When you can’t recall nouns, especially proper ones? I came across an old article about the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon [1] which is something I refer to regularly as, you know, when you become aware of something and it’s everywhere (which is close, but not quite spot-on, its true definition: “… once we notice something for the first time (or for the first time in a while) that all of a sudden it seems to be creeping up everywhere.” (From [1]).

I talk about this frequency illusion often enough (at least once a quarter, probably more often?) But because I also struggle with nouns (especially proper nouns like those two names ‘Baader’ and ‘Meinhof’) I tend to just wave my hands and stumble through half a definition.

I’m hoping that, by writing a brief note about it here, I can both help people see a side of their cognition that may surprise them, as well as to finally put a name to it, in my own mind, at least.

[1] https://poly.land/2018/12/02/wow-i-literally-was-just-talking-about-this-and-now-its-everywhere-i-look/

I love reading Ask a Manager. I just came across this relatively-recent post which expressed some thoughts I’ve had, and coached my peers through. Because this question seems common to many, I figured I would share here. “When you’re inexperienced, how can you know if something is worth complaining about or leaving a job over?” (Posted October 12, 2020).

In her response, Alison Green points out that if you’re more in-demand, more experienced, or simply unhappy, you’re more likely to (and able to comfortably) complain or leave a job over insulting and dismaying scenarios.

She mentions, “All of this points to proceeding with caution when you’re relatively new to the work world — and testing your assessment of a situation with people you respect who have more experience to draw on. It doesn’t mean that you aren’t entitled to push back on something or leave a job if you’re unhappy — that’s your prerogative at any time.”

I really like her suggestion of sanity-testing your assumptions, though. When you’re new to the working world, or just new to a particular role or position, you might think something is strange, unfortunate, or even horrifying because it’s not how you personally might do that thing. When you test that feeling of, “Is this ok or am I mistaken?” you get a lot more data than if you just react.

One thing I’ve learned from the working world is that I should never just react — I know that I can check in with my own feelings, a trusted advisor or mentor, or a family member (though — be skeptical if your family doesn’t share a career focus area with you! Technology is very different from library science is dramatically unlike truck driving…)

I always swallow my first reaction to a novel situation at work. I quickly verify how I feel and how I should be feeling, just to make sure I’m not wildly off-base. Surprise or dismay can make a small indignity feel much larger than it really is, or needs to be. I can’t tell you how enraged I’ve been over a too-large backpack hitting me in a crowded conference room, or hurt I’ve been by an offhand comment about my appearance from a coworker.

Now that I’ve been in two different careers for more than ten years, each, I can check in with myself first, and then reach out to someone else…Luckily, these days, I don’t necessarily need to check in with another person, at all, because I have these years’ worth of history that I can compare new feelings and new situations to.

Personally, I believe it’s a serious error of judgement to react before you think, in the business world. I’ve seen people rage-quit jobs, and they almost always regret doing so. Or even lower-stakes, when someone yells in front of a meeting’s audience, they don’t generally feel good about it later. If you find yourself experiencing strong emotions at work, take a breath, step away from the situation if you can, and check in with a trusted peer or a relative. If you determine that it’s appropriate to do so, respectfully complain to the person you’re emoting at, your manager, your HR business partner, or someone with power at your place of employment.

You can be the change you want to see in the world – but changing whether or not your loud boss closes his door when he’s on a call, or threatening to quit when they change the brand of coffee in the kitchenette – those aren’t good looks. Tread carefully when you feel yourself emoting in the workplace!

If you’re like most people, you find a new job, or broader responsibilities in your current job, is a nerve racking experience. Change is scary. No matter what you say, or how much you embrace change, it’s a short step from, “I’m so excited!”, to “what in the world have I done?”

Real talk, on the day you accepted that offer, you flipped from one extreme to the other — at least 4 times. Even with self-care (proper hydration, exercise, adequate sleep and food), you might be spinning from excited to ‘oops!’ rapidly. Thankfully, these self-care steps are some great coping mechanisms we can all use. And beyond self care, you can test your fears. They complement each other, so you can start testing each fear, and move on to dealing with your fears via exercise, sleep, whatever, and you’ll find that using both, you’re minimizing your fears moving forward.

In my last post I discussed coaching my teammates, peers, new hires, and people at school and in earlier jobs — I found the worries they experience with changes land into one of 3 categories:

  • Imposter syndrome — will I do ok?
  • Human tribal nature — will they like me?
  • Choice economics — did I do the right thing?

And the 5-step scientific framework we’ll apply here:

  • Test
  • Assess
  • Apply
  • Evaluate
  • Repeat if needed

Let’s discuss the first fear, imposter syndrome, and how we can apply our framework to it.
Just in case you want to know more about imposter syndrome, here’s a great TED talk I’ve found helpful, and an article on HBR.

Once you’ve finished with these links, you’re may still be wondering if you’ll do well at your new job. Don’t forget! You got this job based on your history, experience, and your performance during your interview. If you’re still feeling like an imposter, you can tell yourself that you got this gig based on your interview and prior achievements, so don’t worry too much! Many people still need a little help, and this is where we can apply our framework.

To reality-test your performance, talk to your boss, ask your peers, or seek feedback from clients and customers. If you genuinely seek and ask for feedback, most people will be happy to share their thoughts. Maybe your boss tells you that that you did a thorough job researching a document, but it isn’t in the format they expected, and it’s more granular than they wanted. You need to figure out a fix.

First try asking if the current format’s ok, or if they’d prefer you re-work it. Let’s say your boss suggests you keep the current format but maybe roll it up into a less-granular summarization of the first draft. Great! You have a direction now, you can test with that. Without being pedantic, you can whip up a fix that attempts to correct for the feedback you received, and later circle back with the update. At this point, your boss is happy (or not) and you can iterate from there, or know that you completed the project to your boss’ satisfaction…and you can, in the future, remind yourself that you did a job to your boss’ requirements, and that satisfied your boss. Tell that nagging voice in your head that you’re not an imposter if you can make a satisfactory deliverable for a big project that your boss cares about.

One way to get the imposter in your mind to back off is to do your job well. Praise and gratitude both help silence the imposter, but in the long run, praise and gratitude from others do end up being external motivation. The most satisfying motivation comes from within. Remind yourself that you did a good job! And use that satisfaction to continue moving forward and achieving.

As a bonus, I’ll link two books that helped me with Imposter Syndrome personally include Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In and Amy Cuddy’s Presence.

My next post will cover how to apply this framework to human tribal nature, and choice economics.

If you’re like me, you probably think about your job for a fair portion of each day (whether it’s a workday, or not). You may want to do well, you have a problem you’re noodling over, or your curiosity just won’t let you stop considering some aspect of, skill, or task that you’re actively learning for your job. You may even be one of the folks with both a job and a side hustle – but you find yourself regularly noodling over one or the other.

These thoughts and feeling increase in intensity when you transfer from one job, company, or role to another. This is top of mind for me because about a month ago, I switched from an operating systems team to a security team here at AWS. (Remember, my opinions are mine, not my employer’s). I tell candidates as I interview them, and I tell new-hires as they join, that every team in every company is different from any other – but there are some universal themes that I’ll cover here, in these posts.

So, since it’s top of mind, today I’ll share three new job fears that you probably worry about, too, no matter what team you find yourself on.

  1. Imposter syndrome talking – will I do ok?
  2. Human tribal nature – will they like me?
  3. Choice economics – did I do the right thing, did I move to the right place, did I move at the right time?

And in my next post, I will share my personal coping mechanism for each “flavor” of fear!