Tuesday, November 18, 2014

How not to make careless mistakes (again)

Today I've gotten a really bad case of dressing down from my colleague. It has been the case of too many "I told you so", "why didn't you remember this", and "what's the point of telling you so many times?". The ultimatum has been given, and I want to ensure that this doesn't become a habit. I need to urgently reflect upon what has happened, and the game plan to change it. So here goes.

1. I assume too much.
Granted, it's both my strength and weakness. I catch on things very fast, once I have a structure in place, I can be left to figure out the rest on my own. The downside of that is I also make a whole lot of assumptions and I think they stem from the fact that I subconsciously think that others will not be able to help me, so I leap to the conclusion that I know best. It's a subtle manifestation of arrogance that has led to serious consequences.

So attitudinally, I need to start thinking of how I can make sure I don't rush through my thinking and leap to conclusions about things. I'm gonna ask myself 3 questions: If I know this fully, can I do this without checking back with others? What other information do I need or have to find out? Why do I feel I can do this?

I need to stop having misplaced sense of self-confidence.

2. I take things for granted.
From my previous point about false self-confidence is putting too much trust in my own work. It used to be that I can complete something and hand it up - and still get good grades/reviews for it. However, now the stakes are higher and I can no longer trust myself to hand in work and not afford to check through them. Everything I do has to be be checked. So that means: -

For emails: read them out loud before sending. If i have a funny feeling in my gut, walk away before replying. Fresh eyes or check with someone before sending it.

For admin work: If it's a huge report, always look through it the next day to catch whatever mistakes I missed. Stop having the tunnel vision attitude and really really make sure I leave no rows unchecked, no columns unmarked and no boxes empty.

For work processes: I realised this is a symptom of a larger problem which is...

3. I need to have a personal stake in my work.
I meant this both as a command and a source of reflection. I've been wondering why I could perform so well in the past and the answer was glaringly in my face.

I was at the centre of all the projects I did well in, with patient people working with me. This time, the project was initiated by someone else, carried on and then passed to me. So inheriting a project has its challenges out of all is the sense of having a personal stake at the project we are taking over.

I need to make it mine, and to make it mine - it means I need to find some kind of personal stake. In the past it was because I was working with my friends or people I know well. Now, it's a strange environment with conditions out of my comfort zone - I need to find my footing again. So this is what I'm going to do:

My personal stake is in my colleagues and professional family: I owe it to them to do good work if not they will suffer. And seeing how much pain uncaring can result in, I should not become like them.

My personal stake in my work is the very fact that this is meaningful work, and I should be passionate about the brands I'm working on, or at the very least, care enough to know that many people out there will see the message, take advantage of the current sale fare, opportunity, or even take away some inspiration from the advertising messages I'm putting out. It's about engaging a community and creating communities through my work. I think having this social meaning is an important meta-driver that will fundamentally change the way I see my work.

In the past, I didn't see my work as important, and being very junior in the company, it is inevitable to feel insignificant and have a "let-go" attitude. However, I'm grossly mistaken because I"m expected to also have a stake,  and my bosses want my input in many things. So I should take this as an opportunity to consider adding my stake in this meaningful work.

4. I need to constantly remind myself that mistakes occur all the time, but every incident is a lesson learnt, not a bucket of tears.

Today I wept a little because I was grossly disappointed in myself for being such a loser. The whole negativity just kicked in and almost triggered a downward spiral. I was being frustrated at myself for messing up big time and dragging someone's wits and stress levels up at my carelessness.

I think it's also a moment of realisation after the fact (to be specific, 8 hours later), that my negativity is going nowhere. It's not gonna help me, and I want very much to get out of the rut. I've tried objectively to look at this and see what a lesson I can draw from. First and foremost I think I learnt more about myself, and coming to these conclusions is already a good step forward. Secondly, I understood how my supervisor felt, and I appreciate her honestly in sharing her feelings with me. Thirdly, I learnt how to recover from criticism when in the past I would have just crumbled away.

So from now on: I'm gonna take a break by taking a walk to cool down before coming back to continue with my current work when I feel like the dam is breaking. If I'm feeling really vexed due to a bad day, I need to go somewhere to air the bad vibes before attacking the issue again - I would.


