New Habits

I can’t tell if I’m developing new habits or rediscovering old ones now that I’m less stressed.

I update my diary every single night (I’m completely up to date with it now). I put my clothes up to hang if there’s a hanger free, instead of dumping them at the bottom of my wardrobe. I’ve been stuck in the recording hole for the last several weeks (this is a good thing) so I can put together my debut album before I start my new job in September. It may not sound like much, but I don’t think I’ve done either of the first 2 things in at least a year?

In my defence, it’s been a weird few years. I completed my degree in 2018 (the final year of a degree is always the most stressful and breaking my ankle didn’t help) and went on to complete a Masters during which I had several life revelations (I have a disability, my brother self-harms sometimes and our parents don’t know, my self-esteem is shit, ect.). I graduated in the January of 2020 and had no idea what was about to hit next – did any of us?

I got through it though. I found a crappy unpaid remote internship to do despite a global pandemic starting up in the middle of the work experience, I started officially freelancing in at least 3 different areas (UX consulting, usability testing, and documentary footage transcribing), and I even won an award for one piece of work experience.

As you may have noticed, my last year has been pretty work-oriented. I’ve been determined to find my first 9-5 UX job, build up my work experience, and earn enough money to get the Universal Credit work coach off my back. I also did my first hackathon, completed a Python course and started educating myself on the antiracism front, but work was my primary focus. Not being able to see my friends much in between all of that was hard and I’m really looking forward to seeing them once I’ve been jabbed (then I’ll be comfortable hopping on a train again).

2021 got off to rocky start what with my grandpa’s funeral and all, but the UK vaccination programme seems to be going well (as far as I’m aware), and I finally have a 9-5 UX job lined up! I’m so fucking ready for both of those things. I love my family but, after a year of being stuck together in the family home (in a small town where nothing much happens), I really want to move out. I want to explore new places and challenges. At minimum, I would like to visit the friends that I haven’t seen in a while. That seems possible now for the first time in a long time.

The Empathy Muscle

Dad isn’t a dick on purpose, but he does lack an empathy bone or two.

Actually no, that’s a bad way to describe it. It’s more like an empathy muscle. You get better at empathy over time if you flex and train it. I sometimes feel like exposing dad to practical examples might help him get the idea but, at the end of the day, he’s a fully grown adult and I’ve got better things to do. I’ll step in if I see him about to step on mum’s anxieties in an unhelpful way, but otherwise I stay out of it.

The whole empathy thing feels weird to acknowledge sometimes because dad is so sociable. He has plenty of friends and ex-work colleagues; he goes out dancing with them and they get catchup drinks together at the pub (less so right now for obvious reasons). He used to manage people and there’s still some element of that in the work he does now. He’s had practise at nudging others into doing useful stuff, but I guess that level of social understanding is different to the relationship stuff I’m thinking of.

The reason I bring this up is because I went for a walk with mum today. I was happily rambling about uni friends during the walk, but somehow ended up learning a bunch of new things about one of my dad’s exes (specifically, the first girlfriend he had after he and mum got separated during my teenage years).

I learned that this particular ex was on antidepressants while she was with dad. She came off them because she and dad were so happy in their first year of being together. Unfortunately, it turned out that the antidepressants had been making her a lot more relaxed about the parts of their relationship that she wasn’t okay with, the most obvious thing being how often dad still saw mum.

The ex came up with a list of relationship demands and dad, being the idiot he is, took mum out to dinner to get her opinion on it. He didn’t think the list was reasonable and decided to check with the woman that his current girlfriend didn’t like him seeing so much of. This is peak dad logic. God do I hope mum wasn’t the only person he consulted about it! I mean, the man’s good at befriending middle-aged women so he really had no excuse.

Mum also said that dad asked her whether she thought his girlfriend would like the stupidly expensive brooch he’d bought said girlfriend for Christmas. I mean, just imagine it. Imagine your husband: a man who broke up with you and settled down with a woman who looks a lot like you but has a completely different personality to your own, a man who is really pulling out all the stops on the mid-life crisis crusade, asking you something like that.

