Is your drive to perfection holding you back?

This moon is shit – said someone at a party last night. – It’s not even an accurate representation of the terrain.
Yeah, I see what you mean. – I said. – That’s 3D printing with a light inside, so they had to add an extra layer for the basins to make them dark, and vice versa.
I don’t care. It’s simply shit.

That moon was a birthday gift from me to Pola on her last birthday, and I loved it so much I got another one for myself. Yes, I’d prefer the high parts to be actually high and the low parts to be low, but you know what? That’s absolutely the most freaking awesome lamp I ever head. I don’t care if it’s accurate or not, all I care is I have a funkin moon in my room that brings the silliest grin on my face every time I see it.

If only I could chill about my work like I chill about my moon

I love my job and I’m good at what I’m doing. Even writing this sentence feels super weird. It’s hard for me to be proud of my own achievements, lest someone finds some mistakes in it – wouldn’t that be a proof there’s nothing to be proud of?
I’m working through a video leadership course right now, and had to write my farewell letter as I leave the company a few years from now, as well as comments of grateful colleagues. The letter was the easy part. However, pretending to be other people complimenting on my work turned out to be a much bigger challenge than I expected.
I never knew writing nice things about myself would feel so awkward and unnatural. I like myself in general. I know I’m likeable, even if a little weird. Yet my own work to me feels like my moon felt to that friend. No matter how awesome it is, one imperfect detail will ruin the whole effect.

It’s hard to find happiness if everything has to be perfect

I need to remind myself how much progress I made. Sometimes I need to remind this to myself a few times per week. I was a prodigy kid winning one competition after another, and expected no less than winning. When I went to college and couldn’t keep up, I gave it all up altogether. If you’re hardwired to win, anything less than perfect feels simply like shit.
But if your feeling like shit keeps holding you back from all the awesome stuff you would otherwise do, you’re in deep trouble. There’s only so much you can do that is perfect, and so much more that can have great impact being just good enough.
Believing my work is good enough is hard. It means pushing it out to the world even if you know it could be improved, and that someone will point that out. It’s not easy to accept any feedback, if deep down you believe you’re worthless unless you’re perfect. If only I could spend another hour, day, or month, I would show them how good I can be…

Nobody cares about how good you can be. They only care what is done.

If your work is perfect, but several years late, that’s several years with no solution to a problem that had to be solved. If that problem didn’t really have to be solved, why even bother spending so much time on it? I used to think my drive to perfection lets me help people in the best way possible. In fact, I’m helping people much less than I could be, if I wasn’t so insecure and afraid of critique.
Yes, my moon would be better if the topography was right. Yes, perhaps in another few years they’ll make an accurate one. No, that doesn’t mean an imperfect moon lamp is worse than no moon lamp at all. In fact it’s a freaking amazing moon lamp, and I’m super happy I have one.

What would YOU compliment yourself for?

I learned a lot doing that compliment exercise. It made me want to become the person who deserves those compliments. If that means lowering my impossible standards to give my team what they need most, so be it. I know I’m smart, talented, and have great ideas. No amount of mistakes, feedback, or criticism is ever going to change that.

How much trust do you have in the ground beneath you? – What navigating underwater taught me about navigating through life.

What was the scariest thing you’ve ever experienced?
I never thought what mine would be, until I ended up there.
It all started with an exercise in navigation on advanced diving course. I was supposed to set my compass to a nearby island, dive 10 meters deep and navigate towards that island underwater, until I reach the rocks and reef around it.
Doesn’t sound that hard, does it?
I started out very carefully, making sure I don’t descent too fast, and don’t drift away in the opposite direction. Then after a few minutes of staring at my compass and diving computer, I realised I am surrounded by a

PERFECT. FEATURELESS. VOID.

I was too high above the sea bottom to see it at all. I was too far away from that island to see where it was. I was too far ahead of my companions to see where they were.
All I could see was blue, perfect featureless blue in every direction. And the air bubbles going up, so at least I knew where was up.

That’s probably the closest I will ever get to free floating in outer space. I never knew floating in outer space would be so freaking scary.

