Lara Callender Hogan is the Senior Engineering Manager of Performance at Etsy and the author of Designing for Performance. She champions performance as a part of the overall user experience, striking a balance between aesthetics and speed, and building performance into company culture. She also believes it’s important to celebrate career achievements with donuts.
Support women-authored tech books
Looking for a gift for the designer or developer in your life? How about supporting women authors while you're at it? Here is a non-comprehensive list of great women in tech-authored books. Most have print and digital versions available, and I listed the prices that I could find at the time of this writing.
CSS Secrets by Lea Verou ($33.99 digital, $43.99 print + digital)
Going Responsive by Karen McGrane ($22.50 print + digital)
Front-end Style Guides by Anna Debenham ($2.99 Kindle)
Lean Websites by Barbara Bermes ($4.29 print)
I wrote Designing for Performance ($26 digital, $33 print + digital). All proceeds are donated to various charities focused on supporting marginalized people in tech.
A Web for Everyone by Sarah Horton & Whitney Quesenbery ($39 print + digital)
Badass: Making Users Awesome by Kathy Sierra ($23 print)
Lean Customer Development: Building Products Your Customers Will Buy by Cindy Alvarez ($20 print)
Colour Accessibility by Geri Coady (£3.00 digital)
Practical Object-Oriented Design in Ruby by Sandi Metz ($32 print)
Living Clojure by Carin Meier ($31.99 digital, $43.99 print + digital)
Head First Java by Kathy Sierra ($27 print)
Exercises in Programming Style by Cristina Videira Lopes ($38 print)
Geocoding on Rails by Laila Winner and Josh Clayton ($29 digital)
Definitive XML Schema by Priscilla Walmsley ($56 print)
How Do Calculators Even Zine by Amy Wibowo ($15 print, $8 digital)
Learning Node by Shelley Powers ($29.99 ebook)
Hello Web App by Tracy Osborn (digital + print: $29.95)
Linux Networking Cookbook by Carla Schroder ($35.99 digital, $49.49 print + digital)
Unix Shells by Example by Ellie Quigley ($38 print)
UNIX and Linux System Administration Handbook by Evi Nemeth and others ($53 print)
Essential System Administration by Æleen Frisch ($38 print)
MongoDB: The Definitive Guide, 2nd Edition by Kristina Chodorow ($33.99 digital, $43.99 print + digital)
Introduction to Linux by Machtelt Garrels ($35 print)
How Does The Internet Zine by Amy Wibowo ($15 print, $8 digital)
Algorithms & Data Structures
Distributed Algorithms by Nancy Lynch ($140 print, $72 Kindle)
Probabilistic Graphical Models by Daphne Koller and Nir Friedman ($110 print)
Content Strategy, Information Architecture
Content Strategy for Mobile by Karen McGrane ($22.50 print + digital)
Content Everywhere by Sara Wachter-Boettcher ($39 print + digital)
How to Make Sense of Any Mess: Information Architecture for Everybody by Abby Covert ($20 print)
Nicely Said: Writing for the Web with Style and Purpose (Voices That Matter) by Nicole Fenton and Kate Kiefer Lee ($19 print)
Just Enough Research by Erika Hall ($22.50 print + digital)
Designing for the Digital Age by Kim Goodwin ($37 print)
Design for Kids by Debra Levin Gelman ($39 print + digital)
Geometry of Design Kimberly Elam ($13 print)
Web Design in a Nutshell by Jennifer Robbins ($32 digital, $44 print + digital)
Designing Connected Products by Claire Rowland, Elizabeth Goodman, Martin Charlier, Ann Light, Alfred Lui ($43 digital, $55 print + digital)
Games or Native Apps
Game Localization by Minako O'Hagan and Carmen Mangiron ($54 print)
iOS on Rails by Diana Zmuda and Jessie Young ($39 digital)
The Gourmet iOS Developer's Cookbook: Even More Recipes for Better iOS App Development by Erica Sadun ($29 print, $18 Kindle)
I co-wrote the book Building a Device Lab with another great woman in tech, Destiny Montague. (£3.00 digital)
Interconnections: Bridges, Routers, Switches, and Internetworking Protocols by Radia Perlman ($61 print)
Mastering mental ray: Rendering Techniques for 3D and CAD Professionals by Jennifer O'Connor (rent print from $15)
Literal Twitter Bot Zine by Amy Wibowo ($15 print, $8 digital)
Effective DevOps by Jennifer Davis and Katherine Daniels (Early Release digital $29.99)
Digital Dead End: Fighting for Social Justice in the Information Age by Virginia Eubanks ($18 print)
Thinking in Systems by Donella Meadows ($12 print)
Founders at Work by Jessica Livingstone ($13 print)
Git for Teams by Emma Jane Hogbin Westby ($42.99 digital, $54.99 print + digital)
Managing Chaos by Lisa Welchman $39 print + digital
Practical Empathy by Indi Young ($39 print + digital)
Lean Branding by Laura Busche ($26 digital, $33 print + digital)
Looking for a gift for a young adult in your life? Check out Brave New Girls: Tales of Girls and Gadgets, a collection of sci-fi stories featuring brainy young heroines. All revenues from sales of this anthology will be donated to a scholarship fund through the Society of Women Engineers. (I wrote the foreword!) ($14 print)
Additionally, here's a whole list from O'Reilly in honor of the most recent Ada Lovelace Day.
Exit-Voice Dynamics in the Tech Industry: How women in tech have had it up to here with this nonsense
Lara: My favorite illustration for what it can be like to be a woman in tech uses a bucket. This bucket starts out full, but over time, it drains; like in the illustration death by a thousand cuts, little things start draining what’s in that bucket until we’re running on empty. From stereotype threat to harassment, from having my safety debated online to being asked, yet again, if it’s my boyfriend who codes, my bucket drains. The problem here is that, at least in my case, what’s in my bucket is not a renewable resource.
I wonder, how many of us have daydreamed about the day we leave tech? How many of us have thought about deleting Twitter and being done with it all? How many of us have intentionally reduced our activity at conferences and online, not because we want to slow our careers, but because of what we have to endure? How many of us have left?
Michelle: There is a socio-economic theory that fits this really well. It’s Albert O. Hirschman’s theory of Exit, Voice, and Loyalty. It basically says this: If a customer of a firm (or, a citizen of a state, as the case may be) is dissatisfied, she has three options.
- She can exercise voice, and by speaking up, she may affect the firm’s practices and create change.
- She can exercise exit, by leaving the firm and going to another firm. In this case, exit might also include leaving tech altogether.
- She can do nothing and hope for the best, while suffering the consequences of the grievance or the declining product.
Which of these options she takes is conditioned on loyalty, that is, how deeply she feels invested, either emotionally or financially to the organization.
