Starting a new job remotely is hard. I might not be allowed in the office to meet my coworkers in person until next year, and that's hard. What's lost is more than a sense of camaraderie with my colleagues – in fact, I feel I've established that to some degree. More than that, what's lost is the natural osmosis of knowledge that happens when you're surrounded by people who know more than you, talking aloud about what they know, about the noteworthy things that are happening that day, sitting down and debugging a problem together, giving one another encouragement and a sense that the problems you solve have an impact beyond yourself.
Given all the problems I could be grappling with during the pandemic, I have to appreciate that one of my biggest is this sense of my work having limited impact because my coworkers aren't physically present to affirm my struggles and my victories. It forces me to reflect on the meaning inherent to the work itself, and not the pieces of it that would have me collaborating with teammates and finding gratification in the smiles I can put on their faces. I'm focusing more on what sort of work I want to be doing and how I want to go about doing it, less on doing the things that will bring me social acceptance or the things that I believe other people on the team think are important. That's not to say that I'm never given a sense of what's important on my team, or that I don't strive to gain acceptance and connectivity on my team – I do! But because the reward I get from it isn't felt as strongly from a distance, it gives me more space to focus on other things.
This additional space, however, can be problematic for a Noogler who doesn't know what they ought to know, particularly in a role like Developer Relations Engineer, where a majority of the work I'm doing comes from proposals I myself put out there. There are existing, unassigned projects out there for the taking, but the expectation is that I'm going to be proactive in identifying problems with the developer experience and establishing potential solutions to them. That's the role. And that's what I was looking for – this ability to have ownership and to drive a project from ideation to implementation, that's what I want! That's a challenge I yearn for. Even so, the challenge is compounded by the need to establish the knowledge that will enable me to identify problems to solve and to poke holes in my own solution before presenting it to the team for them to poke even more holes. When there is so much to possibly know, it can be demoralizing to feel like I'm tackling this problem in the dark, grabbing onto starting points that may or may not lead me anywhere.
I've realized that I feel particularly gratified lately when the work I'm doing comes from someone else, a Google Ads API partner company, for example; then at least I know the work will have impact. I might not have thought of it on my own, but I know it's important. When I send out that email to the development team at another company, I know that I'm positioned to help solve their problems, and that I get to share responsibility for their victories. At the same time, all this work that comes from others has a constant, underlying, stress-inducing facet which is that, even though their victories are also my victories, their failures are also my failures. I'm not confident yet that I can lead them to victory, at least not without leaning heavily on my teammates (which, thankfully, I have the option to do). For now, avoiding [massive] failures is part of the goal, and I'm not typically someone for whom "avoiding failure" is good enough. I want to be able to take risks and feel confident that I am capable and knowledgable enough to turn that risk into reward. Not to mention, I'm not satisfied with the fact that my most rewarding work has been the work that was handed to me; like I said, I yearn to own and to drive projects from ideation to implementation.
All this Noogler uncertainty has had me searching for ways to build my confidence and to inject a sense of self-esteem that will give me fortitude in moments where my work at Google might otherwise suffer from a fear of failure, or from a lack of motivation, or from a sense of not knowing where to begin. For this, I return to painting.
Painting is a comfort. Painting is where I find my flow. I'm not the most imaginative painter, and I struggle to paint in the abstract, but color and light are my strengths. When I was little, I would draw rainbows all the time 🌈, I just loved color and found a simple but unexplainable joy in it. I was thinking about the Doodle for Google prompt this year, which was "I am strong because...", and how my paintings are a reflection of my strength because they represent my patience for the process, my ability to break things down into pieces with an aim on the big picture, and for my propensity towards finding beauty in color. This was what inspired me to embrace my eye for color in my latest painting, which is an ode to the painting process and to color, and the strength I find in them.
I don't paint to distract myself from the frustrations I feel at work. I paint for the sense of control it gives me, for the satisfaction I get from exploring and enhancing the colors found in real life, for the challenge of representing light and form in 2D, for the appreciation it gives me for the work that other artists do, for the forgiving process of painting and painting over and layering until it's just right (or as right as it's going to be). The accomplishment of finishing a painting is enough to reinforce my belief that I am a person of progress; I am energized by making, and I carry that energy into the rest of my life, including my work at Google. Even beyond the painting itself, the satisfaction extends into and fortifies my relationships; when I share my paintings with others, their comments and "likes" remind me of the valuable ties I have, and of my potential to affect and be affected by others even though I haven't been seeing them.
Some people despise the term "work-life balance". In her book, Unapologetically Ambitious, Shellye Archambeau explains that the term is problematic because it represents a false aspiration, that work and life should consume equal energy. To me, work-life balance is not so much about the equality as it is about the ability to manage both without either one making the other infeasible or unenjoyable. Painting, among other things, has been like magic dust to lift the load on the work side of that scale. It hasn't changed the work I have to do, but it has made me stronger and thus the load feels lighter. This is my balance.