Repost: Specialist Envy

This is a slightly expanded version of a very old post of mine. I have even more reason these days to understand why feeling this way is silly. I still feel this way.

I am not a specialist. I’m a generalist and a good one.

My primary skill is learning. I break unfamiliar tasks down quickly and optimize and mechanize processes. I read material aimed beyond my knowledge because I can mostly fill in background from what’s implied as well as what’s stated, and I know how to spot what I’m missing and have to look up. I synthesize and extrapolate ridiculously well.

Drop me into unfamiliar chaos, and I start tidying, building a coherent whole from the scattered pieces, even while my hindbrain screams in panic that the task is impossible. I take complicated projects from beginning to end. I come out having learned more, and the projects come out just fine. Sometimes they come out better, because I add something no one else would have thought something like this needed.

I do some of everything, and I do it well, if not outstandingly. It’s just what I do.

But oh, I must admit to a bit of the generalist’s envy of specialists. Continue reading “Repost: Specialist Envy”

Repost: Specialist Envy

Team Black Widow

This is one of the essays I delivered to my patrons this month. If you want to support more work like this, and see it earlier, you can sign up here.

I saw Captain America: Civil War this weekend, like so many other geeks. Unlike most of those geeks, however, I had to watch Captain America: Winter Soldier and Avengers: Age of Ultron also this weekend so Civil War would make sense. That doesn’t indicate a lack of interest, just the weird way I consume media.

Given my interest, I was paying attention to the Team Cap versus Team Iron Man chatter happening before the movie was released. Everyone I saw was Team Cap, but that isn’t really surprising. Not only is this a Captain America movie, but that’s the way Tony Stark’s character works. He’s not supposed to get things right, at least at first. He’s supposed to drive the plot by getting things wrong.

So I expected I would probably end up Team Cap as well. Having seen the movie, though, I’m not. I’m not Team Iron Man either. I’m Team Black Widow.

Here be spoilers. Continue reading “Team Black Widow”

Team Black Widow

And Then You Wait

In honor of the recent news that even the relatively low rate of HPV vaccine is dramatically dropping HPV infection rates among teenaged girls, it’s time for a repost.

One day your doctor calls. You think to yourself, “Huh. Last clinic, it would have been a nurse. Whatever.” And the news is good: Blood work, even the special stuff they did because you’ve not been feeling well and you have a family history, is perfectly, beautifully normal.

Oh, except the Pap smear came back abnormal and here’s the number for a gynecological clinic and tell them “CIN 2-3″ when you call to make the appointment for a colposcopy.

So you look that up, and you see “moderate to severe” and “carcinoma in situ.” You take a little bit to let that sink in and try to remember there were other words there as well, like “regression,” and as you’re doing that, the phone rings again. This time, you find out that you need to make a change in your health insurance data so your clinic can make the referral so whatever happens next is paid for.

You do that and discover that the change won’t go into effect for just over a week. And then you wait, distracting yourself but not really forgetting. Continue reading “And Then You Wait”

And Then You Wait

On Minnesota Nice

This is one of the essays I delivered to my patrons last month. If you want to support more work like this, and see it earlier, you can sign up here.

Minnesota Nice is a thing. It’s a real social phenomenon that happens here in Minnesota and in other places with similar climates. Exactly what it is, however, is up for debate.

On the one side, you have the people who celebrate Minnesota Nice. Look at all those lovely Minnesotans! You’ll never hear a bad word said about a soul. Minnesotans are polite and ready to smile at anyone. There’s no better place in the world to need the help of a stranger, whether it’s directions or a jump start for your car in sub-zero weather.

On the other side, there are the people who insist Minnesota Nice isn’t nice at all. It’s just a euphemism for passive-aggression. Minnesotans look friendly, but they’re as cold as their winters. They already have all the friends they want, thank you very much, and they have since high school. If you don’t, well, you’re on your own. Newbies beware.

Oh, the arguments that happen over which of these is the “real” Minnesota Nice. Are we Minnesotans underrated angels or overhyped demons?

We’re neither, of course, or both, depending on how much you like your hyperbole. But the simple truth of the matter is that Minnesota Nice is all of those things, and they’re not particularly separable from each other. How could they be? They all come from the same place. Continue reading “On Minnesota Nice”

On Minnesota Nice

Signs You Might Be Constitutionally Unsuited to Running a Kickstarter

Friends of mine run Uncanny Magazine, which raised its first year of operational costs via Kickstarter. Having sold them an essay for the issue that comes out this upcoming Tuesday, I had a chance to preview the whole issue. It’s glorious. You’ll want to read it. It’s full of stories, poems, and essays with what I’ll call, with no cynicism or irony, “heart”.

For all that, the sentiment that resonated with me the most strongly came from the editors themselves. Halfway through their fully funded first year, they used their editorial to talk about funding a second. They offer subscriptions, and they’re looking into other funding methods as well. (Use them if you want to help good people fund good speculative writing and theory.) What they don’t want to do is run a second Kickstarter.

“We would prefer not to run another Kickstarter. Although Caitlin loves dressing up and everybody loves Space Unicorn swag, Kickstarters are exhausting”, they say. Having just finished a Kickstarter last week, I agree with them.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ll probably do another Kickstarter. Continue reading “Signs You Might Be Constitutionally Unsuited to Running a Kickstarter”

Signs You Might Be Constitutionally Unsuited to Running a Kickstarter

On Networking

Hey, everyone. Not dead, just incredibly busy doing things that will come to light next month and dealing with the gross(!) basic unfairness of two colds in one month. Plus holidays. Last night, I took to Facebook to post what I thought would be a random, short observation. It got big. People seem to find it helpful. So I’m sharing it here too. Hope to be back more regularly soon.

