S07E09: Slow time

Something I rediscover every week is that policy works in slower time. I am finding it a real struggle to wean myself off the instant serotonin hit you get from releasing things minute-by-minute. Luckily, I know this isn’t unique to me: Camille Fournier’s book The Manager’s Path prepared me for this realisation.

It doesn’t make it less frustrating, but it does make it easier to manage.

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One year on

The last 12 months have been weird. I met my best friend and she moved in with me. I started a new job and felt supported even as I struggled with things. I went mostly vegetarian. I moved house.

The year was mostly the same as it would have been otherwise, except where it wasn’t.

I think I’ve discovered a lot about myself. I’ve discovered that I don’t really like work, but I do like to be busy. I’ve discovered a growing cynicism about most structures and systems, and my own place in them. I’ve discovered that I love labouring for a mission, and that this last year has felt aimless. I know that we’re not going anywhere, really, and that all direction is pointless. And yet I still desire the direction, I still feel the urge to travel with. I am still lacking purpose.

The joy of rapid delivery work is that the purpose is right there in front of you: you do the thing and then you move on to the next thing. Private Office meant I worked 10 hour days and it was not at all good for me, but I also knew what I was doing, knew why I was doing it. I had a mission. More and more I’m reflecting on the limits of my creativity. I’m not afraid of forging a path, but I want to know what the constraints are, what the vision is. Everything at the moment is very up in the air. I think for the most part that’s our situation – lines of communication are not as good as they used to be, and we’re still adapting to how we get our meaning across at such distance. I’m sure that, before very long, everything will settle down again.

I found I did not get the role I applied for on promotion but I did meet the standard, so I might be randomly offered a role in the near future. That’s…exciting, I suppose. I think what I’m struggling with is that I don’t feel like I’m doing a great job at the moment. I can’t tell if I’m not doing a great job because we’re living in a crisis and I’ve hit a wall, or because this is not something I want to do, or because it’s just not something I’m very good at. And all of this feeds the imposter syndrome, because how can I be considered ready for a promotion and also not be doing very well in my role?

I also wrote last week about my cynicism. I’m cynical because, as far as I can see, a lot of the structure and systems are bad. But worse than that, they don’t require bad people to reproduce. Good, well-intentioned people can propagate bad systems through the terrible crime of doing nothing. How can you deconstruct something when the choice you’re offering people is “hard work” and “do nothing”? And I see this happening all the time: I see it primarily in a world not designed for me, a world where I was recently given an hour-long presentation by a clinician telling me what autism is through stock photos and metaphor. If you were wondering whether metaphor and the implied narratives of stock photos are a good learning tool for autistic people, I would say:

  • generally no

and in my specific case:

  • also no.

And I see it in the burnout of colleagues who go beyond their limits; and in the friends doing the double duty of emotional labour for their partners; and all of this is not committed by cartoonish villains with moustaches and queer-coding so we can tell who to root against. I am cynical about the world, and frankly sometimes that cynicism is the only thing between myself and deep depression.

The challenge – the rightful challenge – from my friend was why on earth I wanted to get into the senior ranks of my organisation when this is my view of it. I don’t know. I honestly don’t. I have an idea that I could, in my small space, in my small way, change things for the better. But maybe I can’t. Maybe these things are just too big to change. Maybe I have to accept that organisations don’t really exist; all that exists is people and society, and organisations change at the same pace – but not the same time – as their context.

This isn’t really a coherent or manageable scope of problem. I can’t change society and I can’t change institutions. I can’t make time run faster or make people believe what I want them to believe. All I can do is change myself, and influence a small group of people. And perhaps they’ll influence more people. Perhaps all we’re doing here is planting acorns to shelter people who haven’t even been born yet.

I’m not happy about this. I’m pissed that the oaks that should be sheltering me were cut down, or never planted in the first place.

I’m also pretty sure I’m in a bit of a depressive funk, because this isn’t my normal state of mind. I know, or at least I’m pretty sure, that there will be sunshine tomorrow. But right now I’m having an off day, and I’m publishing it because I want you – yes, you – to know that other people feel like this sometimes. I’ve been pretty much locked inside for a year, and I’ve had it better than most because – see paragraph one – I met my best friend and she basically moved in with me. If I’d been totally alone I’d have had a lot more days like this.

This year has been weird, and reflecting on how rough it’s been has resulted in this mess. It’s a bad time, and what happens next probably won’t be as easy or simple as we hope. But things are getting better, and we are making things better, and the world that will be exists as potential in us so let’s wake up tomorrow and try again.

I can’t wait to see you all again.

S07E07: Performance review

Yes, that’s right. It’s time to ask for feedback, trying to phrase a request that starts out like this:

“I’m looking for your opinion on my strengths and, perhaps more importantly, my weaknesses areas for growth”

…and is iterated to

“Hurt me. Tell me you hate me. Tell me I’m terrible at my job. Please just give me some critical feedback, anything, because this parade of nothing but lovely compliments must be what Hell is like…

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Weeknotes S07E04: Knowledge wants to be free

I’m writing a position paper for someone senior at the moment, and I’ve had a really good week with it. It feels like the best asynchronous working I’ve ever done – putting something out for folks to comment on and getting really considered, really thoughtful feedback. I’m not going to incorporate all of it – as I said last week, I do think that part of leading effectively is getting input and then making a decision, even if you know it’s not going to make everyone happy.

I got a blog published on Monday and the response has been really fantastically good – working in the open (on stuff that we can be open about) continues to be the absolute best way to improve uptake and sell the product. I have missed blogging officially, and this definitely feels good. I’ve also been working on an internal presentation for my boss and struggling to get his voice down – it’s a lot drier than mine, and a bit more serious. His style is also quite different to mine, and I’m really enjoying the challenge of trying to embody someone else. We shall see how it goes next week. All of it is reminding me that I enjoy, and am good at, writing. Also, this tweet from Kit –

– which I’ve been blushing about since Thursday but is a really nice reinforcement. I would like to ghostwrite, and if I can apply these talents to getting a book like this published, then I think that would be an almighty success. For myself (though I wonder if publicly volunteering to ghostwrite renders one more ghastly than ghostly) but also for everyone who needs it.

My mentee is going great guns. She’s brilliant, and I’m really enjoying the experience of being able to advise someone against the mistakes I’ve previously made. In this case, the question was whether to rewrite the entire codebase of a working, though badly-written, app. My answer was no: if it works, add tests so you can be sure it still works, and then start slicing it up. All models are wrong, but a good mental model of the code is easier to build if the code you’re modelling is smaller to start with. It’s why learning more about things is hard and simple caricatures are preferred (not preferable). A mental model of an elephant is easy; a mental model of a herd of elephants is easy; a mental model of 16 elephants and the interplay of the relationships, history, hierarchies and so on is a full-time job. Same with code. So we slice things up into classes, expose simple methods and attributes, and then we only deal with those things at the higher level of abstraction.

I’m still teaching math, and finding it as interesting as ever. Video calls are not my preferred method, and if this goes on much longer I’ll need to buy a whiteboard or a tablet and pen, but it’s still a really enjoyable way to spend an hour a week. I’ve got some knowledge, and knowledge wants to be free, and sharing that knowledge around seems to be the theme of this blog post and I’ve literally only just realised this as I wrote it, holy smokes.

Weeknoting is so damn good.