On Perceptions Vs. Reality

It’s been… a little over three months since my last post.

*Cue self flagellation*

(Well actually, I had a post written up back in February that I ran out of steam on after about 500 words. I’ll polish it up and get it out eventually.)

Anyways, back to the original point: one of my topics of interest is the divide between individual perception and the reality of a situation. Here’s the spark that led me to this post: back when I announced I was quitting my job, one of my coworkers told me, “I’m surprised you’re leaving so soon. We were betting on which of your group (I started with a cohort of three other employees within  a period several months) would leave first, but we didn’t expect it to be you. It seemed like you liked working here.” Her response surprised and delighted me.

I couldn’t stand working at that job, and thought I did a pretty shitty job of keeping that under wraps. I had another coworker who I was on pretty friendly terms with, and the cornerstone of our friendship was commiserating over how much we hated the work environment. Whenever the topic of work came up during my recreational periods I would inevitably start ranting about how <strike>much I hated my job</strike> the position wasn’t a good cultural fit for me. Having said that, I did at least try not to show my misery on my sleeves at work, so being validated by an outside source was like music to my ears. But there was another reason, which is the topic of this post:

Her perception of the situation and the reality of my feelings could not have been more out of line. On the outside, I appeared happy and comfortable with my position on my team and in the workplace. In reality, I commuted to work every day dreading the moment I finally started work. I stayed up late on the weekends (I think on weekdays too pretty often) just so I feel like I’d prolonged the amount of time not at work. Who was this mystery man she’d visualized? I wish I could’ve met this self actualized version of me and assimilated the motherfucker, borg style. I would love to have job satisfaction, or at least not be miserable in my work environment. Maybe for my next job…?

One last point: another reason why I found my coworker’s comment interesting – it was an opportunity to pierce the veil. Normally, other peoples’ differing perceptions are obtuse to me; it’s natural to assume in communication that their perceptions are similar to my own unless it comes up clearly in discussion like in the previous example. It’s another form of introspection and exploration; I’ve learned about an area where my own perceptions and the reality of the situation are in direct contrast with another’s perceptions. It’s not simply that they’re wrong about reality – my perception must also have been tilted since that revelation surprised me so much. It becomes an opportunity for me to reevaluate my own perspective.

Here’s another non-hypothetical example: imagine if you had a mother who was party line democrat. Not that they necessarily supported everything the democrats did, but they always voted blue because the Democrats are the lesser of two evils by default in America. Not that the democratic party is good, per se: The current political system in America is pretty fucked up and draconian and set up such that you have one party that explicitly tells you they are working against your interests. The other party is mostly against your interests, but occasionally they’re like, “Eh, I guess you’re allowed a couple breadcrumbs. How generous of me.” Ideally, the system in America would’ve long moved past having a basic safety net for its citizens, but what the hell do I know. I’m just another random idiot on the internet. Also, where’s the investment in infrastructure? Why is everything still so car focused?  Why is our public transit such shit?

Okay, enough of the tangent – back to mom: she always votes party line even if she doesn’t agree 100% with the candidate, under the principle that getting some breadcrumbs is better than no breadcrumbs at all. You feel like you have a pretty good idea of her mindset and her political views. Then the bombshell drops: turns out she voted for Trump. Now again, I’m using this example to illustrate my point between perception and reality. The contrast here is interesting not just because of the divide, but because of how wrongly you’ve calibrated your own perception. This person is literally not who you think they are. Nothing about them has changed; the change comes from within. Now of course, people do change over time, but my point here isn’t that my mom suddenly changed her values – her choice for Trump was predicated on the same values she held previously. It’s just that Trump had a good populist campaign to target working class folk that worked better than I’d realized. Also, some of her prejudices that I’d know about prior made her a one issue voter.

But it’s important to note that people do change over time, and it can be such a gradual process that our own perceptions aren’t updated to align with the new reality. We only notice the big things like the Trump example above. But big things help with the small things, because they’re a reminder to reevaluate other previously held ideas. This kinda goes in line with the concept of mindfulness from meditation, where you try to cultivate a practice of seeing things as they are. That’s another good topic for la ong winded digression that I’ll have to save for next time.

On Crucibles

Hazing rituals at frats are falling out of fashion nowadays, but I think the core concept of the ritual is valuable to any organization. Pressure is a tried and true way of establishing rapport and building intimacy between a shared group. It’s not something that is guaranteed to build relationships, but it’s certainly conducive to it. Think of situations like army troops that survive multiple battles together. There’s no way something like that doesn’t build a certain kind of bond or trust between people – those are people who know their comrades will have their back in a life or death situation. Hazing rituals can only begin to scratch the surface of that.

I think hazing is a pretty multi faceted form of onboarding to fraternities. First, they create a ritual that is shared experience between pledges, and gives them common ground with older members of the same organization. Second, it gives their entry into the organization a sense of value – it’s not something that anyone could just join – we had to work for it. Third, the pressure of the environment is a natural environment to create tighter bonds between pledges. Crises are like a hyperbolic time chamber for relationships – you can accomplish way more in a shorter period of time depending on the intensity of the crisis.

