Things We Can’t Hear

March 16th, 2013  |  Published in this mortal coil

I have had luck remembering to do things when I’ve written them down and made them public, so here we go on this one:

Hey! I’ve had a pretty good last couple of weeks. I was interested in this position elsewhere in Puppet, so I applied for it and I got it.

There was a writing sample to be submitted, which wasn’t hard to write—writing is a thing I can do! So I sat down in the library one afternoon, reviewed my source material, wrote an outline (that’s how you know I’m serious), put on the headphones, loaded up this playlist I’ve got that starts with “Teen Age Riot” and builds from there, and did my best to burn the thing down. The whole time, there was a lot of “is this the right thing to do? Is this what you want to do over and over for a while?” The last time I had to complete an exercise to get an interview, it’s worth noting, I realized right in the middle that I really didn’t like what I was doing after all so I stopped and apologized to the recruiter and that’s how I came to be at Puppet at all. “Writing,” said the recruiter, “is what really lights you up, isn’t it?”

Yes. Writing lights me up. Or, rather, it takes me out of right now, which makes me pretty happy.

Anyhow: Wow, it was hard to decide I was done, save my work, and mail it off to HR. I felt pretty good about the angle I came up with, I felt good about the tone, I felt good about the flow, but mailing it off was to say “this is me at my better, maybe best.” What would be more awful than thinking I was shredding with a Fender and being exposed as a mildly ridiculous keytar soloist?

So next I had to give a presentation. That was hard, too, but less from preparation: Once I knew what the hook was, it was pretty easy to get that out onto slides. I had ten years doing the thing I was presenting about, I care about it a lot, and I’m pretty sure I’m right about most of what I think. At least, right enough that if someone were to say, “please stop there. We can’t hire you for this position because your opinions are not correct,” I’d be pretty o.k. with not being hired because that would make me a bad fit.

The hard part wasn’t even giving the presentation. A few things went wrong, I got off track, and I missed a few of my talking points. That was o.k., because by the time I was past the first slide I was feeling pretty religious about the whole thing, and that counts for something. And I was at Ft. Bragg during the anti-PowerPoint interregnum, so my sense of presentations in general is that they are not the point of themselves and so can go pretty wrong provided you keep a map of the terrain in your head.

The hard part was being done and having to ride the train home, because I felt pretty spent. I’d just had religion for an hour, after all.

Then I had to just sort of stew for a few days, and that meant bracing for maybe not turning out to be the guy they were looking for. I don’t know if my way of preparing for that is great, because it involves modeling a number of responses to getting bad news in a variety of forms and also feeling sort of bad for the person who has to deliver the bad news and hoping that I’ll be able to put them at ease so they can deliver it with minimum discomfort.

Anyhow, I did get the job, and that was pretty great. Some of my soon-to-be new team came by my desk when they got the word and said some very nice things. In fact, I’ve been hearing a lot of nice things about myself, which is where we get to the thing that is most hard of all and why I’m writing at all: It’s very hard to hear those things, I don’t know where that comes from, and I know I don’t like it so I think I should figure out how to make it easier to hear them.

How do you do that? It feels like there are a lot of knots to untangle. Nigel, my boss until I transfer to the other side of the building, says it sounds like impostor syndrome, which is totally not a DSM thing but feels pretty apt when I read about it. An ex-boss says I’m just habitually hard on myself. I have a very dear old friend who spends a lot of time asking me why I get like that. I don’t have a single answer. I guess I could point to some adult-era biographical facts that make pretty good sense and perhaps point toward adopting habits of thought that are not conducive to positive self regard. I guess I could point to some childhood biographical facts that might similarly create a way of thinking that aren’t great.

But Al shared with me an interesting Buddhist parable she heard at the zendo about a man who’s wounded with an arrow and refuses to remove it and stop the bleeding until he can figure out why he was shot in the first place.

When she told me the story, I did what I do, which was to say “well, that’s fine but I think I’d need to know more about his particular situation before deciding whether he wasn’t perhaps doing the right thing.”

I think she was right to tell me that story, though. The “whys” might be interesting, but I don’t think I need therapy so much as I need, perhaps, a bit of reason and some faith in my coworkers. I haven’t told you much about them. They’re pretty great. I wrote this a little while back:

There are lots of bright people working really hard to solve interesting problems. […] Moreover, people there are very generous with their knowledge. There’s a lot of it, and sometimes it’s delivered very quickly in large packages you don’t so much receive as hope not to be crushed under, but it’s generously delivered all the same. I don’t get that creepy “don’t want to tell you because information is currency” vibe at Puppet. I get a “you need to know this because everyone wants everything to be better” vibe.

That is still true, and there’s more good to say than that. It’s a good place, and a good place to work. I like being in the kitchen on a Monday morning, listening to laughter from people who enjoy each other and haven’t seen each other for a few days. I like the way the Friday all-hands melts into people enjoying a beer with each other before heading home. I like how just about everybody seems so goddamn thoughtful and intent on solving whatever problem is in front of them. I could go into a lot of specific likes, too, but don’t want to embarrass anyone. It’s enough to say it’s a good place, and a good place to work, and it’s full of people who are talented and thoughtful.

So writing that down helps get a fingernail under the knot, and it was a little hard because I hate talking about good things that have happened to me: I don’t want to come off like I’m bragging or crowing. But it’s written down and it’s true. It’s a good place, a good place to work, and it’s full of people who are talented and thoughtful, and they picked me. Even if I’m having a hard time having a lot of faith in myself, I’ve learned over the past six months to have a lot of faith in them, and I believe that should be enough.

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