I left social media and nobody noticed

I’m an advertiser turned-marketer who wants to become a writer. So, obviously, the logical thing to do was to course a Big Data program and take a class on cloud-computing; which I did last year. I can almost see myself receiving a Pulitzer or a Jabuti prize for my memoir-styled novel about how to become a marine biologist after living 10 years as a buddhist monk taking care of baby koalas who are learning how to program. In C++. On the cloud. You know… PaaS. I know my CS shit.

During these amusing classes on how to create multiple entities on a single server in order to guarantee availability, I made friends with a guy who had just graduated with a Bachelor’s in Mechanical Engineering. When I asked him why he was taking a course on Big Data, he said, “I was laying around the house, doing nothing. So, this seemed like a good idea.”

We were both very enthusiastic about this course.

We always spent our class hours talking about all things non-related to cloud computing, including things such as what it’s like to live in Hungary (he was there for a year), what it was like to be 30 and unemployed (which I was all through 2016), what we did on our free time and how social networks were killing our intelligence and creativity.

We got to talking about when we started using social networks. I told him I started with mIRC. He didn’t know what mIRC was. I realized I was 9 years older than him.

Oh well…

I began with mIRC when I was 13. The year was 1998. I would wait until my parents were busy, lock myself in the basement, log into random chat rooms and talk to people, pretending I was a 23-year-old biology major at some fake university who liked poetry and listened to alternative rock. I wanted other fake adults to think I was a cool fake adult.

A few years later, MySpace was born and I created my account, obviously. I breezed through the ICQ era, until MSN started to get traction. When Orkut came along, one of the world’s first social networks (if not the first), I was already hooked on social networks.

I remember Hi5 and Friendster, but can’t recall if I used them. When blogging was the thing, I began blogging – and I’ve had over 10 different blogs since then. When YouTube came out, I started vlogging. In 2007, an American friend invited me to Facebook; my Brazilian friends started joining the following year. In 2009, I created a Twitter account and have been and on/off user for the past 8 years. And then came WhatsApp. Ka-boom!

Larissa. Social freak. Hardcore. Needy. Show-off. Addicted.

Recently, I realized that I was using Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp excessively; to the point where I was having mental fatigue. I had no more time for anything and I became obsessive with my phone, checking it every 5 minutes. I would spend hours scrolling through Facebook feeds of people I didn’t even like. It was a disease.

As days went by, I could see that my connections in social media were neither real nor meaningful. People who would like or comment on my pictures on Facebook or Instagram wouldn’t even say “Hi!” when passing by me in real life. You know that awkward moment when you see the person, they see you, and both of you turn away? Yeah…

One day, I counted how many Whatsapp groups I was in. Sixteen! These were the kind of groups where someone would say “Good morning!” at 6 a.m. and everybody would feel obligated to answer. I never answered. They were also the kind of groups where people would send pictures of angels and videos of cats doing idiot things every day. I never ever downloaded a single one.

Something was wrong. And I felt it the first time I logged onto mIRC, almost 20 years ago.

A friend prompted me to reflect on these things a few weeks ago when we were talking about friendship, connection, social media, and what was the purpose of participating in any of these networks. I thought a lot about that and a few days later, I left. I left Facebook and 12 of my 16 Whatsapp groups.

I realized that I hated all of it. Not only were these connections artificial and meaningless and annoying, but they were disturbing my life. I had to get away.

I went even a step farther and disabled all notifications for the remaining Whatsapp groups, all incoming SMSs, Instagram, YouTube, Gmail and Twitter. I made it so that my phone would only ring or vibrate when someone called me – which is almost never – or when someone talked directly to me on Whatsapp. Everything and everyone else is silenced.

And then, the most amazing things started happening: I stopped picking up my phone every 10 minutes, I was finally able to focus on the task at hand – whatever it was, I was more productive at work, and I found that I had time to do my writing and reading every day. I even had more time to play with my son.