Then bear in mind the fact that this brooch present was probably for the first Christmas dad and the girlfriend were going to spend together as a couple. Therefore, this would also be the first Christmas that my parents wouldn’t be together on.

I know that mum wasn’t exactly over dad, because she seemed sad and I was picking up on it at the time, which was making me sad (and probably various other emotions that I’d rather not recall). Yes neither of my parents had been particularly happy in their relationship prior to separating, yes it was the most amicable break up ever, yes my parents were still friends cause dad pretty much always does that with his exes, but still. Imagine your ex asking you something like that while you’re in the process of mourning what you had with him. That’s gotta hurt. Thinking about it now makes me positively furious.

Of course, I’m only getting mum’s perspective here. I have no idea what dad was thinking or feeling when he asked her that, and it’s none of my business anyway.

Hearing mum talk about it all now, she did say “I probably should’ve told him to get lost” when dad asked about the brooch. But she was somewhat mollified when she realised that he’d also spent a ludicrous amount on her own Christmas present (£400 on a set of Japanese knives. Mum spotted the price later in a cooking shop).

Like I said, dad doesn’t try to be a dick. It just comes out that way sometimes.

Musical Babysitting

It’s been an interesting few days.

Firstly, the stuff I’ve been transcribing this week is all on the theme of betrayal rather than murder, leading to some intriguing stories and convoluted family ties. This is a pretty minor point in the grand scheme of my life, and I probably shouldn’t talk about it too much on public platforms like this, but it’s certainly made work more interesting this week.

Secondly, I’ve finally figured out how to approach mixing what may be the last track for my debut album (polling my friends and family sugests that I should aim for around 10-12 songs). At first I thought I was struggling with the mixing process because my performance had been recorded by someone who was not me, but now I think it may be because the song is possibly a power ballad.

I didn’t realise that I wrote power ballads. I sure as hell have never tried to mix one before, because I associate power ballads mixes with intense naffness. I tend to go for a folky indie type vibe or weird ambient trance/atmospheric sound, but I guess my compositions do sometimes verge into pop. It’s never felt quite this blatant before, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I have at least 2 naff tracks in my album now – might as well own it!

This sort of, but not quite, brings me onto the biggest event of this week: my favourite cousin is here to visit!

My favourite cousin is currently primary school age and wants to be a marine biologist when she grows up. She loves dolls, gaming, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Star Wars, Scott Pilgrim comics (the ones that her parents will let her read at her current age), The Good Place, and She-Ra, just to list a few things.

I know fuck all about gaming and dolls, but our interests are similar enough and she’s bubbly enough about them for it to not be an issue. If I don’t understand something, I ask her to explain it to me or I get my brother to handle it (he is a gamer). I mean, yesterday all I had to do was give her my whiteboard, a few pens, and a listening ear, and she happily gave me a full lecture on toy company lawsuits, complete with diagrams. I was in fucking awe.

Anyway, she’s also musical. I don’t think it runs as deeply in her as it does in her mum yet (though it’s hard to tell at this age), but the kid does play violin. The violin came with her this weekend.

Now, it’s important to know at this point that my parents appreciate the favourite cousin’s presence, but don’t really know what she likes. This is presumably because my brother and I are the ones who play with the cousin whenever she comes to visit.

This time however, my favourite cousin has come to visit us at the last minute on her own, because her parents had to do a thing and she didn’t want to go with them (I bet my favourite cousin’s mum used to ask her sister to watch the kid in these types of situations, but that sister has been dead for a while now so she’s no longer an option). Ergo, my favourite cousin is visiting us without her parents for the first time, and my brother isn’t here to help me split the occupying-small-child load, because he’s at Uni.

So, picture this: I am in the house with my favourite cousin and her violin. My parents are out doing their Saturday morning shop. I am normally not conscious at this time on a Saturday, but I have spent the last week or so obsessively mixing/recording stuff and have now been left alone with a musical child. Only one logical thing can happen here.