Lara: I feel that. I think at this point after exercising voice, many women in tech have taken option two: leaving. And very quietly. Every time I see that harasser get a new, shiny job, I inch towards the Exit door. Every time I get mansplained to about Performance, the topic on which I wrote a book, I eye up other industries. Right now, I’m working with option one, speaking up; I’m here to try and make it better for the people who come next. But it’s definitely waning on me. And I’m wondering what happens when a lot of us do leave.
Michelle: What happens in the theory is that mass exit can signal to the ones left behind that there are widespread grievances and that the firm is losing its customers/innovators, etc. This can trigger collective action. However, if mass exit becomes too large, then it deteriorates the networks that are critical to effectively carrying out collective action and exercising voice. So that, if too many people leave, it depletes the human capital necessary for collective action and can stifle voice, so to speak. Basically, if the do-ers all leave, then who is left but the non-do-ers? And then the grievances don’t get aired, and the chances of change are diminished.
Lara: Wow. So what are you saying would happen to the tech industry?
Michelle: An organization facing mass exit can go through a pretty serious crisis because of this. Maybe it goes under. When political sociologists apply this theory to entire states and not just firms, we argue that the costs of going under are too high. Unlike a firm, a state cannot simply go under without some serious fall-out. (Think of the compromises that Greece was in the position to accept with Angela Merkel in the last few years. The Greek state has a very big job to do, pensions to protect, people to represent, so it cannot go under.) So what happens in states is that this pattern emerges between emigration of the highly talented (brain drain) and a peak in collective action.
Lara: Which is kind of like what we’re seeing now: a peak in tweets about women in tech issues, as well as the exodus of prominent women in tech. What happens next?
Michelle: It depends. Sometimes, like in East Germany, emigration fuels collective action as those left behind are struck by how widespread the grievances are, and how many people are leaving. They respond to the signal that mass exit sends. Those who were loyal to the regime stayed behind and protested because they had to. They had so much invested. They wouldn’t leave, but they recognized the damaging effects of mass migration, and critically, they believed that they could wield some influence on the state. Because they believed that their collective action would be effective, they protested. And the Berlin wall comes down at the end of this story. (If you’re getting goosebumps and want to read more, I recommend Steve Pfaff’s engaging book, Exit-Voice Dynamics and the Collapse of East Germany: The Crisis of Leninism and the Revolution of 1989.) Of course, tech is not East Germany. There are no violent crackdowns on protest, there is no Berlin Wall, there are no guards to stop women from leaving the industry altogether.
Lara: So what you’re saying is, there’s a framework to talk about what is happening in tech that could lead to some interesting revelations.
Michelle: Yes, I think two major points come out of applying this framework to tech. First, that there is a connection between women speaking up and women leaving the industry. Second, that an important (and actionable!) facet of whether women in tech choose to exit en masse is the perceived efficacy of exercising their voice in the workplace.
If previous experience has demonstrated that the cost of speaking up is low, and the probability that you will be heard is relatively high, odds are that more women will do what you’re doing: choose to stick around and make the industry healthier for those who come after you. If the reverse is true, however, and the cost of speaking up becomes too high - whether it is because you’re not being heard, or people are getting harassed or fired because they are speaking up - then the equation shifts and I think more women will exit.
Lara: What I like about this framework is that there’s hope that women will identify with something here and understand why. And that regardless of what they’re feeling, or how close they are to leaving, I hope they know that it’s normal to feel this way, and they’re not alone.
Michelle: Absolutely. There’s a role for women who are leaving. And there’s a role for those who stay behind, women and men. If the women who are leaving the industry are aggrieved and frustrated and harassed and have had it up to here with this nonsense - are the people who stay receiving that signal? Are they primed to hear the signal? Or are they shutting down? Turning off the radio? Plugging their ears and singing “la la la la” so they don’t have to hear it?
Lara: So there’s a role for each of us. I want to ask you, dear reader, what are you doing to change the tide?
“If I knew that I could do what I do right now as a kid I’d find it a little daunting, because there was no linear way that I made it to where I am. I have a very wiggly trajectory. And some of it is luck, and some of it was talent, and some of it was just being at the right place at the right time. There’s no way that you could prescribe that.”
— Kate Beaton
I’ve often struggled with having a clear vision of what I want to be when I “grow up”, despite the fact that I’m a successful engineering manager and have written two books in my field. Both of my parents had a “calling” for their careers early in life—mom’s a minister, dad’s a teacher—so by comparison I’ve always felt disjointed in my professional path. I’m a person without a concrete career goal or plan, and I routinely lose sleep over that fact.
This isn’t to say I’m unhappy with my professional path and where I am today—far from it—but I couldn’t have predicted how I got here, and there was never any overarching vision or plan behind it all.
As an example: While in high school I taught how to write HTML using Neopet’s tutorial. I had no idea these skills would factor heavily into my professional path (even my high school guidance counselor advised me against taking a course in visual basic). I built websites for friends and for college internships long before I was ever working professionally as a web developer.
That’s the way it’s been with most of the skills I now count as essential to my career - I developed them out of genuine interest, often didn’t have an immediate professional application for them, and didn’t necessarily have a coach telling me I could make a successful life out of these skills. Looking back now, however, I can identify a handful of the experiences that have led me here:
- Applied to college as an International Studies major, but switched majors because world politics bummed me out
- Became the program director, then general manager of the college radio station
- Graduated college with a BA in Film & Media and a BA in Philosophy
- Started my own photography business just before starting a project management job at a tech company
- Grew the photography business, and grew technical skills at my full-time job
- Over time, realized the photography business wasn’t my dream gig, so I closed its doors while it was successful
- Job-hopped in tech, growing in technical skill sets and responsibilities (including management)
- Got certified as an EMT because I thought maybe I’d want to try that
- Picked up another large side business—running a really popular website with a business partner—until we, too, realized that it wasn’t our dream-forever-gig
- Started doing a lot of writing and presenting. Wrote a book, and then a second book!
That’s about as linear as I can portray it.
