Thursday, August 13, 2015

Do you take things personally?

"Don't take it personally" echoed in my mind during the hours of darkness. Dear friends and colleagues spoke to me in a whisper in the same way a doctor announces to his poor patient he has got cancer.


People don't get to be called green-eyed monster for being cheerful and generous. My younger self would get furious whenever things didn't play out the way he wanted. The source of mayhem were countless. My subordinates didn't take engineering excellency as serious as I did, they were wimp. My boss asked me to do recruitment on a shoestring budget, he was cheap. There were private group chats I wasn't invited in, people must be talking behind my back. I remember a vivid feeling of isolation. I simply wanted to do a good job and the world was simply against me.

For years, it bugged me how the fuck people do not take thing personally. I quitted a lot of times in my life. I quit doing everything that I don't like or not good at (I found this a feedback cycle). As a result, I developed a very fond attachment to the few things I still do, against all odds, like making products and building team around them. The thing I was building was almost always on my mind. It was the first thing I thought about when I woke up and the last thing before I fell asleep. I cared about that deeply.

And I was also terrified of disappointing people, especially
  • those who chose to believe in me and work with me
  • those who put their money in so that I can chase my dream (though they are mostly sharks)
  • and those who staked their reputation on a project to use the software of a shitty 20-something kid

Some refer to themselves as highly logical. I don't have it. A team is an organizational unit. Felix, Uma, Carlos, and Kevin would be otherwise a collection of random citizens, but years of collaboration place them somewhere between friends and family. Laying off is a cost cutting practice. Telling Felix who is one month into his house mortgage the pay check he received just now would be the last is almost a crime. Go tell me how it is logical and not personal.

I understood that without me, the world would continue without missing a beat. People would continue to work, to invest, and to buy, elsewhere. But that wasn't the case was it? Thing happened the way it did for I was there, in the center of every decisions I made. It was impossible not to admit the predicament that I was in was probably all my fault.


Much like the song "I hate myself for loving you", despite all the bad taste from taking every issue to myself and ending up feeling so sick everyday, I couldn't picture myself doing something from which I am emotionally detached. So instead of learning how to not taking thing personally (the process during which would kill the living hell outta me), I am learning to navigate the minefield and not to get burned (or blowed up, whatever).

I get to be more realistic. Managing expectation is just as important as getting shit done. I stopped sugar coating my perspective and started telling it like it is. It is tempting to fall in love with your idea. When traction starts to pick up, the stage is hyperbole and the momentum is great, what can possibly go wrong, really? You start to oversell dreams to your colleagues, friends, and even to yourself. When those dreams aren't fulfilled, you were pissed. Less because your brain child fell apart and more because your credibility crumbled. You take the loss much harder than what it should have been. And that was bad, the moment one focuses on the fame of a novelty goal and not the journey, one is set to stray off the path. Also being frank about hard problem allow more people to work on it, and helps building the team on a foundation of trust.

I learned the difference between personal and emotional, between transparent and moody, and between responsive and overreacting. I thought I was tough. But I wasn't. I was a wimpy kid. I am getting better.

I realize that I like my situation better than that of those who don't take things personally enough, or not at all. Of course I am sad when thing goes awry. I panic, I throw up, I cry. I hate every of that moment and there is no way I can jump in excitement yelling "That was fun! I want more!". But the only way I can feel bad is that I felt something really good before. If I have to take the bad with the good, I think it is a fair trade. I am glad that my career allows me to do what I love, and love what I do. I am afraid that if I keep falling, at some point I would be numb and work would be just muscle memory. Thanks god, that day has yet to come.

One more thing, I think human mind is subject to autosuggestion. If you start to run and you tell yourself there is no way you can finish the track, what is the odd you can actually finish the track? Everyday, thousands of things can go wrong, and certainly many of them do. I know it sounds like a reckless defence mechanism, the only way I know to keep going is to focus on what I am doing and not what I want to avoid. If you keep thinking about all the bad things that can happen, not only that you can't start anything new, but also the mind will start to play tricks on you, the obsession won't let you go, you will go nuts. Okay, so you take things personally. So what? Nobody cares. It has always been a game in your mind and will always be. So do whatever the fuck you have to anyway.


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