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VP Comms @Zendesk & Quora Top Writer, Dushka Zapata, On Advice For Your 20s

Dushka Zapata, VP Comms @Zendesk and Top Writer on Quora (>100M views on her Quora answers), shares more detail on one of her recent answers on Quora, to the question "What are things you wish someone had told you when you were in your twenties?"


Check out the podcast below to listen to the complete discussion! 


We delve into further discussion on the following points from Dushka's answer:

1. "Networking events = waste of time. No, I will not “work a room”. "
2. "Things will bounce back at you so fast you’ll get whiplash. Your intern will be your boss soon. So soon. Act accordingly."
3. "Travel. Read. Develop a point of view. Curiosity is where it’s at."
4. "Don’t regard peers as competitors; don’t concoct rivalries. We are in this together."
5. "It’s possible to make all the right decisions and end up with an undesired outcome. Ergo, the outcome cannot possibly be the measure of your decisions."
6. "Examine the reason — the real reason — behind the decisions you make. Your ego will get you every. Single. Time."

Thank you for listening!! 

Detailed notes from the discussion:

LED  03:11

So for the benefit of the listeners, the question that someone posted on Quora is, “what are things you wish someone had told you when you were in your 20s?” Can you read your answer in its entirety, and then we can dive deeper into some of the points that you make.


Dushka  03:35

I would be happy to. So my answer is my answer to what are the things I wish someone had told me when I was in my 20s is: 

  1. Attitude is more important than experience. 

  2. Networking events are a waste of time. No, I will not work a room. 

  3. Travel, read, develop a point of view. Curiosity is where it's at. 

  4. We all live trapped in an echo chamber of our own design. Go create something of your own.

  5. Work is a roller coaster, you're a hero one day, in a disaster the next, develop your own sense of worth and toss aside both praise and criticism. Contact me the moment you figure out how. 

  6. Remember, it's possible to make all the right decisions and end up with an undesired outcome. Ergo, the outcome cannot possibly be the measure of your decisions. 

  7. Things will bounce back at you so fast, you'll get whiplash. Your intern will be your boss, soon. Act accordingly. Don't regard peers as competitors, don't concoct rivalries. We are in this together. 

  8. Examine the reason, the real reason behind every decision you make. Your ego will get you every single time. 

  9. Trust with abandon the people that you work with, assume they will do their best. Tell yourself that only you can get it right and everyone around you will suffer a crisis of confidence. 

  10. Say yes. Say no. 

  11. Taking care of yourself is not an indulgence. 

  12. Silence is indispensable. 

  13. The only person who owes you work work life balance is you. You are the only person who owes you anything. 

  14. Love wholeheartedly, long after the name of whatever company you were working with becomes a distant memory, you will look around you and confirm this. It's the people. It's the people that remain.

LED  05:59

How long does it take you by the way to write an answer like this?


Dushka  06:04

That's a very common question. I think it really depends on the answer. There are some answers that I write in 10 minutes, maybe less. And then there are some answers that take me hours. And I think that what makes them take longer is that I imagined them a certain way in my head. And it takes me a long time to write what I thought I had imagined. And then sometimes I just have something to say, and I write it and it comes out really quickly. So it really depends. I don't think this answer took very long.


LED  06:29

One of the first things that stood out for me in your answer, is your tip around networking. And you say that networking events equals waste of time, No, I will not work a room. And I think this is something which a lot of people will find absolutely amazing, because so many people are either afraid of networking, or they just think it's not a “good” thing to do so to say. So tell us more. What are you trying to say?


Dushka  07:01

Well, the first thing I'm trying to say is that I don't want to do something that doesn't play to my strengths. And that means that whenever I go to a networking event, I stand in the corner feeling awkward, and I can't possibly see how someone will see the best of me if I'm really uncomfortable. So I know that there are other things I can do that will represent me better. And I try to do those. So if someone like you calls me and says, I want to interview you about something you wrote, I think that I can speak pretty well to what I wrote because I wrote it. But if someone says can you come to a networking event and work a room, I just don't think that plays to my strengths. Although I know that there are many people who probably can do that really well. So that's the first piece. 

The second piece is at a networking event, you walk around giving people cards, and I just can't see how someone at the end of the room can remember which person matched which business card, I think that we mis-define what networking actually means. And what it means is, I want to create a web of people that I can call upon if they need something from me or if I need something from them. And I don't think meeting someone fleetingly at an event builds loyalty, I don't think that it builds an interest in me following up with that person. 