A few days ago, all of my doubts about the artificiality and superficiality of social media were settled. April 25th was my son’s birthday and guess what happened? No one called to wish him happy birthday. Not my grandmothers, not my aunts or cousins, not his classmates – through their parents, not even anyone from his dad’s family. Not even his dad.

My mom told me that the family congratulated him on our familie’s groups (both of which I’m no longer a part of). But, Noah didn’t receive these messages. He’s 7. He’s not in any Whatsapp group. He’s not on Facebook. He doesn’t have a phone. If someone wanted to wish him happy hirthday, they had to call him on my number. And no one did.

And this is my fault. Our fault. All of us humans. We let it get to this point. It’s so much easier to write a shallow birthday message and post it on a group than to pick up the phone and actually talk to the human being on the other side. Talking with others is really, really hard. It has become a burden that most people don’t want to deal with. I was a part of this. I did the same thing for years. Now, people are more distant and I feel a little left out, alone. About 99% of the people in my life disappeared the day I left social media.

But, the important people in our lives participate, no matter what. They remember us even if we’re not posting pictures and comments every day. They remember our birthdays and call us or text us directly – either is acceptable to me. They ask us out for coffee or drinks. They send messages asking how we’re doing and what we’re up to. And even if that conversation only goes as far as “I’m fine, how are you?”, it shows that the person was thinking of us. To me, that counts.

I left social media and most people didn’t notice, but I’m OK. Every time someones asks me why I left, I’ll send them the link to this post with the caption: “This is why I left. Thank you for caring. Your number will never be silenced. You are important.”

The important people will notice, sooner or later.

Note: I realize that sometimes us writers can get emotional about a topic, especially if it’s related to something that happened recently and had a certain impact, whether negative or positive. When I wrote down the idea for this post, it was weeks before Noah’s birthday. So, as I’m writing this now, I’m more sensitive because of all that happened – which made me sad – and I know it shows up in the writing. I tried to be honest without being hurtful to anyone. After all, we are all victims of technology. 

Note 2: I don’t want to be a hypocrite.  I still have Instagram, though I don’t use it much. I have Twitter, which I use every once in a while when I have spare time. I use Pinterest on a need-only basis, which is so rare that I don’t even have it downloaded on my phone. And I have to be on Whatsapp, otherwise I would be a complete hermit. About Noah, he has an Instagram account, which is only followed by family members and a few of my friends, it’s invite only and I handle it for him. He also has a YouTube account, because his current dream is to be a famous YouTuber. Like I said before, if it’s up to me he can be whatever he wants to be.

A short story about love

“I love you,” he said.
“I love you, too,” she replied.
“Do you really?”
“Of course I do.”
“Good.”
“Why ‘good’?”
“Because if you didn’t, none of this would make sense.”
“Yeah. Our lives would probably be very different.”
“If we weren’t together, we’d definitely be far away from this God-forsaken city.”
“I would be in New York, studying writing and literature. You?”
“Germany. I always loved Germany. I could study business and IT.”
“I wouldn’t be a slave to my job.”
“I wouldn’t have to do the fucking dishes every day.”
“You think I would’ve been making money as a critic or writer already?”
“Sure! And maybe I’d have my own business by now.”
“Would we be happy?”
“I don’t know. I guess so.”
“More than we are today?”
“I don’t know. How happy are we?”
“I don’t know. Moderately happy, maybe?”
“Maybe. Are we even moderately happy?”
“Well… Happy enough to stay together?”
“Is it worth staying together just to be happy enough?”
“I don’t know. Damn love. Ruining people’s lives. People who could be extremely happy, instead of happy enough.”
“Yeah. Fuck love!”
“But, do you really love me?”
“I don’t know what to think anymore…”
“Neither do I.”
“We should probably decide.”
“I don’t think I love you.”
“I don’t love you either.”

They sat drinking their wine, staring at the skies, celebrating their one year marriage anniversary.
At their last sip, the wine bottle was empty. So were they.

