Carolyn Van Slyck

Role Models Are Totes Awkward

Can't Talk, Squeaking

Last week I wrote down on Michelle Noorali’s very official peer review feedback that is recorded for all time in the Microsoft’s HR system

OMG, I get to work on the same team as my role model!

Ahem. Like an adult. Because I’m an adult.

This is one of the most amazing things about my life right now. I get to not only meet so many of my role models but I get to move beyond that awkward first introduction where I realize in real time that I really don’t know them at all beyond the very one-sided view from social media.

That’s what really sets up the awkward. I feel like I know this person. I know all about their Dominoes and ranch dressing preferences (and am 100% on-board). I have seen more pictures of their dog than my own nephews. Their rants are spicy, on point and usually fit with my own soapbox.

But now that I’ve been on the receiving end of a perfect stranger insta-hugging me in the middle of the street at a conference. Let me say this: you don’t know them and they most certainly don’t know you. 😝

Wrangling the Awkward

Don’t lose hope! That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t say ‘hi’ to me or someone else who you happen to know from the internet when you run into them. My trick to wrangling the awkward is to separate two things:

  • What I know about what they have done professionally
  • What I know about who they are as a person

In my experience things get really weird when people make assumptions about the second bucket. I am always happy to chat about the first. The second is something that should move just as slowly and naturally as it would in other situations (read: glacial to tectonic).

So if it’s not related to their profession, I suggest not chatting up about it, even if they did tweet about it the other day. That includes their health, physical appearance, relationship status, political views, and other little personal details that may have slipped out when they forgot that they were tweeting at more than just their immediate friends.

Awkward Lady Heroes

As I have worked more closely with some of my role models, I am really rethinking how I give people that label to begin with. It isn’t a judgement call about them as a person, because as we’ve figured out, I don’t know them as a person. It’s simply my way of saying, this person performs actions that I want to mimic and eventually do at a comparable level.

So working with Michelle, it’s not super awkward because I’m not squeeing internally every 90 seconds, or putting her up on a pedestal as model human being who is absolutely going to The Good Place. Instead I’m listening to her updates in standup about how she’s tackling a tricky political situation in the CNCF (which of course never happens), reading her refactoring pull requests because she explains things well that I find confusing, and inviting her to a design meeting about structuring cli commands because she just finished an epic PR battle on the same topic last week in another project.

I think this sometimes gets lost when I hear talk of role models. I don’t want to look up to my role models. I don’t know how to interact with someone that I look up to honestly. But I do know how to learn from someone that is just as awkward as me. 💁🏽‍♀️