3 min read

Focus on feeling good first

Focus on feeling good first
Photo by Amy Lister / Unsplash

The last few months of my life have been extremely hectic. I have been planning a wedding, launching a high-visibility project, and taking on the role of tech lead for a 100+ person organization for the first time.

I typically start my day at 6:45am, and I occasionally find myself on video calls as late as 9pm, because I need to speak with executives who are on Pacific time. During the weekends, I spend a lot of time browsing Pinterest to choose flower arches and bouquets and shopping on Zazzle to order invitations and menus to fly to Mexico. I'm constantly online shopping for new dresses and shoes, and running to stores to return the ones that don't fit. I'm also training for a half-marathon in April, learning a choreographed wedding dance, and writing this blog.

I've certainly felt like I have been drowning and barely keeping my head above water. My manager is well aware, since I love to randomly interrupt his day and send him this emoji to convey how I'm feeling:

kirby_inhale Emoji for Slack
:kirby_swim: emoji / Slackmojis

At the same time, I have never loved my life more. My biggest challenge in spending over 12 hours a day on the computer has been screen fatigue, not the work itself.

I believe the reason is because I've been prioritizing my day around doing more of what feels good to me. I decline meetings I don't want to attend, I ignore wedding decisions that I don't care about, and I spend time with people I actually want to spend time with. I have the most supportive friends who will join me at dress fittings and invitation foldings, and I have people at work to share a laugh with when I'm drowning, even if Kirby can't always solve everything.

I recently came across a video by Ali Abdaal on How to Achieve More While Working Less, and a few things he said really resonated with me:

Focus on your well-being first. Use that well-being to drive your focus and motivation second.
If the treatment isn't working, question the diagnosis.

And the one that really landed with me:

Success doesn't lead to feeling good. Feeling good leads to success.

Being an achiever is one of my strengths. I used to think that if I didn't focus on achieving, then I would stop trying and lack the discipline to reach my goals. Happiness for me, was always just one more checkbox off my todo list away.

In a levels-driven environment like Google, it can be easy to tie your self-worth to a number. Five years ago, I ran as fast as I could from an L3 to L5 (Senior Engineer Engineer), but even once I got to L6 (Staff Software Engineer), I wanted an opportunity for L7. Now, as an Uber Tech Lead with an L7 role, I'm a little less interested in this race.

It isn't that I don't want to get promoted, or that I don't love money like everyone else. It is just that after years of reading and re-reading Julie Zhou's How to Think about Your Career, I understand the meaning behind this quote a little better:

Your career is defined by your skills and how you’ve used them, not by any external measure of your progress.

I don't want my career and my self-worth to be defined by a system that some HR department came up with. I want it to be defined by fun and joy and fulfillment. I want to achieve and lead and take over the corporate world, but more importantly, I want to do it while having fun and enjoying every step along the way.

This means doing things my way, treating competence as a practice, and sometimes just embracing good enough, so that I can spend my time and energy on something else.

Weirdly, this approach has seemed to make me more successful. I spend a lot less time panicking and worrying about what everyone else wants from me, and much more time focusing on what makes me happy and how I can feel good about my day.

Success doesn't lead to feeling good. Feeling good leads to success.