Fine at nine

This past Friday (December 3) was my 9 year anniversary at Automattic. I’m sure I’ve talked about this in past anniversary posts, but I remember when I’d been at A8c about 2 or 3 years, and some folks were celebrating 5 years, and I was just astounded. It seemed so long! And not many people had reached that milestone, as far as I’d noticed at that point.

Currently, there are around 73 people who were hired before me still at the company. I was hired when the company was around … 135 people or so? Something like that. Now we’re creeping up on 2,000 employees. I’m not looking at work stuff this Sunday, so my numbers are inexact, and I’m comfortable with that inexactitude. It’s my day of rest; I’ll save up my precision for when precision matters.

By coincidence, I took this past Friday AFK as a mental health day. I booked the day a few weeks ago, not noticing the date (not that I feel compelled to work or not work on anniversaries and birthdays and such). I readied the kids’ stuff the night before, so I would be able to sleep in guilt free and then spend the entire rest of the (school) day lying around, watching shows, and maybe drawing. These occasional days, I have found, have been really important for me, as Grant gets older and somehow needier, and I feel stretched so very thin as a parent and as an employee. This is a good moment for me to reflect on how I am supported and encouraged to take time away from work as I need it, in order to take care of myself. I’m one of those people who has made peace with taking time off to be with my family guilt-free, but it really took the pandemic for me to take time just for me.

At 8:02am on Friday, my day off came crashing down. That is pretty dramatic, but I assure you my disappointment was overwhelming for a few moments. At 8:02, Bob called me to tell me school was cancelled. Some disturbed child in a neighboring district had texted a friend (or snapchatted, idk) a picture of multiple guns nestled in a pile of clothing or bedding, with the caption “don’t go to school tmrw.” So all the schools shut down for the day, which I am grateful for (despite my personal disappointment).

Grant was able to go to Y Care, which is an amazing program, lead by wonderful and loving folks who help the kids with remote school (as needed), and activities, crafts, and plenty of play time.

The twins needed to come home, of course, so I spent the day making sure they went to their Teams classes. One of the students asked during one lesson why school was abruptly remote that day. The teacher paused a moment and said, “because something happened in the community,” which I thought was a very reasonable response, to a bunch of 10-y-os.

Between being the twins’ bell schedule for the day, I got to eavesdrop on their lessons. Eleanor volunteered to read often in her classes, and did a really good job (I am biased, but also right about this!) – she was so animated and emphasized words and added inflection to smooth understanding. I’m not sure how she pre-read each sentence to understand how to read the passage so well, but she must have somehow. It was really pretty joyous to watch.

And twice I had to bust her for reading her book she had on the table next to her iPad because she was doing some side-reading during class.

Henry also did a great job, and his honesty shone through, as he told the teacher during an oral spelling quiz that if any of the kids had auto-captions on, they’d see how the word was spelled. He explained that he realized this because he had had auto-captions on, and realized it. So he spoke up right away. He also did a great job participating in class, and getting him assigned work done.

After classes were over, I took the twins to get Henry a haircut, then took them shopping to get their siblings presents. They also picked out a present for Bob. Then we picked up Grant, and took him shopping too. This part was particularly exhausting and stressful, as Grant nearly took down a giant store display, and was very ornery during the trip, and the twins had gotten bored and took turns whining at me. But eventually we got (nearly) everything, and headed home. I ordered pizza, because no way was I cooking.

So my day off was very much a day on, and I’m sad I lost that time to take care of myself. But I also fully agree with the decision to cancel in-person school, and the time with the twins was especially unexpectedly fulfilling, in ways I wasn’t capable of imagining. So I’m very grateful for that, indeed. And Henry really really needed a haircut; he looked like George Harrison from the Beatles doc.

So while my actual anniversary day was kind of the epitome of pandemic, and harkened back to last March when the schools just shut down one day, and we all had to figure out how to function in a non-functional situation, ultimately it’s just a day. The past year, my ninth at work, has been just as much of a learning and growth experience as I could ever want.

I find myself reflecting on the opportunities I’ve had, the ways I’ve grown and failed and learned and grown again. It’s been a year of changing expectations, new needs surfacing, and new challenges. I’ve perfected saying, “we can do that for you,” and then figuring out how, along with my fantastic team. I’ve been given the opportunity to have an impact on every new Happiness Engineer, as my team fully redesigned the trial, from 5 weeks to 3 weeks. We also created and launched an immersive onboarding program for all new Happiness Engineers (though, it’s more accurate to say we launched and then designed it). We are now looking at major process improvements and changes to how we use volunteer time from within Happiness, to not only optimize our process, but to return that time to Happiness. I’ve also taken on being the DRI for universal A8c onboarding, which is exciting and will have a positive impact on every single new A11n. Now, I can take very little credit for all this work, as the incredible folks I work with are all wicked smart and driven. When posed with a problem, there’s nothing they can’t solve. My primary work is mostly around advocating for team members, keeping things running on time, removing blockers, and getting us the resources we need.

As a lead, I’ve really internalized this year how much of my role is to support my team members, and to help them be the best in the world at their work, and to have confidence in the work they’re doing. Sometimes that means encouraging them to not work, and other times it means listening compassionately. In return, I feel I’ve got rock solid relationships with everyone on my team, and really honored in the trust they entrust with me. Because of that trust, I can give them useful feedback without it being adversarial. They know their work doesn’t define them, so identifying flaws or inconsistencies, or even just minor blips isn’t a character judgement on my part. They know I trust them and want them to be great, and this is how we get great.

I do still have some tough days when I feel like a charlatan, and I’m mystified why others don’t notice my ineptitude. I know many of my peers, including our newest Happiness Engineers, feel this way from time to time, too, some more than others. But part of my mental contract is to believe others who I respect. It would be insulting and disingenuous to say out one side of my life that I respect their professional work and opinions, and then out of the other side to say I don’t believe their evaluation of my work. So I have mostly accepted my competence, and I’m more kind to myself when I dwell too much in doubt.

Overall, I’m happy with my growth this year, and the contributions I’ve been able to make to my workplace. I’m proud of myself and where my career has gone. I’m thankful for the opportunities afforded me through working at Automattic. I’m glad that one summer, nearly a decade ago, I sent in my application. I’m relieved that I was granted an interview, and that Spittle gave me actionable advice, which I was smart enough to take. And I’m glad I stuck to it, and reapplied in the fall, which lead me through the trial (I took 4 weeks), and to a successful offer of employment. And it’s been a wild and fantastical ride ever since.

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