I panicked so hard that I rushed towards the island as soon as I could, then bursted into tears when I finally saw some rocks underneath me. I didn’t think of slowing down even then, the divemaster and my fiancé both had to chase me for a while. For the next 30 minutes, I only dreamed of swimming back to the surface, despite the underwater magic and beauty all around me.
I couldn’t quite make sense of this experience, until I remembered how I felt right after joining Automattic.
It was a big change for me, from Korean corporate culture that was semi-military, to being in charge of when, where, how, why, and how much I would work. “Like all the walls, floor and ceiling around me suddenly disappeared, and I was in a free fall”, that’s how I described it back then.
That was a very accurate metaphor.

A free fall feels exciting, liberating, and out of this world. It’s also absolutely frightening, and not quite optimal when you want to actually get some stuff done.

As much as I loved the experience of a free fall when bungee jumping, I do appreciate having some ground under my feet in everyday life. I like to know it’s there. I’m happy I don’t have to think about it when I’m trying to get from one place to another.

If I couldn’t trust the floor in my high-rise apartment, I would panic each time I walk from my bedroom to kitchen.

It’s good to trust my accountant that I am compliant with all tax regulations and won’t go to jail.

It’s good to trust the company I work for they will pay me for my work at the end of each month.

It’s good to trust the city transport system that subway cars were tested, regularly checked and won’t suddenly burst into flames.

It’s good to trust the engineers who built my apartment block that it’s stable enough and won’t collapse even when the weather is harsh.

It’s good to trust the people I find most inspiring that if I do X I’ll have a good life.

That’s why navigating underwater was so hard. Without seeing the ground, the horizon, or a guide before me, all I could trust back then was myself.

You probably barely notice what makes up the ground under your feet. Until it starts feeling wobbly, and then you’re in the free fall again.

I have a whole system of beliefs I use to make sense of the world. Everyone does. This is the only way we can make any choices, or get anything accomplished at all.
The beliefs themselves might be completely irrational, and I might have no idea they exist, but they still affect what I do and how I think. I’m not running around paranoid worrying my house will collapse, because I trust and believe that this is not going to happen.
However, every once in a while my trust in the ground beneath gets shattered. Something I believed would not be going to happen suddenly happens, and leaves me stumped. I’m in a new situation where my old habits and ways of problem solving no longer work. People change so much I can hardly recognize them. Communities fail to give me the support and care I need. Someone I used to admire doesn’t seem that wise anymore.
This process is both scary and exciting, just like the free fall. If things so basic and obvious start to fall apart, what will happen next? Will I ever be able to trust anything or anyone again?
Navigating life with no stable ground underneath is like navigating underwater with nothing in sight. You have your compass there, of course, but it was you who set it up after all. Do you have that much trust in yourself, when you can’t even trust the institutions or authority figures you used to have so much faith in?

I thought that once I finally understand how the world works, I will avoid such disappointments. But then I realised, the stable ground is not as stable as it seems.

I used to have unconditional trust in my sense of sensemaking. I never thought there is another way. I had certain ideas about how the world works and who I am and I trusted them with all my heart.
Some of these ideas turned out to be total bullshit. Some others, I still hold, but with a grain of doubt.
This doesn’t mean I no longer trust anyone or anything. Nor that I hold every opinion as equal. In everyday life I put as much trust in my accountant, company, city transport system, or construction engineers as I used to.
However, I can see now how all beliefs are incomplete, arbitrary, and subject to refinement.
For all practical purposes, I’m the co-owner of a nice apartment and a safety cushion on my bank account. I do trust the institutions that confirm my ownership of both and there’s no point in me or anyone else acting otherwise.
Unfortunately, if there’s ever a war in my country, it’s probable that my whole block will be torn down to the ground, and all the money on my bank account will be worth less than a few bottles of vodka. This doesn’t lessen my trust in government institutions or banks. But if one day I find myself in a situation like this (hopefully not), my beliefs about the things I own will need to be refined.
For all practical purposes, it’s good to assume the sky is above your head and the Earth is beneath your feet. But if you find yourself floating underwater, you’d better find another way of making sense where you are and where you want to go.

It’s okay to cherrypick, iterate and have mixed feelings – that’s how you learn and grow.

One thing that stopped me from refining my beliefs was hoping for a complete system that will answer all of my questions. I used to think there is an ultimate answer, and people have either got it figured or not. If someone is a Wise Man, he must have all the answers right. He wouldn’t be a Wise Man otherwise, would he?