So let me tell you how I network. If I'm working, wherever it is, I currently work at Zendesk, I really like it here. I think the people around me are really, really smart. I think that we're trying to build something together. And I think that there are people that I work with directly and people that I work with less directly, but they're in my company, and they're already witnesses to what I do in my work, I think that I would get a lot further networking with the people who are sitting around me who I'm meeting at meetings, who have context for me. So I don't think networking has to be several degrees of separation, and networking only with strangers. I think that we should be networking with people who are closer to us.

So to summarize, I would say do whatever plays to your strengths, and redefine what it is that you want from what you're doing. So that it is actually useful.


LED  09:10

So your first point is, try and play to your strengths. So it's not that you're saying that networking in and of itself is bad in any way. It's just that that's not something that you are good at. And the way you build your network is by trying to get to know the people around you better. How do you network with the people around you?


Dushka  09:44

Well, say for example, that I work on the marketing team. And I work very closely with product marketing, and I worked very closely with product teams and I work very closely with engineers. So I would much rather network with engineers, people that I know that see my work than network with strangers. And that way, when I see someone in my network on my LinkedIn and I see their name, I think this person was in that meeting, I remember him or her, I remember him or her strengths or weaknesses, I have context for this person. This name means something to me, it wasn't an exchange of a business card in an anonymous room, it was someone that I've worked with, there are people here that work in the branding team in like different different places in the company that I work with, and that I know that I didn't know a few months ago before I started working here. So working here is effectively building my network. I just don't think that network building has to be with strangers.

For example, I might say, let's go get a cup of coffee, or let's go out and get a drink with them. It's so much more natural than asking someone at an event to stand with me in the middle of a room and exchange a business card. So I just want to do things that are more meaningful, if I have a limited amount of time in my day. And I have a choice of going to a networking event where I don't know anyone or you tell me I'm happy to come to the city and talk to you. I have context for you. I see your name in my inbox, and I know who you are. We have had conversations, it's just a lot more meaningful to sit down and have coffee with you than to go to a networking event with a bunch of people I don't know.

LED  13:20

One last question on this topic. So let's say that I'm an introvert. And I feel the same way at a huge networking event, I just want to stand in a corner and not be seen by anyone. But maybe this person is also not that comfortable with going out of their way to connect with their coworkers. Because, someone who is more outgoing tends to have an easier time doing that. 

So do you have any recommendations for them?


Dushka  14:08

I will say you're talking about two things, one is playing to your strengths. And the other is making yourself uncomfortable sometimes to step out of your comfort zone and accomplish things that you want. And sometimes you have to push past whatever it is that you're not comfortable with, in order to have a better life and make friends and be more social. So I would say play to your strengths. But also do things that make you uncomfortable, push yourself. So if you are working in an office and you're not really outgoing, but there's someone in the office that you think might be interesting to have coffee with or to work on a project with, take them out to coffee.


LED  14:47

All right. I think people should take that cue and do that.


Dushka  14:51

And also modulate. I'm very social, but I'm also intensely introverted. And by that I mean, social interaction depletes me. Even if I'm a very social person, it will be very unlikely for me to go to a party. But I'm very likely to go have a cup of coffee or a drink with one person, maybe two. So I do what I think plays to my strengths. And you know, sometimes I go to parties, because to my own point, I am okay with making myself uncomfortable sometimes. But I also try to do something that puts me at my best that shows you and gives you where I'm at my best, which is, I want to listen to you. And I want to actually have a real conversation and I want to get to know you. And I want our relationship to be more meaningful tha exchanging a business card that's going to probably end up in my garbage can.


LED  15:41

And I think one thing, which stands out for me, this is not something which you've said, but I think, which is something that I've learned from you just as an outsider, is that, that you are doing something that you're so good at that I think that in and of itself attracts people to you. So the only reason I know you is because of your writing on Quora, I wouldn't have known you otherwise. And I think if you invest in something which you are really good at, and you keep on doing it, it does tend to attract people who like that sort of thing. So that will lead you to getting to know more people where the probability of you liking them, and then them liking you is higher.


Dushka  16:18

Absolutely. You doing what interests you, surrounds you with people who are interested in the same thing?


LED  16:27

All right. So let's move on to another point that you made in your answer, which was, things will bounce back at you so fast, you will get whiplash, your intern will be your boss soon. So soon, act accordingly. I think this is particularly relevant in Silicon Valley, where you have, 30 year olds, 25 year olds, 20 year olds leading the company, and you are reporting to them. So this happens all the time. Tell us a little bit more about what does this mean, on a day to day basis for someone?


Dushka  16:55

What this means really is be careful how you treat people, be the best person you can be, regardless of the person's age, regardless of the person's position, regardless of the person's level, because whatever dynamics you're a part of today are going to change. And how would you treat someone? I think people should treat people well, regardless. But how would you treat someone if the person that you are now teaching were to become your boss, you know, in a few years, and I've been in Silicon Valley and in San Francisco, and you know, a lot of in general long enough to know that whatever that dynamic is now, doesn't mean that the dynamic is going to be that way forever. And I think that if when you're in your 20s, you just are more careful about what you say, and how you treat people as you move through your life. 

