The Year of the Invisibility Cloak
“I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.” —Alice and the Looking Glass.
It’s been four months since I started this blog, The Year of the Looking Glass. Since then, I've written about zombies and pastry shops and fixing toilets in the context of design and technology. Tens of thousands of little words and hypothetical situations and confessions. Though I have been a writer for years, a dear-diary type who needs to record things down on paper in order to analyze and remember, very little of my writing has been public.
This wasn’t really by intention. You see, blogging is like my own personal version of a white whale. How many times have I tried and tried and failed? From Xanga to Blogger, Wordpress to Twitter—no matter what the tool du jour, the story always has the same ending: I stretch my back and crack my knuckles. I sit down, eager to broadcast my very first scintillating post to the world. The blank white page sits in front of me, pulsing with possibility. Shall I write about mnemonics or a billboard monetization model for 18-wheelers or how one might execute a Starcraft-themed wedding? (Mineral patch cake toppers, for Aiur!)
The first sentence gets typed. Maybe another one or two are eked out. And then: silence like snow blanketing a Kansas field. Inevitably I will hate what I’ve written. It will sound inauthentic, phony, false to my ears. It will not sound like me. Or it will sound like me trying too hard. Trying to be funny or witty or erudite or Important with a capital I. Like I am issuing some decree stating ye shall come forth and read my words, for they are mighty!
Three sentences; never more.
Of course, obsessing to the degree that I did about how authentic or funny or witty or erudite I sounded in those sixty words meant only one thing: that I was afraid.
Yes, I was afraid.
To write publicly is to put yourself out there. To take a stance on something, propose an idea, have a point of view. It is to give someone else—someone you may not know and may never even meet—a piece of evidence with which to form an opinion of you. I cared deeply what others thought of me. (When I was little, I refused to ask grocery store clerks simple questions like Where are the oreos? for fear of seeming incompetent. As you can guess, this sacrifice cost me dearly in terms of snack-time utility.) I worried about what it would mean to admit weaknesses publicly, to write about touchy topics like gender and bad behavior and all the things that I'm learning. I worried what friends and coworkers would think.
In 2012, I sat down in January and scrawled a New Year’s Resolution on a sticky note: Write a blog. I did it the only way I knew how at the time: facelessly and anonymously. And that helped to get the words flowing. I wrote and published twice a week. The anonymity helped me share stories like what I learned from negotiating my first salary, tactics for interruptions, and what it felt like to harbor a Jekyll-Hyde impostor syndrome most days of the week.
It was around this time last year that my blog petered out. Guess what? When you write anonymously, it’s kind of difficult for people to find your blog. I mean, you can’t really talk about it. Which started to make it feel like a bit of a waste. All this effort to step up and put something out there, and nobody reads it? My husband, exasperated at the very idea of an anonymous blog, dispensed this sage piece of wisdom: “You know, if you want people to read your writing, you should probably just write as yourself.”
Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In talks about the desire many women have to be likable and well-regarded. She describes ninja-sneaking her way out of the office at 5:30 so she wouldn't seem like she was leaving work too early. She mentions how people warned her against making gender issues her thing due to the controversy it would stir. And there certainly has been no shortage of criticism about her book, both in the media and in certain Amazon reviews. But the book was her leaning-in moment. It’s what she would do if she weren’t afraid.
In some ways, The Year of the Looking Glass is mine.
This year, with that same sticky on my monitor—Write a blog—I am. Why not? I have plenty to say, plenty of lessons to share. I worked at Facebook when the number of technical females could be counted on one hand. I have learned—and continue to learn—from some of the best designers, engineers, and leaders in the industry. I have crossed the chasm of scaling a design team from 5 to 50. I hacked Facebook’s first typeahead search, launched the Facebook platform, and managed the design teams responsible for the recent News Feed redesign and Facebook Home. And I like to write.
Just a hunch, but I think that the Julie Zhuo blog of 2013 will continue on longer than then the anonymous blog of 2012.
Thank you all for reading. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.