The Unicorn Blues

Every now and then I’m struck with the crippling, overwhelming feeling of “not enough” or “less than.” Usually it’s relatively fleeting and can be silenced by a weekend getaway or a really good movie. Or frozen yogurt… sometimes frozen yogurt is all it takes.

And then there are those weeks when you turn 31 and you just, like, CAN’T BREATHE for a second. Which is silly because you have no gray hair or wrinkles yet, were born without a biological clock, and are actually living a pretty perfect life right now. Wait, did I say you? There’s a chance I might be talking about myself here.

So my life is pretty good, and 31 is the new 21, right? But WHY AM I NOT A PUBLISHED AUTHOR YET? HOW COME I KEEP GAINING WEIGHT INSTEAD OF LOSING IT? WHY DON’T I SPEAK MORE THAN ONE LANGUAGE?

Let’s not dwell too long on the fact that I have never attempted to write a book, have been consuming more calories than I burn, and have yet to install those “Learn French” and “Learn Italian” programs my dad bought me. BUT WHY AM I SO WOEFULLY UNACCOMPLISHED IN LIFE????

Seriously, where do those thoughts come from? By all accounts, I’m doing just dandy – better than most even, depending on how you look at it. But that’s just it – it’s about how you look at it. For whatever reason, this birthday temporarily messed up my perspective, and I seem to have misplaced my bedazzled, rose-colored glasses.

Part of the reason I’m having a harder time shaking these thoughts this time is that 31 sounds so much OLDER than 30 to me. 30 was a big deal – it was a milestone, a celebration of grandiose proportions. Seriously – I threw myself an over the top masquerade ball, complete with DJ, bartender and photo booth. And I was focused on celebrating all the positives in my life: my relationship, my career, my friends and family. And the reality is, since then, those things have gotten even better.

So why this strange melancholy over the big 3-1? Why the inability to look at things in a positive light? Honestly, I’m not sure, but I have a feeling that the multiple ankle surgeries, constant pain, and subsequent weight gain have a little to do with it.

I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t had to battle some depression when my second surgery rolled around last fall. It was tough, but I made it through. And Gil and I didn’t kill each other, so that’s a real accomplishment. But all signs point to recovery (as slow as it may be), so I can’t really blame it all on that. And I can’t exactly put my finger on what else is going on, but I have some ideas.

Mainstream media would have me believe that it’s just my constant dissatisfaction as a millennial – my belief that I’m a special little unicorn and deserve more out of life somehow than just a good life. Well, I AM A SPECIAL FUCKING UNICORN. A BIG PINK ONE. AND I DO WANT MORE.

cartoon magical unicorn

If you ask me, this is not a character flaw of the millennial generation. A blatant sense of entitlement, an unwillingness to put in the legwork or the inability to be open to constructive criticism are major character flaws, but those are separate issues. The true belief that one is special and can accomplish anything is pretty damn powerful. And because we live in the age of social media, we can see the results of that power every day. I can see when every single one of my peers gets promoted (thanks LinkedIn). I know when anyone decides to travel the world (hi Facebook). I even know what they paid for their dream house (helloooo Zillow).

And I can also see this information about strangers. People my age or younger who are starting their own businesses, writing books, travelling the world, and following their dreams. These become weird, out-of-context, unattainable benchmarks. Not in small part due to the fact that I’m only seeing one very shiny version of reality on my computer screen. There is no way to keep up with that. And there’s no point either.  Comparing myself to others isn’t going to get me anywhere. Except maybe a shrink’s office for Xanax.

Using their success as an inspiration isn’t a bad idea though. I just need to adjust my perspective.

I need to track down my bedazzled, slightly smudged rose-colored glasses and look at those success stories as inspiration instead of another reason to put myself down. Instead of “not enough” I need to train myself to think “not yet” – because it IS possible whatever “it” may be. I AM A UNICORN.

Or rather, I CAN be, if I put in the time. There are more opportunities than ever to succeed and excel in ways that weren’t ever possible before. If I really want to write a book, I don’t have to get picked up by a publisher – I can self-publish and promote on social media and oversee the movie version starring Scarlett Johansson as me. Or you know, the lead character inspired by me. Whatever.  I mean, I have to WRITE the book first, but I don’t want to get too bogged down in those details.

I need to move past this destructive idea that I need to be achieving the same things I can see other people achieving on the same timeline in order to be special.

Maybe I’ll never write a book. Maybe I’ll never lose all the weight. Maybe I’ll only ever speak one language. The reality is, some days when I get home from my office job after my hour plus commute in the evenings, I am MUCH more inclined to take off my bra than take over the world. Some days bad TV and a glass of wine are going to win out over French lessons.  That’s OK. I’m already pretty special, every pound and all 31 years of me.

Silicon Valley Tech Employees Are EXACTLY As Spoiled As You Think We Are

You’ve read about us. You’ve seen stories on the news about us. We travel in packs. And ride company shuttles. And eat free, catered lunches every day and ride company bikes around different “campuses” of our offices.

We are the tech workers here in this California mecca known as the Silicon Valley. And we are EXACTLY as spoiled as you think we are.

Silicon Valley flag

I wish I could say we all realize it, and live every day completely grateful for our situation and the abundance of resources and opportunities we have at our fingertips. But the truth is, that’s not really the case. It has become our “normal” and we just want more.

I’m guilty of it myself. When the bar has been raised and you live in the type of world we do, it’s easy to start taking these privileges for granted. Because while free breakfast, lunch and dinner is all well and good,  and our in-office masseuse and chiropractor are awfully generous, many of us find it easy to forget that’s not normal. It sounds crazy to even type that sentence, but it’s true. I think it’s even harder for those employees who have just recently entered the workforce.

