On a robotic time machine

One of my favorite things about my (now retired) twitter bot, aside from how it had some people convinced that it's actually me in a very long troll, is that it's also secretly a time machine that gives me little brief glances into my own past (or at least a weird markov-chained version of it). And sometimes, those little glimpses remind me that I used to be really really unhappy.

I've noticed, as have numerous friends/family members/current coworkers, that I've gotten notably more happy over the past (nearly) two years I've been at Etsy, which is awesome. But there's times when I also realize that I'm still carrying around more emotional baggage from past experiences than I'd like. Professional relationships, like any other type, can be healthy and fulfilling or unhealthy and downright abusive, and those experiences can leave scars. How can you help those scars to heal even years after the fact?

Take care of yourself first. 

To me, this means finding ways in which I'm able to relax, to be able to breathe (both literally and figuratively), to make sure I'm not making any negativity worse just by not taking care of myself.

  • As much as you have the ability to, make the time to disconnect from work. A work environment where everyone is expected to routinely work nights/weekends or to be on Slack/responding to email at all hours is not a healthy or sustainable one. I've seen too many people who work themselves into a state of exhaustion or burnout not because they were genuinely that enthusiastic about the work or had a real pressing deadline, but because it was a habit that they couldn't figure out how to break. In some situations, it can become almost a form of self-punishment - "I'm being treated like shit because I don't work as hard or know enough, so I deserve to have to do this much." Even if you aren't at the level you want to be, overwork is not a healthy or effective development plan. Being able to disconnect and rest both physically and mentally is a much better recipe for quality work.

  • Self-care is even more important at events such as conferences. I've started traveling with protein bars, Emergen-C, and a small boatload of cough/cold meds (because air travel seems to be a recipe for having to give a talk when your throat feels like it's been sandpapered a few days later) just to be able to give my body a bit more TLC if necessary. I've stopped feeling bad about calling it an early evening and going to bed at a reasonable hour rather than staying up all night drinking and "networking". And whenever I can, I schedule my travel so that I have a couple days to rest and recover from conference travel before jumping back into work, so I can return rested and energized rather than simply jet-lagged.

  • Setting little boundaries can go a long way. I am so thankful for all of the wonderful friends and coworkers I have gotten to know through twitter, but unfortunately, for every one of those, there's ten other people who seem to want to tweet just to hear themselves talk, so to speak, and I don't have the time or energy for that. I do have time for the block button though. Did you just 'splain my own joke to me? Blocked. Did you say something that you thought was funny that was actually a sexist/racist/transphobic/otherwise-awful dumpster fire? Blocked. Did you follow me just to tell me that you don't like how I pronounce Nagios? Blocked. When I don't have to deal with all of that sort of BS, I have much more energy to spend on the relationships and people that are actually important to me (and I'm like 38% less angry all the time).

One thing I've realized recently, though, is that while these sorts of things work well for dealing with current stresses and irritations, they likely aren't enough to help deal with the kind of baggage that can accumulate from being in this industry when you don't fit the stereotypical mold of "what an engineer is supposed to look like". How do you fight against lingering impostor syndrome when people have literally told you that you were an impostor? How can you cultivate positivity when there's been so much, whether in the past or around us all in the present, that's so negative?

  • Having a support system is huge. The worst years in my career were amplified by the fact that I felt completely isolated. If you've ever been the Only One Like You in an environment, you'll understand that feeling. A support system of people you trust is crucial, whether it be for advice, trying to figure out if something was as messed up as it seemed at the time (hellloooooo gaslighting!), or just someone to listen and lend a shoulder to cry on.

  • Stay in touch with your needs. I spent way too much time in my past trying to be the "cool girl" who "wasn't like other girls" and "didn't care" about any of that stuff like, you know, not being treated like shit all the time. Don't do that. Needing to be treated with respect or taken seriously at work does not make you "too needy" or "too demanding" or "unprofessional". After so many years of suppressing my own needs, it took some time to figure out what they were, let alone how to get them met, but it was well worth it in the long run.

  • Figure out your requirements and dealbreakers. Not everyone has the luxury of holding out for a job that is 100% perfect for them, but it can be a very illuminating exercise to figure out what aspects of a job are just nice to have and which are necessary for you to be happy and healthy. For example, one of my dealbreakers is being the only woman in engineering, because that usually means it's either a way earlier-stage startup than I'd be interested in or they've made the choice that diversity isn't a real priority for them. There is no (even halfway realistic) amount of money that a company could offer me to be in that kind of environment again. Your requirements might be different, but you can make your job searches much easier on yourself if you take the time to figure out what's really important to you.

  • Grow your confidence. At least part of why I put up with unhealthy work environments in the past was my belief that I couldn't do any better. I thought I should be grateful to have any job in this industry at all, even if it was a position that was too junior for where I was actually at or a salary that was half of what men with my experience were making, and I was too scared of losing that to stand up for myself. The great thing about gaining more confidence, aside from not feeling like a goddamn impostor all the time, is that you're able to realize things like, "hey, I deserve to be compensated fairly for my time and treated with respect" as well as being able to stand up for yourself (or walk away) when you don't get that.

It's still not necessarily easy to create an attitude of positivity, especially when you're trying to "get over" years of so much negativity. And in an effort to avoid getting stuck in a toxic and unhealthy atmosphere again, brains can get so far into constant vigilance mode that they go too far and end up struggling to trust anything, which can be unhealthy and isolating itself. Regaining trust after it's been broken is hard, whether that's trust in another person, the tech industry, or yourself. It takes time, but as my bot has also reminded me, it is possible.