Month: February 2012

Next door

Many thanks to a number of friends who shared their experiences, thoughts, and insights, helping me round out this post and give me the sigh of relief that these reactions were not Just Me. Also, this post includes a variety of experiences based on relationships with a variety of people over time. Right now I am fine, and my people are doing alright. This generalizing is as much to protect individuals’ privacy as to try and make sense of dealing second-hand with mental illness.

Wednesday, February 8th was a day to talk about mental health. Why it was sponsored by Bell, I don’t know. Why it was February 8th, I don’t know. But hey, getting people talking about mental health and raising money isn’t a bad thing.

Unsurprisingly, it brought to mind my own experiences with mental illness. I consider myself fortunate — any depression I’ve dealt with has been situational, and temporary, and I always remained at least somewhat functional. Those who have helped me through it have my eternal gratitude and are immediately welcome to anything I can do for them when they need it.

But depression and I have been close, sometimes very close, off and on for a lot of years. I kinda… live next door. I’ve seen many strong voices online talk about their struggles with depression, which has helped a lot of people. I haven’t seen much, however, from the people around those who struggle. There are some good reasons for that. A lot of what you think and feel seems either utterly futile, or makes you think you must be a complete asshole.

Mostly I’ve been depression’s next door neighbour, but sometimes other neighbours show up: anxiety, mania, substance abuse… And you would think, after all these years, that I’d know how to be a good neighbour by now. I’d have figured out How To Help.

Nope. I suck.
(more…)

The areas of my expertise

In case you’ve ever found yourself wanting to listen to me talk for a really, really long time, your opportunity has arrived!

Last week MaRS kindly invited me to TO to present in their Best Practices series. I talked about social media for small business in an hour-long presentation, followed by a half-hour Q&A. They also did a shorter, five-minute “Hot Tips” video of, ostensibly, my bonnest of bon mots.

The full media pile of videos, slide deck, and notes is here: MaRS: Social Media for Small Businesses.

Unphotographable

This is a picture I did not take of a young man, looking barely old enough to shave, walking toward me on the sidewalk, gingerly carrying a cellophane-wrapped bouquet of roses and a small green bag, looking supremely pleased within himself, on this blustery February 12th, for already having won Valentine’s Day.

Just never forget to be dexterous and deft

If you take this gig, I think you should pour your heart into it, but I want you to remember that you’re going to have another five to ten other jobs in your lifetime just like this one. This means that for each moment you spend being pumped about the new gig, you’ll have an equal and opposite moment at the end of the gig where you can’t wait to get the hell out. — Rands

Sometimes you hear or read something and it gets stuck in your head. Perhaps because it totally resonates. Perhaps because it expresses an opinion so diametrically opposed to your own. Perhaps because there’s just… something to it, but you can’t yet put your finger on it.

When I first read that quote, I’d been working at a job I didn’t like for about eight months. I’d never really liked it, and, in fact, my manager quit a few weeks after I’d started. Things didn’t go uphill from there. However, about six weeks after I read that quote, I met the PostRank folks and started on a new adventure, one I liked much better.

But for the past while, since I’ve known that I’d be leaving Google, that quote has come to mind a fair bit. Especially when you come from a startup where there’s always more to be done than bodies to do it, being in a position of not being particularly useful isn’t easy. Or when you’re among people who claim to need/want X, but then make decisions and plans that will never accomplish X. Being informed that their attempts to make me permanent had fallen through wasn’t terribly surprising, nor was it emotionally crushing by that point.

I don’t want to give the impression that I found my time at Google horrible. Anything but. It’s totally not the real world there, and that’s a lot of fun. Googlers are insanely well taken care of, and that level of geek-centric culture can be a great time. The people I worked with, both on the Analytics Marketing team and the operations folks I got to know just by being there, are all great, highly capable people. I just didn’t happen to fit the prevailing structure. When you get far enough away from high school, eventually you realize it’s okay not to fit in everywhere. 🙂

Hindsight gives you a considerably broader point of view, and so one can indulge from time to time in the What Ifs. I’ve never for a minute regretted saying no to moving to Mountain View, but what if I had gone there? It would have been pretty much the only chance I had to find somewhere to “fit” at Google, simply because what I do is done there, but not here. At the same time, though, the way they handle community management, for example, is very different from how I am used to working, and how my personality prefers to work… so would I have been happy there? Would I have loved living in the Valley or San Francisco, or would I have always felt painfully un-hip? (Kidding.)

