Tag: life lesson

An anniversary, of sorts.

This post deviates from the usual light-hearted tone I try to keep with this blog. It does have a happy ending, though!

Some facebook ‘memories’ photos have been showing up in my feed for me to share, and that made me realise a rather relevant anniversary for me.

Today is the 1 year anniversary of when I’d acknowledged that depression was completely kicking my arse, and I’d tucked my tail between my legs and run back to my dads house. The photo that prompted this post was taken on my first night back, when I went out for a meal with my mum, sisters, brother in law, aunt and cousin. I was attempting to present an image to the world that I was fine. I have a rather fixed grin on my face that does little to hint at how unwell I was inside. I spent the next 3 weeks as a sobbing wreck on dad’s settee, whilst trying to figure out how to fix myself.

I won’t dwell too much on the circumstances that had led me to that point. In essence, it was a perfect storm of circumstances – I am prone to seasonal depression over the winter months due to longer nights. I hadn’t managed to pull myself out of that when I started on some medication that was supposed to be able to help me quit smoking – but one of the side effects of that medication is depression. To add to all this, I was embroiled in a rather awful situation in my own life.

Sometimes, I look back and feel ashamed that I didn’t cope better. Because I’m supposed to be better than that. Then I total up everything that was going on, and realise that I shouldn’t have ever expected myself to be superwoman in the first place. I doubt there are many people out there who have the mental and emotional fortitude to deal with such circumstances without there being some kind of effect.

It sounds pretty rough, and it was – it was the lowest point of my life so far. I was really ill. But in my mind it marks the beginning of when I really started to take responsibility for my own mental health, and started making positive changes in my own life. I stopped taking those bloody quit smoking tablets, and switched to anti depressants. I worked towards letting go of the anger and bitterness over the situation I was in. I also became a bit more selfish – I realised that I do actually matter, and I owed it to myself to live a good life and to look after myself better.

I’m pretty proud of how far I’ve come in the space of a year. I realised I have a network of solid and amazing people who I can approach for support when I need it. More to the point, I’ve let go of any shame in actually approaching those people when I do need a bit of a help. I have an amazing boyfriend in my life. I’ve moved forward in my career. I’ve adopted some of the principles touted by cognitive behaviour therapy to let go of my tendency towards warped thinking – in essence, let go of dwelling on the negative, and instead take a positive step forward. It wasn’t always easy. In fact, at times it was downright torture in my own head – but it has paid off. My life feels pretty amazing right now as a result – and it was me that got me there (with a little lot of help from my friends).

Now, that may not seem like much, but it’s pretty huge for me. I’m not 100% back to my old self – but that is not surprising. I have changed as a person (hopefully) for the better as a result of my experiences, so my old self is not someone I need or even want to be any more. I’ve lost nothing, and gained so much.

To sum up this post – depression is an absolute beast. Not only does it drag you down, it keeps you down by taking away the motivation to do anything to help yourself. I can only encourage anyone else going through this to please get help. Reach out to family and friends. See a doctor. Get therapy. Try anything and everything. It won’t be easy, but you’re worth it, even if your brain is currently telling you that you deserve all the shit that life is currently throwing at you. Your brain on depression is your worst enemy. Life can and will get better, and there is nothing shaming about accepting that you can’t always do it alone.

I am no longer depressed – I haven’t been for a good while now. I do still have my anxious moments. I know that I can’t allow myself to fall down that pit again, and I try to be very aware of the signs my own body and mind give me that I could be headed that way. I’m terrified of getting that ill again – I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. But that anxiety is merely the very last remnant of a time that is now in the past, and I am very eager for it to stay there. It’s the final thing to let go of – and I will throw it away, because I know it’s not worthy of being a part of me, and has no place in the life I want to have.

There you have it – I’m better, and I’m always working to get even more better. I am a work in progress, and I always will be. And the same goes for everyone else. So here’s the deal for me and everyone who is reading this – decide to be awesome, and keep being awesome. It’s worth it.

* One resource that helped me greatly is the MoodGYM training program. It’s free to use, and is accessed online: MoodGYM.

I had my ears lowered.

I got my hair cut last week. I had a good 4 inches chopped off, so my hair is back above my chin. Given that my hair was previously past my shoulders, this could be seen as a drastic change.

I much prefer having short hair. Not because I necessarily think it suits me better, but more because I am kind of lazy. Having my hair cut so much shorter means that it no longer takes me 15 minutes to dry and straighten my hair. It’s now more like 3. Which amounts to 12 minutes of my life I can claim back every day. It may not seem much, but it soon adds up!