Right now, I’m working on two things that are incredibly ambitious. There is a a pretty good chance that I’ll manage to pull them both off, though neither is certain by any means. If I do, I will have succeeded in no small part because I am networked with a ridiculous number of skilled, passionate, and generous people. Chances are good that if you’ve just gotten to know me in the past few years, that network is one of the things you associate with me when you think of me. Chances are also good that you find the idea of networking intimidating, because some very large percentage of people do, and that percentage is higher in introverts, which describes a large chunk of my friend list.

Here’s what you need to know: This feels very foreign to me too. It is not “natural” to me in any way. This isn’t how I think of myself, though I’m trying to change that, because I’d like my self-image to be accurate now and again.
Continue reading “On Networking”

On Networking

Breathing

I’ve known for a long time that I don’t do well with extended aerobic exercise. I get intensely overwarm, to the point of nausea. I get lightheaded and have trouble thinking. I take a long time to recover, and frequently end up with a headache. I cough for hours afterward.

That last one, I knew was exercise-induced asthma. I didn’t know it when it started, in junior high track. I was given to believe I was malingering instead, that the problem was somehow shameful. But I figured it out some years later on my own.

I’ve mentioned it to doctors in intake interviews. None of them ever followed up. There were no questions about managing the condition, no tests to measure how impaired my breathing was, no suggestions even that I should have a rescue inhaler. They probably assumed that it was mild rather than self-diagnosed.

I didn’t have any way to gauge the severity of the problem either. I knew I couldn’t sustain activity that required me to breathe heavily, but I also knew the asthma kept me from training. I knew I coughed afterward, but I’d always done that without my breathing feeling particularly impaired.

Then I started my new job this summer. Continue reading “Breathing”

Breathing

TBT: Specialist Envy

This was originally posted in June 2008. I still feel a bit of this, even though my new job is an object lesson in what a good generalist can accomplish. I can’t be the only person who feels this way, can I?

I am not a specialist. I’m a generalist and a good one. My primary skill is learning. I break unfamiliar tasks down quickly and optimize and mechanize processes. I read material aimed beyond my knowledge because I can mostly fill in background from what’s implied as well as what’s stated, and I know how to spot what I’m missing and have to look up. I synthesize and project ridiculously well. Drop me into unfamiliar chaos, and I start tidying, building a coherent whole from the scattered pieces, even while my hindbrain screams in panic that the task is impossible. It’s just what I do.

But oh, I must admit to a bit of the generalist’s envy of specialists. I sit down with someone who knows their field inside and out and I feel like an unschooled child. Following along suddenly seems like faking it. Not having that kind of command of anything, I feel just a wee bit useless.

I could make myself feel better by changing the subject, talking about things I do know, where the specialist would be the one having to follow. I don’t lack options for other topics. But I never do it. The generalist in me can’t let these opportunities pass (knowledge, resources, ooh!), no matter how uncomfortable they are.

I try to tell myself I shouldn’t be uncomfortable. I remind myself, in between moments of paying very close attention, of everything I said above. Under the envy, I do know my strengths and that they’re not inconsiderable and that they’re not really compatible with the dedication being a specialist requires. I know I’m a very good generalist.

But oh, why can’t I be a specialist too?

TBT: Specialist Envy

Coding

I just started my second week at a new job (yes, things have been a bit quiet around here as I’ve been adapting), and the strangest thing has been happening. It’s really a very good thing that I don’t have Excel at home, because I don’t want to stop working at the end of the day. Weird, I know.

What’s going on? I’m coding again. I’m coding for the first time since that Pascal class in college that assumed I had a whole bunch of background knowledge on the structure of programming languages that I didn’t have. Let me just say that any programming course–with no prerequisites–that takes a student who was doing side projects in high school Basic and leaves them wondering what everyone is talking about is poorly designed.

Luckily, programming classes have mostly improved since then. So has my knowledge of programming language structures. I didn’t study it in between. I’ve just been in the middle of enough discussions about bad code to figure out what kind of mistakes people can make. Knowing what can go wrong is a great way of understanding how things should go right.

Still, I was a little worried. I expected more headaches as I moved from heavy Excel use, only sometimes adapting existing macros for my needs, to creating macros from scratch in VBA as a way to automate processes for my new company. Continue reading “Coding”

Coding

TBT: A Letter to the Kid

Thanks to Elyse and Skepchick for noting that Throwback Thursday doesn’t have to mean just photos. This was a very personal post, but enough people unconnected to the situation said that it meant something to them that I think it’s worth sharing again. It’s been five years. The kid is no longer a kid, and I’m incredibly proud of her and how well she’s doing.

Hey, kiddo.

Yeah, I’m calling you kiddo. I know you’re a little old for that, but that’s part of the problem, you know. Your world has been forcing you to be older than you are, without giving you the tools that adults get for dealing with all that responsibility. That’s nothing like close to fair, so I’m going to call you kiddo to remind us both of that.

You deserve the chance to be a kid, and it’s not your fault you’re not getting it. Parents are supposed to be able to take care of themselves before they produce anybody else who needs taking care of. Yours didn’t do that before you were born, and neither one of them has been able to do that during your lifetime. In fact, they’ve needed you to take care of them. You couldn’t, of course. You were (and are) “only” a kid, and all the adults in your parents’ lives haven’t been able to help them. Asking you to take care of them is only you to do the impossible.

You have every right to be angry with them, but neither of them has been able to deal with your anger. You’ve had to put it away, hide it to keep from hurting them. But doing that only hurts you, because it makes you think there’s something wrong with being angry at them. There isn’t.

Kids aren’t supposed to be responsible for their parents’ feelings. Continue reading “TBT: A Letter to the Kid”

TBT: A Letter to the Kid