Ultimately, Google is a big company. A very big company, no matter how much they try to believe and market themselves (especially internally) as something scrappier, more nimble, or “startup-y”. I’ve told numbers of people that working at Google felt more like working at the insurance companies I’ve worked for than any of the tech companies I’ve worked for. Nothing wrong with that — the company has around 32,000 employees. But as you grow you have to accept and adapt to how your growth affects your employees, culture, communications, etc. as well as your products, customers, and the market.

So, what if I hadn’t tagged along on the Google adventure? They never really needed or wanted all of us, so what if they’d said thanks, deposited a few bucks into our accounts, and we went our separate ways back in June? I recall seeing a couple of really cool jobs back then, and waffling over whether to apply and push my brain into the direction of moving on, or to settle myself in the saddle for whatever ride Google would bring. Needless to say, I chose Google. I think a lot of people would. I am at least grateful that KW is a tech-strong area and desperately thirsty for talent. I’d be a lot more freaked out if we’d had a crash between June and now. (Especially given how many cool gigs I keep seeing for Toronto, Calgary, and the Valley…)

Unsurprisingly, I have been constantly asked the last while what’s next. Perhaps if I’d had a quarter for every ask I wouldn’t have to look for a new job at all… Short answer is: I can’t say. I have some great opportunities that right now mostly just require patience, I know my skills are valued, and I am superstitious enough not to talk about it all in much detail in the open without Is dotted and Ts crossed and where the capricious gods of fate may hear me… Most importantly, I feel fine about where things are and are going.

I am also very grateful to everyone who’s been supportive and helpful. I’ve received leads, introductions, and whatnot from many people who didn’t surprise me, and a number who did. Sounds a bit self-serving, but you hope that by being active in your community and making yourself useful that they’ll be there for you when you need it, too, and that has very much proven true. Fellowship: it ain’t just for Mennonites! So thank you all.

I’ve also enjoyed getting a closer look back into the startup scene recently. It’s certainly grown and changed since PostRank was one of those scrappy, nimble companies with six employees and computers on folding tables. For every story like this I see that makes me weep for the future, I have also seen, heard, and talked to brilliant folks who are passionate, fearless, and who just happen to have recently graduated… or not. It’s also heartening to know their mentors and know that those are folks who’ll kick their asses if they get uppity. 🙂

At the same time, I see the mistakes they make and am becoming ever more aware of the value of experience (especially my own), and for access to business mentoring that reflects that. It seems to be easy enough to get insight and information from great people about the tech, the financing, and all the “hard” skills, but the worst errors I see being made are about people. And it’s not that these folks are sociopaths or lack social skills, it’s just that being the CEO of a company is very different from doing hacking projects with your buddies, or being low enough down the totem pole not to be responsible for a lot of things. I look forward to seeing how these folks grow and change over the years the same way I look forward to seeing how the tech scene here does.

The end of the PostRank era has been hard at times, but it would have been harder had it ended back in June. Having had months to get used to the team being flung to the four winds has provided separation time, and having suspected a permanent position wasn’t going to work out has provided the motivation to send my brain forward, rather than miring it in the present or pining for the past.

I’ve been in much worse places — still working at a company that was crumbling around me, laid off a week after my birthday — so I’m in a very okay place. As I told a couple friends, my main challenge currently is working on my patience, which has never been my strongest of virtues. (Given that it’s my sister-in-law’s name, perhaps she could impart some wisdom?)

Hopefully, I’ll have awesome news to share in one of my all-too-infrequent posts soon. Watch this space. 🙂 In the mean time, a few snippets from Dr. Seuss’ Oh, The Places You’ll Go, which has been on my mind a lot lately, too (and the title of this post comes from it). I thought it important enough to make a parting gift for the Googles.

Congratulations!
Today is your day.
You’re off to Great Places!
You’re off and away!

You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose.

~

You’re on your own. And you know what you know.
And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.

~

Out there things can happen
and frequently do
to people as brainy
and footsy as you.

And when things start to happen
don’t worry. Don’t stew.
Just go right along.
You’ll start happening too.