What gives me reassurance about that lack of a goal or dream is that, reflecting on that list of gigs, I notice that each random piece of work pushed me forward in small and sometimes surprising ways. Here are some of them:
|Work||Opportunity it led to||Because|
|College classes in Photoshop and web design||My first, second, and third jobs in tech||It gave me the right skills to get started, and my professors ended up hiring me after college.|
|GM of my school’s radio station||Management||Learning from growing pains in leadership and failing at the “people stuff”.|
|Philosophy degree||Writing a successful book||I became a confident writer, good problem-solver, and learned how to take feedback.|
|Photography business||Second large side business||I met my co-founder!|
|Owning/running a large website||All future tech jobs||I finally had a sandbox to play with tons of new tech that I couldn’t implement at my day job.|
|Blogging for work||Tons of speaking gigs||I was giving back to the tech community in a valuable and recognizable way and got hours of practice honing my thoughts and my niche.|
|Participating in a Ladies Lunch at a VelocityConf||Writing a book||Right place, right time to pitch the idea to an editor at O’Reilly. And I took the risk to pitch it.|
I’m also reassured when I trace my developed skill sets to their origin. The sampling of below skills have aided my career in every industry I’ve worked, not just the ones in which they originated.
|Skill||How it started||How it’s grown|
|Acting on trusted instinct||Street documentary photography requires you to “make it work” with just what’s in front of you. You’re not at all in control.||It helped me be certified as an EMT. And helps every day making tough decisions in the moment at work.|
|Public speaking||Small lunch and learns within a company||Keynoting, speaking at dozens of conferences and companies, on a wide variety of topics|
|Writing||Philosophy papers for college||Blogging, book writing, solid inter-team communication|
|Asking for a job||Asking if the company I loved interning for had any full-time openings when I graduated college||Pitching two books!|
I could list so many more things here: how the connections I’ve made on Twitter and at conferences have built my career. How the lessons I learned managing a wedding full of stressed-out people every weekend have translated to my tech job. How on more than one occasion, a random corporate-y dinner invite has led me to my next job.
Having a non-linear trajectory—a career full of photos, coding, EMTing, etc.—has meant it’s hard to distill down what actually leads to success. Very few parts of my career have been planned. My father used to joke that his kids’ successes were due to “half luck, half talent”. While I used to take issue with the “luck” part, the older I grew, the more I understood this to be absolutely true. For many of us, working hard and then being in the right place at the right time seems to be key.
If there’s any advice I have for those struggling with the same source of anxiety, it’s to pull random bits of experience from different corners of your life and see what it’s taught you. Find your sandbox to play in until you have things you can blog about, speak about, or give back to the community. Your experience, connections, and opportunities easily translate across industries; don’t feel limited to just the job or industry that you’re currently in. I have no idea where I’m going next, but I’m sure it’s going to be just as random as the things in my past.
Public Speaking Survey
Public speaking is scary.
I'm not sure if there's another comparable example in which people have nightmares about doing a particular kind of work that they've never done before. I've asked a number of people about what scares them most about public speaking. A sampling of answers:
- Voice cracking
- Forgetting what I want to say
- Being judged
- Getting questions I don't know the answer to
- Having a wardrobe malfunction
My own personal nightmare? The idea of tripping while getting onstage. This hasn't happened to me (yet) - but I sure do spend time worrying about it.
In addition to our basic fears about public speaking, we often are reluctant to think that anyone will want to listen to us speak. When I talk to people about getting into public speaking, what I hear most is that they really can't come up with a topic that they'd feel comfortable talking about, or that people would trust them to be an expert in.
In the interest of creating more resources for people looking to speak, I would love to find out more from you all about how you feel about public speaking. I've created a survey.
This survey is anonymous, and every question is optional, and hopefully it's easy enough to fill out quickly and share with others. The more data we can gather about what's on people minds when it comes to public speaking, the more resources we can create to help.
My goal is to learn more about what makes us tick in the context of public speaking - what we like, what we don't like, what scares us, what we have questions about - so that I can help to create more transparent, deep, thoughtful resources that address these topics and help encourage more people to try out public speaking.
Celebrating our achievements
If I were to describe my public “brand”, it’d be something to do with donuts.
Many people know that I enjoy donuts. So much so that when I give a talk at a company about web performance, often there’s a platter of donuts waiting, or audience members bring me a beautifully-wrapped donut afterward. People send me donut-themed gifts (though I am at a point where I have enough donut notepads and cards; thanks anyway! Please send actual donuts). My book release party had stacks of delicious mini donuts, and sometimes coworkers deliver donuts to my desk. So why the theme?
In 2013, I began celebrating career achievements by eating a donut. I had found that whenever something awesome happened in my career—maybe I got published, or promoted, or launched a project—I wouldn’t take the time to celebrate the achievement. I’m an achiever by nature, the kind who feels like every day starts at zero. Not deliberately marking these moments left me feeling like I wasn’t actually accomplishing anything. “Oh cool, that A List Apart article went up,” I would think, then move on with my day.
Once I realized that this was happening, I decided to be deliberate about marking achievements by eating one donut. Well, sometimes more than one, if it’s a really big deal. The act of donut-eating has actually helped me feel like I’m accomplishing my career goals. As I started to share this idea with more people, I found that it resonated with others, especially career-driven women who are routinely achieving goals and furthering their career but don't take the time to note their own success.
I decided to start celebrating in a public way so that more people may be inspired to find their own ways of marking their career achievements. These are those donuts. And now they’re what I’m known for.
So why have these achievement donuts resonated so deeply?
As women, we’re socialized to not publicly celebrate our achievements. I toe this line with the donuts. By pointing at a donut I can say, “hey, I did a thing” — without necessarily naming that thing or potentially coming off too braggy. It’s an incredibly fine line to walk, and there has been some private fallout about the published donuts. I’ve heard from men that they “don’t like” that I document and share these posts. I’ve heard tales of women, behind closed doors, who will say it’s too much, too public, too show-off-y.
Even in this section, I’m struggling to find the “right” way to explain that I have some substantial career achievements and am well-known within a section of the tech industry — without rewriting this sentence dozens of times to avoid sounding like I think I’m a big deal. Given that I have a non-trivial (there I go again) audience, and as a female figure in tech, what do I do with the self-imposed responsibility of showcasing a healthy way to champion oneself? How do I strike that balance between rubbing people the wrong way and being out there with bells on?
It’s ingrained in our society to coach women to not talk about their achievements, and yet we desperately want women to do so. I’ve seen many a celebratory GIF retweeted, electronically applauding for a woman who has done something awesome. I see so many women right now raising others up and praising them, too, and it's so great.
I think that’s why the donuts have resonated. When I tell women about it, often their first reaction is to think about what they should be celebrating right now, or what their version of a donut could be. I think that women need more models of achievement celebration. Julie Ann Horvath is a great example; I love seeing her tweets of accomplishments.
It’s true that this behavior is triggering to others — men and women alike. We all have unconscious biases buried in our brains. But I’m asking you: please do not let this prevent you from publicly celebrating your achievements. For me, sitting down with purpose and intention to inhale a donut means that I’m spending that moment celebrating a win. It means that I will feel like I’m really achieving something, and that I deserve a moment to enjoy it. We all deserve that, and we all deserve to see more models of it from other women. Find your donut.