“Job” is not a bad word

Sometimes I feel like “job” has become a bad word. We are afraid of saying it, as if by saying it we are going against the new common sense. As if we are parting away from the “tribe” that everybody now wants to be a part of. You know that tribe, right? The “I don’t want to have to work for them for the rest of my life” tribe. We are afraid of admitting that we do – in fact – have a job. To have a job has become a bad thing.

There is a movement going on that is based on the premisse that people should no longer have jobs. Everybody should work for themselves, be their own bosses and choose what they want to do and when they want to do it. This movement states that jobs constrain us and limit us of achieving all the glories that we were meant to achieve. Author James Altucher calls it the “Choose Yourself” era.

For some, entrepreneurship is the new job and the startup is the new workplace. Everybody wants to be an entrepreneur. Everybody now has an “idea” they are sure will make them millionaires. The fact is, most people never actually execute their ideas. A shitty idea with perfect execution may earn you ten thousand dollars. MAYBE. But the world’s best idea with NO execution will make you zero dollars. FACT.

There are also the excuses people give about why they haven’t acted on their idea: no money, no angel investor (I don’t even know what that is), no venture capital (don’t know what that is either), no time, no team, no technical knowledge. Or maybe the world hasn’t conspired to make their idea become a real product, service or company. Eventually, the idea will die, reality will check in and they will realize that maybe they shouldn’t have quit their job just yet.

So maybe entrepreneurship isn’t the answer. How about offering one-on-one services, like a freelancer or a liberal professional? Even the world’s best business consultant may find that it’s difficult to enter the market or even find new markets. Not everybody is an expert in spotting trends, finding their ideal customer or validating ideas. Ramit Sethi argues that he can teach anyone how to be rich. Through his products and services, he teaches how to become an awesome consultant or freelancer. He even helps people to find their dream jobs. I have no idea. It may work for some people, but it certainly doesn’t work for everybody. 

There are millions of possibilities for making money and satisfying career. They are all great, but all of them don’t work for all of us. Or maybe they even do, but at a different moment in a our lives. Sometimes we have to go through the “job” phase before we can move on to doing our own thing. But, we tend to want to quit our jobs the minute we feel dissatisfied, or feel that our potential is not being tapped into, or when we believe we earn too little or even when we believe that we’re better than our current rank.

Like everything else, sometimes work sucks. We feel pressured, we feel insecure, we feel unmotivated. It happens to everybody and it doesn’t mean we should quit our jobs on the spot (although I’m guilty of having done that, twice). Jobs are important.

I believe that some people are meant to have jobs for their entire lives. Some love it. Some don’t love it, but are fine with it. Some people look at their jobs as being secondary in their lives. That “thing” that they have to do 9 hours a day before they can go do the important things. They’re fine with that. Most people I know fall into that category and they’re happy, as far as I can tell.

All jobs are necessary and we need people for them. Look at the most basic of jobs. What if all the street-sweepers and garbage collectors in the world decided to quit and open their own businesses? These are fundamental jobs and they are important and the people who work at them are superheroes. What if there were no doctors, nurses or attendants at hospitals? What if there were no waiters at restaurants? What if hotels had no staff? What if there were no pilots or flight attendants on planes? If everybody was an entrepreneur of a freelancer, who would drive public buses or teach at schools and universities or help us at stores and supermarkets? Who would we call when – God help us – our internet crashed? Who would create, produce, market and sell every single product that we own – from cookies to the iPad?

Jobs are necessary. They serve a purpose. Many countries in the world are going through deep financial crises; including Brazil, with a 13% unemployment rate. So, to even have a job nowadays is a matter of pride and a reason for feeling grateful. It doesn’t matter whether you love it or not. We all have mouths that need to be feed, roofs to cover our heads and pillows to sleep on.

Job is not a bad word. Not for everyone. Not all the time. And for some of us, not forever.

Some people are meant to be employees, some are not. We have to figure out in which category we belong to. And take our time.

Until then, we should all just keep our jobs.

Note 1: We should all take a moment and think about government-related jobs. We should definitely cut all of those.

