On my last full day in Whistler I went shopping for souvenirs with Pam, and also took a couple pictures.
Do you hear the people sing?
Singing a song of angry men?
It is the music of a people
Who will not be slaves again!
A lot of the Grand Meetup is repetition. That isn’t a criticism. With nearly 600 people here, you inevitably end up doing a lot of talking, and depending on who you’re talking with you either catch up on the same things over and over, or you meet someone for the first time and give them the overview on you. And depending on what questions you ask, you can hear the same sorts of things over and over. I quite like it. This week, I’ve been asking everyone “How is your GM going?” and getting a lot of interesting responses back. Something I like about this question is I can ask the same person this question at different times in the week, and get different answers. It’s also been an interesting jumping off point for more questions that are utterly dependent on how people interpret the question and consider their own circumstances. What I mean is, some people are having a really fun GM, and you can ask them what sorts of fun things they’ve done. Some people are having a hard time at the GM, because they’re introverted, and this many people around them all the time is difficult. It’s a chance to extend some empathy, and maybe just stand quietly for a little bit so they don’t need to keep talking. Some people are enjoying the GM but missing their family/pets/own bed, and they want to tell you more about their amazing family/pets/mattress.
I started thinking this morning about narratives. The GM really affords you a chance to create your own narrative for your peers. We really only see the vast majority of this population once a year, so you can present yourself differently than you might with people you see everyday. You don’t have to be the person you were on the first day at the office. You have freedom of expression, and freedom to reinvent yourself as much as you’re comfortable doing. I usually wear jeans or yogas at all GMs, with various t-shirts and hoodies. But ever since my hair went curly and I’ve had to start doing my hair every single morning, I’ve started putting on actual grown-up clothes. People have noticed and commented on it (in a very kind, flattering way), and it’s fun to be able to change my image this little bit.
That got me thinking… my narrative has been pretty much the same for years now. I love to tell people about my kids, and I’ve had some really awesome conversations with other Automatticians about their kids (and one amazing discussion about the anxieties of pregnancy and how it changes you forever), so most people – I think – expect that my family is the focus of what I talk about when I talk about me. I am not eager to change that.
But as a thought experiment, I wondered what other interesting things could I talk about as well? Here’s a short list of other narratives:
- We have moved 3 times in 3 years, and will move once more this year.
- I’m a dual citizen with Britian.
- I have a visual art degree, and like to draw and paint (but don’t get to much).
- I have an English degree, and enjoy reading.
- I’ve sat on two boards of directors (is… is that the right pluralization of board of directors?)
- We enjoy travel, and have taken the kids to about 30 states, including Hawaii and roadtripping from New York state to North Dakota (and back… twice).
- We took our first house from a two bedroom/two bath 1930s house to a 3 bedroom/3 bath modern house (Bob did 90% of the work).
- I have 12 Happiness patches (see below), which are representative either of teams worked with, or particular division things.
What are some narratives about yourself that you could start sharing, but perhaps don’t because you are used to the narrative you have?
This year marks the fifth Grand Meetup I’ve been with the company for. I didn’t attend last year (my phantom fourth GM), because I was on maternity leave. A lot has changed.
This Grand Meetup is my first out of the United States, although the company came to Whistler last year, too. I switched roles at the beginning of the year, so I spent the majority of my time with WooCommerce people instead of WordPress.com people. Flash talks were no longer mandatory for everyone – just for new people who hadn’t given one before.
We tried an experiment this year, called Homeroom. Homeroom was a concept created to help Automatticians become familiar with a smaller group (no Homeroom group was larger than 30 people), and spend some time doing silly activities to bond over. I was asked to be a Homeroom lead (each Homeroom had at least two leads), and I found it to be really fun. I had been a little concerned that if Automatticians were resentful about being there (it was a required work event, as part of the GM), they would direct that irritation at me. Instead, it was a fun period for my group, and all the people in my group came with an open mind and were willing to give the idea the benefit of the doubt.
I was a part of a lot of conversations, and adjacent to a lot more conversations. The things I heard everyone talking about this year spanned a wide variety of topics, as you might expect with nearly 600 Automatticians from across the globe all in one place. Some conversations I could not, of course, understand, as people spoke their native languages. Something interesting I noticed was that I heard a lot of my male colleagues discussing their children with other men; the childcare they do, the stages their kiddos are going through, tips and things that have worked for them. I also heard a lot more conversations between women about their roles at work, and the things they were excited to be working on. In larger mixed groups, I heard both types of conversations happening at the same time. Other topics covered politics, music, Homeroom, bears, where the GM will be next year, technology, food, our day-to-day work, sabbaticals, and how many new people were at the GM.
For the first time, I spent my week working on my regular job, instead of a class or project. I really enjoyed it, and I can imagine continuing to do my regular job at the GM going forward. We made a big push to be able to provide coverage for our customers during the week we were away, and we saw good results. Our Happiness Engineers worked hard and worked together to keep on top of our queues across WooCommerce, WordPress.com, and Jetpack. It was a fun and interesting environment to be part of.
I leave on Monday morning. I’m looking forward to being home again, in a quiet, more solitary place. The intensity of the Grand Meetup is not sustainable. I enjoy the week in the deep end of Automattic, but by the end I’m ready to recharge again. It’s only a week a year, so we all try to invest ourselves with intention. I was deeply gratified to be approached by several people who were excited to meet me, and to talk to people from my former teams who told me I was the reason they were where they are today. Feeling that I have been an effective lead, and supported my teams has me walking on a cloud all week. I haven’t been able to talk to everyone I would like to (yet), and sometimes I’ve only been able to chat with someone a few minutes, but the human connections remain the most important part of the GM. Some things never change (I hope).