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The Grand Loop
I didn't know what I wanted to be, but I knew I liked building things. After a crisis of career confidence, I found myself vying for an entry-level job at a tech company, shapeless blob of a career in tow. They promised a utopia of growth, benefits, and working from home, surface perks to the more meaningful company match - if I put what I believed into a product, it was 80% there, my magic number. I got the job, I think, because on the crux of decade-long relationship ending, I thought maybe I didn't know who I was at all. So when they asked, "Who are you?" at the final stage of my first real job interview, my scrambled mind but steady demeanour came out with a resolute: I am changing.

After a year of hitting all the marks and more, we had "the talk".

"So where is this going?"

Maybe UX. Or content. Or themes? All intriguing possibilities but not enough to cross the bridge to yes. Let's try it this way: what don't you want? Okay, yes. Process of elimination. I knew one thing: I didn't want to become a manager.

To me, a manager was "the boss of people", someone with the well-assumed privilege of making more money and having more power, so we undercut that consciously or not with blame and weeknight Whatsapp rants until you get the satisfactory "I hate your manager" or the unsatisfactory "lol" 3x in a row.

So naturally, like some weird career path version of Murphy's Law, that's exactly what happened: a couple months into a new, unexpected role, a second manager asked if I'd be interested in leadership. My answer was a very hesitant "maybe?". Fast forward 3 weeks and a few HBR articles later, I was officially a manager.

Things started out rough but I started to feel more like me, eventually. The blob that my career used to feel like, in this new context, became an amorphous container of value amplification. My last year was spent, first by accident and then on purpose, going macro and identifying opportunities to break it all apart. I was a creative person in a leadership role, and I no longer felt like I was pretending.

By the time I left to pursue a career beyond my once-in-a-lifetime interlude in management, I learned what a good manager's job is: certainly not to "be the boss of people". It's to coach, delegate, strategize, enable collaboration and synthesize. In ideal efficacy state, it's to do very little at all. My job was simply to help others do their best work and to be shrewd enough to really understand what "best" work really means.

A month later, I opened up an online learning app after receiving an email notification for a game design course I had signed up for and forgotten, intrigued by the course cover image (pink and 90s retro gaming inspired). There, I discovered a different class that I had left behind: Managing the Company of the Future. Huh.

Sometimes it takes one moment for everything to click.

The first video explained how most people dislike their managers. Lightbulb #1: This was the real reason I didn't want to do this: I didn't want to open myself up to being disliked.

The next video explained how management models today still borrow from a model built decades ago, for a very different kind of world. Management should be about change and being conduits of creativity, agility and engagement, the most precious commodities in 21st century work. Lightbulb #2: I had a biased perception of management and I probably have biased perceptions about many other things. I thought it was going to be an exercise in people skills, administration and bureaucracy. Turns out, it was an exercise in creative synthesis and human potential.

After I watched no more than 10 minutes of video, I realized that even though I've learned and changed a lot during my tenure as a manager, somehow, wonderfully, I had come back to where I started: building things. And, I had actually gotten a lot better at it. But there's a big problem: the vast majority of people are disengaged with their jobs. Forget jobs: people aren't even engaged with their own lives. That's not only the death of companies; it's the slow, grinding death of us all. Lightbulb #3: Nothing, in the grand loop of our lives and careers, can really hold us back if we're open to change and challenging our perceptions. So imagine what happens when we don't demand grip-like adherence to temporary standards, in each other or in our managers. What if we understood, finally, what it's all about?
Ana Wang is a Technical Content Creator at SuperHi, living in Vancouver, CA. She can be found on Twitter and Instagram at @ana_et_al or on her website
Art used in this issue: “Tea” by Alice Bailly
Desk Lunch is a community for all creative people of marginalized genders.

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