In result, whenever I admired someone’s way of thinking, but then found a flaw in it, my trust in them got broken. I was disappointed to hear that Steve Jobs rejected evidence-based medicine, he seemed like a smart guy to me before. If he was so wrong about such basic things, could anything he ever said have any worth at all?

Only with time I realised it’s perfectly possible to hold both very wise and utterly confused beliefs at the same time. Even Nobel Prize laureates can be deeply wrong on some topics that are not the main area of their expertise. Even an arrogant self-help guru can have some wise insights on life.

Again, realising this was both frightening and liberating. Frightening, because I could no longer have absolute trust in any philosophy, community or person, no matter how smart they seemed. Liberating, because I no longer had to defend obvious bullshit when I found it in my idols, and could still enjoy the good parts of a system I don’t trust as a whole.

It’s good to build my sense of how the world works on the shoulders of the finest philosophers, scientists and spiritual leaders.

It’s even better to sometimes verify if all their beliefs are equally valid and true.

And this I can only do all alone, navigating with my compass in hand.

Forget New Year’s resolutions. Let’s relax, stay present, and enjoy the ride instead.

If I were to judge 2017 by the resolutions I made in the first week, I should probably consider it a failure. Last year, I gave up on ambitious New Year plans and committed myself to just 3 basic things – cooking, blogging, and working out.
It turns out, New Year’s resolutions are another thing I should probably give up on completely. I still only work out when there’s a gym next door (luckily I live right next to one), still only cook when my brother comes over, and blog much less frequently than I planned to.
Still, even though I didn’t complete any of these simple three items, I’m amazed by how much I have achieved this past year. Day to day, it usually feels like struggling to get out of bed, and drinking crazy amounts of coffee to keep myself going. Only looking back I can see that during these few months, I:
There’s no way I could have planned most of these things. A year ago I’d never make a resolution to write for a kids’ magazine, the one that I work with hadn’t existed yet at that time. Should I have focused on my blogging goal and kindly refused to join them until this one is met? Sometimes the best choice is to reevaluate plans, give up on everything that’s not necessary, and jump into the unknown.
This year I’m not even trying to create a resolution list. My only resolution is to always stay present and aware of the choices in front of me. In practice, this means to continue meditating and keep my Internet distractions under control – these are two things that helped me most in navigating through life. Whenever I’m stuck in my head, I feel like banging this very head against a wall. Meditation and freeing myself from distractions both help me see much more clearly, and gain more control of what I do with my hours and days.
The end of a year is usually a time of summaries, reflections, and planning ahead. I always enjoyed the quiet moments when I could redesign my site, and in the process also redesign myself. This year, there’s so much going on that I can barely keep track of it all. If all goes well, I may complete an advanced diving course on shipwrecks and coral reefs, teach two workshops in India, write another great article, and book a wedding venue without even returning to Poland, all by the end of this month. If that’s just January, who knows what else can happen during the rest of the year? 😉

When you hear the Cosmos calling, what do you do?

Most probably, panic. Then panic again.
“The Cosmos is all that is, or was, or ever will be.” That’s the opening of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos series, and of a book that has the same title. A few years ago, when I felt really stuck, this book opened my eyes to a whole Universe of wonder. For the first time in years I felt the same awe and excitement as a kid discovering how the world works. I’m not sure how I lost it in the first place, but public education and peer pressure could have something to do with that.
Carl’s Cosmos showed me how incredibly beautiful, mysterious, and fragile is the place that we live in. Without dedicated attention, this awareness can easily get buried under a pile of breaking news in the Facebook feed. But I couldn’t unsee the wonder all around me, and felt a strong need to share it with the world. This blog came to life as a very rough attempt to do so. That’s why it’s called Made in Cosmos.

Can the sense of wonder survive as a kid grows up?

Meditating on this question, I had this great idea in the back of my mind. I should start an online portal for kids, about science, and coding, and philosophy, and all the great things in life. There would be interactive articles with rich animations, Q&A about literally everything, peer support groups, and super smart games and puzzles to solve. If there’s any hope for humanity, it’s in teaching kids now, for sure.
When I first had this idea, I gave up on it fast. I had a corporate job, nearly no money put aside, and no one passionate enough to work with me on this. Also, I had zero experience writing articles for kids, drawing illustrations or animating them, no formal education in teaching, and terrible management skills. It was ridiculous to think I could ever tackle such project.
Still the idea would come back to me over and over again in these rare moments of clarity. It would scare me to death every single time, make me question all of my live choices so far, and leave me broken to pieces for several days.