So it's one of the things you know, in, in honor to the question that I was answering by saying this is I wish someone had told me way back when that whatever dynamic I was a part of was going to change, because you have no idea how many people I've come across, that were reporting into me that later became my clients, or people who were reporting into me that later became someone that I was reporting into. And the fact that people have told me, you were always fair to me, you were always a joy to work with, or whatever it is that I hear. I just feel that that served me really well. So I think it's a very useful thing to know.


LED  19:55

So the next one is something that I definitely want to get your thoughts on. So this one is travel, read develope point of view, Curiosity is where it's at. The question that I have for you is that everyone talks about how you should have a point of view. First of all, what is a point of view? And then how do you develop it?  

Dushka  20:17

I think a point of view is what you think about something that is not stemming from what someone else thinks about something. So I want to know what you think. And you don't need to ask anyone else to answer my question. That is a point of view, a point of view is a standalone, I don't need to ask anyone anything, this is my opinion of it. And I think that you develop it by living and by having different experiences. I'm gonna give you a super basic example of a point of view. You and I both come from very hierarchical societies, living in India, or coming from Mexico is not the same as living in the US. Our societies are more hierarchical. So I come here, and I learn that hierarchy is a social construct, and that people need to be treated the same. And that is something I learned is not necessarily something that I was raised with. So basically, there is a distinction between the way that I was raised, and what I now believe, because of what I've lived. And so you and I can have a conversation about it, where you have a point of view that possibly evolves throughout our conversation. 

And that's why we need to be curious. And that's why we need to travel and read and talk and listen to podcasts and listen to people, because whatever it is that we think is supposed to evolve. And I'm not talking about, you know, flip flopping, I'm talking about an opinion that can change, that can have an evolution. And I think that we live in a world where we often look to others to develop our own opinion. And I think that developing your own opinion is one of the most interesting things, developing an opinion where you know, that you don't believe everything you think, and where you know that just because you think something is true, doesn't make it so. And you say I'm open. But this is what I'm thinking now. And I think that your point of view is intimately connected to who you are, and what you bring to the table when you're working or when you're with your family. A point of view defines you, it's part of your identity. So that's why I think you should develop your own rather than looking around to seek confirmation for what you believe.


LED  22:26

Have there been times in your life, when your point of view has led you to make a different decision from what you might have taken otherwise?

Dushka  23:11

One of the things that I think about a lot, is the things that we say that we believe in to make someone else comfortable versus the truth. So for example, I have heard in  many relationships, the guy that I'm with, or me telling the guy, I only have eyes for you. And I know that for a fact that that's not true, because I actually think men are really fun to look at. They're very good looking. And I have eyes for everyone. And I think that the fact that I have eyes for everyone doesn't threaten my relationship, I'm monogamous. I am not a cheater. I'm not interested in cheating but I don't think that my boyfriend is the only guy that I'm interested in looking at. So I have a very strong point of view about that, I don't want to lie to make you comfortable, I want you to know that I don't have eyes just for you. And that's just a very small sliver of an example of something that I want to not fall prey to what everyone else wants me to say. I want to stand by what I think is the truth. And I think that the truth is very few people only have eyes for the person they're with even though most people say that that's the case.


LED  24:32

So the next one that I wanted to chat with you about was don't regard peers as competitors, don't concoct rivalries. We are in this together. So tell us more. And then one of the key questions I had over here was that, what do you do when you see one of your peers doing better than you because as humans, there's a tendency to compare yourself with others.


Dushka  24:59

I think that a lot of what happens in terms of social dynamics happens only in our mind, in our brain, we think of something that isn't actually happening, there's a difference between what we believe is true and what is actually happening. And I think that before we actually have a competitor, we conceive that person as a competitor in our brain. And so my suggestion is, don't do that. If you conceive a person as an ally, and act accordingly, that person is more likely to act like an ally than a competitor. But if you regard other people as competitors, you will go through life competing with people instead of developing your own point of view and following your own path. So be careful what you concoct, because I think that a competitor is more frequently an ally, if you let them be.


LED  25:56

Can you share an example where this was more in your head, but when you changed your point of view, everything's changed dramatically.


Dushka  26:06

I just decided very early on in life, that competition wasn't the way that I wanted to live my life. I think that when I compete, it breeds envy. It breeds jealousy, it makes me compare myself to others. And I think it takes me off my path, I have a path that has nothing to do with how others are doing. If someone is doing better or worse than me, it doesn't matter to me, it doesn't change what I want to do. It doesn't change my priorities. And I think I should do what matters to me based on myself and not based on others. So I decided very long ago that I just wasn't going to play into that. And I think it's worked well for me, because I have a lot more friends. I just really don't think that way. It's not the way my brain operates.


