I’ve found emotional resilience to be an absolute requisite for all my work - Tracy Chou, Block PartyFeatured

What are the skills you feel are essential to succeed in your role?It’s partly the nature of the work I do, partly the broader context of an industry and a society and a world that is changing so rapidly, but I find it hard to even formalize or describe what my “role” is. My LinkedIn byline is one thing, and at this exact moment, it says that I’m the CEO of a new startup I’ve just founded, but in that capacity I’m also still a software engineer, and tech and product lead; simultaneously, I still have strong ties into diversity and inclusion advocacy and activism as a founder/co-founder of multiple efforts/organizations and a “public figure” (insofar as a Twitter verified checkmark deems me so, anyways) in that domain.So for me, the most essential skill to “success” is an ability to operate in these conditions where it’s not really clear what I should be doing, or even what success looks like, and to not be fazed by the ambiguity and uncertainty and constant change.Two things I try to prioritize are perspective and empathy: gathering a general understanding of and intuition around complex systems and the intersecting incentives and motivations of the people within them — everything ranging from financial to emotional, political and social. With that, it’s a little easier to formulate goals and work through the right approaches and tradeoffs in order to achieve them.More foundational than the rational and analytical side of affairs, though, I’ve found emotional resilience to be an absolute requisite for all my work. With regard to startups for example: in addition to the baseline level of anxiety that often comes with startup uncertainty, there is also the emotional turbulence, the highs and lows that can be triggered by almost anything, whether it’s team growth or dysfunction, fundraising success or setbacks, product traction or lack thereof, press, competitors, or honestly, really anything. And with diversity and inclusion activism: it’s dead exhausting to be fighting these battles day in and day out, to not to be taken seriously, to deal with abusers and harassers and ordinary-grade mansplainers, and to feel only infinitesimal progress for years of work. I truly think the most important skill I’ve developed in the last few years has been an ability to detach emotionally, to observe my emotions as they’re happening and to let myself feel them and acknowledge them, but not to be mired in them. That’s the only way to keep going, and hopefully, eventually, to find some “success”, whatever that means!Tracy Chou is an entrepreneur, software engineer, and diversity advocate. She spent five years at Pinterest as an engineer and tech lead and was an early hire engineer at Quora prior to that. She is a founding member of Project Include and is an investment scout and advisor for a couple of Bay Area VC firms. In her latest venture she is CEO of Block Party, with a mission to solve online harassment and abuse and rethink social platforms.
Hi Everyone – as a reminder – this is part of our new public posts series sharing conversations with women across tech on the topic of #careergrowth. Tracy, thank you for sharing with us! Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
Thanks so much for sharing Tracy! Your focus on adaptability really resonates with me. It reminds of that saying "it's not what happens to you, it's how you deal with it". There is so much we will encounter in our careers and in life that will not have a right answer, class, or book for us to solve at the moment we are dealing with it. I think especially as women and minorities because we are entering environments where we are faced with challenges we are developing these skills pretty early on in our lives which are so valuable for life and career.As a women in her late thirties I've learned that life is far different than I expected it to be both personally and professionally and in order to find my version of success, I've had to learn to how to navigate the journey with empathy, patience, resilience and adaptability.
What a great read. I often think about how formal education failed to equip me with the tools needed to succeed at work. I devoted so much energy to learning facts and tools for critical thinking. I spent virtually no time developing tools that increased my emotional intelligence, or empowered me to be more self aware and navigate the world more in line with my desires.I love the idea of thinking about the world in the context of the complex systems its comprised of. There is something quite stoic about that. I try to be more stoic each day -- hoping for the best but preparing for the worst. In a world that's constantly changing and seems to be changing at an even faster pace, I do think its these more fluid skills which allow us to succeed: being adaptable, being resilient, being able to detach ourselves from a conversation so our emotions don't get the better of us and then think of the next best move from there.I also appreciate the point you make on how exhausting activism can be. This is one space in my work where it's not just business but also personal. As a black and asian woman I am extremely sensitive to the issues that disproportionately impact women who share my identities.What's cool about this question is that it also gives us a chance to think of our super powers and strengths - I think all those you've listed here are powerful traits.
