I am constantly reminded of what a colleague and friend once said, “There will rarely ever be two people who, having interacted with you in different contexts, will describe the same person.” Then, I thought it was odd that that would be the case, but history has stood testimony to that.
Recently, my team gave me a farewell with words that were so generous and gushing about me being an exceptional leader, mentor and friend. It only made me want to exclaim, “You should meet X who thought I was a difficult person to work with” or “Would you guys believe that teachers in that school thought I was a frightening terror?”. This constant repartee in my head denied me the opportunity to allow my emotions flow unbridled. I didn’t know how to apologise to the team for that, as explaining it would be a monologue longer than most people would be willing to commit on a Friday evening. But the farewell messages were of a heart-warming fabric I hadn’t witnessed in the many farewells I had been part of. It was so sincere and genuine that it forced me to assess my past. But the internal dialogue remained unquelled. For every compliment earnestly assigned to me, my memory recalled a few faces from my past that would vehemently oppose the same.
It truly is strange that over nearly 22 years of post-graduate education & working, I have heard so many descriptions of me read out to me that I am at times amused and at times puzzled. I have tried to identify a pattern (e.g. with years he has grown more patient or over time he has gotten more exacting or something like that or the more people he works with, the gentler he is or something that is a function of time, people, geography, skill, events or something) but have failed until today. A few things have remained consistent across the years and they can be summarised in 4 points (and I am not paraphrasing):
- Brilliant mind
- Wonderful articulation
- Excellent creativity
- Strong code of ethics
But even these can be questioned. I am sure my first team at ThoughtWorks thought I was stupid as I was grappling through an entirely new ecosystem of tools and technologies coupled with TDD, pair-programming. I have not been “consistent” across stints in the same domain — the first school where I first volunteered continue to reach out to me with loving greetings and messages but the last school where I invested my blood and soul had a mixed association with me. It doesn’t seem like it a function of time — I have not necessarily gotten better or worse (at any one thing) over time (except for the 4 points above which only seems to be improving in breadth and depth, thankfully). While someone might have complimented me on my standard of ethics, another would have reprimanded me for having a holier-than-thou attitude. It is not like I work best with people of a particular geography. It is not like older people prefer working with me compared to the younger ones or vice versa. No particular pattern with gender or sexual orientation or race.
So, who am I? I could be selective and say that I am only the good things that people have recognised over the past 22 years. I could be lazy and say that I am all of the above. The only demographic that has consistently summarised me as “He is comfy to be with” have been kids aged 0–10.
Here is a theory that seems plausible — I think I was experimenting with myself. I was trying to be different things under different circumstances to learn how my being responded to different settings and how people responded to each of those things. The reason I feel that this theory is admissible is simply because it mirrors my career choices — I have constantly experimented with domains, technologies, remuneration, visibility/recognition/anonymity etc. From a fairly stable and well-established domain, I had switched to ThoughtWorks, practically throwing away all the skills acquired and picking up new skills (and even taking a pay cut). After 15 years, I tossed aside the industry and went around as a volunteer in rural schools without a formal teaching degree (and no guarantee of earning a livelihood). Having always been in well established companies, I took a stint in a startup and that too when I had just had a baby!
And in experimenting with myself and how my work ethics responds to these personas, I was also experimenting with my work environment and the people in it. The very fact that I am realising this in retrospect should confirm that none of my experiments were premeditated. I have consistently been led in ways I am yet to comprehend (more about that in a separate post).
I think the experiments were vital in instilling a work ethic in me which is not a reaction or even something that needs to be negotiated. I would like to think of it as a kind of machine learning process (supervised learning) made human by reflection (not unlike what is happening in this post).
Well, at least that is one theory. Not entirely sure whether there is a better explanation. It seemed nice to have at least one likely explanation for something I haven’t observed in the careers of others around me. Friday evening’s generosity nudged me into this.
Something leads me to believe that the experiments are over.