My son is crying because his apple pieces are the wrong size, rapid-fire emails are coming in from the office and the sleeve of my shirt has just become a snot rag for my toddler (which I won't notice until I'm in the middle of a meeting later). And here I am trying to jot down some ideas about advice I'd give to other women in tech.
I'm pretty sure my entire professional life (ok, personal life too) has been a series of imperfections and ambitions that have led me to where I am now. And aside from general exhaustion and sporadic meltdowns, I wouldn't have it any other way. Much of today's advice for professional women comes from the Sheryl Sandbergs of the world who've found success without missing a stride. But my journey, like many of ours, has not been as perfect. And that's OK too -- success and perfection don't have to be synonymous.
My path has led me on all sorts of journeys, from college flunky to graduate degree, from barely taking care of myself to wife and mom of two, and from bartender to corporate executive. At Zillow we have a culture of not being afraid to fail, as long as we fail fast and learn from it. This is a perfect fit for me.
While I feel a bit self-conscious claiming to have my act together enough to give advice to others, I have come up with a list of guiding principles. Some cliché, but I think all true.
Be yourself. And don't take yourself too seriously.
You have a long career ahead of you. Spending that time pretending to be different than you are is exhausting and rarely sustainable. I have no poker face and say pretty much everything I'm thinking. I am "bossy" and I show my emotions and laugh at inappropriate times. I've had babies (almost on the floor of my office) and I tell mundane stories about them. I often go against the grain and take the path less traveled, or maybe even the one less recommended. But I've still had a healthy career progression, and feel respected and appreciated by my peers, managers, and reports.
I attribute that to doing good work, being at a great company, hiring amazing people, and also the fact that I don't take myself too seriously. If you're able to laugh at yourself and recognize your own imperfections, it makes the heated argument you've just had with half the room easier to stomach. We're all just humans trying to get stuff done - let's be who we are and try to laugh it off.
Have an outlet
It's so important to fill some of your time with something that inspires and recharges you (even if you're squeezing that time out of thin air). For me it's aerial acrobatics, which gives me both a physical and creative outlet. Do I have time to go spin in the air before work? Not really. But am I going to make it happen anyway? Absolutely. This is the one time of the day where I don't feel like an exhausted mom, productive employee, or any other roles or responsibilities that I've committed to - I feel strong, free-spirited and inspired. I completely recommend finding an outlet to escape to (bonus points if it involves wearing rad unitards).
Do it all... if you want to
"Doing it all" is relative, and not everyone thrives off of juggling 87 balls in the air at once. It doesn't matter how much you do, what matters is that you are doing all of the things that are really important to you. Want to pour yourself into your career? Do it. Want to have babies? Great! Want to moonlight as a go-go dancer? Why not (just don't put it on LinkedIn). I'm more in the 87 things camp, and I won't pretend that I'm not quivering over a bottle of red wine at the end of some weeks, but I feel fulfilled. You decide how many or what roles you want to fill your life with.
Make lists (how meta -- a list about making lists!)
Due to the aforementioned too-many-things-on-my-plate lifestyle, along with the short-term memory loss that comes from baby-induced sleep deprivation, I survive off of lists. These are "To Do" lists and "To Think About" lists for everything that needs follow-up. I check them often, and organize my day around short-term goals. I also have long-term lists... not necessarily written down, but in my head (my long-term memory is still mostly intact). You've probably heard that you can do anything as long as you visualize it and believe that it's possible. Well, it's totally true. My husband once described me by saying, "she doesn't know what's not possible," and I think that mentality is the reason I've accomplished what I have. I will give the disclaimer that I've lived a relatively easy life and haven't had a fraction of the real obstacles that many people face. But I do believe that setting your mind to something - making a long-term list of what you want to have happen - is the best step towards realizing it.
I definitely don't claim to have the meaning of life figured out, but I have a strong hunch that it's all about love. If you surround yourself with love, and feel grateful for it, I'm pretty sure you won't have too many regrets at the end of the day. So, find a job you love. Work at a company that you love. Go home to people that you love. Some of my dearest friends are coworkers, and that makes it 100 times more fun to get up and go into work every morning. And I deeply love my husband, children and friends... and they love me back, imperfections and all.
Originally published on Seattle Girl Geek Dinners Blog
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