I recorded my favourite cousin playing one of her violin pieces. We did a few practise takes and picked out a generic drum track of her choice and tempo for her to play against. I then exported the full performance as an MP3 file and sent it to her mum. What I didn’t expect was:

  • the mum to send me her kid’s phone number, enabling me to send the track directly to my favourite cousin,
  • the mum to send the MP3 to my favourite cousin’s music teacher, then asking me to pass on his compliments on the performance,
  • my favourite cousin to share the MP3 on the group WhatsApp chat she has with her friends.

I’m still feeling the dopamine high from that sequence of events.

My favourite cousin is only visiting for an evening and a day, but I feel strangely proud that I’ve been able to handle keeping her occupied almost completely on my own (even if, admittedly, this child is ridiculously easygoing and straightforward to get on with). Dad is the technical help and ferret wrangler, mum produces meals that my favourite cousin will like, and 20 Questions was our group activity of this evening, but the rest of it was all me. In my experience, children tend to be drawn to young adults of the same gender, so you have to be really careful about what behaviours you try and model for them. I think I’m doing okay.

Today we found out that my favourite cousin felt guilty about watching an anime called Helluva Boss that she knew her parents would think is too adult for her. She told us that she’d been lured in by the artwork of the animation style, but the guilt was haunting her come dinnertime. She felt bad about it but was afraid of what would happen if she confessed. She thought that her mum might be disappointed or mad or ban her from YouTube if she came clean, so she asked us for advice.

I let my parents deal with the answer to that one since they are parents and I had no idea how to respond. After some musing, they came to the conclusion that my favourite cousin should tell her mum what happened but emphasise how sorry she feels and that she’s learned her lesson.

Unfortunately, as the evening progressed it soon became apparent that my parent’s answer wasn’t enough to alleviate my favourite cousin’s worry. After going through tears, tissues, cuddles, soothing platitudes (“there there. We all make mistakes. It’ll be over soon and it’ll be okay because x”), and trying to distract/relax her with TV, I eventually realised that the best way to deal with the problem was to put her in touch with her mum, thus allowing the cousin to confess and get rid of the icky stress nausea feeling.

It was only when my cousin mentioned the stress nausea that I realised “Okay. We need to deal with this now” (I’ve had my fair share of stress nausea and it only goes away once you’ve directly dealt with the problem that’s causing it). I suggested calling her mum, but my cousin was worried that her mum would be driving. I said I could message the mum to check, so I ended up drafting a quick WhatsApp message and running it past the cousin to get her approval on the final version. I sent off that message, got a call from the mum about a minute later, handed the phone over, and witnessed the near-instant stress release for my cousin firsthand. The mum wasn’t mad or disappointed and there was certainly no mention of a YouTube ban! She was glad that her daughter was being honest, because she wanted her to feel like she could talk to her parents about things, and also wanted her to have a good time while she was here. They hung up after a sickening amount of “I love you”s. It was genuinely adorable to listen to.

In retrospect, I’m a little annoyed that it took me so long to figure out the solution to my favourite cousin’s obvious upset, but the point is that I did eventually figure it out. She literally said that she felt much better after the call, and the evening moved on swimmingly from there. I guess none of us really knew how the mum would respond to her kid’s confession (or how heavily the guilt would weigh on said kid), which is why it took so long to come up with a solution that actually worked.

God. I’m only a cousin to this child. I can’t imagine how exhausting it is to actually be a parent.

Anyway, having my favourite cousin around has been tiring, but also fun, and weirdly affirming. Like, I’m pretty sure that I can do this social interaction right, which means a lot when you get as unnecessarily insecure about socialising as I do.

Productive Relaxation

My cringe tolerance is pretty terrible on a normal day, but if you add in sleep deprivation and some low level anxiety about a situation I haven’t had to experience for a while, it gets worse. Today was one of those days.