Note 2: I put the links up for angel investor and venture capital, but didn’t really go through the trouble of reading the wiki pages, so I still don’t know what they are.

Overwhelmed by human affection – or, free hugs!

I’m terrible at befriending people. In social events I’m always that one strange lady, awkwardly hiding in the corners and looking like she definitely does not belong there. That’s me.

At work, it takes me a long time to get used to people. Work is a hard environment to try to measure social connectivity; it will vary depending on the type of company or organization you work for. If it’s a competitive environment, or one with large focus on revenues and sales, it will always be harder. People will always be suspicious of your interest in building relationships. You will also be suspicious of them.

Then I arrived at the university, my current workplace, where the goal is to help others, to educate others, to advise them and lead them. Not caring about revenue or sales, just doing everything you can to make sure they achieve success and create beautiful, worthy things. Where people are more selfless and more giving. Where the conversations flow with more honesty and acceptance. Where people will hug you out of the blue. Yes! They will just come up and hug you. I’m not kidding.

I was overwhelmed.

When it comes to friendliness and intimacy, I’m more like Americans rather than Brazilians. I tend to cringe when touched by people I don’t know well. Hugging, hand holding, playing with hair, yikes! It’s not that I dislike physical bonding; it just takes me a while to get used to it. The spontaneity of others throw me back.

But, it’s been 4 months since I’ve been with this new crowd. The friendliness and touchy-feelyness has slithered slowly into my bones. I’ve started – very awkwardly – hugging people out of the blue as well and touching their arms when we talk and other things of the sort.

My comfort zone has been breached. My bubble has been burst. I’ve become…nice!

If I’m this wary about being physically intimate with people, I can’t even begin to tell you how difficult it is for me to express my feelings. I tend to think that most people don’t care about what I have to say, that my opinion is neither relevant nor important. That my advice is disposable.

I know that that’s not true. You don’t have to tell me.

People do want to hear what I have to say. They even expect me to do it. I just never know when I’m supposed to talk or when a friend needs my help or my shoulder to cry on. If people don’t reach out to me, I’ll never know they ever even needed me in the first place.

Today, I stepped out of my comfort zone, my safety bubble. I knew that I had to say something to a friend. It was a special day and I wanted to tell her something special. I had to tell her about the fragility and scarcity of time and beg her not to waste it. I needed to give her advice about what she should expect from the next 10 years of her life. I had to let her know that she will probably receive 100 “no’s” for every “yes” and that rejection is life’s way of letting you know that you’re not there yet. You have to study more, try again, keep going. I told her to read and learn every day. To write as much as possible. I told her to be patient. I told her that if she lived to be 90, then she still had 69 years ahead of her to fuck everything up and make it all better again, thousands of times. I told her to look forward to it. It will not always be great, but it will all be worth it.

I tried to tell her this a hundred times in person, but the words never came out of my mouth. I would just stare at her for a few moments during the day, trying to get the words out, until she would start to uncomfortably shift in her chair, and I would give up.

So, I wrote it all down. I made a list of 30 things that I wanted her to know. I entitled it “30 things I really need you to know”.

What a lame-ass title. I regret that title.

I put the letter in an envelope, gave it to her and told her to read it when she got home. Today is her birthday. She turned 21. How I wish I knew all the things I wrote to her when I was her age. I hope she will read it and reflect on it.

I don’t think she will ever know how much courage and willpower it took for me to write her those things.

I tried to be selfless. I thought more about being useful to her than to stay in my comfort zone, where no human interacts with other humans and we are all shy and sad and alone.

I’m always overwhelmed by human affection. I’m afraid of it. But I know that it is the way to fully connect with those who are important to me. And if it makes a difference in someone’s life, then the effort is needed.

Who knows? Maybe you’ll find me giving free hugs out on the streets some day.

How I failed to teach my team how to learn – and got fired because of it

I worked at a company for one and a half years as a team coordinator. I had 11 collaborators, from interns to senior analysts. Despite the names of our ranks, we were all new to our craft. We had come together from different backgrounds into this newly formed team to help the company thrive in a time of economic disaster throughout the country.

