Human Nature is Inherently Political

My disillusionment comes from the fact that real life is a real pageant. When we were kids, there were distinct things that we know is good or evil. You don’t hurt others deliberately for personal gain. You work in harmony and look after each other. These are the values that I was taught to live by.

I understand now why my mother is the way she is. She built an ideal foundation in which we all thrived, where reality was purely good and there are clear repercussions for deviating away from that which is good. There are standards, and my parents held us to a high level. There are things that matter: work ethic, high grades, great work. They both continue to live these virtues.

I feel like Ryan Gosling’s character in the Ides of March.

As I said, it wasn’t like I didn’t know there was evil in the world. I know there is. I visit the CNN website and I see horrible things happening everywhere, everyday. The realization I have about group dynamics and office politics lately stems from the fact that this nasty game is in close proximity. I enter a vessel everyday that is mired. This situation is not unique to my company, but in fact, it is the system that exists everywhere. When there are humans in a group, this is what happens. The variables (prize, roles, activities involved) just differ by situation.

What is surprising to me is the things that we consider bad behaviors as kids are condoned in the real world. Bad behavior is justified to the point that it is not bad behavior anymore. It is transformed and redefined into good, or that which is prized. No one makes noise about bad activities, because everyone has bought into the idea. Everything accepts it as the reality. In fact, they jump right into it and play in the mud themselves.

I knew politics existed. I knew people talk about other people, gossip about things, create their own realities. I used to think that I wouldn’t get involved. I surrounded myself with great friends who are inherently nice, loyal, smart and positive. What I am learning is that I need to keep an ear to the ground and on the world as large. This game is something that is not beneath me. I need to join the game. This is a really pivotal point.

A keen strategy is needed. This is a complex game with a lot of players and a lot of deceiving elements.

But that doesn’t mean I throw away the values that I hold dear. In fact, I need to cling to them more strongly. In order to keep my true self. In order to protect what is most valuable. That I can only truly, openly give as a gift to those worthy in my personal life. I need a totem, a reminder of what is real.

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Individual Merit Does Not Exist in the Office

Office politics. It’s a nasty phrase. 

I started to think more about it lately after me and a friend of mine shared stories about frustrations at work. We both realized that that no matter how hard we worked, we weren’t getting rewarded for our efforts. We are not being evaluated by the value of the work we turn in. We are judged by how our managers see us fit, or if he or she likes our work product. It does not have anything to do with the actual work we produce, but rather, the subjective opinion of our managers.

I happen to value truly intelligent people. Not only those who are charismatic. In fact, some of the most intelligent people I know are humble by nature. They do not go out of their way to attract attention. Unfortunately, this is not the case in the modern office. It is a zoo.

This is why people leave companies. They leave managers. And this is why people stay in companies. They see the talents of their managers in inserting themselves in the circle of it all, regardless of this person’s level of intelligence. This is why smart people wonder why managers who show behaviors of C students can actually still get promoted.

This is not to say that all managers are bad. Many are, but a rare few have both the smarts, the heart and the skill to influence others. Some have been so immersed in the workforce for far too long and that becomes the reality they know: merit does not exist, but rather, the perception of “deservingness,” which can actually be the very opposite of a meritocracy.

If brown nosing is looked down upon in school, in the work environment, it’s a survival skill. The reality is corrupt, disgusting, and disingenuous, but it is a necessary skill to be armed with. Then you can decide how to use it: for good or evil.

Sounds cheesy, but you get it, don’t you? 🙂

Diary Entries as Markers of Growth

I stumbled across my old blogs from college and just spent the last hour downloading backups of my entries. It’s incredible to realize how much different I am now from how I was 10 years ago. Long gone are the overly emotional teenage years. A lot of the confusion has been lifted. I’ve matured. I’ve grown. I’m in my late 20s. I read entries that transported me to situations I have forgotten about. I was reconnected with my reactions to certain events and people I encountered. Even if these memories are dormant, I know they all reside somewhere in my mind… a few minutes of reading a post brings me back the setting, the tone, the mood, the feelings of what ever it was I wrote about. I’m amazed by this.

Note to self: write, create, recount everything that you want to remember. And don’t fuss too much about what to write, just write about the here, the now.

To my 27th year

I turned 27 last month. It feels odd writing that age down, as it sounds old. I really don’t have an idea of what 27 is like, since really, as a kid all I wanted was to be 16 like Cher on Clueless. Anything beyond that, there are no expectations.