It's such a challenge to step out of one's comfort zone to attack something that you've never tried before. Having to unlearn and re-learn new things after being so deeply entrenched in school is something that most people will find a challenge. I need to constantly remind myself that it's a bad patch we all have to go through some day - and the constant faith that this will lead to a better place is something I'm holding on to. Like what my supervisor said, as new things come in, the things I'm weak at will never fade, but what we can do is grow the list of things that I'm good at.

I think fundamentally, it stems from having a personal stake in things, and after that usually the rest will follow. But until then, I'll just have to be extra careful by asking myself those questions and pacing down my work before submission.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The importance of being earnest

It's been a long time since I've written, or have typed anything on my keyboard that does not start with

"Hi [insert client name],

Kindly find the [file name] as attached.

[Insert sign off of choice]
Claudia Wong"

I have had urges to publish in-between this dry bout of writing, but the ideas will not flow and some how after writing my thesis, it seems even more difficult to write personally, fluently and freely. I've literally started working 1 week after my thesis submission, and many have thought me insane to start working so soon. However, with mounting debts, ageing parents and escalating financial commitments (insurance premiums cost a BOMB), there is little choice in the matter.

I'm jumping ahead but I would like to say that these 2.5 months of working have brought so much insight, happiness and frustration. Choosing to do my masters was a decision I'll not regret, but it doesn't mean it comes without consequences.

Well, for starters, it's not easy to take instructions from someone who has had 3 years of experience ahead of you, but is the same age/slightly older than you. They are not your friends, nor are they your buddies. They sit above me and handle accounts/problems higher than my pay grade. The struggles of feeling impotent despite being higher qualified is something that caught me off-guard. There is a difference between saying you'll learn from the bottom and actually doing it.

Having said, it is not to say that masters students are "looked down", we just have to cope without the privileges we're used to in an institution. Here, we are infants.

And on that note I've been making so many mistakes at work - some involuntary, some voluntary, some contextual. It's hard to explain without violating confidentiality. But generally, I feel I can do better, but can't because I just don't have enough experience. It's not about who has the skill set, but rather who understands the processes better. The latter is truly down to experience - which puts me, a fresh masters student, at a disadvantage. On one hand, I am expected to do better than a fresh graduate, and on the other, I am also new so mistakes are bound to happen. What is worse, is that we now don't work alone. Many things we take for granted: our own system of naming files, how we organise our raw data etc. Just today I was told that I can't put rates in a bar chart and absolute volume in line graphs because it doesn't make sense mathematically. It seems obvious now, but during then, it wasn't - and it's all down to experience.

Having a prolonged education has made me more patient and more observant - especially given the training as a social scientist. However, the feeling of being in this place is truly like an infant being thrust into the noisy and bright world with strange faces staring down at you. As a baby, you take in everything and one's sense get so overwhelmed, the brain's reaction is to numb and shut down. That was exactly what I did during my first few weeks here, and in some ways I shut down when the information becomes overwhelming. This shut-down mentality is bad because I'll miss out things and instead of compartmentalising, I should be extending and linking processes.

It's like learning all over again.

And gosh it's exhilarating.

When we communicate with others, we sometimes forget to communicate with ourselves - to negotiate the processes within when we are confronted with an entirely new environment. These spaces and worlds are so emic, it is very difficult to explain to anyone who is not in the same place as you. I suppose that's why it's hard to explain our work to anyone, because words is a pale metaphor of the challenges that lie within the day-to-day  of those who actually work there.

In any case, my weaknesses in work are exposed precisely because the environment demands from me my best. When I asked for a challenging career, I need to keep reminding myself that in every challenge, we are called to do our best and in the process of doing so, we also show our worst. Unfortunately, the former is taken for granted and the latter is not tolerated. Recently, I regret starting too early, because the break is definitely much required to reset my outlook. This "work as a break from academia" is not good, and I find my current work suffering. It is difficult to let research go, and at the same time with pressing financial concerns, I cannot undertake a PhD right away. Now being in this career, it's like I've finally lived the pages of the books I've read about. The sad thing is, I can never really share my analysis with anyone because the academese will probably turn my colleagues off. It's a delicate liminal position of living between two worlds and can I do both exceedingly well? Unfortunately, the answer is increasingly - No.

To be honest, I miss academia because of the freedom and individuality. However, at the same time practical matters have pretty much dictated my fate for me - and in a way, this current path isn't all bad, and I just have to embrace it fully in my heart. That will take time and hopefully, not too much as well.

But the learning never stops, and gosh I hope it never will.