On changing your name
Last year, I changed my name, and it wasn’t because I got married. I had gotten divorced two years prior and finally felt like I was my old name, again. I subsequently changed it legally, and I changed it everywhere else that matters, too. I published a blog post about it in September, though I had decided to change it months earlier. I finalized my name change order in October after three visits to court, each with its own challenges. By December, people were starting to forget what my “old” name had been.
If you’ve never had to think about changing your name (hi, men!), I hope this post will help you understand everything it entails, from the SEO impact to the deeper emotional and interpersonal challenges. I do envy those of you who are never expected to wrestle with this issue.
If you’ve been thinking about changing your name, I’m hoping to assure you that, if you do, the process (though sometimes painful!) is one you can weather.
Our names on the Web
My name gives away my gender. When I use “Lara Hogan” or “lara_hogan” on Twitter, Facebook, or any other place on the Web, it’s recognized that I’m female. I’ve found that men don’t typically think about this, but women may think about this on a routine basis. When I comment on a site, how safe is it to use my real name? When I submit a pull request, would the tone of the response be different if I used a more ambiguous username?
My name being obviously female means that my LinkedIn recruiter spam is different. This means that the way people tweet at me is different. Names are not trivial. The importance and impact of one’s name, or how one uses one’s name, can’t be taken for granted.
So why use my real name on the Web, or on my published book?
One of the best pieces of professional advice I got was from a wedding photography workshop. The instructor recommended I change the name of my business (originally something ambiguous) to my full name. After all, what I was selling was me as a photographer, not my photos. Being genuine and transparent is important to me, and I think that this level of authenticity has been invaluable to my career, both when I was shooting weddings and now leading a team of engineers.
Additionally, I refuse to let the people who would threaten a woman for her work win. My book, my work, should carry the true name of the person who created it. I should not need to think about sacrificing this truth for my safety.
Fears about name changes
Here’s the list of risks that I weighed:
- What impact would a name change have on SEO for my work? I’d contributed substantially to the Web, from writing widely-circulated articles and tutorials to giving keynote presentations at Web conferences. Would people still be able to find my work, given that there’s plenty of references to my old name on other people’s websites, outside of my control?
- How do I handle the Internet legacy of my old name? Do I maintain redirects, email forwarding, etc.? How do I indicate that my old Twitter handle, for example, is defunct?
- How do I tell my coworkers that this isn’t weird for me to talk about, and how comfortable am I sharing the full story of my name change?
- How would a name change affect my professional reputation that I’d been building with the book and my public speaking? Would be people get confused about who wrote or said or contributed what?
- Would there be public negative reaction on Twitter to my personal blog post about the change? How would I handle that?
- Would there be awkward conversations with strangers at conferences about my name change? How would I handle those?
Unfortunately, I have had very few role models for this process. I did a lot of Googling to see if there were others that came before me who switched back to a former name years after their divorce; unfortunately, those keywords mostly return information about legality and divorce decrees. While I didn’t have a good individual role model for this process, talking to friends and family validated the importance I place on the authenticity of my identity. And while the fears I listed are certainly worthy of consideration, the logistics of changing your name are absolutely surmountable.
Changing your name on the Web
When I decided I wanted to switch back to Hogan, the timeline became dictated by when I could secure my new Twitter handle and portfolio URL. It took me a great deal of research to ensure that I had secured and could switch over to a new Twitter username without accidentally losing all of my followers; I had to make the time to set up and triple-check that I was setting up 301 redirects to my portfolio properly. There was definitely a lot of legal work required to get my name changed back to Lara Hogan but really, the hardest parts of my name change happened on the Web.
I announced the name change in a blog post, on Twitter, and on the general chatter list at work. I got an overwhelmingly positive response. I confirmed with my publisher that I would be able to get my full new name on the book. From there, I had an enormous list of websites to update.
A lot of website forms required I fill out a “reason” for my name change when I went to switch from “Swanson” to “Hogan”. Some websites even required me to make a phone call to get it changed. Some sites required documentation of the change beyond my new photo ID, and would ask why I was changing it. Frankly, it was no one’s business; that is not data that I need any website or business to retain. I would typically say, simply, “name change order”, and only once did a company push harder beyond that.
I still get random emails with my former full name on them; sometimes it’s a hassle to go and figure out how to update them. But since all of that legwork updating dozens of sites, and heartache fighting with web forms, it’s been nearly a non-issue.
Let me appease your fears.
If you’re thinking about changing your name, don’t worry.
If you’re worried about losing your established “brand” - don’t worry. It’s not hard for people to figure it out, especially if you in some way publicly note the change (the blog post really worked well for me). 301 redirects are a real thing. Email aliases are a real thing. It’s a pain, but it’s not an insurmountable one. I was able to change my name before my book launched, and I don’t think I’ve lost any traction in my public notoriety due to the name change.
The hardest parts are the awkwardness with people who assume I got married, and that’s why my name has been changed. It’s made speaker dinners awkward; it’s made book signings awkward. I choose to leave them awkward, which is an active choice that matches my attitude towards name changes and how I want to normalize this stuff. If someone says, “congrats on getting married!” I say, “Oh, actually no.” and move on or, “Oh, no, I got divorced some years ago.” and move on. If someone asks, “Why did you change your name?” (which absolutely happens at book signings and after I give presentations) I say, “Oh, I got divorced.” and leave space for it to be awkward. I believe it should be okay for those people to be really uncomfortable with the position that they’ve put me in - after all, they broached the subject, and now maybe their eyes are more open to what women sometimes need to deal with.
The questions I get - which I easily handle - are questions that men do not have to deal with while they’re working. The fears I have around using my real name online, and the fears I had around changing my name to begin with, are not fears that men typically encounter for themselves. While I applaud the men who have considered changing their last name to match their partners’, or who have deep discussions with their partners about last name choices, I also encourage all men to think deeply about the Web and how women are affected by these kinds of name choices.
Read more about women and the name change choice in this Cosmopolitan article about the difficulty of finding a woman's work history or street cred on the internet after her name change, this New York Times article about a recent trend of women retaining their given names, or this follow-up to the NYT article by Salon that investigates the language we use around name changes.
The high road
"Taking the high road has never once come back to bite me in the ass." —Kelly Sue DeConnick
Think of the last time someone's behavior triggered you. What did they do that hurt you? What did they do that disappointed you? How did you handle the surge of emotions that followed?
Let's say that your coworker gave you a backhanded compliment and really struck a nerve. He's putting you down in front of other people. What do you do? Do you hit with the same force back, or do you take what I'm going to refer to as "the high road", and work to make the relationship better in the long-run?