If an idea scares you to death, that’s great. This is how you know it’s one worth pursuing.

No wonder my cosmic project for kids felt super scary even to think about it. I had a polished vision of the end result in mind, without the faintest clue what first step would possibly bring me closer to that goal. Every time I pondered upon this question, the only thing that came to my mind was to quit my job – which I didn’t want to do, and so I ended up resigned and helpless.
When it comes to Big Scary Stuff, it’s okay not to know what a first step could be. What I learned is that a good enough first step is to do your own thing, and to keep an eye opened on opportunities laying around.

There’s always opportunities around, if you’re paying attention.

The Cosmos found me co-organising a coding workshop for women. This is where I first heard about a fundraising campaign to kickstart Cosmos for the Girls. They wanted to publish a magazine for girls that would show them a whole Universe of possibilities, while most tell them only how to look.
I didn’t know who stood behind this, but I knew these were my kind of people. I decided to reach out and see if I could help. As it turned out, they really needed someone to write about technology for them. The previous person backed off just a few days before.

Hi, this is Sylwia! I’m calling from the Cosmos…

Writing my first article wasn’t an easy process. The impostor syndrome hit me quite hard, as it always does. This blog was my only attempt at writing so far, so who am I to send my article to seasoned journalists and authors? I literally had to trick myself into this, and to do it more than once.
Luckily, writing a single article isn’t nearly as scary as starting a whole site from scratch. And I had something most journalists don’t have – years of experience in translating technical stuff into simple terms. I’d never have thought that my experience in customer support would help me write for kids. Turns out it’s pretty much the same thing, only more fun cause you get to choose what you will write about.
IMG_4461

My first article – “Can you teach a computer to draw?” Whoever drew that girl in the corner, must know me really, really well…

Fast forward a few months, I have two of my articles published, and another one under review. All 10,000 copies of the first issue were sold out, and we had to reprint it. It feels quite surreal to see my name in a nation-wide magazine, but it never was on my bucket list. All I dreamed of was to share a little piece of the Cosmos with as many kids as I could, and to help them nurture the seed of wonder in their hearts.
Carl Sagan passed away on this day 21 years ago. I’m not sure if that’s how the Girls of the Cosmos chose this day for the next editorial meeting, but I know his spirit will be with us. He’s with every curious wonderer, no matter how young or how old, who looks up to the sky and asks questions.

Why would anyone jump into a freezing cold lake? There’s at least one good reason why.

This weekend I learned a great deal about what courage is. It’s knowing that scuba diving in freezing cold water is an absolutely awful and unpleasant experience because you’ve just learned it firsthand, and then still choosing to do the same fucking awful thing again the next day because you’ve signed up for it. And choosing to do it with a smile.

Why would anyone go diving in freezing cold water? For a while I was wondering why I’m doing this to myself. Even though I’ve been putting off this scuba diving course for way too long, nothing bad would happen if I didn’t complete it this time. I could make a deal with the diving school to finish it in the summer, start it again in a warm tropical sea, or decide that diving is not my priority right now. It never was anyway, at least until now.

Yet somehow out of all the possible ways to spend a December weekend I chose to get my ass wet in a freezing cold lake. Me, who fucking hates cold water from the bottom of my heart. I don’t know how they tricked me into this. That’s not something I’d normally do, and for sure not something I’d normally pay for.

In the morning before the first dive I realised what I actually signed up for, and what an insane idea it was. Putting my diving gear together, still safe and warm indoors, I started freaking out that I will freeze there, get sick, or do something crazy stupid and unsafe.

This wasn’t a totally baseless fear. With the first wave of freezing cold water over my head my mind went blank and I instantly forgot the basic stuff I learned at the swimming pool. I couldn’t even keep myself afloat above the lake bottom. Our divemaster suggested I complete the mandatory exercises and get the hell out of there as soon as possible. I ran back freezing, crying, and already terrified I’ll have to do the same thing again.

