I went to a pretty competitive school. Winning was EVERYTHING. We were given the tools to stand out and pulverize our competitors. I was constantly in awe of how the school was able to transform activities that you would never deem competitive into a battlefield. So, just like everyone around me, I became a competitive person and this tainted so many of my experiences, making me compete even with myself (not in a good way), constantly trying to standout and, ironically, feeling very uncomfortable when getting recognition. It also made me feel inadequate and not that smart, because everyone around me was an overachiever and my overly-sensitive-self felt out of place and couldn’t really thrive in that type of environment.
Cut to almost 20 years later, I’m the COO and partner at an amazing digital agency called Indicius, where I was given the opportunity of co-creating my dream work culture. We have a horizontal organizational structure that encourages our employees to constantly learn more about whatever interests them the most and share that knowledge with the rest of the team. We promote constant improvement at a personal and team level because we understand that personal and professional growth go hand in hand and we want to evolve together. We support each other when going through difficulties at work or in our personal life. We have fun together, using humor to defuse obstacles or crises.
At Indicius, we prioritize collaboration between team members and with our clients, because when humans collaborate the results are so much better and the process is much more enriching. Competitiveness isn’t intrinsically evil, it happens in nature, it’s an instinct we all have. However, I don’t believe in putting it at the forefront of everything you do. It limits you from seeing others as collaborators, as teachers, as equals and forces you to see them as someone you have to step on to further your own ambitions and win.
The tech industry, as many others in our society, is led mostly by men. And, now more than ever, as our industry grows exponentially due to this new reality we’re facing, we have the opportunity of choosing to evolve and rethink how we do things, so that we can be more inclusive and sustainable. We have a responsibility to future generations to create healthy work environments, and use technology to improve the world, instead of perpetuating the problems in our current society and making them just that much harder to dismantle.
In the last couple of years, I’ve been especially drawn to generating safe spaces for my female teammates to discuss the obstacles we’re constantly facing, internally, in our industry, and in society as a whole. I’ve become captivated by the realization that my female co-workers usually make double the effort, constantly feeling the need to do more than expected to just feel equal. It’s as if we’re programmed to think that we have to please everyone around us, leaving no time for our own desires and interests. And the worst part of it is that even that’s not enough. There’s imposter syndrome and so many other afflictions that don’t allow us to recognize our efforts and achievements. I’ve instinctively gravitated towards women because I identify with the challenges they face and feel a kindredness like no other. Women have the ability to open up, be truly vulnerable and become stronger because of it.
Some of the things I try to do is reach out to my female co-workers, generate conversations where they feel safe to be themselves and share whatever issues they’re going through. I let them understand that we’re in this together, that the competition mindset we’re used to isn’t our guiding force. I support them when they’re unsure, offer my help and show them that they’re fully capable of doing whatever they put their mind to. Allowing them to be imperfect and lowering the bar, YES, lowering the bar. Why is this, you might ask? Because constantly pushing yourself to do the impossible, having an endless, unachievable list of to-dos, leads to burn out and prevents you from enjoying anything. We need to reset the bar to a reasonable standard that allows us to truly thrive, while we grow and enjoy what we’re doing. And if, at times, we need to push ourselves to meet certain goals, that’s also ok, but it can’t be the way we live our lives everyday.
Do you feel constantly pushed towards impossible standards that prevent you from acknowledging what you achieve on a daily basis? Do you see excessive and toxic competition in your work environment? Think of one way in which you could generate positive change and make your work culture more inclusive and sustainable. It’s not about quantity, it’s about being conscious, stepping out of your own shoes, and contributing to making things better, one step at a time.