The strange tale of 2020
This year has really done me in. Done us all in. At the start of the year I listed out everthing that I was planning to do, and it was a long and fairly epic list. Work in Paris, giving talks and workshops in Japan, Denmark, Berlin and Scotland, and meeting some of my UCD hero’s along the way. Growing the UCD community I started called UX Coffee. Holidays and time off spent with loved ones. Although I got to do the first bit, the rest fell by the wayside as Covid took hold and the world shut down. It was heartbreaking seeing so many loved ones and friends go through such hard times.
I started drafting a post called “My fallow year”, lamenting the loss of some amazing experiences, but trying to look for the silver lining that they would return, and me and my family were safe and healthy. Compared to a lot of people who were losing their jobs or had been furloughed, or made ill by the virus I was relatively lucky and it would have been wrong for me to complain about anything. I didn’t publish it in the end because it was just noise, and rather self indulgent— everyone was having a fallow year, not just me.
This whole year has been a big exercise in putting things into perspective.
The online prison
Personally I have struggled with everything being online, I’m a strange mix of an “introverted-extrovert”, and can flip between either end of that scale depending on the day- and I’ve found that my extrovert side has missed being with people, and especially being immersed in a conference with other people, or running a workshop, or meeting with the UX Coffee group to mingle and learn. I miss the “side-by-side” aspect of all of this which can’t quite be replicated online. When they’re hosted online it’s too easy to be “loosely” involved, to wander off to make a drink, to mute the audio so you can quickly reply to a handful of emails then find you’ve completely lost the thread of the session.
On the positive side I’ve found the mentoring stream of work I do has steadily increased and has been one of those “two way street” experiences. As well as helping others (I hope), this has also given me more practice and confidence in the leadership skills I have. Also, there is nothing like mentoring for you to question your values and beliefs, as a lot of the questions from mentees are a variation of “what would you do in my situation?” which can only really be answered from experience and drawing on what your principles and values are. This has been an interesting prompt for me to examine mine with a fine toothed comb. If you want to grow not just others but yourself too, try mentoring — I highly recommend it.
Practice self-awareness, self-evaluation, and self-improvement. If we are aware that our manners — language, behavior, and actions — are measured against our values and principles, we are able to more easily embody the philosophy, leadership is a matter of how to be, not how to do.
Saying all that, the introverted side of me has enjoyed this year from a work perspective. I’ve loved having time to work uninterrupted, to control when periods of focussed work can happen and when things like Slack are switched back on in-between. I’ve regained that sense of flow that I don’t think I’ve felt for years, which for me has being like a re-awakening of certain long forgotten parts of my brain. I feel like I’ve been in hibernation, and yet fully woken up. It’s hard to describe.
It seems odd to have a year-end review highlights during one of the worst years we have seen globally for over a century.
I like to think I’m an optimist, and try to find the good in any situation — and this year has been good in many smaller, less overt ways:
- I’ve met and mentored some amazing people, with great potential. In turn they have helped me improve my skills too
- Saved a lot of money and time by not commuting (or going anywhere really!)
- I have spent such a lot of time in the garden, it’s been a real salve. The feeling of flow and peace it brings is something that was greatly needed
- As a family, homeschooling was tough, but it’s time I wouldn’t normally have with my husband and our 7 year old son, and it’s brought us much closer together
- Finding peace in going slow, appreciating what I do have
- Finding a new job and challenge
- Feeling more purposeful in life, in general
- It gave us a kick up the arse to get our house projects started — as has the whole nation (waiting months for building projects to start is not fun)
- I have read an absolute boat-load of books — and enjoyed/learned from most of them — below are my latest gifted books for Christmas that I can’t wait to get started on 😊
Mid-way through the pandemic, I spent some time sitting down and thinking about something called “my personal doctrine”, a leadership approach I picked up from a talk Dan Blundell gave.