Then in the afternoon I passed the written test and had to decide what I will do next. I could either put myself together and complete that one last round of diving exercises the next day, or put it off for who knows how long. As much as I hate cold water, I chose to do this crazy ridiculous thing one last time, and to try having fun while I do it. Even if the ‘fun’ part meant crying and laughing at my own misery.

This second time I’ve postponed getting dressed till the very last moment in order to stay warm for as long as I could, put as much clothes as possible under my wetsuit, poured warm water all over myself, and ran into the lake screaming “I’M A FUCKING NINJA TURTLE!”. (Well, wearing the diving gear I totally looked like one).

It was still as freezing and unpleasant as the day before, but I no longer cared. Neither the blistering cold water, the diving mask fogging up, my breathing gear going bananas, nor losing a fin halfway through the exam would make me lose my nerve. I stayed on top of all these the things, and surprised both our divemaster and myself asking him if we can dive around for 5 more minutes (but no more!).

I was wondering why I’m doing this to myself, but I think I know now. This experience made me feel stronger and more powerful than I was before. I still despise cold water, but once I made a resolution to go back there even though it’s so awful, I stopped letting the fear overwhelm me. I’ve let fear paralyse me way too many times, and now I finally know I can be scared but still stay in charge.

Cold water isn’t the only thing in my life I’ve been dreading, but now I feel I am able to face all these things. Maybe not everything at once, and maybe I’ll need to ask for help many more times than I’m used to, but if I survived the scuba diving crash course, there’s not much more that can stop me. I’m a fucking ninja turtle after all.

Are you HIGH on EXISTENCE? How I found my community made in Cosmos.

Excuse me, Sir, do you have a spare moment to discuss the meaning of the Universe? It may sound funny, but I’d rather talk about that, than about politics, TV shows, or sports. For the most of my life I was seriously involved in religious communities, and a big part of who I am now was largely shaped by that.
One of the things I miss most about religious communities was talking about the Big Scary Stuff that’s rarely discussed at parties. The meaning of life, your hopes, fears and regrets. What do you do to become a better person. What do you do to raise up when you fall. How you can contribute your skills to make the world a better place.
Still, as much as I loved the sense of belonging, community and Scary Stuff talk, religion has grown difficult on me. I’ve become too much of a curious skeptic, as science taught me that the only way to arrive at better conclusions is to challenge the ones you already have. It turned out that doubt and challenge is too much of a taboo for most religions to bear.
It’s not like I don’t believe things without proof, everyone does. I believe it makes sense to do even the tiniest little thing despite the whole sea of suffering around. I believe everyone is worthy of love and respect, even if they’re a total mess. I believe every experience and person have a lesson to teach me.
I don’t have a problem with believing in things. I have a problem with believing in them without question. If at some point in life I realise my beliefs no longer serve me, I want to be able to reconsider them, discuss other options, and try what actually works best. I want to be able to admit that no one actually has any freaking clue what they’re doing, and we’re all making it all up as we go along. Even authorities or gurus are not free from doubt and despair, and I’d love to see them admit when they don’t know the right answers, or to apologise when they make a mistake.
These parts – open discussion, seeing own flaws, and acceptance of doubt – is what I lacked in my religious settings. It felt like they were trying to fit a whole vast sky inside of their church. I couldn’t help but turn to the open sky instead.
Still, that wasn’t an easy choice to make. There’s many benefits of belonging to a community, and I missed them a lot while trying to make sense of the puzzle by myself. I missed the possibility to discuss my spiritual journey with other people sharing the same ideals and goals. At times I thought I’m alone with such goals and values in the whole Universe.
I thought I could find people like me in rationalist or science communities. In the books of Sagan, Feynman, or Einstein I found the purest awe and wonder of Cosmos, and fell in love with how they looked at the world. Somehow, the communities online were not full of Sagans, Feynmans, or Einsteins. “Science, bitch!”, we’ve got it all figured, and whoever doesn’t agree is brainwashed or simply an idiot. Just as if admitting that science doesn’t have all the answers, and may never have, would automatically imply that some particular religion is right.
The various flavours of New Age shamanism were not able to help me either. Many of them had genuine and valuable insights into human spirituality, but served them mixed up with the weirdest kinds of superstition and anti-science denial. Just as if the failure to explain consciousness in purely scientific terms would mean that science as a whole is wrong and confused, and the only thing that matters is subjective experience. If evidence piles up against it, there’s something wrong with the evidence. A natural consequence of such thinking is turning away from science-based medicine.

