One of the most interesting quotes I came across the past month talked about Science: Just because Science can do something does not mean it should. A talk on the intersection of neuroscience, technology, and education brought up the topic of neuro-ethics. Is it okay to subject little children to experiments that puts them inside MRI machines and attaches electrodes to their head? If a robotic arm malfunctions and begins attacking the people around, is that the wearer’s fault, or the doctor’s fault? Oh wait, what about the engineer who coded the algorithm— could it be her fault? As Harari pens in his latest book 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, we are in an age where infotech and biotech are growing hand in hand. We are on our way to unlock the deepest corners of our brain — but honestly, I don’t want to live to see it.
Something about life at work
The first month of the job: you cannot get enough of meeting new people. You go through the organization’s chart and hunt down everyone who is remotely related to your team and ask them out for a (NOT coffee) chat. The mere idea of meeting people lets you think you’re doing the right thing: getting out of a comfort bubble, learning about the other side of the company, being social. Three or four months in? you wish you made time to meet one new person a month.
When you look at yourself in the mirror everyday, it’s hard to know if the waist line is increasing or decreasing. You need external input, someone who hasn’t met you in a while. Similarly, I realized my shortcomings in meeting people when I met a friend who told me how he meets someone new every week. At the same time this happened, someone new joined on my floor. I thought, why not? I sent him a message, and we had almost an hour long conversation at first: on security, his background in startups, Amazon, and more. I learnt a lot, but was hesitant to ask for another chat. Thankfully, he saved me and mentioned himself that he would be happy to meet again, and now it became a weekly 1:1.
Set up a recurring meeting with a few people so you meet each of them either once a week or once in two weeks. If you’re craving for non-company folks, meetup was the best app I could find. There seems to be a meetup group for almost everything: social interaction, professional networking, neuroscience, sailing, and more. Join all these groups and RSVP for all the events that interest you: you would end up going to 1/10 of them. That’s okay, and expected. (But please make sure to turn notifications off lest you want to get disturbed 10 times a day)
My job has come to a phase now wherein I’m working on a few major and more minor projects at the same time. This involves a high amount of context switching everyday, which is detrimental. Unfortunately, it only gets higher as you go higher up in a company. As a Product Manager, you soon realize that nobody is as passionate as you to get your project off the ground. When you lose track, everyone does. To keep yourself sane from switching contexts indefinitely and not losing track, spend extensive time in finding a software or tool that will help you keep track of all your projects and emails. Personally, I use Quip sheets to do it: a matrix of dates vs projects. Apart from this, I also have daily and weekly to-do lists in Notion. This is aside from user stories involved in Sprint cycles.
I don’t know if my solution is the best. But I do know the problems stated above are ubiquitous. Keep this as another factor at the back of your head while you choose this discipline.
Something about life outside work
Would you call it writer’s block if you spend an hour writing every day? Only caveat being instead of writing articles, you write emails and messages. I reached a point of exhaustion the past month. Funnily enough, it was not projected towards the Universe or the editors who never responded. It was internally oriented towards my erratic self.
I knew I had a problem of commitment when it came to picking and sticking to topics. I kick-started my writing journey with fiction back in 2014. I wrote over fifty stories on various topics —ranging from scifi to thriller — most of which are shut in the attic of my computer now. I shifted over to non-fiction by the end of my undergrad and began writing on personal life experiences and technology. In the past few months, my path kept vacillating between creative non-fiction and investigative journalism. What about now? It is fixated on Solutions Journalism.
If everything is important, nothing is important. If everything is a priority, nothing is a priority.
I went behind all these paths hoping to find the one that would make me walk all the way. But after a point it becomes an anecdote of The Road Not Taken. I can either stand here all day and stare at the paths which are almost identical, or pick one and hope for serendipity to play its part. I decided to take up a course in Fall on creative non-fiction taught by an author here in Seattle. I realized if I’m going to trod down a path, I need the tools with me.
This is not a one-off problem though. We stare at passings everyday trying to make decisions. We were taught the difference between covalent and ionic bonds, but not between choosing to follow your passion at the cost of luxury or staying put. I get questions of these likes from students all the time: ‘Should I choose U.S. or Canada?’, ‘Is it okay to take a gap year?’, ‘Product Management or Consulting?’ If I make the decision for them, if I solve the hardest piece of the puzzle, it would be an injustice.
You need to measure the pros and cons, but don’t dwell on them to give you an answer.
Something about life
Personal care. Eating my meals and sleeping on time: That is all it meant while growing up in a suburb (Pattaravakkam) in India. But.. as we grow up, we (especially women), are pre-disposed to worrying about how others perceive our attractiveness. I knew that, but I didn’t know how pronounced the issue was.
Over the past six months, I’ve increasingly found myself to become a victim of this mindset.
Although obesity rate is ~40% in the United States, the places I’ve lived in and visited so far have been outliers. On average, the women I’ve observed were extremely fit physically and took exceptional care of themselves. Being subjected to this everyday, I observed myself falling in those footsteps. I began inspecting my daily diet closely, going to play badminton or the gym everyday, purchasing cosmetic products, and reading more about nutrition.
There is a thin line here. On one side you have a healthy adult who spends money enough to ensure they get proper nutrition and exercise. On the other side you have an irrational narcissist who would go to great lengths to gain societal validation. We all know where we want to stay — but when do we know we’ve crossed it?
I’m gravely concerned with the effect this has on little girls. Neurobiologists have shown that the human brain is impartial to gender during birth. Every stereotype that we subject on children is a product of how we treat them and what the media portrays. An author notes that girls who study in single-sex schools tend to be more confident, more willing to share their opinions, and opt for STEM courses than those in co-ed schools.
While many say that society values honesty, morality and professional success in men, the top qualities for women are physical attractiveness and being nurturing and empathetic.
Men face their share of irrational stereotypes as well. The phrase ‘be a man’ tends to be polymorphic. It means being emotionally strong, interested in sports, willing to throw a punch if provoked, having many sexual partners, and more. It is not me making these up, this was based off of a survey of American adults.
It might take another century or more for us to get out of these stereotypical proverbial hole we dug for ourselves based on millions of years of evolution. As a starting point, start observing the decisions you make for the wellness of your body and mind everyday. Observe the trade-offs you are forced to make (or not make). You get to draw the line, and it doesn’t have to be set in stone.
I’m still trying to figure it out myself.
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