2016 End-of-Year Update: "The Year of The Thicker Skin"

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Happy Chanukah, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year—whatever you celebrate! As you read this, I hope you’re in the company of people you love in the coming days, especially since the last two months in America—and outside of it—have been full of fear and violence and vitriol. 

As I write, I’m chugging along on the faithful Northeast Regional Amtrak train, en route to visit family in New Jersey for the holidays. With the holiday hustle at Wayfair over and half the office out of town on vacation or working from home for the next week, there’s finally some time for me to think and reflect about something other than Q1-Q2 planning. 

Professionally, my update is a net positive one. It took the full 90 days before I really felt like I was getting the hang of big company life, tech life, and product management life. Since I hit that threshold, Wayfair has really started to feel like home. I got tapped to lead a challenging, cross-functional, and high-visibility project, the kind I was hoping for after graduation: if all goes well, it will launch in March to significant PR. My coworkers, especially the other female product managers, are genuinely good people, and I enjoy spending time with them off the clock as much as many of my peers from business school. My engineers have become a little tribe after the first three months of instability with people leaving the company or being added to the team. My most memorable moment was in November, when we had a karaoke outing with our pod, when the quietest, most polite engineer on my team, out of nowhere and to everyone’s surprise, took the mic and did a jaw-dropping rendition of Eminem’s ‘Lose Yourself.’ 

I’m still trying to figure out how to collaborate with my very tricky tech lead, who had been the greatest source of frustration in my first months on the job. Then again—no one ever said management was easy. I should have expected how our dynamic would be less than ideal when, in our first lunch together in July, he expressed his skepticism and distaste for business and MBAs. His behavior and attitude toward me demonstrates his lack of trust in my judgment, and he has repeatedly undermined me in front of the team to the point that one of my engineers flagged her concern to me at how “openly disrespectful” it was. The win here is that I’ve learned how to appropriately escalate this situation to supervisors instead of trying to handle everything on my own (as I tend to do), and my skin has gotten thicker—I don’t spend my weekends and spare time in agony at the prospect of having to talk to and work with him. The next time I walk into an interview and am asked, “Tell us about a time when you worked with someone difficult,” I will be able to paint a very vivid picture of what I did and how I got through it: 1. By making him feel empowered and accountable with as many facts as I have to share from the business side 2. By getting a gut check from his very equal-minded manager when my intuition tells me that he’s saying something weird, misleading, or straight up inaccurate. 

Personally, my update is more mixed. First, for the sadder stuff. My relationship of nearly two years with the boyfriend I would have thought I’d be married to in the next five years is on the rocks and may be over. 

I was blindsided when he asked for “space" the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend and promptly moved out of our apartment on the following Wednesday—it escalated exceptionally quickly and for reasons that came from out of nowhere, that I still don’t understand, and that may not be true. “I feel like I’m holding you back.” “I feel like I haven’t been able to give you 100%.” “I feel like I have no control and no ownership.” He is 26, and I’m writing this off, in part, to a quarter-life crisis. He doesn’t feel like he’s successful enough yet or has the lifestyle he wants yet, but who is or does in their twenties? Is there ever an “enough”?

Reflecting on my piece in this break, in the stress of my adjustment to post-MBA life, I realize I was more focused on myself and, in my own obsession about my future and success, was likely blind to what was going on with him. Even though I suspect that this breakup has less to do about me and more to do with him, my analysis of my role in the circumstances has gotten me this far: I spoke my mind unapologetically. I was rigorously honest. I didn’t pretend that things were all right when they weren’t, which meant I had days of being impossibly euphoric and days of being inconsolably sad in the last six months. I worry that my style of communication, which is super direct, overwhelmed him, came off as abrasive, and made him feel unsafe to express himself, as if there was no room for his feelings in our tiny apartment. But I can’t blame myself for his failure to open up in the moment, when he needed to—not months later—and I can’t blame myself for his lack of emotional maturity in these situations.

He is back in Hong Kong with his family for the holidays and we will talk again when he returns in January. He claims he still loves me, but I find it hard to believe anyone who loves me would do this to me. I am nauseated by his cowardice, both in how he broke up with me and how he has opted to eliminate our relationship instead of finding the courage to end the relationship that really seems to not be serving him—the one with his cofounder, who is a poisonous, emotionally-manipulative human being. I hope my likely-ex realizes that “hitting [their] number" in the next few months is nowhere isn’t as valuable to his life as the loving relationship we had. I’ve always believed success is nothing without people to share it with you, and at this point, he has cut out pretty much everyone in his life in dogged pursuit of that number. I wonder, if he hits that number and if we are out of each others’ lives, if there will be anyone left to celebrate it with him. 

I don’t know what comes next, but whatever happens next month when we communicate again and he is back in the United States, the break has reminded me how many people I have in my corner, and that I have many other people in this world who love me who would never hurt me like this. For what it’s worth in this, my skin has gotten thicker in my personal life, as well.

Now for the happier stuff—and there’s a lot of it. I have four cousins and all of them had babies this year, the last one born just a few days ago. My 75-year-old father is transitioning into retirement from his law practice, which has relieved a ton of stress at home, especially for my mother, who has worked for him since they got married. Tomorrow, they celebrate their 35th anniversary, which gives me a reason to elevate the Jewish tradition on Christmas of Chinese food and a movie with a little bit of champagne. I’m still blogging once a month, with the highlights in the tail end of the year being a post about meeting Bruce Springsteena post about Halloween costumes and self-expression  and a reflection on 2016 on Medium, which I’m using as an a bonus blogging platform to my personal website—the tracking is better, posts are easier to share, and the design is superior to what I’m capable to riffing up on my Squarespace site (that said, I’m hoping to spruce up the personal site with the help of my coworkers. I’m lucky to now have a slew of creative tech folks I can consult to help me make my online identity sing). 

A not-so-secret secret I have is that this creative work is something for which I want to be known in a big way one day. And not just writing—public speaking, too (the podcast I started last year was a small step in that direction). For now, and for lack of better ideas, I’m planning to refine and edit posts I’ve written on my blog the last 4.5 years and turn them into an e-book of personal essays. If the goal is to give my work more public exposure outside of my personal network, there’s nothing like the universe of Amazon. It’ll also be good to get a little bit of criticism and rejection from total strangers, at least in the cases where it makes me a better, more thoughtful writer (and help me develop a thicker skin against internet trolls). For 2013, one of my new year’s resolutions was to submit a piece to the New York Times’ Modern Love column, and four years later, I have yet to find the courage to submit anything. Maybe now is the perfect time, in the embers of a heartbreak and with the dawn of a new year, for me to write that piece. 

In all seriousness, if you have any ideas to help me make the writing and speaking dreams come true, please share them. I’m currently in the midst of evaluating what I write, where I write and speak about it (online/offline, certain media outlets, etc.), and how I can get my voice out there in the world to the people who would benefit from hearing it.  

With that, I wish you and yours warmth, light, and joy this holiday season and in the new year. Whether you’re near or far, please be in touch—I’d love to hear how you’re doing, even if it’s just a quick “Hi” back. Thank you for caring about me and reminding me that the world, for all the pain of the last year, is still a place worth cherishing and saving. 

All best wishes,