***

With time I understood that accepting doubt is extremely difficult and feels unnatural. We all want to make sense of the world, and we want to be certain that our sense is the right one. How else can we make any decision without being paralysed?
This is probably why certain spiritual experiences can feel as the only true thing in life. They are, until you realise that other people had equally truest experiences, totally incompatible with yours. The feeling of awe, own insignificance, and dissolving in the Cosmos is so overwhelming and intense that everyone dresses it up with their own cultural narrative and calls it the thing. It takes a great courage to admit that what you found true for yourself may not be for everyone else, or even for yourself a couple years later.
This is also why the articles on High Existence got me so intrigued and surprised. For the first time I saw that it’s possible to be serious about spirituality and still approach the subject with scepticism and zero bullshit. They seemed very serious about spiritual growth, but they were also serious to perceive the world as it is, rather than as someone might wish it to be.
After a few months of subscribing to everything they publish, I decided to buy their flagship course. Not just because there’s challenges in it, you can find similar ideas in the Tim Ferris Show or other books. What I really hoped was to see what kind of people would create or pay for a self-development course about enlightenment. Since I joined, I’m wondering what took me so long.
It turns out, the kind of people interested in a course about enlightenment also happen to be the people willing to discuss the meaning of life, the nature of consciousness, and whether there’s such a thing as free will. But that’s just for the start. The most important thing I found there, is a community to keep me accountable when I start a challenge, to share their feedback and advice when things get difficult, and to help me get back on track when I fail. It’s one of the most friendly crowds I’ve been a part of, and their support and shared insights have become invaluable to me.
It seems that more and more chunks of my life are slowly moving online, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing in itself. Leaving the corporate world and working for a fully distributed team felt quite weird at first, until it turned out to be the most efficient and fulfilling way to work for me. If I can have my whole company online, why shouldn’t it work for a soul community too? Virtual or not, I feel like I’ve finally found my own tribe.

 

The Ultimate Happiness Engineer Starter Pack

So you just found out that Happiness Engineering is an actual job. You always thought customer support is all about scary call centers, but then you met some folks who do this and have fun. You might have heard some stories that sounded too good to be true, and then became jealous when they turned out to be quite true indeed.
Maybe you’d never heard of Automattic before, and only had a vague idea of what WordPress is, but the more you learned about what Happiness Engineers do, the more you realised this is the job you always dreamed of.
Does that sound anything like you? That’s great, you’re most probably a my kind of person. Here is the ultimate guide that will answer the questions you have on your mind, and help you get started as a Happiness Engineer.

How do I know this is the job for me?

Not everyone can be a Happiness Engineer. Not everyone would even want to be one. If all the jobs you had so far somehow revolved around people and problem solvingthis is a good sign. Here are a few other ones:

  • You enjoy working with people. This is an absolute must. Happiness Engineers work mostly with people, even if they only “see” them online. If you’d rather hide in your cave and do stuff on your own, consider a different position out of the many we have.
  • You have high empathy levels. You care about people and do your best to help them. It’s easy for you to imagine how others perceive the world, and how it’s like not to know something.
  • You love solving puzzles, learning new things, and have exceptional googling skills,
  • Your secret superpower is explaining technical stuff in terms understandable to your mum or seven year old kid,
  • You’re willing to stretch yourself for 4 weeks and get baptised in fire during the trial. There will be more on that later.
You probably noticed there’s no mention of technical skills on that list. I skipped that part on purpose. The only technical skill you really need is the ability to google and learn new technical skills, fast. Our products evolve over time, so get used to learning by trial and error rather than by heart.
Before you apply, it’s good to have a decent understanding of HTML, CSS, domains, HTTP requests, and browser debugging tools. It’s even better to know how WordPress works, and how different people use it. Coding skills are not required by any means, but often help. However, if you know how to google and how to learn, you should be able to prepare yourself for the trial in a few months, even if you don’t know anything about WordPress or HTTP yet.

How do I learn about WordPress then?