I had one of those mornings where trying to do a basic activity made me feel like I was taking up way too much space. My parents were trying to be helpful, but I wanted to go hide in a corner of the shoe shop where no one would pay me any attention until it was over, except in order for it to be over I would first have to interact with a stranger to buy some shoes (which is fucking difficult when I get into that sort of headspace).

Sometimes it’s useful to have another person around me when I hit a certain level of social anxiety. I worry about not knowing how certain interactions should work (cause then I might fuck it up and upset someone that I’ll probably never see again), so having someone demonstrate those interactions in front of me instantly reduces that fear. It stops me from getting in my head so much.

If I’m nervous about doing something new, it can be helpful to get an emotional support buddy to do it with me, but that works best if neither of us acknowledge the thing I may or may not be low-key anxious about. In the ideal situation, their presence alone is enough to jolt me out of whatever stupid headspace I’ve worked myself into. Most of the time I’m horribly embarrassed that x freaks me out so much in the first place; my support buddy rarely knows that they are the support buddy in these scenarios.

In today’s scenario, the combination of my tiredness and my parents actively trying to be helpful somehow made me feel ten times worse, even though I know how shoe shops work. My parents were literally trying to help me find shoes that I wanted, but my brain did not like that. I spent most of the morning wanting to be left alone, but I don’t think I realised that was what I wanted until, well, until now. Many hours later. It wasn’t the end of the world or anything, but it was damn frustrating.

I mean, I kinda hate shopping anyway, so that didn’t help.

The late afternoon/evening was better though. I have developed various habits to help protect my arms, trick myself into relaxing, and just generally distract me from myself. Specifically, I’ve realised that the best way for me to relax is to convince myself that I’m being productive by relaxing.

For example: I’m currently working my way through 3 different Masterclasses on the Masterclass app and have a list of other classes I should check out. I’m also rewatching The Good Place, keeping a tally of signature character moments so I can create an infographic when I get to the end of the show.

It helps that I also have a lot of creative projects to dive into. I have 3 major ones on the go at the moment, and their progress is helped along by the fact that they heavily intersect. They’re not very arm-friendly, but that’s what my Good Place tally, Masterclasses and general Netflix perusing are for.

And yeah, I know that my self-worth should not be defined by my productivity levels (even if that’s how capitalism wants to define it). In theory, I have worth that comes from simply existing in this world as a human being. However, until someone can convince me of that, I’m gonna keep doing what I’m doing. Tricking myself into productive relaxing may sound stupid, but it’s working so far.

Prepping For Family

My favourite little cousin is coming to visit this weekend and I can already feel myself turning it into a project. I’m thinking of all the things I can do to occupy this particular primary school age kid.

I want her to have a good time while she’s here. The challenge is making sure that her good time happens in a way that doesn’t send me into the anxious preparation deep end. Sometimes I worry so much about making sure other people enjoy themselves that I forget to have a good time. Honestly, I’ve lost count of how often it’s happened.

So, let’s have a think about this in advance. What has my cousin historically enjoyed doing, what might she enjoy that she hasn’t tried yet, and how much of myself am I willing to spend on her good time?

She has previously enjoyed:

  • Drawing/drawing competitions
  • Watching YouTube
  • Mario Kart
  • Dance games on her Nintendo thing
  • Mucking about with dad’s VR headset
  • Watching films/TV
  • Minecraft (something that my brother normally does with her)

She might enjoy:

  • Making a short film with me
  • Recording some music with me
  • Exploring my fancy dress drawer
  • Cooking (I know she’s done this before but I don’t know how much she enjoys it)
  • Science experiments (I’ve seen her do these with her mum in the past so it’s difficult to tell if this is a parent-mandated activity or something she genuinely enjoys)
  • Playing around with my pop-up house books

My god. It’s like I turn into the child workshop guru whenever I’m exposed to small relatives! This is why I need to set some energy expenditure boundaries for myself…

Okay. First things first: if I have transcription work to do, I will do it before I spend time with my cousin.

