There’s Risk in the Resolution

Late last year I attended a wonderful leadership session that walked us through closing the book on 2022 and preparing ourselves for the opportunities coming in the new year. There were 30 or so leaders representing a vast array of sectors, and in our opening breakout session we were invited to look at a number of individual images or quotes and select one or two that really called to us as a kōan for 2023.

The image I chose was something like this:

Carlos Ramírez in full competition at the UCI BMX World Cup, Bogotá 2021
Felipe Ayarza, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Now at first glance, there are a few obvious choices for what a photo like this might mean. It might mean that I expect the year to be fast-paced with a series of ups and downs. It could mean that I anticipate the weightless feeling of escaping something holding me back. It could also mean that I have grown a sudden interest in death sports.

But there is also a hidden sort of element to it and that’s what drew me to this photo.

If you are like me—a planning, strategic thinking, “yes, but how did we get here” type person—then you probably know that that photo implies countless hours of training, practice, and probably a handful of painful lessons. No one ever got to the point where they are floating, attached to nothing, free from the aid of wings or the safety of a harness without years of intense dedication.

For any sport like this (gymnastics, motocross, dance, surfing, anything) one of the earliest things you have to learn is how to fall well. Since what goes up must come down, you are told early on how to land safely. How to limit the risk (of injury) in the resolution (of reuniting with Earth).

From Phase to Phase

I just wrapped up the latest episode of the WordPress Briefing. In it I talk about what the end of Phase 2 for the Gutenberg project does and does not mean for our everyday users. Throughout the writing and recording of that episode, all I could think of was this photo and that one phrase I immediately associated with it: “there’s risk in the resolution”.

From a big picture, long-term perspective it is easy to look at a project that successfully got off the ground and assume that the rest will take care of itself. There is an extent to which that’s true. Honing the skills, seeing the opportunities, and then having the wherewithal to put it all together in a way that creates enough speed and momentum to get you in the right place at the right time—yea, that’s hard. Once that’s done, the rest is just “get back down and continue safely forward”. But if you haven’t been told how to get down safely or how to convert that momentum into forward movement, then it’s more likely that you’ll run into difficulty doing those things.

Does that mean that I’m worried about the rest of our work on Gutenberg? No. I believe that the WordPress community can and does close the chapter on important projects all the time. If anyone can make this a joyous return to Earth, it’s the people supporting this project. But I also believe that they can because they have been for nearly 20 years.

Does it mean that I’ll be relying on our collective knowledge more than ever? Absolutely.

p.s. – a mantra

I have a list of reminders on my lock screen. If I remember, I’ll share one at the bottom of each of my posts in 2023, because we can never know who is in need of a little encouragement.

To grow, you must be willing to let your present and future be totally unlike your past. Your history is not your destiny.

Alan Cohen

No Man’s Land: A Visual Reminder of Privilege

Hat tip to Nikki Wiarda for posting this video today. Here is a complete list of the questions that were asked.

I remember doing this exercise in our church youth group growing up and being a little embarrassed to be behind my peers sometimes. I grew up in a church that was, I think, pretty wealthy and pretty white. I’m Asian and so that whole “where do I land with privilege” thing is a real question for me. Knowing that you have more privilege than others sort of makes you feel ungrateful when you look at the disadvantages that are dealt to you. Sometimes that can lead to not standing up for what is right because it’s nowhere near the negative experience that someone else may have had.

We forget that making things better in small ways can stack up to make things better in big ways. You can’t change a person’s mind with a single, verbose tirade against their beliefs. But you can plant a seed of “I never knew that” which can lead to a great awakening for them.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize that being behind my peers in that exercise should never have been a cause of embarrassment for me. My experiences have made me the empathetic and equality-minded woman that I am today.

And for that, I am infinitely grateful.

Learning to Fail

Failure is inevitable for most of us. Throughout our primary and secondary education we are given no option but to get into situations where we are guaranteed to fail. Everything from debate classes to cheerleading tryouts and, if you were like me, all the way back to the monkey bars is designed to challenge you to the point of failure build character. Most of us found areas where we clearly succeeded and some even go on to make a living doing those things. Some of us just avoid what they found failure in.

The startup culture values the concept of failure, saying that no great successes were ever achieved without failure. