A Lesson Learned

August 26, 2013

Friday marked the end of a relatively distinct period of my life: the conclusion of my internship at Electronic Arts. While I’ve had more interesting jobs, I’ve never had a better one - I truly feel like by leaving I’m leaving behind part of my family.

I say I’ve had more interesting jobs due to my sense of being overqualified for the position. This might sound like hubris to anyone who may of read my very old (and now removed) blog posts, but I don’t think it is. Being under-challenged, however, is no excuse to not be learning. Most of the things I’ve learned over the last four months are about people and about politics.

On my last day of work, a wise man sat me down and gave me some good advice. The timing of it was unfortunate, since ones last day does not leave much time to implement new policies, but poorly-timed good advice is good advice nevertheless.

This post is about something I’ve learned about people and about politics.

Conventional wisdom is something I’m often very confused by. Surely the things that people tell you over and over can’t actually be what they mean. “Be yourself” and “don’t care about what other people think” sound like reasonable (and even noble) philosophies at first glance, but upon reflection are among the most insidious pieces of folk wisdom.

If I were to give better advice along the same lines, it would go like this:

Be the person you want to be.

Being yourself is pretty overrated.

Frankly, the person you are right now is quite likely an accident. Think back on your defining moments as a person - the experiences and people who made you who you are today. If you had grown up in a different city, gone to a different school, not attended to that party, or stayed in your first relationship it’s easy to argue that you would be a markedly different human being.

This is not something to be upset about, but instead mind-fuel for an opportunity to improve. If you had sat down one day and designed your life, it would probably look a lot different than it does now.

There’s no reason why you can’t sit down and design your life right now. You’re (presumably) a living, breathing person with hopes and dreams and the sense that things could be better.

Makeovers exist for a reason. The way we see ourselves directly influences the way we are. If your new haircut makes you feel more attractive, you will act more attractive and therefore be more attractive. It’s all about swagger.

The only limitations in life are those that we self-impose1. Having a fixed mindset is literally the only thing stopping you from achieving great things.

If you feel like you could be more awesome if only you were more charismatic, intelligent, or creative, then take note. “If only” should be a giant red flag - notice every time you say it. “If only”-s are usually pretty easy to get around.

What I propose is to give yourself a mental makeover. Pretend like you have the traits you want to have. Put on a mask and let yourself . Imagine that you’re James Bond, Sherlocke Holmes or the John Nash2. Read stories about, and identify with, people who are more like your ideal self.

Seriously. It sounds silly, but this stuff actually works. Priming effects are unbelievably powerful.

Cater yourself to the audience.

It doesn’t matter what other people think, unless it does.

Remember, people are unable to see more about you than you show them. Furthermore, they have a predisposition to not give you the benefit of the doubt. This implies relationships are more volatile than you might expect; one uncharacteristic misstep can mar years of an otherwise healthy relationship.

Think about what you really want out of your connections with the important people in your life - your boss, significant other(s), best friends, etc. Make sure that you are showing them the side of yourself that you want them to see. The way you behave with your friends is likely not the same way you should comport professionally.

The way you express yourself is literally the only way you can be experienced - “what you see is all there is” as Kahneman would put it. It is absolutely in your best interest to be aware of, and intentionally craft, the message you’re sending.

Thanks for a fantastic term, EA. You’ll always have a fond place in my heart.

  1. Except for like, actual limitations which fortunately don’t really occur in every-day life.↩︎

  2. Upon completing this list, I realized I hadn’t named any exemplary female role-models. A quick, explicit search of my brain didn’t come up with any results, either. I am ashamed about this, and intend to write more about it at a later date.↩︎