Second, whatever we do has to be something that my favourite cousin wants to do and/or is willing to try doing. It takes a lot of energy to convince a young person to do something they don’t see the appeal of – I doubt I’ll have that much energy to spare.

Last but not least, if I feel like I’m going to snap, I will politely excuse myself from the vicinity of all humans in order to recharge. I will not push through social burnout, because doing so will ruin the experience for me and everyone else. This is my favourite cousin we’re talking about though, so hopefully this won’t be a major issue.

My little cousin is coming to visit at the weekend, which means that my parents will be around to occupy her too. I am one of three hosts. If we divide up activities according to host, I’m good for the creative stuff, mum’s good for cooking, dad’s good for VR, and my cousin may very well be able to occupy herself with her various screens. It’s a shame my brother’s not here, cause he’s great with the gaming and Minecraft stuff, but I can always message him for help if that comes up.

Okay. I’m ready.

Post-Covid Socialising

I’m 24 years old but I still feel like a child in many ways. Case in point: tonight I’m eavesdropping on my parents in case they say anything interesting.

Dad’s clubbing friend has come over for dinner and drinks now that Covid regulations have eased, so the three of them are chatting away downstairs. They have the usual plan of catching up, getting drunk on cocktails and dancing the night away in the kitchen.

I don’t dislike dad’s clubbing friend but, at the end of the day, she’s primarily dad’s friend. More importantly, I don’t drink. I’d get increasingly awkward and/or frustrated if I actually stayed with them post-dinner.

Instead of joining their conversation I’m here: lying on my bed, listening to their conversation (it’s not difficult to hear), feeling increasingly guilty for not socialising properly, and then feeling shitty for having next to no social life myself. I thought I was over feeling bad about this stuff, but apparently not.

It’s silly. I’m an adult. Hell, I’ll even have a 9-5 job soon! I don’t have to do optional things involving my parents if I don’t want to.

Also, my social life may not look like much, but I don’t think there’s anything I can do about that right now. I want to wait till I’m jabbed before I go visit my friends in cities and other parts of the country. In the meantime, I have to make do with virtual meetups, Facebook messenger conversations, and suggesting in-person meets to the few friends in my vicinity.

It’s been going okay. I have my UX friends from weekly virtual meetups, I message with my core home and university friends, and I recently met in person with my polymath friend for a long overdue catch up chat.

Everything’s fine in theory but, at moments like this, I feel like I could be doing so much better on the social interaction front. I know there’s the whole global pandemic thing to take into account, but it still feels like I only have myself to blame for being lonely. I try to avoid thinking about it cause the thought always hits me like a wall of bricks.

Sometimes I worry that I’m being a shitty friend. I’m not entirely sure how I’ve reached this conclusion from a rational standpoint – I think it’s something to do with feeling like I’m missing parts of people’s lives because I don’t talk to them regularly enough – but I hope I’m bullshitting myself on that point at least a little bit. I know I get wrapped up in my own world and projects a lot of the time, but I don’t think anyone gets mad at me for that. I always try to ask how my friends are doing and what they’ve been up to after I’ve gone on a ramble (that has to count for something, right?). Sometimes neither of us have been up to much, and that’s okay.

The obvious solution to all of this is to arrange more frequent meet ups with friends, especially now that Covid regulations are easing. My guitar teacher friend, for example, always responds enthusiastically to the idea of meeting up. However, my guitar teacher friend is also a self-employed single parent. He never says it out loud but it’s as plain as day that he has other priorities in life. I don’t begrudge him that, but it does mean that he needs reminding to follow through on things he said he’d be open to. I don’t always have the energy to nag people into upholding their own commitments.

Sometimes I get tired of being the personal reminder service of “don’t forget that you said you’d do x” for the people that matter to me. But I also know that if I stop being their reminder service, x will never happen. If x equals something like meeting up, it can feel like I’m about to become solely responsible for ending a friendship just because I got unnecessarily upset about sending one little reminder. One little message shouldn’t be a big deal.

