Today, I placed my leftovers in the microwave, pressed start, and it did nothing. I started looking around the back of our office kitchen to see how it was powered. I found the unplugged cord, and ate a microwaved lunch.
When I found that cord and plugged it in, I had a flashback to the worst job I ever had. I remembered arriving on my first day to a desk full of paperwork. No one was there to help for the first three days. I was lost and frustrated.
A month later, I was recruiting and interviewing people for jobs I didn't understand on the phone. I was also setting up new computers for new hires.
A month later the CEO asked me to make the internet faster with an AT&T device he purchased. I spent days weaving ethernet cables hundreds of feet through the ceiling of our basement office and down the long hall to the window. That didn't work. Apparently linked ethernet cables loose their signal. My effort was worthless.
A month later I moved the office to a different location and had to set up the new printer so it was linked to our wireless internet. The printer worked.
While that job made me miserable, I can distinctly remember that it changed the way I think. I was forced to do things I didn't know how to do and to learn new things to survive. I didn't have time for self doubt. I realized that too often, I assumed I was incapable of learning things and that that mindset alone was my biggest barrier. I was sabotaging my own success for a very long time.
I think everyone, because of stereotypes or what they've been told, assumes they're limited in what they can learn. I see this a lot with women in tech and I wish I had a better strategy for getting them to step into the fire repeatedly just to realize they're capable of much more than they think they are. Maybe that strategy is to replicate my worst job. Give people new things to learn. Let them struggle without help. Give them more new things. Only then, will they realize their potential? Maybe it's a matter of putting people in a position where they have to learn to survive.
Makes sense in the context of my family.
My mother told me she married my dad because he made her feel like she could learn or do anything. He felt the same about himself. It wasn't because he had a huge ego. It was because he's a first generation Chinese immigrant who grew up relatively poor and saw his family prosper over time after working hard in the United States. He was born in a small apartment in Chinatown New York where they'd kill rats for fun with scissors. They moved to Minnesota where my grandpa started a successful business making tooth fillings out of precious metals. My dad became a doctor and his brothers became doctors, dentists, and lawyers. He had no reason to think that anything was impossible. Clearly, a lot was possible. It was just a matter of effort.
I want to instill this sense of openness and determination in others so they can accelerate their learning and not be constrained by self judgement. Especially with women. Maybe it's something you can't force. Maybe it's just something you learn in life as you stumble, fall, and find solutions to survive along the way.