I had no idea what to do.

How do you teach your team when you are a novice yourself?

My first action was to assembled the team in my office and let them know that we were on the same boat. We were all apprentices. We had to learn together and we had to learn fast. We had to deliver.

Learning to create reports on Excel and memorizing formulas was pretty easy and we all learned fast. But, analyzing all the information and turning in the reports with due analyses was a bit harder. We had to learn what to tell the sales team so they could meet and ultimately over-deliver on their goals. We had to make the company grow.

And learning technicalities is also easy. We excelled in that as well. We were a good team.

But, there was more that we had to learn. We had to learn to work together, to respect each other’s differences, to help bring up to speed those who were a little behind. We had to learn our weaknesses and strengths and work on them. We all had to learn to be leaders.

Quite a task.

What to do?

I had to start somewhere, so I asked my team to do two things. First, only read and respond to e-mails twice a day and for no longer than two hours. This would keep them from wasting too much time on unimportant things and it would keep annoying, needy people away. It would also improve productivity. If something was urgent, people would call or come looking for us at our office.

Nothing was ever urgent, so now we bought some time.

Second, I asked them to take one hour a day to read, watch, listen, and learn. Whether it was magazines, newspapers, TED videos, online courses, anything! They should spend one hour each day learning something new. Then, they should share with everybody else something interesting that they found, so that the whole team could benefit from each one’s individual learning.

I didn’t want us to learn only about our technical jobs, but also about business, entrepreneurship, innovation, leadership, culture, human behaviors. I wanted all of us to become better humans and better problem solvers. I wanted us to learn to have millions of ideas every day, execute them well, and learn how to deal with all kinds of people at all kinds of situations. I wanted us to start growing immediately.

I thought this was the greatest idea I had ever had.

…and then things took a turn for the worse.

Boy, was I wrong.

It turns out that the culture instilled in employees inside an industry/sales business was that of “busyness”. We didn’t have to be busy 24/7, but we had to appear that we were. If we weren’t busy with something, we weren’t looking in the right places.

I always thought busyness was overrated and harmful. I believed that real productivity was to meet your deadlines (and over-deliver with quality) within your daily working hours, and grow professionally in the process. .

But, culture is a difficult thing to change. It took me three months to convince my team to get up from their chairs and leave at 4:48 p.m. (the end of their shift), because they were used to working extra hours every single day. When I looked at them during the day, it always seemed as if they were working on the most important project there ever was. But, I knew that this didn’t happen that often. Not everything that landed on our plates were extremely important or urgent. But, they thought that they had to work hard all the time, every day; even if there wasn’t much hard work to do. But, working hard isn’t just about making 10 Excel reports per hour. Learning is also work.

Nurturing the intellect is key to thriving in our careers.

After I set the task of learning everyday, I found out that they felt embarrassed to be seen with videos and articles on their computers. They were afraid that people would pass by them, look at their screen and infer that they were wasting company money and time with leisure-related activities.

No matter how much I told them not to worry and that I would take responsibility if ever we were confronted about this, they wouldn’t do it. They felt their careers would be damaged – even though I was their boss. Plus, they always had something important an urgent to do.

I persisted for 2 months, and then something happened.

During lunchtime, I ate at my desk so I could read. At the time, I was reading Tim Ferriss’s The Four-Hour Work Week, which was terribly translated to “Work for only four hours a week” (Trabalhe 4 horas por semana). This book is where I learned about the dangers of e-mail compulsive disorder and decided to change my approach to online letter exchange, as well as many other ideas to help improve my productivity. The “living a rich life” part of the book I’m saving for the not-so-distant future.

One day, a friend came to me and said, “Listen, I have to talk to you. Some guys from your team have been gossiping about you. They talked about that book you’re reading and said that you’re trying to dump all the work on them so you can work for only 4 hours a week. They think the whole ‘learn something every day’ thing is an excuse for you to work even less. Now, I know none of this is true and that you’re trying to create different ways to improve your team. But that’s not how you’re being perceived.”