So there you have it. My fashion choices are dictated by my desire to not have to spend any longer than 5 minutes getting my hair under control.

I was asked ‘What if your boyfriend doesn’t like it?’

At the time, I responded with ‘tough’, but I decided to expand on this here.

If the bloke is with me only for past shoulder length hair, then I would have made a pretty poor choice in boyfriend. I’d like to think that he’s going out with me, and not my hair.

Well, I decided on a small reality check, and asked him what he thought of it. In typical bloke fashion, he just replied with a noncommittal ‘It’s different’. Then mentioned that it’s my hair to do what I want with when I asked him to explain.

Which in my mind settles it. I suspect that most blokes out there probably don’t even notice a hair cut one way or another, and certainly have little opinion on it. This is supported by my turning up for work today, and the only person who has commented on the change is the lady who served my latte this morning. All other encounters today have been with male colleagues.

To sum up: Odds are the blokes I work with haven’t actually noticed. Either that, or hair isn’t really on their list of things to mention. So really, all this panic over a hair cut is probably a lot of wasted energy. It’s certainly food for thought if next time you go to get your haircut you start worrying over what your other half will think. I’m betting it’s not high on his list of priorities.

The Perils of Gossip in the Workplace

It seems pretty harmless at first. A small rant about a co-worker by the water cooler. A sarcastic remark behind someone’s back. Most of us have been guilty of it at some point. I’m certainly no saint. It doesn’t take much for it to get out of hand, though. I have in the past had first hand experience of this that at the time was incredibly hurtful.

This happened a while ago. I’ve mentioned before how I’ve been prone to making mistakes, which is why I have a healthy respect for any QA team who has picked them up before it got dangerous. I’ll quite happily hold my hand up to that, and accept that as a mere human, I’ll continue to make mistakes whether I’d like it to or not. Whilst, of course, trying to get better.

So, it started off quite simple. I was making mistakes, and it was being discussed in derogatory fashion behind my back by a very small group of peers. While I would have preferred to have had it raised to my face, not everyone has the backbone to give that kind of criticism. Anyways, as is the case with most gossip – I found out what was being said. Word has a way of getting around, be it through over-hearing a conversation, or someone ‘letting you in’ on what is being said.

So, how to react to this? Well, the complaints were fair, in the context. I opted to say nothing, and to work harder on taking more care with my work. Unfortunately, perfection does not come overnight. This is still an area that I am constantly attempting to improve on. I ended up at a point where I could freely state that I still had a lot of work to do in this area, but I could also point out that I had actually improved – and prove it with my results.

Sadly, the talk continued. With some added embellishment. In addition, everything I was doing was being nitpicked to death just to find a problem. Which astonished me, as surely there was enough there to talk about already, without exaggerating it? Plus, nitpick anything closely enough, and you will find some kind of fault. It was like these people were looking for something to bitch about me for, given that I was slowly giving them less ammunition to work with. It was unfair, in my mind. I chose to deal with it by having a polite chat with the people involved (and even those not involved), hoping that would help. I even asked for help and advice on how to improve.

It turns out that I was being somewhat naive in my approach to the issue. Over the course of a couple of years, this kind of thing continued. The help and advice I’d asked for was not forthcoming from the people involved. All throughout, I was aware of what was being said, and getting more irritated. Not so irritated that I felt it worth making a scene though – in my performance reviews, it was always noted that I was improving, with an acknowledgement of there being room to continue to improve. I never scored badly on any of my performance reviews, so I wrongly assumed that this would be held up in the face of any derogatory comment about me if it ever got to that point.

The situation was irritating, but not hurtful – yet. I’d already acknowledged to myself by this point that these people weren’t interested in helping me (or any of the people they were discussing, as I certainly wasn’t the only person on the receiving end of this treatment) to fix what they perceived as a problem. They just wanted to bitch about someone. I wasn’t too concerned, as this kind of talk had been going on for around three years, and I hadn’t been so much as put on a performance review because of it.

Shortly after being given an asked for pay-rise (I couldn’t have been as terrible at my job as I was being made to feel, with this being the case), the political landscape changed, and things got much nastier. I was also having my own issues with depression, which didn’t help. My usual rock-coated skin disappeared at around the time the gossip turned to outright untruths about myself. The stuff being said – and believed by others – had me in tears on the way to and from the office. In addition to other things going on, it was a perfect storm to drive me to the brink.