I agree with your points, particularly on how formal education fails to equip us with the tools we need to succeed at work. As a first generation high school and college grad from an immigrant family that speaks limited English, it was not until after 18 years in school and struggling to get the best grades that I realize I was chasing a dream with a poor plan and without the right tools or proper guidance. Now that I've graduated, I'm finding I need to build my own way, and make up for where I couldn't get with my education. I had to develop those skills on my own and that has been *incredibly* hard, especially while being so alone while at it. I like seeing this post and the responses here because it shows that I'm not alone. And, I feel that it confirms that I'm going about it the right way, and will soon achieve my own "success".
Love the point about facing each day with the attitude of a hopeful stoic. This perspective really builds resilience!
Years ago, I flew to Austin TX to attend Career Visioning, a training on hiring talents, taught by Mark Willis, the former CEO of Keller Williams and one of the leaders I respect the most. At such training, there is always someone who’d ask “so, if there is one thing that’s most crucial in making a successful hire, what would you say that is?” Mark’s reply is something that I’d never forget and it resonated and led me all these years in my decision making. He said: “ there is never just one thing. But if I really have to pick one, I’d say “willingness”. The willingness to do whatever it takes to be successful in a role. Everything else can be trained. “ In my own capacity, I’ve seen it over and over again that people are successful leads with the willingness to do whatever it takes.
Thanks for sharing Tracy. This is great advice and incredibly useful to learn at an early stage. I absolutely hear you on the activism exhaustion. It sounds like your voice is carrying across many platforms and making a positive impact already so well done!I'm moving from 5 years in political campaigning for environmental and social justice - towards marketing and digital campaigning in the tech sector. It'll be a few years of learning about the potential role of tech in campaigning before I can get back into campaigning full time again with some extra skills.But you've given me hope to stay emotionally resilient and to sit with the discomfort of uncertainty then keep learning. Thanks!
Thanks so much for sharing Tracy, powerful insight, keep going, keep sharing!Your point on emotional resilience really struck me, being a woman in any society, I feel that this is a requisite for any work, more so if you are an ethnic minority or have a disability. I agree that emotional resilience is paramount for striving & thrive, but at the same time, I’m mindful not everyone has this naturally and nor can it be plucked like fruit from a tree. It’s down to learnt mental abilities, capacity to nurture these attributes to help cope with the highs and lows that triggers emotional turbulence. It how we cope with what is dealt or what we have actively sort to gain, that can be one of the keys to long-term success. For me cope it making sure one find time for myself, to analysis how I can deal with the situation better and to restore mental balance. Mind. Body. Soul.I’m an advocate for mental health (& have an upcoming event in the UK, see my profile for more info) - I believe inclusion encompasses more than just gender acceptance in tech, it’s including those less able due to slight or severe cognitive learning, or behavioural challenges, but are willing to try. Those who have emotional struggles, but are on the path wholesome recovery or coping mangament.I also believe it is people understanding what success looks like for them and own it. We are all unique, so success will be a difference for us all. Find what that looks like for you and work towards it, keep persevering by any positive means necessary.
This is so profound, thank you so much for sharing this Tracy!! I love your perspective here, it is so wise and I'm so grateful that you are shining a light on the importance of what people call 'the soft skills', but are truly the 'hard skills': being adaptable, fighting for change, managing tough situations that are never-ceasing, cultivating self-awareness, etc...I recently wrote a guide for cultivating resilience based upon my training in the field of positive psychology - if anyone out there is looking to bring this into their lives, I'd be happy to share it, along with other resources that might support you. I truly think resilience is the most important skill for a good life, and the fact that it is a 'skill' rather than an inborn capability is super inspiring to me.
Hey Stephanie, so great to see another person merging tech background with positive psychology :) what training in positive psychology did you do? :) I finished MAPP (masters of applied positive psychology) some years back and merged it with my previous experience in training & adult education, as well as my background of 10 years in engineering at Cisco to build my own company that provides positive psychology & interpersonal skills training. Sometimes people get a bit confused about my "triple background", but I love leveraging how complementary skills of engineering, education and positive psychology are - and how well they can support each other in creating positive change.
Awesome post :)) one of the best books on Resilience I can recommend (it is one of the things I deliver training on, within my focus of positive psychology) is Resilience for success by Cary Cooper - and also his free iresilience online assesment is a great way to explore and work on strengthening own mental/emotional resilience!