- Status: our relative importance to others;
- Certainty: our ability to predict the future;
- Autonomy: our sense of control over events;
- Relatedness: how safe we feel with others, and the sense of belonging we have with them; or
We all get our amygdalas hijacked sometimes. People do and say things that trigger us. Sometimes, when we're triggered by something and we know that the other person is wrong, we want to shut the situation down as quickly as possible. We want to slaughter them with our eloquent, emotionally-charged words. We get high on our right-ness. We know that we can win this fight. We know we can show them how wrong they are.
We're often being challenged on Status. And we want to establish our real status right back.
A study of middle and high school students found that students at the top of a school's social hierarchy didn't bully other students.
"Aggressive behavior peaked when students hit the 98th percentile for popularity, suggesting that they were working hard to claw their way to the very top. However, those who were in the top 2% of a school's social hierarchy generally didn't harass their fellow students."
Those students didn't have anything to gain by establishing their status. When you find yourself challenged on your status in a group, take a moment to consider whether you really need to re-confirm your status. What do you think you'd be demonstrating by showing that you don't need to punch back?
To me, taking the high road is about productively managing that onslaught of amygdala-hijacking. It typically means sacrificing a very SCARF-satisfying response in the moment, as these responses (though they feel great!) may not help the offender learn, hear you, or do better next time. And frankly, they probably won't do much to solidify your status.
What the high road isn't
The high road is not about suppressing your emotions. It's not about ignoring bad behavior and hoping someone else will deal with it. It's not about "kid gloves", nor is it about "fitting in" or "going along". It's not complaining to someone and hoping that alone will change things. The high road is not subtweeting; it's active, not passive. The high road is also not about risking your safety, nor is it about standing up for what's right in the face of catastrophic danger to you.
What the high road is
The high road is real work that does not feel awesome until it's done. It is about finding a productive way to use your emotions, like finding safe spaces that can turn into allies. It is about protecting yourself and others by using your emotional intelligence to hear what's really going on underneath someone's words or actions, what in their own SCARF model is being challenged. The high road is about having empathy for others, even when they are unlovable, so that you can help enact change for the safety and betterment of everyone.
For example: I could ask my backhanded-compliment-giving coworker out to coffee later. I'd try to find out how things are going on his end. What's he wrestling with in his work? Are there things that I could help with? I could let him know that his comments in the meeting were not helpful for me, and ask him to partner with me on giving each other feedback more constructively. Reaching out to someone who's behaving badly to understand what's at the root of their behavior is one way to build empathy and trust and help that person grow, and to help you grow, too.
Holding on to your emotions for extended periods of time isn't healthy. We all need to vent when we're hurting or triggered. Find a safe space, a person whom you trust, who understands what you're really doing with those emotions. You should have an agreement with this person: they should understand that you're purely bloodletting to get past your amygdala hijacking, and that you are not looking for someone to pile-on and vent alongside you. This person should be asking you questions like, "are you going to give this person that feedback? Want to practice?". They should be creating a safe space for you to share your hurt and begin healing so that you can help everybody around you, too.
I've worked really hard to react to tough situations by taking a breath and giving it time, and it's had an incredibly positive effect on my career. It's only upon reflection do I see that a "take a breath, give this some more time, respond productively" reaction also has an incredibly positive effect on the happiness and maturity of those around me. The high road is inherently not easy, and often doesn't immediately feel good when you choose it. But I am where I am today (seasoned speaker, book author, truly happy at my place of employment, managing an industry-leading team) because of the high road. I've been able to work with the people who have amygdala-hijacked me to figure out what the root trigger for them was, too, and work together for mutually beneficial learnings. The high road is there for the long game — its payoff is massive, for you and for those around you.
Confidently picture yourself as the one who doesn't need to prove your status in a group. The high road is there for you to work even harder to make things better for you, for the other person, and for everybody whom that person's actions impact. The high road is real brain-dehijacking work that does not feel awesome until it's done. The high road is brave, it's important, and I promise: it's tremendously fruitful.
Mean time to "women in tech"
It starts innocently enough: I’ll be on a call with a vendor, engineer, tech lead, or other relative stranger to talk about performance. Or I’ll be in a casual conversation with someone who I don’t know all that well, talking about work stuff. Then they ask:
“So, what do you think of the current climate for women in tech?”
“Oh, I just read an article about sexism in the tech industry, did you read it?”
“I was wondering, would you like to be on this panel I’m constructing about women in tech?”
“I was just reading about how bad it is for women in tech! Do you have any juicy stories?”
This happens so frequently that I’ve started to gather data about it. My mean time for a work-related conversation with a stranger to shift to “women in tech” in the past four weeks? Three and a half minutes.
I don’t actively avoid talking about the situation of women in the tech industry. I’ve been on panels, I’ve written blog posts, I routinely get coaching on it and coach others on it. These kinds of productive conversations about gender diversity give me the chance to opt in and plan ahead for the kind of exhaustion that typically comes from this kind of work, and tend to happen in a setting with familiar people.
I choose to participate in the “women in tech” topic online and at work because I think it’s really important, and I’m hoping we can begin to enact change in our industry. However, even in these ideal scenarios, talking about gender diversity in technology is extremely emotionally draining. When the topic crops up unexpectedly in a conversation with a stranger and I have no easy way to avoid it, the situation is much more exhausting, and it tangibly detracts from the work I’ve shown up to do: managing a team of engineers and helping people improve site performance.
When strangers surprise me with the “women in tech” conversation, it’s most likely because they’re in a position of privilege that prevents them from understanding that it’s burdensome for someone who lives this experience to talk about it. Most of the time, these conversations end up being free 101-level education for the stranger, and they provide no positive reciprocation for me personally and no benefit for women in my industry generally. The burden is multifaceted: it takes time away from me furthering my career and doing my job, it is emotionally taxing for me to educate others about things that relate to my painful lived experiences, and it comes with a great deal of risk for me to talk openly about a highly politicized topic. I walk away from those conversations feeling totally depleted, sometimes scared, and often triggered by remembering the sexism and misogyny that I’ve experienced.
Given these experiences, I cannot imagine what it must be like for, as an example, a woman of color in tech. When these surprises happen to me, I have grown comfortable responding with power and honesty, choosing sometimes to educate the stranger about the problematic conversation we’re having and ask for their help breaking the unicorn law, and other times simply aiming to opt out of the conversation (though this can have negative consequences regardless of how politely I do it, given social participation expectations for women). I know that my ability to respond like that is a privilege, and that few people have this privilege or are able to take on this kind of risk in response.
So, what can you do if you want to talk to someone about what it’s like be a minority in a popular and highly scrutinized field like technology? Ask yourself these questions:
- First and foremost: Do I need to ask this person about her experiences, or is there research I can do on my own to learn what I want to know?
- Why do I want to ask this question?
- If I must ask her, is there a way that I can set up this conversation so that this person feels safe saying no to it?
