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My Own Worst Enemy

Wednesday was a day fraught with thinking. 2 hours of high-level design strategizing and brainstorming, and 50 minutes of 1:1 conversation with my GM. 3 hours of new information dumped into my head, before lunch, which all at once causes things to go a bit random in my mind. So much to process!

As I left my GM meeting, replaying the conversation in my head to pull key bits out of it, I realized that I was that crazy lady muttering to herself in the hallway. Thoughts were bubbling around like stones skipping across the surface of a pond – making a brief, shallow appearance or two, then dropping underneath the surface of consciousness again. (At least any strange behavior on Wednesday could be blamed on Leap Day William.)

Since it’s mid-year career discussion time here at Microsoft, career progress is front and center on everyone’s mind. I’ve been a Senior for about 6 months now. As it happens, Wednesday was probably the first time that the four senior designers on my team met as just the four of us to work through problems. And it was a great discussion.

At the same time, my brain tries to interrupt this great thought process with useless information. Specifically, information about how I am the One Of Those Things That’s Not Like The Other. Three gentlemen over the age of 40 with families and long histories in software development. And then there’s me, the 30ish blond woman who was in grade school when these folks were already working on Acrobat or Windows. The funny thing is that I’ve never felt like that difference matters to my peers. (If it does, I don’t want to know.) As far as I know, it’s ME that keeps seeing the differences, awash in the mind’s fervent pursuit of insecurity. “Impostor syndrome”.

In those moments, it’s my acting experience that helps me transcend. Doesn’t matter what I think about the situation. It matters what I think about the task at hand. So I concentrate on playing the character of the senior woman I intend to be, which distracts the social brain enough that I can drop the fixation on being out of place.

Because in the end, I am most useful when I can banish the ‘green room’ where ideas are held back in my mind, only to be scrutinized and ignored.

Regardless, any day where I get to make design contributions AND have discussions about girls in tech, Disneyland, and video games in the course of my work is a pretty good day. And in a way, I suppose my diversity discussion with my GM is particularly apt. Sometimes I wonder if I’m overselling the experience of being a woman in tech to the girls we work with in IGNITE. Do they really want to be the only woman in the room? But that’s the whole point. They won’t be, because we’re here. It doesn’t have to be an issue at all. We can just be people, if we just get out of our own way and stop self-selecting out of the awesome.

At work, things are moving fast and furious. Design decisions change daily. We have to fight just to keep the lines of communication open. But we’re doing good work. Really good work. And I can’t wait to see what we come up with in the end.

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