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Re-adjusting to my sensitive self
Replacing my concrete walls with retractable blinds
The last few weeks have been emotionally challenging, with crises seeming to show up unexpectedly every few days as we are in contract on a house. Yesterday, I found myself scouring our current place for things to purge, to post on the local Buy Nothing group, to start to pack things we definitely won’t need for a few weeks into boxes — obviously an attempt to have some semblance of control in a time of high uncertainty. I both knew it was a coping mechanism, and also let myself get carried away in the frenzy of activity and the feeling of progress.
But this morning, I was grateful for the set of tools I’ve built up to interrupt my frenzied internal world. I headed out the door for a jog that turned into a walk that turned into exploring some little free libraries and the free stuff neighbors leave out on Berkeley sidewalks. I pulled out my notebook to write morning pages, a routine that I’ve not kept up as a daily habit, but am grateful that it’s still accessible to me. As soon as I put pen to paper, I could feel myself relax a bit. I made myself breakfast — air-fried korean pancake with a runny egg on top, drizzled with japanese mayo, gochujang sauce, and sprinkled with furikake.
I’m grateful for my increased awareness of how my body feels. It wasn’t so long ago that I was very not in touch with my body.
I remember weekends when I would feed the kids breakfast, pack them snacks/lunch, and then haul them to an ultimate frisbee pickup game (I would play, they would hang out, play, eat snacks) — then come home after running around for two hours and pass out on the sofa during their nap, completely forgetting to feed myself.
I remember months of being deeply stressed out and frustrated every morning getting the kids out the door, dropping them off at preschool and daycare, commuting into SF to be in meetings all day supporting other people, yet not knowing how to change anything or how to get my needs met, because I didn’t even know what I needed. I didn’t really even know that I was unhappy.
In the last few years, I’ve become a much more sensitive person — or rather, I believe that I was always a sensitive person, but I had a lot of walls up that limited what my sensitive self could feel. Those walls did serve me in many ways, they toughened me up to not get hurt, to not take things too seriously, to not attract unwanted attention, to navigate and even make progress in a white-male-dominated world and industry.
I thought what I wanted was to bring all the walls down, to show up fully and authentically as myself in every interaction everywhere I went, optimizing for maximum human connection. But I very soon realized that’s also not what I want — there are places where it’s appropriate to be cautious, relationships where I feel unsafe, people I don’t owe connection or really anything to.
Nowadays, I think I have retractable blinds rather than impenetrable walls. I recently had to deal with someone who mansplained my finances to me and felt entitled to my business. It shook me up and felt horrible. On the flip side, I felt grateful when I realized how little I have to deal with people like that in my day-to-day. The blinds created a barrier in situations like those — I was sensitive to the emotional aftermath, but at the same time, I was clear with myself what was and wasn’t my responsibility.
One of my fears is that like before, like a frog being boiled in a vat of water where the temperature slowly increases bit by bit, I will end up in a situation that is untenable, where I’m over-functioning and burning out, and I won’t even know it. I lurk in a lot of random mom facebook groups, and this seems to be a common pattern for high-achieving moms who’ve achieved professional success by doing, but take on the lion’s share of work at home as well. I’ve joked with friends that we need a workshop called “You do it all at work. How to do less at home.”
But when I look more closely at that fear, I know that a few things are true. I’ve been there, and I don’t want to be there again — and I know how to speak up for myself when things aren’t working, to regularly check in on distribution of household responsibilities, to bring things up before they turn into months or years (or even decades) of resentment. The second is that I am a much more sensitive person than I was then. Or rather, I don’t have so many walls up that numb what I’m feeling. I’m not as tough as I used to be, and my tolerance for over-functioning my way into unbearable situations has gone way way down.
Toughness is often a trait that is praised, and sensitivity is a trait that is often seen as negative. “Oh you’re being too sensitive.” “She’s overly sensitive.”
I’m realizing that my sensitivity is one of my superpowers. It’s my intuition telling me when something is not right. At work, it helps me think about other peoples’ experiences, poking me when I might want to check in with someone on how they’re doing. It helps me think about communicating changes on a remote team in a way that doesn’t catch people off guard. It’s also helped me nurture the feeling and sensitive parts of my own children.
Lead Time Chats
I’m really excited that Lead Time Chats is back with Season 4. A few changes: I’ll be interviewing not just engineering leaders, but leaders in tech more broadly. Also, our chats will be more focused on topics around better remote teamwork.
Season 4 kicked off with Najeeb Khan, founder of Teamland — we chatted about the importance of fostering belonging, especially on remote and hybrid teams. Have a listen! I’d love any feedback, and if you have any topics of people you’d love to hear from, let me know.
Things I’ve been enjoying
Posting stuff to my local Buy Nothing group - it is so rewarding to be able to purge things that we don’t want anymore, and give them to people who really do want them. Weirdest thing I’ve given away? Probably composting worms.
Traveling with kids - shocking, no? Over part of their spring break, we went to Yosemite area for a few days, alternating more “active” days (which really just meant we went for a short hike somewhere), and what Alina called “chillax days” at our Airbnb. Such a far cry from traveling with infants and toddlers, they are at a great age where it is truly fun and not exhausting to go places with them and see the world through their eyes. As we clambered over rocks to get up to Lower Yosemite Falls, I heard Alina talking to herself: “I’m having the time of my life, I’m definitely not going to regret this!”
Thanks for reading! I’d love to hear from you — what are some challenges you’ve been facing recently? What are some things you’ve been enjoying?