Here’s the thing – by the time it had gotten to this stage, it was too late to put in a complaint about the people talking about me like this. The atmosphere was flat out toxic for a whole host of reasons at this point, and the stuff being said had already floated up to the upper levels of the management by the time I became aware of just how nasty things had gotten. It was common knowledge that I was depressed, so anything I said to try and report the issue with an aim of having it dealt with was treated with an attitude that I was taking things the wrong way because of my depression. I confronted some of the people involved with varying degrees of success. It didn’t solve the problem by any means, but it did make me feel more in control of what was going on. Strangely enough, that helped. Ultimately, I accepted I was in a fight I had no hope of winning – and fled to a much healthier environment.

So there you have it. I’m past the whole thing enough now that I am finally able to write this post about (hopefully) coming across as too bitter about what happened. Something that started off as a fair criticism turned incredibly nasty. It would be remiss of me to go through something that, at the time, was flat out horrible, without taking – and sharing – the lessons from it.

All throughout this, I wrongly assumed that my results would speak for themselves. In trying to think the best of the people who were involved in the situation, I also failed to confront the issue as aggressively as I should have done. Sadly, left unchecked, dishonest gossip will adversely affect the perception others have of you. Ignoring the issue won’t make it go away – it will just get to the point where it’s not even worth salvaging it.

Above all, the lessons learnt here come back to things I have said before – you can’t change people, you can only change how you react to people. Most of all, you are in charge of your own situation. I attempted to fight what was happening at the expense of my own mental health. I didn’t start getting better until I got out.

As for not being bitter – well, I wouldn’t be the person I want to be if I was still letting this get to me. I don’t think badly of the people involved – it’s just not worth the mental energy. If I let myself be consumed by bad feeling about this, that would affect my ability to examine the situation logically, meaning that I would lose sight of any lessons to be learned. In addition, this post would have been a rant instead of an attempt to share some (hopefully useful) lessons.

So, to sum up on how I’ve learnt to deal with office gossip:

  • Gossip never fixes anything. Don’t get dragged into gossiping about co-workers. If you have a real complaint, take it through the proper channels. Bear in mind that the people talking like this will probably have no issue talking about you in similar fashion. Stay clear of them, lest you be tarred with the same brush. Say nothing that you wouldn’t say to the face of the person being discussed.
  • If the gossip is about you, talk to the people involved – see if they actually have a point, and act on it. Bear in mind that some people just don’t have the backbone to be upfront about things. Don’t be a pushover, though. Let this be their only chance. See below.
  • If that fails, let the people higher up the food chain know what is going on. You’ve attempted to address the gossiping with the people involved already. It’s apparent at this point that the issue has less to do with your work, and more to do with their personal dislike of you. That kind of thing has no place in a workplace.
  • If that still fails, get out and don’t look back – because odds are you are in a toxic work environment, and nothing is going to get better any time soon. The only person who can ultimately look after you is you.

Money Talks – Know your worth

This is a topic that seems to pop up fairly regularly in various media – how much you get paid.

Some companies out there publish this information, to demonstrate how fairly they are paying their staff. Others don’t, and occasionally, the employees will start discussing this amongst themselves.

Both the above approaches always lead to the inevitable – people comparing how much they earn to how much their co-workers are (possibly) earning. One thing I have seen when this plays out is that someone always seems to decide that they’re being shafted, and they let jealousy take over. Things can often go downhill from there, depending on the personality involved.

I am of the school of thought that says I do not tell my co-workers how much I earn under any circumstances. While I may tell them how much I was getting paid in a previous job, my current salary is my own business, and no one elses. When co-workers start discussing their current salary in front of me, I keep my mouth firmly shut and attempt to evade the discussion. Even when it becomes apparent that they are being vastly underpaid.

That probably seems quite unsociable or even unfeeling of me. But here’s the thing – what I earn has no bearing on what anyone else earns. Just like what they earn has no bearing on what I earn, for one simple reason – I am in charge of my own situation. I can’t say I have ever found myself staying too long in a role where I feel undervalued. I keep an eye on the market rates in the area for my chosen profession, and I have no problem with asking for a raise if I feel it warranted. If the raise is not forthcoming, I choose to take myself – and my pay negotiations – elsewhere.

At no point in this process have I ever looked at my pay in comparison to someone else’s and thought ‘That person is being paid more than me, and I don’t think they’re worth it’. Again, this comes down to an acknowledgement that people are in charge of their own situation. If someone is actually being paid more than me, my first thought is that they made a better job of negotiating their salary than I did – in which case, good for them.

In my not so recent history, I found out that some co-workers were discussing my salary with a view to envy. I found out the figure that was being bounced about, and found it amusing that it was quite a bit lower than what my salary actually was. If the figure had actually been correct, then I would have been concerned how that number became public knowledge, since my salary is between me and the entity paying it. And as mentioned before, I don’t share my salary with co-workers (much like I don’t share my plate of food).