Glad that you asked! The fastest way to learn is to start actually using it. There’s a few things you can do, and the first one is obviously to…

Start a free blog on WordPress.com

This is the product you’ll mostly work with during your trial. The free version doesn’t have all the awesome features of premium plans, but it’s more than enough for a first encounter with WordPress.
Challenge yourself to use the product, so you can learn how it works. Play around with the site design and see how it looks with different themes. Connect it to your Facebook and Twitter accounts and observe how your posts get automatically shared with the public. Set up a homepage, some widgets, and a contact form.
Commit to adding at least one or two posts per week. If you don’t know what to write about, post photos of your food, dog, or kid. Or if you’re like me, find a rainbow pencil, ask people to draw something for you, then post it on the blog. I’ll be happy to ship a rainbow pencil wherever you live, if you need one.
Still doesn’t sound like fun? If you’re too pragmatic to play around with no purpose, you should probably try something else…

Find a non-profit without a website, and help them create one

You’ll learn much more this way, as their needs might be specific and unusual. It may turn out that the free plan is not enough, and you will need to move to a self-hosted WordPress and install all the themes and plugins yourself. Perhaps you’ll even end up setting a fundraising campaign for them, or an online store of some kind.
Above all else, working for a non-profit you will learn how non-technical customers communicate what they need, which will be invaluable at your work. You’ll also have a great story to share in your application letter. Plus you will earn karma points. That’s a quadruple win.
Not sure where to find an organisation you care enough about? Start with the Worldwide NGO Directory, or find a local one. In the NGO catalog provided by the city of Warsaw, only half of the entries have a website link.

Start helping out on the forums

And start it sooner than later. There’s only so many ways to break a website you can come up with yourself. Other folks in the forums will surely have other ideas, and helping them will speed up your learning a lot.
You’ll spend the most of your trial on WordPress.com, so start on the WordPress.com support forum. Reply whenever you know the answer, and follow up if there’s extra questions. Observe what others say in threads where you don’t know what to do, watching out especially for staff answers. These people got the job, so they might have an idea what they’re doing.
This shouldn’t take more than few hours per week – you probably still have a full-time job at this point, so the worst thing you can do is to burn out before even applying. If you don’t have any coding background, and still have some free time, you can learn a bit about CSS or troubleshooting with Chrome Dev Tools.
Once you’re comfortable replying to about 80% of the forum threads you open, you are ready to apply. Provided, of course, that after a few weeks of blogging, setting up websites and helping folks out in the forums, you still think it’s super fun and would like to keep doing this thing.

Application

Before you apply, make sure to present yourself in the best way possible. So as the first step…

Spice up that resume and application letter

It’s too easy to spot a generic application sent to a hundred companies for a hundred different positions. Yours will be a very specific one that shows why you’re a good fit for a Happiness Engineer. No matter what your past job experiences were, they are always relevant, as long as they helped you learn how to solve problems, communicate with people, or act in difficult situations. Make sure to present them in this light.
There’s more than just past jobs you can write about in your application. Write why of all companies on the planet you want to work for Automattic (because you do want to work here, right?). Write what you liked most about blogging, setting up websites and helping out in the forums, and what you learned in the process. Write how and why you’d like to make the world a better place.
There’s no need to write a long application letter, a few short paragraphs are surely enough. It’s much more important what is in there, so make sure to check suggestions on the job listing page, and reference at least two of them. Double check for any typos and ask a friend to triple check. Ready? Then send that email and…

Wait…

It may take a few weeks before you hear back. It’s a little bit stressful, but perfectly normal. Use that time to expand your knowledge about WordPress and keep replying in the forums. If you make it to the trial, domain-related questions will make a big part of your work, so make sure to review the All About Domains page.
Or if you want to learn the fast way, buy a WordPress.com plan, move your site and existing domain there, and immediately lose access to the email you used to send your resume. Bonus points if that’s also the email on your WordPress.com account, which now controls all the settings of the domain you moved. You’ll learn much more in one day than you would if you just kept reading articles for a whole month. Believe me, I’ll never forget how nameservers and MX records work.
Now is also a good time to start reading the Customer Service Survival Kit. If you only have time to read one book during these few months, make it this one. You’ll thank me for this later, and will be wondering where this book has been for your whole life. If you absolutely don’t even have a spare while to read it, here are the key lessons I’ve taken from it.

Interview time!