Speaking of little messages, my talkative friend messaged me a while back for advice/to vent. I suggested that we meet up sometime after Covid regulations ease, but I’m deliberately not chasing it up. If she actually wants to meet up with me she’ll have to arrange it herself. I don’t have the energy for unmutual relationships right now and I’m tired of being an emotional/organisational crutch. I can do one at a time, but both simultaneously is too draining to do on a regular basis. Sometimes I feel like that’s all our relationship is these days.

My talkative friend messages me when she needs help, advice or comfort; I provide it and then the interaction is over as promptly as it began. If I’m lucky she might ask me a question about how my life is going. I don’t mind helping her out when she needs it, but it does make our whole friendship seem horribly one-sided.

Honestly, I’m tired of a lot of things right now and it doesn’t help that I’m physically tired from staying up till 4am last night as well (I bought a new book). I’m keeping my fingers crossed that everything will be better on the socialising front once I get jabbed and my new job starts, but who knows.

I’m starting to think that a big part of adulthood is feeling guilty for shit you have little control over. At the end of the day, the best thing you can do for yourself is try to let it go and move on.

Jobs and Creativity

Life’s pretty good right now. I haven’t felt the need to write any rants lately, which is always a good sign. Anyway, figured I should share a couple of the good things happening at the moment!

The major positive is that my employment prospects are the best they’ve ever been! I have received and signed my contract for the grad job starting in September. Hell, I’m excited to be joining a company that actually has an onboarding process (I’ve never experienced one before, but I’ve heard a lot about how they should be done)!

My contract said that I’m not allowed to talk about the offer to anyone outside of my immediate family and employer(s)/people who need to know. I’ve been making a gargantuan effort to keep shtum on my public socials because I’m paranoid of things falling through, but privately I’ve told my UX and non-UX friends, as well as the UX research CEO guy. If my future employer wanted me to not do that, they should have given me the damn contract earlier.

Anyway, I’ve got some time to kill till my start date (I only get a call from my disorganised Universal Credit work coach once a month now instead of every 2 weeks!). I suggested to the UX research CEO guy that I could do some work for his company in the interim, if that would be useful, and he took the bait! He asked after my freelance rate (which meant I had to figure out my hourly rate) so it’s now a matter of seeing whether he can afford me or not. I’ve never done fee negotiations before but I’m open to the idea (cause his company sounds pretty cool). Either way, this guy is typically slow to respond to emails. I’m waiting on his response to see what’ll happen next.

Also, I finally quit the UX volunteering project! I didn’t need to do it and the work stopped sparking joy a long time ago. Now I have a cool new thing to add to my portfolio!

The other major positive in my life outside of job stuff is my sheer creativity level. I finished recording and mixing one of my songs at the weekend, which means that I’ve now got 10 songs recorded for my debut album (my original target number was 15 but I may settle for 12). That achievement, plus the realisation that I can do whatever I want in the months leading up to my secure, 9-5 graduate UX job, has led into what feels like a creative reawakening. You can’t be creative all the time without burning out; now that I don’t have to laser focus on job stuff, it feels like a huge chunk of me is no longer doormant.

Practically, this means that I am:

  • Doing more noodling on my instruments
  • Working on my songwriting app to help streamline the songwriting process for me right now and potential app users in the future
  • Contemplating buying a green screen, learning to act, and building a custom coffee shop diorama for my next music video.

This all makes me very happy.

Trying Not To Volunteer

I am so demotivated when it comes to volunteering right now. I don’t trust the team lead to communicate in a way that isn’t horribly confusing, I don’t trust the higher ups to be any semblance of organised, and I don’t think the organisation itself has the capacity to change its operations in any meaningful way before I start my new job in September.

We had our project handover meeting yesterday. It was interesting, for lack of a better word. That meeting was my first experience of actually knowing how I would’ve approached the situation differently, had I been in the team lead’s shoes. I’m not a research expert, but I know how to deliver a good presentation.

