S07E12: What happens next is up to us

This week has been hard. Really, really hard. I went into the office twice. It was everything I hate about open-plan offices. I am autistic. I find overlapping conversations distracting, distressing. I do not like these things. I don’t know if they are necessary.

I am well suited to being Head Librarian, but I am starting to worry that I’m ill-suited to being senior enough to be in the room when it happens. The social model of disability is good for reminding me that it’s not my fault, but I’m not about to fight the battle of trying to stop conversations at work.

I also got turned down for another work thing, so I need to take a break from applying for things because all these rejections are really grinding me down.

I hope this post gets cheerier. Onwards!

I wrote some more good things this week, and have fallen into another brief period where I tell myself I’ll get real about writing well. I’ve picked up one of my favourite textbooks on the subject of rhetoric, You talkin’ to me?, and am once again working through it in the hope that things will lodge and remain.

I was reflecting on writing with my manager, who affirmed that I am a good writer. He noted that he writes a lot, but has not become as good as me. I said – and I maintain – that it’s because he’s not practising. Practising requires closing the feedback loop. For example : all my life I’ve been decent at chess. I played about 1200 games last year, and improved by about 100 points. Starting two weeks ago, I’ve been playing two games a day and then really looking at them. Really studying them. And now I’m already 100 points better.

To get better you’ve got to practise, and to practise you’ve got to get feedback on what you did. In a ten-minute chess match that’s easy, because the computer can take one look at what I did and point out where I blundered. The feedback loop is incredibly tight, and as long as you can maintain the mental stamina to actually receive the feedback, you can super-charge your development.

Writing is also a little bit like that – a computer can generally tell you when your apostrophe is wrong or you’ve used ‘there’ instead of ‘their’. Coding is like that too. Really, anywhere that there are rules that are well understood a computer can give you rapid feedback.

It can’t tell you what good writing is, though. For that you’ve got to ask people how your writing makes them feel, which is why I’m so pleased to be reading a poem at a wedding this weekend.


I had a whole section here that was just cursing. Now all there is is me saying that it was here, like anti-graffiti. swearing was here. I was cursing because three things happened together:

  1. I have been selected for interview for a leadership development scheme at work
  2. I read the Navigating the Labyrinth report
  3. I spent two days in the office

I’ve interviewed for this scheme before. It didn’t go well, but I got some good feedback. I’m excited to give it another try. However, I’ve been looking at Simon Wardley’s latest bit of research around future leadership and what that might look like, what Sam said about the nature of the organisation, and my current leaders are all of a very specific type. Though, according to Navigating the Labyrinth, not quite as type-y as the Treasury.

A leadership scheme is a funny idea, isn’t it? Ideally you’d take some eternally useful skills, mix them with what you think will be important, and then go from there. I reckon running a World of Warcraft guild when I was 22 is a really good marker of my potential in the future world of work. Consensus building, documentation, leading by example, murdering elves…all of that will be necessary in the coming years. But instead I find myself brushing up on rhetoric and trying to make a case that I “lead through others”. It’s a weasel phrase, isn’t it. Because it implies there are folks that need to be lead. I lead by delegating authority and providing cover. I lead by making sure my people have got the space to lead themselves. That may not be what they’re looking for but, and here’s the thing:

sometimes what people are looking for isn’t me and that’s okay

If I don’t look, sound, appear like leadership to some people that’s totally normal. Maybe the feeling is mutual.


I wrote my first ever blogpost on my little side-hustle business website. It has got 50 whole views and I’m feeling incredibly pleased with myself. I’m going to keep it bubbling along, writing bits here and there, but I don’t think I’m ready to actually do it as a thing. Maybe I never will. But it’s nice to have a place to post strategic thinking that’s not work related.

In work-related strategic thinking, though, I’ve had a really good week. I’ve identified a small but foundational capability that we could use, and I’m trialling it in a small way. I’m thinking about the bigger picture of how everything fits together and I had some really good feedback about scoping it back down. Balancing the sheer scale of what I’d like to do, and what needs to be done, with the hard limit of 37 hours a week. How can I laser-focus those hours? How do I make the most of them?

Sustained pressure is definitely the most tricky thing for me, particularly with what amounts to queuing and asynchronous work in our organisation. You can’t keep up any sort of momentum when you’re waiting for a response, so you open up a new thread of work. Before long you’re running five or six threads asynchronously, but sometimes that means everything comes back at the same time. Your attention gets split six ways and you can’t thing clearly on any of them. You crash, you burn, you get disillusioned.

I wonder also whether this means I won’t get promotions any time soon. I know, know in my bones, that trying to read four books at the same time is slower than reading four books one. I know that working at capacity in a multi-threaded environment results in epic queues. You’ve got to have slack. I am effective because I protect my slack.

I’m writing this to remind myself, when I feel like I’m being lazy or not doing enough work, that it’s for a good reason.

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