- If I must ask her, can we schedule the conversation so she has time to prepare for it?
- If I must ask her, what kind of position am I putting this person in? What risks will this person have to take on in order to enter into this conversation? What risks will she have to take on in order to not enter this conversation?
- If I must ask her, what other work is she not doing in order to have this conversation with me? Am I losing out on getting her insight on the topic we’re meant to be talking about, in which she presumably has some expertise?
- Is there an imbalance of privilege or power in our relationship?
- It bears repeating: Do I need to ask this person about her experiences, or is there research I can do on my own to learn what I want to know?
It’s admirable to want to learn about another person’s experiences, especially when they’re very different from your own. But these questions can help you keep in mind the burden of sharing difficult experiences. Read a ton more about how you can help break the unicorn law here.
Behind every great woman
Behind every great woman is a horde of even greater women who are smart, supportive, honest, and badass. There is at least one really special friend who pushes her to be better, who challenges her, and who screams her name from the bleachers when her team wins.
“Now that you’re starting to have a sense of who you are, you know better what kind of friend you want and need. My peers are crushing it right now and it’s totally amazing and energizing to watch.” - Amy Poehler, Yes Please
Masha’s my best friend. She’s smarter than I am, more motivated than I am, and much more of a badass than I am. She does Jiu Jitsu, she’s earning her doctorate, she’s doing fieldwork in Nepal, and she’s fighting the patriarchy. Without Masha in my life, I would not be pushing as hard as I am to do better.
“YOU ARE A BEYONCÉ DRAGON!! YOU GOT THIS,” she cheers via iMessage as I brace myself for giving the biggest presentation of my life.
“Right now it sounds a lot to me like you are selling yourself short. You are Lara Fucking Hogan,” she worms into my brain on gChat when I share with her some serious doubts about my ability to do a good job at work.
“BUT as your bff I am totally going to slap your hand about something,” Masha admonishes after I tell her about a difficult conversation with my boyfriend.
Masha’s got a place in my life as a cheerleader and a coach, but also as a devil’s advocate and straight-talker. She freely disagrees with me and lends solid advice when I need it. She’s also constantly bettering herself, which makes her incredibly easy to talk to and trust. Both humility and bravery abound in Masha.
I know so many women who have relationships like this one. Our best friends are advocates for us; they’re shoulders to lean on as a solid foundation. They call us out on our shit. They make us better people, better friends, better partners, better coworkers.
I often wonder how we can use the strength of these relationships as a model to improve our relationships at work. Do these friendships, the kind constantly-GIFed from shows like Broad City and Parks and Recreation, have an opportunity to thrive in the workplace? Where are these kinds of relationships modeled for men, too?
Imagine if after you left a meeting, you were greeted by your buddy who said, “I am so impressed by how you handled that!” or “Listen, I’ve got an idea for how you could do better next time.” Imagine if you were someone’s biggest champion at work and they were yours, continually pushing each other to improve and celebrating each other’s wins. Do you have a coworker who you can support, and who could equally support you? Is there a person who you can trust to give you sound advice that motivates you to get better, who cheers you on and helps you get through?
I don’t work with Masha. We don’t even live on the same coast. We’ve only known each other for a handful of years. But I am thankful every day for her as she pushes me hard, champions my success, and models bravery and humility and an instinct to continuously improve herself. Even though we aren't in the same industry, my relationship with Masha has helped my career progress at every major turning point. I aim to work towards this level of cheering, support and admiration for my coworkers, too.
On having a totally reasonable amount of self-confidence
I was at a tech women's meetup organized by a close friend and colleague. She took the podium for a moment to talk about women in tech, to thank sponsors, and to share some encouraging words with the attendees.
She suddenly called out to me from the spotlight. "Lara, do you remember when I said you should give a talk at Velocity?"
"I do!" I shouted back, grinning.
"And what did you say to me?"
I paused for a moment and realized what she wanted me to say. She'd just spent a few minutes talking about women encouraging each other, and about impostor syndrome. She needed me to say:
"... I said that you were crazy!"
"And remember when I said you should write a book?" she asked.
"... I was like 'whoa, what?!'!" I tried to shout back.
"And Lara, NOW what have you done?" she asked.
"I've given a talk at Velocity and written a book!" I yelled from the back of the group.
"You've given a KEYNOTE and written a book! Ladies, when we look around…" she continued to talk about encouraging each other, about how impostor syndrome can get in our way, and how we can accomplish amazing things.
Here's the problem: That's not how it went down. In actuality, I proposed a talk to Velocity, it was accepted, and I was asked to make it a keynote. I was floored and excited and believed I was ready for it. In actuality, I pitched the book to her at a lunch table, and after working with her on some preliminary writing to gain confidence, she helped me get it through the door with the publisher. In actuality, I was not only up to both challenges, but I also believed I could achieve those goals. I'm also incredibly thankful that she was by my side and believed in me too.
A few months later, I was asked by another colleague to moderate a panel about women in Operations. I replied, "I just want to make sure that you and the other panelists are cool with the fact that I'm not in Ops, and I haven't moderated before. I think I'd do a fine job; I just want to make sure we're all on the same page! :)" Later, she reminded me of what I'd written, citing it as my impostor syndrome talking. She was saying this to be supportive and encouraging.
It's obvious that both women wanted to help; they want to see other women grow and be confident. It's true that naming "impostor syndrome" for someone can open their eyes to see what's really going on; it can help them overcome some internal fears. But in my case, there wasn't any impostor syndrome happening.
Impostor syndrome does poke its head into my life. There's no denying it. But here's the danger of what happened in those two circumstances: I lost a chance to model the pride I have about knowing what I can — and can't — do. I was unable to display, with humility and with confidence, that I know my own edges.
We as a community are aching for more women to model pride in their abilities and accomplishments. We want, and need, more women to showcase their achievements and break those rules about how we're supposed to stay behind the scenes and be modest. It's one reason why we're so eager to reassure someone that they're just suffering from impostor syndrome when they say they're not good at something. It hit home when Jen Myers tweeted about the amazing "Stop Blowhard Syndrome" post by Christina Xu. Myers said, "I'm not an impostor. I'm imperfect, and learning, and growing. And that's not only completely fine, but good. People rushing to reassure me that I'm not an impostor has robbed me of valuable learning opportunities."
While it's good to help someone check whether or not their words may be seeded in impostor syndrome, let's not go so far as to try and convince someone they're suffering from it. We need to remember that naming it on behalf of someone else can diminish the moments when impostor syndrome truly exists. In my case, it also took away an opportunity for me to display self-confidence about knowing what I can and can't do, and to show my pride that I'd fought my way to my current, and future, achievements. Confidence comes in many forms; one of them is knowing exactly what you're not good at, too.