Your personal doctrine helps guide the decisions you make as a leader, and can be described as follows:
- What do you hold to be true, as me? What won’t you compromise on?
- Self awareness, values, beliefs, all make up your personal doctrine
- Your values play more of a role as a leader than they did as a practitioner (where maybe skills and techniques are more important)
- Awareness of our own personal doctrine determines our ability to be conscious of behaviours and biases
- What we hold to be true gives context to our ability to empathise
During re-assessing my values I realised that I wasn't working on the type of projects I felt fitted those values and principles anymore, and it felt like the next natural step to leave my job for a new role I’d found in government, where I hope to create a positive social impact through the work I’ll be doing with the design team at HM Land Registry.
If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.
I’d been in my previous role for over 3.5 years and I was sad to leave. It had been an exciting rollercoaster ride and I’ve met some amazing people along the way, not to mention worked on some interesting and varied projects. Leaving a job mid-pandemic and remotely is tough — there isn’t the closure of going for a leaving drink, or bringing in some cakes to leave for the team on your departure, but I’m assured we’ll be meeting back up in 2021 for a proper catch up 😊
I joined the Land Registry team only a couple of weeks before the Christmas break, and it’s given me a nice period of intensive immersion before going on holiday to reflect on what I’ve experienced and learned so far. My new role will be heading up the design team, an exciting — and daunting — challenge for me. On top of being a mostly-remote leader, a well-oiled team that is highly thought of, and it also being my first civil service role, I really have my work cut out for me. I’ll be joining for my community building skills, my practitioner background in user centred design, and the fact that I love evangelising UCD (and the importance of design in general) to anyone and anything that will listen to me. I can’t wait to get started on that side, and there are a lot of possibilities for positive collaboration between the different practices in the organisation.
Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.
One thing I am bowled over by is how supportive and welcoming the team (and wider team) have been in my first few weeks. I have followed many different civil service design and UCD teams for years and always admired how inclusive, progressive and supportive the team environments seemed. To experience it first hand is something else 🥰
So something I have been keeping at the forefront of my mind is to stay vulnerable, and be kind to myself throughout the joining process. Being comfortable with saying “I don’t know (yet!)” or “I’m not sure” is so hard, but essential, especially as starting a new job can feel like you have no control or sight on the future yet.
Vulnerability is not about winning or losing. It’s having the courage to show up even when you can’t control the outcome.
Looking forward to 2021
It’s seems like we’re all going to be in a “holding pattern” for some time (This is probably the wrong metaphor, as most planes are grounded right now…) But there are glimmers of hope on the horizon. Vaccines, mainly, and with it an end to the pandemic hopefully in the near future. At the moment I’m split down the middle on willing the world to open back up again, and simultaneously enjoying life being slower. To be able to find flow more, to find it ok to not be involved in everything all at once, to allow myself to be tired, or frustrated and just accept the situation as it is.
Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them — that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.
I spent a lot of time in the garden this year, as I “levelled up” my green fingers and bought a greenhouse. It made me realise how we all need these “slow” escapes right now, to rest, reflect and recuperate from the craziness of 2020 — something our minds and bodies are struggling to reconcile the reality of.
On a positive note, I’m excited to see where my new role leads me, and to get to know my team more. I’m curious about the new sphere I’ll be working in, and given that it’s been reported in the news that the housing market is seeing an unprecedented buoyancy I can expect that the work I’ll be involved in is going to be interesting for the foreseeable future.
I also made a promise to myself that I have to keep — I must find a leadership mentor or some sort of coach this year. If you have any recommendations, let me know 🙌
The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.
My 2021 is going to be a huge, exciting, terrifying, “plunge” — sometimes this is the only way. One silver lining I am drawn back to over and over again — if we can deal with what 2020 has thrown at us, and come out the other side stronger and more resilient, imagine what we’re capable of afterwards?
I hope your year ahead is a safe, fun, rewarding and exciting one (the good kind of exciting, not the 2020 kind). Stay safe everyone!