As I am typing this article, I am still genuinely amazed. To be quite honest, I still can’t believe I am writing technical tutorials in the internet on topics that I am incredibly passionate about here on my website and in other places.
For almost half a decade, I was on the fringe or the neighboring fences of data science work. I was drawn to data, I had a bit of a knack for numbers, and I adored the “data deadlifters” in my country and overseas. I wanted the intersection of marketing and data and words. And I think I am finally finding that sweet spot that makes good use of what I have skills wise. But it was not something that happened overnight.
I had what most people call as a portfolio career. I made a lot of unconventional choices in what I do for a living. But it worked out. The diversity of the industries I got exposed to gave me a unique lens and perspective by which I approach most business problems.
The Power of the Essential Few
Like many people, I also got caught up with the shiny object syndrome and FOMO. I would hoard resources. I would take all these video courses feverishly in some gamified fashion. I would fill my hard drive and machines with e-books that I won’t ever have time to read in this lifetime.
I had a discussion with a mentor that I admire in the data science world and he told me that “Sobrang daming mong sinalang, kaya pakiramdam mo walang naluto.” (rough translation: You cooked up so many things, so you feel like most of the things you embarked in are still raw and did not have time to mature.) That was so spot on and gave me a lot to think about.
Eventually I learned to get information/concepts just in time, to consume only when I need it and fail in favor of the execution than the theory.
Sometimes I just produce something as a minimum viable output then just repeatedly improve it. Before, I would wait for things to be PERFECT before I release it. Now, I just let it have room for improvement and work on it continuously or in iterative fashion.
Organizing the Cobwebs in My Head
One of my life-changing tools was the use of Tiago Forte’s PARA System.
Suppose I find some interesting article or tool online and I want to use it for a future project. I don’t dump it in my bookmarks that way the old me did. There’s no way I am retrieving that once it’s in a general bookmarks folder so I am just accumulating digital garbage if that info was not organized in some way.
These days, I put these things together in a personal knowledge management system or second brain in a paid Notion account. I categorize the resources accordingly and put all the information there. Since I put up this system, it was so much more easier to retrieve and share information or facilitate knowledge transfer.
This mental declutter does not just happen in intellectual pursuits or the files in my folders. I also declutter the junk at home. I also eat light and healthy whenever possible, as it’s easy to feel sluggish if I overeat something unhealthy.
Everywhere, if there are cobwebs, I try to clear them ASAP. This was the starting point to clarity. You can’t gain clarity if there are too many things in your head.
Once the cobwebs in my head has been taken off, there was a lightness and clarity that allowed me to pursue collaborations. I started small and in a way that makes the barrier so small it will seem ridiculous not to take action.
I began exploring my own data. I studied my fitness health data from my smartwatch, analyzed my spending habits on Excel (I did not even use Python, just exported the logs or entries in my Spendee app), and did a bunch of life hacks to increase my productivity (joining the No Surf movement, going on a deliberate social media diet, and turning off many messaging notifications on weekdays).
I also created a Monday board to serve as my tactical execution of my life goals. I had a Monday board for every aspect of my life and it all gets visualized together in a Life Management Dashboard. When I was not optimizing my time, I had a 20% accomplishment rate of things in my To Do list. Today, I am sitting at 42%!!! And that’s wonderful. It will be exemplary to reach 60% since that list also involves major items in my life’s bucket list.
I was measuring and managing whatever data I had on myself. So later at work I started managing other people’s data and specifically business data. It became more intuitive to do so because I was doing it and living it as well in my personal life. I also said yes to opportunities or project where growth is critical. I had a lot of obligations as a family woman. But I balanced it with a need for growth, for learning, and for genuine mentoring from people who are highly skilled in this industry.
In addition to submitting myself openly for mentoring and feedback, visualizing where I want to go and how I must do it in tiny steps on a daily basis helped me regain control of how I use my time. I still have those moments where I watch an interesting series on Prime Video or Netflix like most people, but it’s not detrimental to my overall goals and dreams for me and my family.
Day in and day out, I worked on something related to what I wanted to specialize in. And I am just amazed at how it improves me overall in ways I did not think was possible for me.
Dealing with My Demons and Apprehensions
There’ll be doubts. There’ll be fears of looking like a complete fool. But I stopped hiding behind stuff. I admit very openly if I am not capable or knowledgeable on something and I work on my knowledge gaps ferociously. I guess that vulnerability in becoming open about what you don’t know is a double-edged sword. Some people can make fun of you or insult you for admitting stuff you don’t know (but are willing to learn). I have seen a lot of harsh people in tech. But the benefits of learning and growing far outweigh the risks. I have also met gentle and loving mentors who would share the same passion for the industry and really take time to teach me.
But it’s not other people who is the true enemy. It’s me. Like when I say “I can’t learn this. It’s too hard. Maybe I am not cut out for this type of career.” That’s when I really lose. That’s when I really have to step up and get my shit together inside. No artist has become a Picasso overnight. It’s really unrealistic sometimes, the demands we place on ourselves. Gaining things steadily is way overrated in this dynamic pacing of the uber digital world.
I just learned to deal with these inner demons one situation at a time.
Cultivating the Joy of Discovery and Wonder
Anxiety can really kill the joy of the work itself. Whenever I have an anxiety attack before a presentation of something I worked on for 2-3 weeks, I just take a deep breath and seek help from my support system, I pray, and I just give it my best shot regardless of how it will be perceived. That happened recently and I managed. The audience appreciated my work. But deep inside, even if they did not like it, I told myself to be at peace. I gave it 200% and I was really passionate about what I learned and gained in the process of discovering that dataset.
I guess that’s what Simon Sinek also calls in his book as “playing the infinite game.” You’re not just for the accolades or the title. You genuinely want to dive deep and master and learn and share what you learn out of all that effort. It’s amazing really, especially when it’s done alongside other equally passionate and engaged people who are interested in the same stuff.
Giving Back, Connecting, and Putting Myself Out There
In the same way I have been taught by amazing people who are senior to me, I also pay it forward whenever possible. There are people who are just starting out, who are also in the fence and need a leg up. I have developed some skill in some aspects that I can share to others freely.
A month ago, I was invited to become one of mentors in the NASA Space Apps Challenge for 2021. I was not sure if I was good enough, to be quite honest. The funny thing was that the local organizer also requested me to record a video of my NASA space apps experience last year.
Those two things were totally out of my comfort zone but I just went for it. That “putting yourself out there” is a harder challenge. You already have to overcome so much of your self-doubt inside. Then you put yourself out there to help another person or group as a way to counteract that instinct to hide.
Last night, I was on a Clubhouse room and one of the guys was inviting me to do a data science-related discussion. The old me would have flinched and hid in the nearest corner. But I actually said yes this time, and surprisingly, I am genuinely looking forward to it.
I really realized that everything I know is useless if it’s operating in a silo. I need other people. The synergy with other people is the source of magic, of great achievements, and of wonderful collaborative memories that go beyond having “data scientist” in your job title on Linkedin.