There are two important realizations I had as I turned 27: I own myself and my actions, and I am a role model for others. The former gives me confidence in exploring life, since I know I can create the life I envisioned for myself. The outcome of this is the latter. This second realization makes me slightly nervous, but motivates me to be responsible for my actions, decisions and how I present myself because I am seen by others as an inspiration. This feeds back to the first realization. What a virtuous cycle, which I hope it continues to be so!

To my 27th year, that I may continue to have faith, to reach the dreams I set out for this point in my life, and to continuing becoming a woman of confidence, courage and candor. I expect success and I am determined that I am going to achieve it. No complaints, just hard work 🙂

Cheers!

What is Yours to Keep?

Experiences can change you. When you encounter a situation, you learn to respond. Sometimes we do it well; our response is instinctual, and we don’t spend too much time on our actions. Other times, we learn by tripping along the way to the answer. It is during the latter when we are changed– we learn something new, something that got us to a solution, and we are equipped to use this skill the next time the situation presents itself.

For those who are committed to continuous improvement, what I described above is stuff of everyday. Say, they present something in front of an audience, got feedback about changing the way their present or the content they delivered, then they go back to the so-called drawing board to refine their speaking and their ideas. They learn how to enunciate more, to assert themselves more strongly, more forthcoming, more aggressively as the situation calls for it. Then they get positive feedback, and continue to do that in the environment they’re in. At some point, it becomes natural for them to present themselves this way.

Then they are thrusted to a different environment altogether. One that do not value aggressiveness. Somewhere where everyone is quiet and nice, where people are given the chance, the time and the space to present their ideas individually. Yet for the person in question, aggressiveness has become embedded in his psyche that it is second nature for him.

This happens all the time to people, especially in the business world. We graduate from college where we have the freedom to express our voices, then we go into the business world, the “real” world, where we are reprimanded for being idealistic as we express our ideas, or timid when we wait and listen for others to express theirs. The smarter ones adapt. They are honed by the environment they immerse themselves in. They embrace the challenge, and spend nights trying to train themselves to belong in the culture of the organization. They cling to a method that will get them to the top. They start to believe that the world is characterized this way, that the situations they encounter are what happens in organizations and they learn what they need to do in order to survive.

Then they are placed in a different environment, say academia, where the culture is starkly different. People are generally nicer, and logical ideas are valued more than someone’s command. Conversations are more interesting; about art, current events and world-changing ideas. So, what happens to this person who is used to an abrasive environment? They realized a world exists outside of the environment they dedicated themselves to. They are reminded of the person they were in college, before the daily grind rendered them jaded. They learn that there nature has been changed because of their need to change themselves and their interests in order to succeed.

So, back to my question. What is yours to keep? Where do we set boundaries between what ideas we hold dear and the pressure from others to adopt their ideas? More personally, how do we stay true to ourselves when part of our nature is being ambitious, and ambition is driving us to change ourselves? Not all change is bad, but when do we know which areas of our nature to preserve? Do we continue to be spontaneous when that is seen as fickle? Do we learn to be commanding to succeed, when we dislike people who are manipulative?

I feel that in my twenties, I’m at the point when I’m exploring these questions, and my response to these will have a direct effect on the next few years. I will look back and see how much I’ve changed, which I’m open to, but I hope these years develop in me qualities that makes me a successful individual, but above all, a better human being.

Chicago Ideas Week: “Lesson is Yours” Event

I was fortunate to score tickets for this event tonight at the Cadillac Palace Theatre. It featured a few notable speakers, including Brad Keywell (prominent VC), Ben Rattray (Founder of change.org) and Malcolm Gladwell (bestselling author of Outliers). The speakers shared the lessons they learned through personal experiences or stories they’ve heard. I left the event feeling wiser and inspired to use the privileges I have as I seek my dreams.

I’m glad the organizers of CIW conceived this idea of bringing a week-long series of events in Chicago around big, inspiring ideas a la Ted Talks. See the full lineup here. Events like this have a way of pulling us from the drudgery of reality and introduce us to possibilities that can be had if we stop to dream. The speakers were all successful in their own right and being in the midst of their talent and thought processes invites us to soar high with them, collecting burst of ideas along the way. I only hope to keep this same spirit and motivation as I go through everyday, in spite of setbacks and barriers both perceived and real, and believe that my dreams has a place in reality too, as the speakers have proven theirs do.