Sunday, October 31, 2021

Life Lately: One Year an Amazonian

November 1, 2020
“I was trying to apply to a position at Amazon today. While updating my CV with post-MBA information, the paucity of new experience gained at xxx struck me. I need to do better, and be more selective of what I do, every week going forward, starting tomorrow. I need to own my experience at xxx going forward”. - Journal entry, November 2019

I went ahead with that application to Amazon in November 2019, but I never even heard back. It was like my CV disappeared into a blackhole. I really wanted to work at Amazon, so I was disappointed, but I was not too surprised. I knew there were a few ‘boxes’ I didn’t check yet – Leadership Principles (LPs) for which I didn’t have enough experience. Starting that month, I began going after projects that would help me fill those gaps.

Eight months later, in June 2020, I was ready to apply again. So that my updated CV would not disappear into the void, I reached out to my network. Kate, my classmate from INSEAD, sent my CV to the Hiring Managers for the positions I had shortlisted and let me know who wanted to meet me. That helped me past the gatekeepers and ensured I got a response. Other classmates chimed in with tips on interview prep and descriptions of their day-to-days. When the famously intense interview process rolled around, I was ready.

You already know where this story is going. The stars aligned and an offer came through. 365 days ago, I started my current role at Amazon.

I have loved most of those 365 days. I really like the people on my team, and we work very well together. Things move quickly relative to what I’ve experienced at other large multinationals. I’ve worked on and supported a bunch of interesting, customer-obsessed projects. Of course, there is the complexity that comes with being part of a large global company, but a lot of it still feels like one big start-up. I’ve also had challenging days. Days when the volume of work felt relentless, or I felt like I wasn’t making any progress despite throwing hours of deep work at tasks and projects. And I’ve sometimes struggled with anxiety before challenging conversations. (Every conversation I was anxious about went better than I had imagined).

Some of my friends say I always put a positive spin on things. I think it’s half due to my realism and half due to trying to carry my own weather. I allow myself to whine about things for some time, but I’m quick to accept things for what they are and engage with them accordingly. In this case, it is accepting there are no perfect companies and choosing to focus on and engage more with the parts of Amazon that work for me.

Carrying my own weather is something I learnt from Folake Okunubi – mentor, role-model, and big sister all in one. There’s an explainer here on the Franklin Covey website, but I’ll summarize. When you carry your own weather, you choose how to feel and act based on what you value rather than external circumstances. This is harder than it sounds. That’s why trying is in bold and italics in the preceding paragraph. Like most people, I don’t always succeed at carrying my own weather. Instead, I think of it as an ideal, something to constantly strive for.

What are the takeaways from this story? I think there are three. The first is to drive your own career. If I hadn’t gone after the skills and experience to help me close those LP gaps, I would still be telling my friends how much I wanted to work at Amazon. The second is about your network. I believe in a giving-led approach to relationship building, where you contribute to others without expecting much in return. Adam Grant’s Give and Take summarises some of the best thinking on this topic. I’ve also written about weak ties in the past. And the third is to work at carrying your own weather.


What I’m currently reading: Damilare Kuku’s Nearly All the Men in Lagos are Mad had me in stitches on Friday night. It’s a quick, easy, and delightful read (I finished it in 2-3 hours). The book is a collection of twelve short stories about various relationship (dating, marriage, etc) experiences in Lagos. As you read the stories, you know similar stuff – probably even madder stuff – is happening in Lagos daily. That place is not normal and I miss it very badly.

What I’m currently listening to: Knowing how things turned out makes it difficult to evaluate our past actions. Say for example you could have invested $8,000 in Shib in August 2020 but you chose not to because it was a shitcoin with no clear use-case and an uncertain future. Now that an $8,000 investment in Shib last August is worth over $5 billion, do you wish you had invested? Should you wish you had invested? Hidden Brain’s The Halo Effect explores how knowing how things turned out influences how we evaluate our past actions. It was a 5/5 episode for me.


Well, that’s all this Sunday. Have a fab week!


PS: The Substack version of this post contains a few details I have left out of the Blog version :). You haven't missed anything as these are small details - but it's stuff I'd rather send via email than leave up on the Blog. My Substack emails go out at 5.00pm on Sundays.

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