LED  26:52

So let's say someone sees one of their peers doing “better” than them, of course, I put better in quotes, because there is no one definition for that.


Dushka  27:02

I would say I want to be around that person. Because if someone's better than me, it gives me someone to learn from, I think I should surround myself with giants so that I always have someone to learn something from, I would love it. If everyone around me was better than me. I would never stop learning, which is one of my life goals. I want to put myself in positions where I'm always learning something new. That is directly connected to my happiness.


LED  27:24

So you're basically transforming that as an opportunity to learn as opposed to be envious.


Dushka  27:31

Well, I'm suggesting that if someone is envious, or feeling like a competitor, that they transform it, but I just don't really come at it that way. I don't need to transform it, I already can see that as an ally or a friend or someone to learn from.


LED  31:38

So this is the very last one that I wanted to chat about, which was examine the reason, the real reason behind the decisions you make. Your ego will get you every single time. Yes, the ego. So how do you stop your ego from making your decisions for you?


Dushka  31:58

I don't think that you can stop the ego, I think that you can become more aware of who is making the decisions, if it's you or your ego. If you are left out of a decision, let's say that you're working in an office and you are left out of the decision that is directly related to your job. You can say how dare they, Oh, my God, I mean, I feel invisible. I feel no one is looking at me or regarding me, I feel I'm not important enough. I feel that I'm whatever that is pure ego. And it hurts so much. So again, this is about suffering less. So if you say, the meeting that didn't involve me, say they forgot to include me, it doesn't matter. How can I make this work? Am I going to be mad at the person that didn't include me and consider them a competitor and decide that maybe they want to hurt me? Or should I just figure out how to make things work, even if I wasn't in that initial meeting? So I don't necessarily not make decisions with my ego, I just become aware of when I do them, because when I do them, it will always hurt more.


LED  33:08

So it's just becoming more aware. And I guess just having that conscious thought at the back of your mind should at least help you?


Dushka  33:15

That is all it is. This is not me saying extract your ego, kill your ego. This is not something you can do, your ego is the way that you regard yourself. But it can get gigantic and it can crowd out your thoughts. And it can tamper with your judgment. So you keeping an eye on it and just say, I see you and I see that something made you feel small or something made you feel insecure, or something made you feel like you were not amazing, or something made you feel like others think that you're not perfect. I don't know how they found that out, despite my efforts, it's going to be okay, you were ignored and it hurt. And, let's just take a look at what matters, what can we do? What's best for the organization? What can we do that is going to move the team forward? How can I think less of myself on how this made me look and more about my team? And as you get your ego out of the way, you start making better decisions.


LED  34:21

I think that’s a long journey :) But you're absolutely right.


Dushka  34:25

Basically, everything I suggest is a long journey. Nothing that you can just switch on and off. But I think that as you practice, life gets less painful.


LED  34:35

Do you have any parting advice for people who are still relatively early in their career / life?


Dushka  34:49

I don't have any parting advice, but I do want to remind you that you asked me a question about comparing yourself to others and I want to remind you because it's so important.


LED  34:56

Tell us more.


Dushka  34:58

So here's the way that I see it. I think everyone is on their own path, we don't know what the other person's path is, we just know our own. I'm just going to use a social media example, because they're so common that someone on social media has a better life than you, and you get envious and compare your life to them. But the fact is, you don't know anything about this person, you don't know if they're posting something that isn't true. You don't know if one aspect of their life is amazing, and the other one isn't, you don't know anything about their journey. So the more you choose to not look at what others are doing, the more time it gives you to focus on yourself. And to do things that I suggested earlier on in this conversation, which is, remain interested in developing your own point of view, to check your ego, instead of checking the other person. Don't regard someone as a competitor, instead of concocting rivalries like you have so much work to do inside of your own brain, that every time you look at someone else you are distracting yourself from what actually matters. 

And this can make you happier and can make you suffer less. So again, we said before, this is a process and it takes the rest of your life. But every time you catch yourself, comparing yourself to others, say to yourself, This is my ego, this is not going to help me, this is not going to feel good, it hurts. But it also in the long term doesn't get me closer to where I want to be. I need to look less at the other person and more at myself. And it's an exercise. And it's some days, you're like that today was terrible. I compared myself to someone else all day. And other days, you realize that everyone has their own path and another person's path is their own. And if you look at it for too long, it will distract you from yours.


If you have any questions, you can email us at or tweet at us @led_curator 

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