Even though we’ve had the project handover meeting now, it doesn’t feel like the project has actually been handed over. I don’t know when they’ll be a new team to pass our work on to, let alone a dedicated compliance volunteer put in place to manage incoming research data. The higher ups were suggesting things we could add to our work or change at the end of the meeting and feedback is always useful, but I don’t know if we’re the people who are supposed to implement that feedback at this point. That kinda exemplifies my issue with volunteering at this organisation.

I tried to do some work on the project today and was a little overwhelmed by how hard the wall of apathy hit me. I need to stop volunteering on this project sooner rather than later, but then the higher ups do things like suggesting we add a video to our work. I like video editing and I like making complex information easy to understand. But I also know that I’ll be treated the same annoying way as I have been so far when I do the work. I don’t know if it’s worth it at this point.

Scratch that. It’s not worth it. I can do video editing for any number of other projects. This is not worth the frustration and the deciphering of confusing Slack messages. I need to stop volunteering with this organisation. The challenge is figuring out how to let people know that.

Looking Forward to the End

I had a meeting today which finally cinched the idea in my mind that, once again, I am the lone competent person in the team (imposter syndrome meant that it took me far longer to reach this conclusion than I should have).

Yeah, I know that makes me sound like an asshole, but for once I’m gonna own it. I know I’m not perfect. I have my flaws, yet over the last week alone I’ve found myself:

  • Telling the project manager/research lead when the deadline for the project is (she asked the team).
  • Patiently explaining to the project manager/research lead how to use the tool we’ve been doing everything on since day 1. Admittedly, it is a confusing tool, but we have been using and evaluating it for over 12 weeks now.
  • Liaising with the team and a project stakeholder to clarify some technical difficulties with said tool, and then to translate the stakeholder’s explanation into something the rest of the team could understand (because apparently I was the only person on the team who understood??).
  • Bringing a fellow teammate up to speed because he hasn’t been able to make the last couple of meetings and seems to trust me over the project lead on that front.

On second thoughts, lone organised person may be a better way to describe my role on this team.

I’ve also noticed that I’m often the first person to respond to suggested tasks on the group chat. When I hold back, no one else responds. This wasn’t so much the case at the start of the project, and I wonder if it’s now the result of others feeling as demotivated as I do. I mean, maybe I’m projecting, but that’s the vibe I’m picking up.

Personally, I find it difficult to get into brainstorming something I barely understand when it’s sometime between 10:30-23:00, I’m tired, and then I suddenly realise that I’ll have to give the person in charge an impromptu tutorial on how to use a badly designed tool. I spent the majority of today’s meeting quietly thinking “I could get this done so much faster on my own”, but I know that I shouldn’t, because this is supposed to be a team project.

Perhaps I’m being harsh. Being the team lead doesn’t mean that you have to know everything (otherwise what would be the point of the team?) and 9-5 work should take precedence over volunteering. Our research lead definitely has the research knowledge to do her job; the problem is that I have absolutely no trust in her project management skills, and a very shaky trust in her ability to communicate clearly with people.

I guess I’ll have to think of a way to explain that politely and constructively in the peer review I keep putting off.

God I’ll be glad when this project is over.

Group Projects

There’s this thing that tends to happen when I get involved in a group project: I get fed up and decide that I alone shall do the work that’s not being done. This happened constantly during high school, less so during university, and it’s on about an even split for my work experience so far.

In high school, I was the quiet goody-two-shoes who got lumped into group projects with the resident class muck-about-ers. Teachers, for some idiotic reason, seemed to think my diligence might rub off on less well-behaved kids. It didn’t. It just meant that I ended up doing all the work cause I wanted the project to go well. You see, I always want to do a good job. Sometimes I think that’s my whole fucking problem.

