Succeeding at Being You

Recently I’ve been enjoying the online board game Diplomacy with a few non-overlapping friend groups. Some folks met for the first time during a video hangout I hosted last weekend.

The conversation turned to one particular friend who explained his current job. Others asked follow-up questions, so we spent a few minutes learning about the work.

I accidentally injected some dramatic irony as the topic came to a close, subverting the entire conversation with insider knowledge: “And how goes the search for a new job?”

He tactfully transitioned away from further discussion, saying it was still early. His new acquaintances were spared from the messy personal details, and we moved on.

A few years ago, I might have been frustrated observing this interaction. I had the mental itch to be overly-honest, to have my internal state and everyone else’s represented as faithfully as possible.

My response to “what do you do?” would have been a long meandering “I do this now but I want to do this and that soon, previously I was doing another thing, oh and I’m also drawn to…”

Family, friends, and potential employers were frequently perplexed by my existential confusion. I lacked a coherent professional narrative; I was naively and unsuccessfully passing through various identities.

I was very lucky to land a full-time role in customer operations at Scale AI after two failed tries with other teams in the same company. One of my managers shared some valuable feedback by poking fun at me after we had established great rapport.

Apparently, he was initially against hiring me because I bombed the interview question about my recent work. I had foolishly included driving Uber in my laundry list of odd jobs, then proceeded to talk about inane details when asked to explain customer service lessons learned (hint: don’t ramble about braking more smoothly and not initiating conversations with headphone-wearing passengers).

Because I didn’t speak at the right level of abstraction to nail the question, my poor interviewers were bamboozled. Why were they considering hiring me as a customer engineer for large, highly sophisticated machine learning accounts?

I soon learned to shut my trap and say one clear sentence when one sentence would serve to move everyone forward.

Now I deeply appreciate my friend’s professional tact in not dumping his life story and current job transition complications on a group of first-time board game acquaintances.

Continued in Succeeding at You Part 2.

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