So, here are some lessons I’ve picked up about this kind of thing over the years that I’d like to share:

  • Just because you don’t discuss your salary with co-workers, that doesn’t mean that they won’t discuss it – and probably have it wrong. The office politics around this kind of thing can get very intense, but it’s not really something you can control. Accept that, and try to not get sucked in. I’d say the rule here is to keep out of it – joining the fray will not help you to take control of this. If you’re approached or confronted by people who are unsatisfied with their own lot, point out how they can always ask for a raise.
  • Know your worth before entering any salary negotiation – be it for a new or existing job. There are so many websites where you can check out the market rate for your role and position in your area. Don’t undervalue yourself when it comes to this. Be sure to check out this information at least once a year. This will help you to figure out the ballpark figure that you want to ask for, and shouldn’t be used as a hard and fast figure that must not be deviated from.
  • Don’t be afraid to move on to a place where you will be fairly valued. As mentioned in this post, you know how much you are worth. If you really are being undervalued, no company worth their salt is going to say no to a reasonable request to be compensated fairly.
  • Bear in mind that what your co-workers earn has no bearing on your own situation, and more importantly – is none of your business. Envy and jealousy are not healthy. For anyone. One of the worst things you can do here is try to justify your pay raise based upon what a colleague is apparently earning. Leave that kind of thing out of any salary negotiation.
  • Companies are there to make money. Which means they will go for the best deal to cut their own costs. It’s a pretty rare case that you will be given a significant raise without actually asking for it. If they can get your services for cheap, they’ll more often than not keep being cheap. After all, the reward for digging an awesome big hole is a bigger shovel, and very rarely a bigger bag of money. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. Simples.

The main lesson here, however, is something I’m sure I have mentioned before – you are responsible for your own situation. Don’t like your situation? Then take control and change it, or get into a new situation. If you choose to bleat about how unfair everything is without doing anything about it, then you’ll find that any sympathy you were getting will slowly disappear. And at the end of it, you’ll still be miserable.

Presentation Feedback

Today was a good day – I realised I must have made an impression with my presentation last Friday, as I had a few people approach me today to discuss it a bit more.

The feedback was largely positive – they found the presentation relevant, and it all made sense. I was even praised for my courage in presenting what I did, as one of the newer members of the team. The main advice I got was how to try and approach management with my points.

First and foremost – I naturally speak quickly. I speak even faster when I am either nervous, excited or passionate about something. Which, on Friday, I was all three. I struggle with slowing down my speech at the best of times. I do need to get better at it, especially since one of the guys pointed out that it made me seem nervous. He then went on to point out that if I seem nervous in front of management, I’ll probably get eaten alive. He has offered to coach me through future presentations, and even present with me – which I find to be pretty awesome, so I’ll bite his hand off for that!

One of the main pieces of advice to come through from all who approached me, however, was to try and focus more on numbers. I need to find a way to prove that what I am suggesting can save both time and money. This one will be more tricky. I may have to wait a few months until a few more projects finish, collect up some data, and attempt to crunch it into a format that can prove my point. However, not all the projects finish at the same time. The project that is ringing alarm bells for me is nearing completion – and I’m not one of the people working on it. Yet my own project, where I can prove that what I’m proposing has benefits, isn’t scheduled to complete until late next year.

So – I need data. My current sources of data may not even be comparable. My thinking cap is back on once again. Given current workloads though, I do have a bit of time to consider my approach to this, and now I have a bit more help in presenting it. All in all – I’ll take this as a win for now!

The Presentation – how it went

The other day, I mentioned that I was preparing for a presentation.

The aim was to – as a minimum – get people to follow the existing process. The ultimate aim was to try and get buy-in for following a full out Test Driven Development methodology (TDD).

My previous post about this generated some awesome advice – some mentioned that I should pin point a case study of where a process wasn’t followed. A former manager suggested I avoid death by power-point, and instead cover a live example of how TDD can speed up the development process. Others suggested that I follow a four point rule.

It’s just sods law that I woke up in the morning with a cracking headache and feeling sick. Awesome. I dragged myself into work, regardless – I’d put far too much thought and effort into this to call in sick on the day.

I think I managed to incorporate elements of all the advice I received. I opened up with a brief section on ‘when things go very, very wrong’, to establish that I’d already had a trial by fire for this kind of thing. I then demonstrated how time can be saved and pit falls avoided using TDD. I closed off with my suggestions that we adopt a TDD-like methodology, or at the very least follow the process we already have across the board, with no excuses. All issues were condensed down to a maximum of 4 points each, to avoid information overload. I then opened up the room for discussion.