It was worst in high school, but I’ve learned a lot about group work since then. I’ve had plenty of practise at nudging and nagging people into things (with varying degrees of success), as well as trying to understand teammates’ expectations of a project and motivations for taking part. I’ve learned how saying something in front of one person can make them pass on information to other important people (tbh I’m still navigating the whole “what do and don’t I share?” thing when it comes to information transmission). I also have my dad’s management experience to draw from, which has taught me that leadership isn’t about telling people what to do (necessarily); it’s about lining things up in a way that means they reach certain conclusions by themselves and then want to do the work.

I’m still learning. If I think someone’s doing something stupid, my default response is to quietly do it myself in a less stupid way, and then silently slip my results into the team’s work. I also have a tendency to hog tasks because I know at least I will be able to do them to my standards and won’t require constant nagging to do so. It’s another way to avoid conflict.

The problem with all of this is that I cannot and should not be doing everything in a team situation. The whole point of working in a team is that different team members have different, hopefully complementary, skillsets. I won’t necessarily be the best person for working on certain tasks. Also, me perpetually doing everything without complaining creates an unhealthy reliance on one team member, and potentially creates tension with other team members who want to do things but can’t because I’ve already done said things.

Most of my teamwork experience comes from my education and volunteering. Working together in a work experience type environment is, I believe, very different from that in some ways. There’s a more obvious financial incentive to get stuff done and, depending on the industry and how competent your employer is, team members are handpicked and put together based on their complementary skillsets and capabilities. That’s not to say that things can’t go wrong when you’re part of an employed team, they can and will, but it’s a slightly different situation.

Honestly, the most important teamwork lesson I’ve learned over the last year is that I shouldn’t work with people who aren’t going to put the effort in. I’m not saying that my teammates have to be workaholics like me, but they do have to show some sign that they’re genuinely trying to get stuff done. If the people you’re working with don’t want to do that, then you’ve got a steep uphill climb ahead.

I think back to my internship experience and I don’t think that willingness to get shit done was there. Business guy was good at giving off the illusion of doing things, but I sometimes wonder how much he actually did in the end. He kept saying he’d do certain tasks but didn’t follow through or, alternatively, did the tasks in a different, more underhanded way. It’s all very well to say you’ll employ more people, but if you never do it why should I believe a word that comes out of your mouth? Business intern, on the other hand, was desperate to be given some sort of responsibility, but tasks kept being assigned to me. I have yet to decide whose fault that was, though I primarily blame intense guy for it. I don’t know what happened to the company after I left, but I imagine it was nothing good if even the COO thought I was the only person there getting work done.

I’ve been treating my voluntary work on the research repository team like work experience. I’m learning even more about what works and what doesn’t in a remote team, with the added caveat of the fact that this team exists in different timezones. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

  • Never assume that the people you’re working with know what they’re doing. It doesn’t matter how qualified either of you think they are.
  • Never assume that the people you’re working with know what you’re doing. They’re busy, just like you are, and will need reminding the next time your thing comes up.
  • Saying “I think [long rambling explanation of what you think]. What do you think?” is a power move hidden behind an invitation for feedback. If you want to actually know what I think, you will shut up and listen to me for at least as long as it takes you to ask the damn question in the first place.
  • Be careful with instantaneous responses. Sometimes it’s better to wait until you have enough information to answer properly, instead of answering an annoyingly arbitrary question from a higher up when they randomly decide to put pressure on you.
  • Trust actions over words every time, but don’t forget to KEEP COMMUNICATING. Good actions can turn stupid when combined with shitty communication. Watch how you go.

In terms of where I’m at with this particular project, it’s kinda hard to tell. I think the higher ups like me (one of them regularly calls on me to back her up against the research lead’s stupider questions), I pretty much know that one of my fellow research volunteers appreciates me because he’s outright said that he thinks I’m taking the lead on this particular thing and messages me to get brought up to speed after missing meetings, and the research lead seems to trust me enough to keep asking me bunches of technical questions.

No one seems to outright dislike me, so that’s good. That’s something. It’s everything else that’s going wrong.