch a bird’s eye view of the landscape of my year.

Incidentally, for the moment, I’ve decided to try using Day One for tracking all this, if only because it has great support for searching and viewing past entries over dates, and it syncs between all my devices. I could probably throw Markdown on a server or use a private WordPress, but scanning is so much faster this way.

In Case of Review, Break Glass Ceiling

For the second time in my professional life (first time here), I had to turn in a self-review to my manager. Our self-reviews are part of an overall review process, asking for scores and supporting comments in a number of areas of our job (quality, leadership, problem solving, planning, and so on).

I’m awful at anything falling under the purview of “professional life.” I struggled with it again, like last year, and it stayed undone till the last moment (and then some—I had hoped to finish it last week). What’s worse, I felt like last year I used up all my best review lines talking myself up, so I had nothing but utter dreck to spew this year. I couldn’t even remember anything that had happened in the past year. All that came to mind were the frustrations I grappled with and complaints I brought up.

Time got short and I had almost nothing, so I passed in the review with little content and a lot of fields left blank. My manager bounced it back almost right away, basically saying I could do better. Well!

I had struggled with it off and on for weeks, and I had no idea what he wanted or what the expectations were. Finally began to vent to a coworker. She mentioned she had struggled with hers too. I asked her what she did.

She’d done the same thing, asking others what they had done, and had even gotten to peek at a few other reviews from (male) coworkers. I have always had trouble talking myself up, but it seems like they hadn’t struggled with this at all. They came across in their reviews as highly accomplished and even boastful, to the point where she felt less sure of herself, to say nothing of my reaction. I had barely written anything, and what little I did write was either unsubstantial or actually critical. The self-review also called for numerical scores in various areas, and mine were really conservative.

I asked her, “Do they actually lie?” about their reviews, and she said, “No, but they dress them up in tuxedos.”

I’m really thankful to my coworker, though. She helped a lot to get me started finding some real content and suggestions.

First, she suggested searching for past code reviews I’d requested. While it hadn’t been very useful for me to be told to “search my e-mail” for the last year, the code review e-mails helped to link to related issues I had worked on, short summaries of what I had accomplished, and a general landscape of the projects I’d worked on. This was a pretty great direction to start with. It helped me remember various projects I’d been on.

I got some ideas for other kinds of e-mails to search for, like postmortem threads where we had dealt with urgent service problems.

She offered to let me see hers, but I passed. In the end, though, I let her look over mine, and she helped clarify what some of the categories (like “job knowledge”) actually meant, so I was able to fill in parts I had misinterpreted. She also pretty much made me raise every one of my scores after some back and forth, reminding me of a lot of things I had forgotten. I ended up going with her suggestions since she had more context than I did from looking at other reviews.

By the end, I was much more amenable to her suggestions because I had so much more supporting detail. It definitely didn’t hurt, either, that I was inspired by an article in Model View Culture (written by my friend Kronda!) to be a little kinder to myself.

Incidentally, another friend on IRC had suggested keeping a high-level journal throughout the year, and that would probably be really useful for me, considering this. I probably won’t, though, and next year I’ll panic about the whole thing all over again.

Weight of Words

I read a pretty amusing article today on The Onion: “Boss Has Deft Touch For Making Employees Feel Like Shit”. The Onion has a reputation for its mordant touch with humor, and this article is no exception.

Pretty much the first thing I thought was that I hoped I never ended up as a manager. Not that I think of myself as a particularly cruel person, but sometimes, when you’re talking, you just say things offhand that you don’t even think about until later, and you realize how you came across. Everybody does this — even if they don’t think they do. You forget to give just the right word of praise or acknowledgement at the right time, and you seem dismissive or even critical.

It happens.

Now imagine you’re in a position of respect, responsibility, or even authority. Imagine, even, you’re a woman (for example), on whom society piles on just a tad bit more scrutiny. Now, you say “hmm,” and you’re a cold-hearted devil bitch ruling your underlings with an iron fist.

So while reading the article, I found myself checking myself.

It fed pretty hardcore into my already existing fear of being in any position of leadership, and I’m already feeling weird about my boss regarding me as a team lead. Now I fear that even when I try to encourage the newer engineers on my team, it might come across as damning with faint praise. Not to mention that what, to me, seems like an inconsequential venting or offhand remark will land with a weight I might not even realize.

I guess as a general rule of thumb, I can err on the side of being too nice, now. But then that’s probably a good idea, in either case.

Self-evaluation

Since reviewing my self-evaluation with my immediate manager the other day, I’ve gone through a lot of thoughts and feelings over it that I would not have expected.

It went really well! That’s the first surprise. This is my first job in the tech field, and so I haven’t been programming for a living very long. I’ve had my current job for perhaps a year and a half, so this was my first full evaluation.

This began as a 360 review that I filled out for myself, and I put down “meets expectations” in every aspect of my a career as a middle- of-the-road response. I genuinely did not think I could justify anything more, and I felt sure I was doing well, so I didn’t feel like I needed particular improvement in any area, either.

My manager put that I “exceeded expectations” in most of the fields and talked with me about it. I fought hard to hold back the urge to disagree with him, but internally, I did keep thinking that somehow he was a bit biased or skewed in favoring me. I wasn’t sure where he got that impression, but I was sure that my evaluation was going to lead to disappointment (either during or after).

The second surprise, however, was how much he won me over to his point of view instead of the other way around. I had had the idea that I was one of the least productive people on the team, but not only did he point out how productive I was, he had pulled the figures to support his view directly from our issue-tracking system. He compared me not only to the rest of his team but to all the engineers in my department, showing me the average time I spent on a task (about half the overall average) and the sheer number of tasks I had turned over in the last year.

I definitely told him how useful it was to see that; otherwise, I just plainly would not have believed him.

Thirdly, the language he used to describe my role in the team surprised me. This is the first time I heard myself described plainly as a “lead” for the rest of the team. I knew that I had had taken some leadership-like roles on (especially training), but it’s only starting to sink in for the first time to what extent that’s happened and how my manager has nurtured that. He’s sought out my opinion on almost every single member of my immediate team to the point where I’ve practically been able to handpick all of them (at the very least, I’ve had veto power, but that isn’t too unusual in tech environments). I’ve been doing a lot of training, pairing, and guiding on tasks our team handles, to the point where sometimes I feel stretched thin.

Of course, I knew about all these things, but I hadn’t internalized myself as anything resembling a leader, and that led to his only negative (but oh, so constructive) feedback for me. I’ve always been a really candid person about my feelings, and he pointed out the extent to which those feelings are influential to the rest of the team when I vent about something negatively.

I suppose I just assume people will disagree with me or that I’ll hold a minority opinion (and often, I do), but the idea that as a leader (whether de facto or de jure) I hold some influence over the opinions of others on my team is a novel one to me.

I’ve always had trouble being professional in past jobs I’ve had, and it’s becoming clearer to me why that’s held me back, and I’ve begun to examine what I say and how I say it in that light.

It’s been a huge shift in how I think about myself, and this review process has generally given me a huge step in internalizing a different idea of myself and my career. I also have to give huge props to my boss, who is maybe right about more things than I gave him credit for in the past.

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