"A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for."
John A. Shedd
Yes. I used to hate 1on1s. At the beginning of my career, they just felt like an obligation – despite what 1on1s are meant to be or not. Something I had to do every other week to prove to my manager I was actually satisfied and been making progress. After all, if we are doing it, even when I don't wish so, that was for my manager's sake – not mine.
That was just a recipe for disaster. Early sessions were just clumsy. What if I could just do good work and get noticed for that? Apparently, that haven't been working well for me. So, I realized I better try to game the process – just as when I was interviewing. All that I had to go through to convince others that I met their engineering and culture fit standards. Not that it would hold me back. After all, I had to play with the cards I was dealt with. And there are benefits in having your manager seeing you through a positive lens.
Some time after, I was being entrusted with bigger and more interesting projects, though that might be due to a multitude of reasons apart from how I carried out 1on1s. Nevertheless, I do think striving to build a better relationship with my manager has somehow influenced my fortune. Being somewhat more engaged in 1on1s a component of that overall theme. So, It seemed I've finally got it, right? In a way, yes, though 1on1s still felt like doing the groceries – a chore.
Now, however, I surprisingly don't see them that way anymore. Did I become so complacent that I simply accepted the existing state of affairs for what it is? Not even close. Furthermore, I still think 1on1s make me uneasy. Part of that was due not being very comfortable to speak about myself in an artificial situation, so it just felt discomforting to be there with someone trying to introspect me. Not because I'm timid, but rather because I'm taciturn, which is fancy lingo for speaking when necessary, in opposition to when acessory. A fact that, in hindsight, might have made my manager dread our 1on1s just as much. Provided, it is already hard enough attempting to read someone – even when that someone is of the kind that tells you their whole life story upon no request.
The other aggravating aspect was that I wasn't often prepared. As people would say in my home state, I'd venture a 1on1 with “the face and courage” alone – no preparation whatsoever. Similar to any mentorship model, 1on1s call for proactivity. Jotting down a few questions in advance being the most basic of requirements. Occasionally, what works for a while becomes a drag and, yet again, you need to spice things up.
I won't go in how I do all that, as it would be a topic for another post. But if I have to stress one thing, it is that 1on1s continue to challenge me – almost a decade after starting my tech career. The silver lining is, I have realized uncomfortable is what they should be. Uncomfortable makes you grow when you properly leverage it.