Working in Tech with a Chronic Illness
According to the CDC, "about half of all adults—117 million people—have one or more chronic health conditions. One of four adults has two or more chronic health conditions." This means many of our coworkers deal with chronic illness daily, and we've gotten really good at hiding it. If I hadn't told my teammates, I'm not sure that they'd know I've got Crohn's disease and arthritis; I can mask most of the symptoms and have figured out how to get work done around them.
My job has been a tremendous blessing. Working in web development means that I can get most of my job done asynchronously. I'm fortunate to work with flexible and understanding people who trust each other to get work done. As a manager, there are parts of my illness that are hard to work around (lots of meetings that are better in-person), but generally my job in tech has allowed me to not stress out about the work implications of my disease.
I reached out to three other folks in our industry who have chronic illnesses to ask them to share their stories. I'm so appreciative that Lyza Danger Gardner, Mat Marquis and Nicholas Zakas have all been willing to participate. It's important to note that lots of people with chronic illness don't want pity or concessions—and we definitely don't want to sound like we're complaining, and so we just try and barrel through our workday.
I should also note that this post only reflects four individuals' experiences with chronic illness; it's not intended to represent the entire spectrum of ways illness can affect someone. Rather, I'm hoping to illustrate how our web development jobs are impacted by chronic illness, and how these kinds of jobs can also empower people who may not be able to work in traditional fields.
What's your chronic illness? How does it impact your day-to-day?
Crohn's disease, Rheumatoid-like arthritis, migraines, and suppressed immune system due to medications. "Day-to-day things are generally not too bad. Sometimes I have to work from home unexpectedly if I'm feeling unwell, but I work on a great team that has great tools for working in distributed or non-conventional ways. Doctor appointments average about one per week but sometimes I can be running to three, four doctors in the course of a single work week. Specialists require scheduling sometimes months in advance, meaning I occasionally have to make an unpleasant choice between a long-standing doctor appointment and a client meeting."
Lyme disease and its multitude of symptoms, including fatigue, nausea, and body aches. "I'm rarely able to leave the house, so I'm physically cut off from my co-workers. We've all had days where we felt lousy and just wanted to hide from the world. I have that day every day, and the last thing I want to do is broadcast my sick-looking face to coworkers. I don't want them to see how I'm dry heaving in between things I say, the rings under my eyes from not having slept, or how pale I look. If necessary I do phone conversations, but I find them incredibly draining and need to limit them to a maximum of two hours a day."
Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. "I very rarely dislocate anything badly enough that I end up completely out of commission. The trouble is that lots of partial dislocations leave me sore and it puts a lot of wear and tear on my skeleton. My hands hurt basically all the time—not in an unbearable way, but worse than last year, which was worse than the year before. They hurt right now. It's distracting, but not so distracting as knowing I'm operating under a time limit. Eventually it might not be bearable. I keep myself moving with irresponsibly strong coffee and handfuls of ibuprofen throughout the day—every day—but that isn't tenable in the long term."
Crohn's disease, migratory arthritis, and suppressed immune system due to medications. "Day-to-day I'm mostly unaffected, but my arthritis sometimes makes it really hard for me to get to work (as most subway stations, including the ones in my commute, don't have elevators). Occasionally it'll also be hard to type. Traveling for presentations can get really hard - speaker dinners mean I have to be clear what I can/can't eat, and often air travel triggers my arthritis. When I have a Crohn's flare, I'll be mostly unable to eat, and I'll be in some amount of constant pain for a few weeks; but so long as I mitigate my stress levels, I can usually avoid flares."
How does working in web development help you manage your chronic illness?
"Although I've considered my job to be more about interacting with people than code, working with code makes it much easier to stay productive. Since I've been home-bound, I've refocused my attention on writing code instead of filling my days with meetings. That focus has been both useful and therapeutic. I find it easy to get swept up in the story of my symptoms ("ugh, I feel so horrible, life is horrible!") and so having problems to focus on solving keeps my mind away from the overtly physical discomfort I'm feeling.
"It's also nice that I can keep coding whether that be standing, sitting, or lying down, so long as I have an internet connection. The quiet at home allows me to focus on the work despite how I'm feeling, and checking in with Twitter and various blogs, I feel like I'm still able to keep up-to-date with technological changes."
"Honestly? If I were still swinging a framing hammer full time—lugging fifty pounds of shingles up a frozen ladder, hauling Sheetrock up flights of stairs, whatever—my skeleton would've given out by now. This job with a desk and a chair is keeping me in one piece. It would be easy to write about how I make my own schedule; how I can take a little longer to get in gear in the morning if I need it, or I can take fifteen minutes during the day to run some cold water over my hands and rest up a little. It would be easy to write about how being able to go into a code or writing fugue allows me to tune out the aches and pains for a little while—it does. That's all great, and I'm incredibly fortunate to have those kinds of privilege."
"Usually I'm well enough to work synchronously during these icky spells, as long as I have the use of my hands (arthritis has at times made typing challenging and I have a hard time concentrating if I feel queasy or have a bad headache), but if I'm not able to work during normal hours, it is possible for me to get good work done, later, asynchronously, and my coworkers are sympathetic.
"I'm also extraordinarily lucky in that I'm in a position where I can be my own judge of my productivity: if I feel like crap, have medication-induced brain fog or otherwise can tell I'm just not getting stuff done effectively, I can (usually) stop and take a nap or a breather before trying again. As long as I deliver (or over-deliver) to deadlines and am supporting my part on my team, this works out."
What tools do you use to get your job done?
"I think in the past few years especially, the systems and processes for getting our type of work done have matured in ways that make distributed, asynchronous teams increasingly feasible and efficient. The workflows of development teams are becoming more universal. New tools have come out that cross the synchronous/asynchronous boundary and help teams stay in touch (e.g. Slack or Hipchat, or meeting tools like Lucid Meetings). Interfaces for things like, say, Github issues have become gorgeous and streamlined for having well-organized, time-shifted conversations with various team members. My work life is totally portable. I'm like a minstrel. Anywhere I go, as long as I have my laptop and some modicum of connectivity, I can be productive.
"I love travel—no, really, it is my favorite thing to do in the whole world—but it sometimes pretty much kills me. Imagine the worst hangover you've ever had while simultaneously having the flu and appendicitis and that's kind of what it's like when I have jetlag. I now mitigate this by arriving an extra day or two early for international events—even if it has to be on my own dime—so that I can suffer through the worst of it holed up in my hotel room."
"While tons of good software allows me to have an asynchronous work day, a cane, knee braces, and wrist braces also help me get through my most arthritic days. Couches at work allow me to stretch out a little when sitting upright or standing is too tough. On days when I can't make it into work, I'm thankful that Etsy's invested in a video conferencing system that allows me to hold basically any meeting remotely."
