May showers

We’ve had a cool spring, with wet May days and a few hard frosts. I had to bring my hanging baskets in last week so they wouldn’t die. This isn’t super rare for May in New York, but it’s been making me reflective this year.

A few weeks ago I started taking this course, which is very intensive. This summer session is served entirely online, which I appreciate – and I’m impressed with the structure of each week and the assignments and homework. They (Stanford) focus on “effortful learning” and the first module was on finance – so there was some effortful learning on my part. When I saw the course schedule I was excited-apprehensive about seeing finance first thing. My current assumption is that finance is the hardest thing in the course, so doing it first makes a ton of sense. Thrillingly, it was not out of my league! Our very first assignment was crafted to be handed in blindly. I knew I hadn’t gotten everything right, and I struggled with handing in something I knew was flawed. I sweated over it, and vented to my husband about it (he’s a civil engineer, so spreadsheets are His Thing), and called a session of my study group, and ultimately handed it in as finished as I could understand it. Immediately on submission, the course opened up several more videos that walk us through correcting our work. A light went on. Being actively forced to accept growth through error is a gift. Following the rest of the finance module became “easier,” in the sense that I accepted that perfection wasn’t my goal, but understanding how to ask myself the right questions and trace my mistakes honestly and clearly in order to inform better future work was.

A tenet of emergent strategy is challenging the assumptions you hold, in order to validate your strategy, or to change it. You need to have strong convictions, loosely held. You have to be able to change your mind when the situation calls for it – and the real trick is learning to spot when the situation calls for it. I’ve never thought of myself as A Business Person, not really. I had gained validation in these sort of classical ways (getting a degree, then another degree in the arts), and so that is where I categorized myself. However, as I’m taking this course, I’m challenging my assumptions around this professional identity I have haphazardly constructed in my mind. One lovely thing about working for Automattic is that so many of my colleagues don’t do the thing they went to college for. They learned something else on the job (or eschewed college altogether), and so make their work around this other skill. It’s a joyful concept to me – you never have to be only one dimension, though some people may only know one or two dimensions of you. And that’s ok! My work requires a lot of fairly intensive decision-making and discussion. Some decisions need a lot of careful thought, and some don’t and are consequently very low stakes. Once in awhile, I’ll get asked why I made a particular (low stakes) decision, and I’ll explain my reasoning and also will point out that I was a different person then (yesterday). And the nice thing about growing is that is actually always true.

We’ve been having this wet, chilly spring, but as it happens, that’s just how to get a really lush garden. May we all be so lucky.

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