Unfortunately, the management were unable to attend the meeting, which meant that I was really working from the ground up. It turns out that the most powerful tool in my arsenal was the fact that the product recall notice (the price of not doing this right) is still on the internet. The twitter posts are still there as well. It’s hard to argue against that.

Overall – I don’t have full buy-in of TDD yet. However, there is an agreement that the process as it currently exists will be followed more stringently. The value of unit testing was accepted as common sense, but the same old arguments reared their heads – resources and time. It was agreed that we would need more drive from a management level to get resources dedicated to setting up a proper nightly build system, and that is still the main issue with what I’m trying to get in place.

After the presentation, my manager asked me to send him and the other managers a summary of the results of the presentation, which has given me the opportunity to not only give feedback, but to also push for giving the presentation to the management.

So, the battle isn’t over yet. I haven’t been shouted down, meaning I have plenty of room to keep the argument for this going. I feel I have managed to move things forward a small step, which as the new girl in the office, I don’t think is bad going. There is still a long way to go, and I’ll no doubt be blogging about it as I continue pushing for it.

I’d like to once more give a huge thanks to all the people who gave up their time to give me advice on how to proceed with this presentation – it’s very much appreciated, and I don’t think I would have gotten a team to agree to follow the process more closely without following your advice! You’re all awesome!

Knowing when to quit

One life skill that I wish I was better at is knowing when to quit.

Our heroes are lauded to us as people who didn’t quit, even when the odds seemed against them. Conversely, people who are so intimidated by a task that they never even start to attempt it are derided.

So – when to quit?

There’s a definite line between quitting too soon, and beating your head against a brick wall for the sake of your own pride. This is constantly an issue I find myself up against (I’m no quitter, darnit!). I have been trying to redefine the parameters of this to try and get a better read on knowing where the line is.

For me, the answer to this has started to boil down to answering some questions.

First, is the battle worth fighting?
Second, can you afford to lose the battle?

So – pick your battle. This is all well and good, until the battle picks you. Once you find yourself in said battle, you’re then left with the second question – can you afford to lose the battle? This, in bad times, can then lead to a third question – do you actually have a chance of winning the battle?

If the answer to this last question is no, then you need to get out. You’ve already lost this battle. The only thing you have to lose at that point is your pride. Hanging on to a losing battle will cost you so much more (i.e. mental and physical health), in addition to said pride.

Silly yet true example here:

When I was 8, I was arguing with my Dad. I had been given some homework to do – the 8 times tables. By the time we got to 8 x 8, I was bored. I wanted to play. My stubborn streak kicked in. The conversation went on in a loop for *hours*:

Dad: What is 8 times 8?
Me: Don’t know!
Dad: 8 times 8 is 64. What is 8 times 8?
Me: Don’t know!

This had become a battle of wills. The victory for me would be refusing to say that 8 times 8 is 64. My Dad had another take on it, though. For him – he couldn’t afford to lose this battle, because being out-stubborned by his 8 year old child would set a bad precedent. The predictable thing happened, of course. I eventually gave in because I was tired. Dad won that battle through sheer perseverance, and I learnt that I couldn’t out-stubborn my Dad, ever. Which was the whole point, from his perspective. Incidentally, I’ll also never forget that 8 x 8 = 64. My Dad still beats me around the head with ‘what is 8 times 8?’ every time he thinks I am being stubborn.

Sadly, I didn’t really pick up the underlying message back then. I am still muleishly stubborn. This year saw me in a situation I should have walked away from as soon as I knew it for what it was – a battle that I could afford to lose, and a battle I couldn’t ever hope to win*. I stubbornly stuck it out, hoping to change the inevitable outcome of it, even against the advice of family and friends. If I’d walked away then, the first half of this year could have been awesome for me.

It’s a matter of (foolish) pride to me that I’ve never walked away from a fight in my life.

You can probably guess where this is going. Knowing it was hopeless, I stayed in the situation to fight it out. Ultimately, I still ended up walking away when the cost became too high. I wouldn’t be *me* if I hadn’t at least tried to fight my corner. In retrospect, If I had been a bit smarter about picking my battles – I would have chosen to walk away from this one. With hindsight being 20/20, it wouldn’t have been walking away from a fight – it would have been running towards something better. Not that the experience was a complete waste – I have taken away plenty of positives away in terms of lessons from the experience, as much as it sucked at the time.

So, in a nutshell, I guess I can sum up with this:

Only fight battles worth fighting.
If you can’t afford to lose the battle – don’t lose.
8 x 8 = 64.

* Protip – you don’t ever win against City Hall.