"I rely a lot on email and IRC for communicating with my team. It's definitely not the same, but it's the lowest-stress way for me to stay in contact with them. Unfortunately, it's also the least effective way to resolve complex issues.
"My energy tends to wax and wane throughout the day, so I need to limit the amount of time I spend at the computer. I use a program called WorkPace that is meant to force you to take breaks to reduce the likelihood of RSI from too much computer usage. It works equally well for limiting the total amount of time spent and forcing me to take breaks. I often works in spurts: 40 minutes of work, then lie down for 10-15 minutes."
How does this affect you, personally?
"The very worst thing about any of this is when I feel like I've let people down. I've had to miss important in-person business meetings. And during a rough patch in 2013 I had a situation in which I felt so sick I couldn't give a presentation I'd been flown to Europe to give. That was mortifying. There's that awful sensation that people think I'm flaky or unreliable. I sometimes have to work weekends or miss fun events because I need to catch up on work I missed when I was feeling yucky.
"I try to tell myself it's all right, that I deliver what I say I'm going to when I say I'm going to, but every time I have to say, again, 'sorry guys, I don't feel quite well enough to come in today' I cringe a bit inside."
"What gets me is that every year I get a little slower, I'm a little more sore, there are a few more typos, and I start flinching on every keypress a little earlier in the workday. I don't know how that's gonna work in a few more years.
"I scrape up a lot of motivation from all this. There's a lot I need to get done. I want to make this industry better, then I want to scratch my name into the side of it, and the hell with anything that's gonna try to keep me from doing it—even if that thing is my own lousy skeleton. While I don't know how things are gonna work in a couple of years, I'll damn sure get something figured out. If my hands are gonna stop working completely someday, the last thing I'll do with them is build some new ones. I'm from Boston: if we didn't do things out of spite, we'd never get anything done at all."
How can your coworkers help?
"The biggest help is really just to say 'hi' over IM/IRC. I think people feel bad about bothering me with non-critical stuff and want to respect my privacy, but in reality, I'd love to hear from people more often."
"Kind of a non-answer, I know, but I really don't need a lot. Putting up with my constant 'I'm getting old' griping is more than enough. It's just that I'm getting real dramatic in my old age, y'know? And hey: worst case scenario, Bocoup has one hell of a robotics department."
"My teammates will check with me about restaurant menus before a team outing to make sure there's something I'm able to eat. Due to my arthritis, I'll ask my coworkers if we can take the elevators instead of the stairs, but even better, sometimes people know that the weather's changing and volunteer that we take the elevator before I even mention it."
"The biggest thing people can do to help me is to make me feel okay about not feeling okay sometimes. I carry a lot of guilt around and I feel like a dull, broken record in terms of how often I have to say I feel sick or something hurts (I've learned to contain my whining quite a bit! For every outward physical complaint I make, there are five or ten smaller hurts that I don't even bother to mention) or that I can't be in the office. It really helps when people take a moment to make me feel like I'm not a drag or a liability, but that I'm still delivering the goods!"
As I'm finishing up this post, I want to call out that we all have "stuff", even if it's not chronic illness. As Ian Maclaren probably said, "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." I'm sure that you have days when you don't feel like you're totally yourself, days when you are angry at your body, or days when you realize how fortunate you are for the support of those around you. We all have moments when we feel a deep desire to just feel like ourselves, whatever that means to each of us. We should give a huge shoutout to every person who helps their coworkers get through tough days, who creates a safe space for those around them to name what they need, and who understands when we have "one of those days". I'm so thankful for this industry as it empowers us to get work done, and to support each other.
Quitting gets a bad rap. When you think about quitting something, you usually think about ending a bad thing. She quit smoking, he quit his terrible job, they quit Facebook.
When my book went to print in December and I didn’t have another project to start, I felt like I was quitting. I don’t yet have an answer to the question, “What’s next, now that the book is done?”
I’ve got nothing. No ideas for a new side project outside of my day job at Etsy, nothing to occupy my brain or time outside of work. I’ve been reminding myself that this is absolutely okay, and I want to reassure you, too: quitting is natural, and awesome, and necessary.
I quit and you can, too!
I started a small business photographing weddings and portraits just before my senior year of college. Four years later, my business was profitable and I decided I was done with it. Around the same time, I co-founded an online wedding resource for LGBT couples with my close friend Kelly. A handful of years later, thrilled with its (nearly overwhelming) success, we shuttered its doors. This is the pattern of my big side projects: I fall in love with an idea, start from scratch, and throw time and love into it until it grows to a point where I can say, “Yep, I’m good.” It’s at this point that I’m happy with the success of my latest project and have no qualms moving on. I’m able to quit with pride and a smile on my face.
I’ve often had a difficult time explaining this to others. Many people don’t understand that just because you’re good at a thing doesn’t mean you need to do that thing. Just because I created a successful small business doesn’t mean I need to run it forever (or start another). I often say something like this to people who are good at managing. It’s important to remember that just because you’re good at it doesn’t mean you should choose a career in management over individual contributor work. I think this is true for everything.
Quitting is natural.
Reflecting on the book-writing process, I’ve realized that I go through seasons of quitting. In some cases, I taper off my responsibility. For example, I gave more than a dozen talks in 2014, but when the book went to production I decided to speak dramatically less in 2015. I was confident with this decision; I’ve learned over the years that you don’t have to quit something for a bad reason, or any reason, for that matter. You can just be done. There doesn’t have to be fanfare, or lots of feelings. Quitting can be a perfectly natural part of how life evolves.
Quitting is awesome.
Similarly, I sometimes find a way to quit that involves passing the baton. Again, around the time of the book release, I was handing off some extra responsibilities at my job to coworkers. I’m a firm believer in opening up plenty of leadership opportunities to those around you who deserve them. If I’m doing lots, what room does that leave for other people to flex their muscles? Some of us are excellent at maintaining and iterating on an existing product or process; others (like me!) want to fix a problem the best we can, then hand our solution over to someone else to maintain. And that is okay!
Quitting is necessary.
Most importantly, quitting a big thing means that there will be plenty of room in your life for your next big thing. If you exclusively quit little things, there may not be room for you to pick up your next big opportunity. Quitting big things can become part of our natural cycle. Maybe you can celebrate the act of quitting, or maybe it feels appropriate to mourn what you’ve quit. Maybe you want to shout to the world that you’ve quit (I had a whole book release party!), or maybe you want to shut the door quietly. Do what feels right to you. Consider that you’re just closing a chapter, making more room in your life for the next big thing, or creating an opportunity for someone else. Quitting is natural, awesome, and necessary. Give yourself permission to quit something soon.