They are the lucky ones who graduated in the last few years, when we had already started to recover from the recession. While those of us who were already in the workforce felt the full impact of what was happening in 2007-08, they were still in college (or high school for that matter), with a vague understanding of what the changing economy meant to their job prospects and still trying to get every ounce of enjoyment they could out of college. I don’t blame them. College is often a comfortable bubble that exists outside of the “real world” where you can skip the classes you don’t like, stay out all night partying and still feel ready take on the world the next day. So they did, these lucky ones.

And when they graduated, they were able to land jobs at the tech behemoths of the Bay Area: Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Salesforce.com and Twitter, among others. Places where “company culture” reigns supreme and employee benefits and satisfaction are serious business. When THAT is your first experience out of college, it’s hard not to come to expect that from all your employers. When you’re 23 and part of your job entails drinking free booze all night while staying at 5-star hotels in San Francisco and getting a private tour of AT&T Park, it’s easy to lose touch with reality.

Hell, it’s easy to lose touch with reality even if that’s NOT your only experience in the professional world. I graduated college in 2006 and started working for a company in Los Angeles that made coffee and tea accessories. Basically, I sold mugs and teapots.

There were 5 of us when I started. I was sales, I was marketing, I was part-time warehouse supervisor, part-time copywriter and catalog editor, and store merchandiser for our biggest customers. It was an amazing growth experience but I worked my ass off and made a grand total of $34,000. Which, when rent for my apartment in LA was $1,300/month, didn’t go very far. But I learned to hustle. And there was no free soda in the break room. No free lunches. No “perks,” just work that needed to get done.

I remember one of my first big business trips out to Chicago – I was so excited. And so green. At 23, I hadn’t done much travelling. My boss booked my travel arrangements. I was flying into Midway because it was cheaper, but the cheapest hotel he could find was next to O’Hare, so that’s what he booked. And there was no money for a rental car, he told me. No, I would just need to figure out public transit, even when it meant a 2 hour train ride and 20 minute walk in the snow to the outskirts of the city to visit a customer.

I remember that trip vividly, schlepping around Chicago in March with my suitcase, asking people for directions and trying to keep a smile on my face and not freak out about all the things I needed to figure out. In hindsight, I realize the company was mismanaged and bleeding money and I was put in some situations I shouldn’t have been, but it is what it is. I’m grateful for those experiences.

I’m not sharing this to show how much harder I had it than the recent grads working at tech companies (well, maybe a little) but rather to point out that those experiences helped shape me. They helped make me stronger. And I AM proud of how I handled those situations, and how I was able to get things done without a smartphone, and without company support. I worked there for almost 4 years, and by the time I quit and moved to the Bay Area, the job market was picking up. And when I landed my first tech sales job, I could see things were going to be different.

And even having had those experiences, it’s easy to be seduced into the world of free food, free booze, and free travel, and forget all about those days.  Big name tech companies and start-ups alike are battling it out for talent. Talent that is way beyond my pay grade. I mean, yes, they would like to attract the best sales talent, but who they’re really battling for are the top notch engineers and developers, and once Google set the bar, the rest of the companies who wanted those “A players” needed to step up with those big perks or lose the talent war. And the rest of us get to take advantage.

I remember the first time my boyfriend came to visit my office last year. We had 2 kitchens in the building (all free food), a pinball machine on my floor, and a mini golf course set up around the office (part of a team building activity from the week before). When I got home that day, he told me I was never allowed to complain about work EVER again. And he had a point. While I definitely considered my job to be somewhat stressful at times, it’s all relative. He’s worked in retail, as a logger, and in nonprofit, rebuilding homes in New Orleans. He has always had to buy work supplies out of his own pocket. Seeing that world was like walking into an alternate universe for him.

And it’s a good reminder for those of us lucky enough to live in it that we really should be consciously thankful every day. Because I’ve seen it all too often… people forgetting how ridiculously lucky we are. It happens more often when your friends and social circle all work in tech too. Because you all live in the same world – you become a silo. I’ve seen internal company discussion boards where people COMPLAIN ABOUT THE FREE FOOD THEY’RE BEING SERVED. I’ll give you a minute to process that.

At one of the companies I worked for, once a quarter they would cancel our catered lunch and simply ask that we bring our own or go out to lunch with coworkers. The money that was saved in that ONE DAY across all of our offices was astronomical,  and they donated it to the less fortunate. Once a quarter. Four times a year. No big deal, right? Wrong. Without fail, every time that day rolled around, someone would complain about how that impacted their work day, that they couldn’t be productive if they had to go out for lunch, etc. BULLSHIT. Total bullshit. Even if you can make the case there is no convenient food nearby (which you can’t, you entitled, privileged a**hole) then get up 10 minutes early and make a fucking PB&J.

I’m using a harsh example to make a point… most people were not so extreme. And I think most DO try to be appreciative of what we have. But it’s a competitive environment that we’re working in, and we do work hard. So companies keep upping the ante. If it’s not more stock options and work from home flexibility, it’s sailing lessons and free gym memberships. Which is great for those of us already working in this industry, and for those lucky college grads who find a spot on one of those teams right out of school. But the more perks they pile on, the further and further detached from reality we become.

At some point, some of these companies are going to fail. Some of these people will lose their jobs, and may not be able find a new one as bright and shiny as the one they had before. Some of us, like myself, are going to willingly walk away from this world at some point, as painful as it might be to give it up.

And when we come out on the other side, we’re going to have a hell of an adjustment to make. Somehow, I don’t think we’ll get much sympathy when we complain about our sushi withdrawal and how much we miss having a personal “ergonomics expert” to set up our desk area to fit our delicate needs. But that’s a problem for tomorrow. Right now, I need to go play a round of mini golf and grab a free Perrier.