The hazing ritual at fraternities is tangential to what I wanted to talk about, which is work environments. Different work environments can be conducive to different relationships between coworkers – this should be self evident. High pressure work environments that force death march hours onto all of its employees can almost be a blessing in disguise in that they can build strong that work really well together – I’ve heard this used to be pretty common in game development, when games were hitting their release date, the developers would enter a period called “crunch mode” in which they basically lived in the office.  You can imagine those teams being tight.

Environments where individual performance are the top priority can lead to situations where people will bend or break the rules constantly without worrying about the common good, because they know only individual performance matters. This is pretty common in sales – top salesmen don’t usually have set hours, and they get a ton of leeway to sell a client, including expense accounts that aren’t necessarily scrutinized at the level that due diligence would ordinarily be called for.  They can get bigger asks from other departments, even if their asks can negatively impact departments as a whole. You don’t have to work together with your coworkers as the top performer. Instead, you can demand more from others. That’s not to say that this is always the case, of course. This type of environment is just less conducive to teamwork, because it gives more leverage to individuals who produce more. It’s harder to work as equals with someone when you know the other person can say, “Nah, I don’t wanna do this work. You do it.” and you actually have to do the work if you want to keep your job.

Working dynamics is a fascinating topic.

On Human Relations

I feel like HR in a business is widely considered to be a job for soulless workers who exist in an adversarial capacity against anyone who threatens the livelihood of the business, but mostly in the form of internal threats. Largely, when I hear of HR, I hear of ways in which the business finds ways to proactively shield itself against its own employees. I understand the need for this devil’s advocate role – if the business doesn’t set aside resources to protect itself, no one else will do it on the company’s behalf, so it needs to establish some muscle for itself.  On the other hand, I feel like this should only really be a minor capacity of the HR role.

Any business will of course need resources to protect itself, but I envision the human relations department as a much more important role than just gatekeeping the vulnerabilities of the company. At its heart, I feel like the ideal goal of the human relation department is to propagate the cultural values of the company. This manifests itself in a pretty diverse manner – things like the hiring process, onboarding for new employees, and even team/company events are things I see human relations having a hand in establishing.

The hiring process is important in establishing a company’s culture, because it’s the first glimpse of the internal workings of the company that potential employees get to see. I’d imagine as a young business with few employees, the hiring process would be pretty ad-hoc – that’s to be expected, and new hires would realize that instantly. This is already a big filter – you’re getting people who either want to get in on the ground floor, or at least are indifferent to it. Employees who are looking for more stability or a more professional/corporate environment are already looking at the door.  Neither is inherently better than the other, but realize that how you structure your hiring directly impacts the type of people that join your work.

To me, onboarding is a top priority the moment you become bigger than a one man shop. Onboarding is really the step in which you inculcate the values of the company into your employees. No documentation?  You can probably expect the company doesn’t have well defined processes in place – operations are probably more ad-hoc. Do they give you relative freedom as a new hire, or do they set you on rails? If it’s the former, the company probably lets employees bend the rules as long as they produce. If it’s the latter, the job is more likely structured to stick with strict adherence to being by the book. I’m thinking of sales vs. accounting here.

Human relations gets a bad beat, but they have an important role in any company. Many of the qualities of good human relations can be pretty intangible, though – people recognize a good culture, or a culture they’re compatible with, but it’s hard to quantify it in business terms. If I ever start my own business, I really want to dip my toes in HR. I think culture is probably the single most important factor in any company. Culture represents a direct application of a company’s values. That matters, at least to me.

On Business Travel

I like business travel. I don’t have a huge amount of experience with it, but as a single person with no outside obligations, I find travel a nice reprieve from the daily grind. Outside of the work, you get some time to explore a new city and culture. It’s just a really good way to get out of the house. Plus, you get to lounge around a hotel room in your bath robe. I don’t even wear anything underneath – I like the freedom of the wind beneath my sails.

I want to reiterate that this is only from the perspective of a single person – if I had outside obligations like a family or a relationship to maintain, I would probably hate business travel. However, knowing that I don’t have anything waiting for me back home gives me a ton of freedom. I like the feeling of not being limited to my surroundings. If I’m required to travel for work and my business is done by Friday, I can come back on Sunday and take the weekend off to check out the city. I like to break up the schedule occasionally. Actually, if I had to guess, the reason why I like it is because I like anything that deviates from my routine.

Everyone has their daily routine – get up, shower, work, dinner, sleep, repeat. I’m perfectly fine abiding by my own routine, but that doesn’t mean I enjoy it. I’m just kind of subsisting – I’m not ecstatic, but I’m not miserable; I simply exist. I think it’s pretty common for people to get stuck in their routines to the point that they’re not actively looking for satisfaction in their lives. They have financial obligations that require a job, which usually ties them down to a location, which leads to needing stability in the form of a home. Needing money becomes a trap. Because we need money to live, we’re forced into jobs that we tolerate. Of course, this won’t necessarily apply to everyone, but I’d wager that most people would quit their jobs to do something else if they could meet their financial obligations through outside means. This was all a long winded way to get back to my original point, which is: everyone needs a way to break up the monotony.