All interviews at Automattic are in Slack, just like the most of internal communication. If you’re used to traditional face to face interviews, this may feel very weird at first.
Don’t be surprised if the questions will be different from what you’re normally used to – since you can use Google during the interview (and, khem, during your everyday work), traditional knowledge quizzes don’t make much sense here.
Also, once you’re finally hired, we’d love to hear what is your spirit animal, what you were like as a child, and what box of cereal you would be, but a first interview is probably not the best place for these.
If all goes well, you’ll be invited over to the next step of the process, which is…

The Homework

You’ll get a few problems to solve – either to write down an answer, or to set up something on a WordPress site. You can take as much time as you need to complete it.
If you’re not sure what to do at any of the steps, remember that “I will not just work on things that are assigned to me” is part of Automattic creed. Whenever in doubt, feel free to go above and beyond (and don’t forget to google!).

Second interview

For me, this one was mostly about the homework. There may be more technical questions at this point, but if you did all the assignments yourself, you should have no problems answering those.
If you successfully pass the second interview, you’ll be invited to where the real fun begins.

The Trial Process

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This exquisite goat is brought to you by Michael Kahl, to help you relax a bit before the rest of your journey

The idea is very simple – you get hired as a test, both for you to see if this is how you want to spend a large portion of your life, and for the company to see if you’re doing a good job. The details have changed a lot since I was on my trial, but you can expect working 25-30h per week for up to several weeks. You will get paid for each hour you worked.
For the first week you’ll start out in the forums (yes, the same forums you should be already familiar with), along with a bunch of other candidates. If you do a good job there, you’ll take a quick training on internal workflows and tools and move over to working on live chat and tickets. Get ready, this will be intense.
You’ll need to learn a ton of things during the trial, and you’ll need to learn all of them fast. The most important one is how to search for answers – we have a vast library of internal and public docs, which soon will become your best friends.
You’ll also get a buddy – another fellow Happiness Engineer who will help you with rest of your trial process. You can always ask anyone for help (and are strongly encouraged to do so!), but if you feel that your questions are too silly, or you messed something up, your buddy will be the best person to help you get yourself out of trouble.

Can I do the trial while working full-time?

Yes, it’s doable. Tough and exhausting, but doable. I did this, my friends did this, I don’t have official stats but it’s likely that the most of the company did their trial while still working full time, or taking care of small kids (but very few people did both!). It helps if you prioritise sleep above everything else, give up on most household chores, and have an understanding and supportive partner.
Still, despite having the best partner in the world and giving up on pretty much everything except for work, I was physically and mentally exhausted by the end of my trial. The process is so intense, and you learn so much over such a short time, that it would be tiring even as the only job you have. Doing it as a second job is certainly going to stretch you out.
Luckily, it’s easier to stretch yourself when you know where the finish line is. No one would be able to work this way in the long term, but a few weeks’ sprint won’t do that much harm.
You’ll also learn things about yourself you always deemed impossible. Like that you’re able to wake up daily at 5:30am, to do some live chat in the morning before going to work. I still have no idea how I did this. There’s no such hour as 5:30am on any of my clocks.

What is evaluated on the trial?

Everything! How many interactions you can normally do in certain time, and how accurate your answers are. The way you speak to customers, especially if they are angry, confused or upset. The way you ask for help, the way you help others, the way you give and receive feedback.
If that sounds scary, imagine how scary it must be to be hired based on what your spirit animal is… Here you are given a fair shot to do the work, and prove yourself competent.

Final Interview

This one is to see how you fit in the company culture. What makes Automattic such an awesome bunch to work with, is that everyone cares about what they’re doing, and agrees on the values written down in the Creed. If you’ve reached this stage, there’s high chance that you do fit here, so this one will likely be a friendly chat.

What if I don’t get hired the first time?

You’re more than welcome to apply again in a few months. Many of our colleagues were hired on their second try. Get some rest, learn some more, read more books on customer support, and come back refreshed whenever you feel that you’re ready.

Is it worth all the hassle?

I may be biased, but it totally is! Yes, the hiring process at Automattic is much longer and complicated than in most companies. From the moment you send your resume, till the moment you start working full time, it might take about 3 to 4 months, or even more.

Still, because of the very fact that the process is so long and complex, only people who do care about working here end up working here. Coincidentally, these people also tend to care about their colleagues, the products they create, their clients, and a whole lot of other things. And, believe me, I know how big of a difference it makes.