Well, that certainly wasn’t what I expected.

If I ever felt like a failure in my lifetime, it was in that moment. The moment I realized that sometimes even our most respectable intentions can be misinterpreted. not everybody is susceptible to changes, to improvement. Some people conform to the norms and they’re very happy with it. It gives them security and peace of mind.

It wasn’t that they were afraid to learn something new and change the way they worked. They were afraid of how they would be perceived by their colleagues by doing things differently. They were afraid that their careers could be harmed if it turned out that I was wrong.

Conventionality was safe.

Innovation was risky.

I decided to change my approach to my team. I adapted to their standards and lead them in a way that they could follow and grow in their own terms. I also learned very much from them. I learned that following rules was guaranteed to keep you safe. That depending on the company you work at, keeping your opinions to yourself preserved you. That challenging status quo could get you fired.

I refused to be ordinary. And so I was fired.

(My team wasn’t, thankfully)

I wasn’t fired because I was incompetent. I was fired because I didn’t fit in at the company. We had different ideas for the future and for our employees. They needed someone who could sell; I was someone who could teach.

I started searching for another job two months before I was fired. When they finally kicked me out, I wasn’t surprised; I was delighted. We definitely weren’t a match.

I hope that my former team will continue to develop themselves and learn to grow and learn always and often. I hope they will understand the value of self-improvement and problem-solving. I hope they will benefit from it and grow because of it. If not, I hope they will be happy with the lives that they chose. We are all different, anyways. Happiness and success means different things to all of us.

Meanwhile, I’m getting in trouble at my new job with my weird, unconventional ideas.

I’ll take the risk.

I prefer to grow and stumble along the way, than to stay put and remain ordinary. (Remember, I am not a tree)

Who said change was easy?

Life is perception

I often wonder if the world sees me as I see myself.

Do people perceive me as I really am?

Am I what I think I am? I don’t even know.

For some reason, when we exhale into the world, we disguise ourselves according to the context we are breathing in. We unconsciously blend in. We say what we think we should say, not what we really want to say.

Does that change who we are?

I envy those who have the courage to stand out. They embrace their awkwardness, their creativity, their uniqueness. I tend to hide mine. Deep in the confines of my head.

Blending in puts you in a safety bubble, where you are overlooked by most and ignored by many.

In one of Maria Popova’s amazing essays, “7 things I learned in 7 years of reading, writing and living“, she teaches us something – paraphrasing Maya Angelou – that I personally took to heart: “When someone tells you who they are, believe them. When someone tries to tell you who you are, don’t believe them”.

 

Life is perception.

KurtVonnegut2-1024x485

A friend once told me that I was arrogant. I’m really not. But she perceived me as being arrogant, because of how I spoke. In thoughts, however, my speech sounded very different.

Life is perception.

“You are the only custodian of your own integrity, and the assumptions made by those that misunderstand who you are and what you stand for reveal a great deal about them and absolutely nothing about you.” (Maria Popova)

If I consider myself kind, considerate and thoughtful – which I do – does it mean that I am also being perceived as kind, considerate and thoughtful by others?

In contrast, if others think me to be arrogant, rude and stubborn, should I be worried? Is it possible that they are right?

A few weeks ago, a friend gave his opinion on a topic we were discussing. My response was perceived as arrogant, rude and stubborn by him (and maybe it was, to some extent). I spent the following week thinking about what he said and eventually decided that he was right. I called him back and told him so. An apology of sorts. Am I still arrogant, rude and stubborn?

No. I’m human.

Life is perception. And humility.

And so it goes.

 

A poem I wrote 8 years ago, when I realized that throughout life I’d often be misunderstood:

UNKNOWN

In my lifetime
I have passed by a million people
unseen untouched unspoken
I have breathed their air
and shared their glances
looked deep into their souls
passed by them in acute silence.
I now encounter myself in the future
and I find myself
completely
unknown.