Living on Loans to Living on Paychecks — A Product Manager’s Diary #3

by | Jun 5, 2019 | General Information, Life | 4 comments

Life, love, laughter — all of this can be captured from a brief glance when you go to the park. Why is it that spending ten minutes in an expanse of green filled with swaying trees and musty grass makes you feel energized? I pondered over this for a while, and read upon some interesting articles. Among the many agreeable theories, I’d like to believe it is because we’re in the presence of a natural detoxificator. To me, the stillness and certitude of the trees is an intangible anchor to hold on to. With a constant vacillation between good and bad days, walking to the park in the evening reassures me that some things, if untouched by human greed, can live on forever. 

Something about life at work

When I went back to New York for my graduation, scores of people asked me, ‘How is work?’ I stick to a standard, ‘It’s good. I like the people I work with, and it gives me the balance I need.’ All the while, I’m thinking yesterday was a bad day. I got stuck and felt deeply demotivated to move forward. However, last week’s Friday turned out to be great. I spent two hours with a co-worker looking at data and I think we made progress. Although, the previous Wednesday was full of meetings and I barely got time to learn something new. 

I’ve realized by now that you need to strike a balance between asking questions and seeking mentorship. Every week, I begin with noting down a list of goals I wish to accomplish in those five days — below is an example. In one of the weeks, I wrote down find a mentor. I went to my manager and asked him if he would pair me up with someone who could guide me on a regular basis. It was the best decision I took the past month. 

More than once, I got trapped in the loop of hitting a roadblock → not knowing how to proceed → not knowing who could help → losing my enthusiasm for the project entirely. I knew I could always approach my manager, and the fact that he sat a few feet away from me removed any logistical hinderance. However, I knew I was someone who could ask too many questions. Five and a half years of college life conditioned me to always ask questions, but the corporate environment is not tolerant enough. I needed to find a way out.

After I got assigned to a mentor, I set up a cadence with them once every two days, to go over the progress I made and bounce off new ideas for the next steps. Mentorship is crucial. If you just started your job or feel trapped often, seek help without feeling diminished. Just like your college days, you need those few seniors who teach you more about life than all the classes combined. My next aim is to get a mentor with whom I can talk to about topics not related to my work. More often than not, setting up the first or second meeting is not hard. Converting those precious meetings into a rhythm takes effort — and I hope to make some progress this month.

Something about life outside work

In January 2019, I read Deep Work by Cal Newport that had a profound effect on my outlook on life. Scouring through page after page of people who lived their lives monastically, I vowed to take a month-long break from most social media accounts. Over the next few months, although my average time spent was still lesser than before, I began noticing the need for a quick glance at the phone every few hours. Why? 

I knew why, of course. It was the unpredictability of social media that lured me, and is probably luring you. Not knowing whether I got a new notification about a comment or a message, I experienced a dopamine rush every time I opened an app. Adam Alter, in his book Irresistible, hit the hammer on the nail when he observed that this was indistinguishable from substance addiction. The same companies that proclaimed to connect the collective world divided the connection to oneself. But you know this. What most people struggle with is getting out of a prison that they built. 

I knew vowing to stay disconnected 100% would not work — and it was not what I wanted. But, I wanted to hit 80%. The mistake I had made previously was not creating alternatives. I took a ragged doll away from a dog without giving it a tennis ball to play with in return. So, I spent a six hour journey from New York to Seattle coming up with a list of alternatives. 

The first day when it arrived — I still get excited seeing this every day!

I would stop reading a myriad of news articles online — but I will subscribe to a print version of the Wall Street Journal to be delivered to my home everyday. I will not keep an alarm on my phone prompting me to check messages as soon as I wake up — but I will set an alarm on my Echo Show that will wake me up with the news. I will uninstall all social media apps on my phone — but I will check them once or twice a week from my desktop. This list went on to cover a few more spectrums, which I rigorously implemented as soon as I set foot home. 

It’s been almost two weeks since this happened. I expected one of the three outcomes: a) I would not go through with it, b) I would feel the most peaceful I’ve ever felt or c) I would realize it was not working. As I stare out of the library wall, I know none of the above happened with significance. Yet all of the above happened in brief moments. I feel extremely normal, with a pinch of everyday happiness and existential doubts. This experiment, to me, validated one notion without a doubt: life without a constant glance at my phone is no less exciting than with one. Now, I don’t feel the need to ever go back.

How often do you see a puppy staring out of a library

Most revelations happen in the blink of a second, if not lesser. But, what begins with a blink, gets converted into a habit only with rigorous discipline. 

Something about life

I read about Abraham Lincoln recently. It is said that when he came to the stage of the 1860 state Republican convention in Decatur, Illinois, the crowd roared in approval.

Men threw hats and canes into the air, shaking the hall so much that the awning over the stage collapsed; according to an early account, “the roof was literally cheered off the building.”

 — Lincoln’s Greatest Depression, The Atlantic

Yet, the most striking quality about Lincoln is said to be his melancholy. And, his love for solitude. He is said to have spent countless hours at his cottage in Washington D.C. contemplating over the state of slavery and violence during the Civil War. In fact, his famous Gettysburg speech in Pennsylvania was concocted in the evenings spent at the cottage in solitude. 

Lincoln, and many other great men and women of the past, taught us something important: Solitude is unparalleled. The shift in time has made the job of a ‘knowledge worker’ undeniably hyperconnected. I cannot get through a work day without checking my inbox or responding to a dozen messages. While at work, I do not get the luxury to take long walks or read a book. Which is why I consider the few hours I spend in a park followed by the library in the evenings almost consecrated.

Yet, the kids growing up in contemporary age are constantly bombarded with activities. Modern parents are obsessed with ensuring that their kid grows up well-rounded that they deprive them of the ability to be alone, with their thoughts. This, mixed with the percolation of smartphones, has contributed to a state of total solitude depravation. Sometimes, I feel this is a problem not just with the kids, but also the millennials. 

Contrary to popular belief, solitude makes you appreciate people’s connection more, not less. I hope — championed by authors of the likes of Cal Newport, Michael Harris, Raymond Kethledge and more — another movement would arise in world of technology soon. But this time, it would be to give back the time it took from us. 

Image Sources (some): Google Images

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