Finding Solid Ground on Day 591 of N*

*where N=unknown

I used to think there was nothing more stressful than being in the midst of a stressful thing. When you’re in the middle of something, it’s all raw and electric and the ways out aren’t always a sure bet. In the past nearly 600 days, I’ve learned that there is something more stressful—being in the midst of a situation with an undetermined length.

The first time a team member brought the news of COVID-19 to my attention Jan 17, 2020. And during the following months as we were all trying to pivot and work through the apparent crisis, I remember thinking that this wouldn’t have a huge effect on us. “WordPress has been distributed forever, we won’t have many adjustments to make.”

Life Imitated Work

What I hadn’t anticipated was that the processes of our work (Zoom calls, coordinating across timezones, collaborating/communicating primarily via text) were going to become the processes of every other area of our lives. For many of us we now not only have distributed work, we have distributed learning/teaching, distributed exercise/wellness, and distributed celebrations/grieving.

And when every part of your life mirrors the way you work, it can be hard to separate your self from your work.

Earlier this year, my Chief of Staff shared a podcast with me that was exploring the dangers of letting the definition of your work become the definition of your self. I learned that “career enmeshment” is the borrowed term used to describe this phenomenon, and while folks may have ways to cope with this in normal circumstances, I know that that past 18 months are not very normal.

First, Some Grounding

As we approach the time of year where organizations of every stripe (non-profit, for-profit, commercial, or otherwise) start gathering plans for the near future, you might find that it’s hard to get your bearings when the world is so unpredictable. When you can’t be sure which way is up, it’s always best to start by finding the ground.

That can be as simple as listing your recent projects and tying them directly back to your organization’s mission.

As an example, here is how that would look for WordPress project maintainers. In 2020, maintainers did the following work that shows a commitment to “democratize publishing”.

  1. Contributed to an ongoing contributor-focused effort to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion in WordPress through:
    1. transparent communication (i.e. regular project round up posts, live streamed working sessions, etc),
    2. mentorship (Core cohorts, LearnWP cohorts, etc),
    3. and the willingness to help new contributors learn by failing safely (WP5.6).
  2. Contributed to ongoing user-focused efforts to not only lower barriers of entry, but also to reduce the effort to level-up through:
    1. the proliferation of block patterns,
    2. small (but meaningful) a11y changes over time,
    3. and the regular shipping of self-serve content on
  3. Contributed to an ongoing ecosystem-focused effort to make the web a safer place through:
    1. user facing auto-update functionality,
    2. dedicated attention to HackerOne reporting,
    3. and the thankless work to keep our underlying technology up to date.

As WordPress maintainers, you all met the challenges of 2020 where they were, and did great work to grow through them, rather than let them stop your progress.

Second, Some Reconnection

After you’ve gotten your mind around what you know, it’s time to spend some time reconnected with what you believe. Knowing what inspires you, what drives you, and who you are when you aren’t working can help reconnect you to the values that bring you to your work every day.

  • Break things into smaller wins – Many of us make plans that focus on single massive goals in a year, but this is the year to instead have smaller milestones to look forward to. Instead of big plans that could be foiled by things outside your control, it makes sense to create more frequent creative/celebratory/processing moments. I have said before that “the value of routine can’t be overstated”, and these little speed bumps in our routine can remind us to reset.
  • Know your concern vs your influence – None of us can control the vaccine rollout plan, but you can probably commit to “X pushups a day” or “Y minutes of fresh air”. We make time for what’s important, and following through on even the smallest challenge to yourself, helps to remind you that you have inherent value outside of what you’re able to do for others.
  • Get it out of your head – It can be hard to unplug right now, since screens are the safest interface with the world at the moment. And you might have Slack on all your devices just in case you remember something you meant to do. Instead, write it down (via paper, or a blog, etc) and process your list in the morning. The mental activity of remembering to do something can make you very anxious, and writing it down makes sure you don’t forget it.

What things do you do?

There are countless ways for us to re-engage with who we are, and to clear our minds for creative thinking/problem-solving. What are some of the things you do?

Have a thought? Leave a comment!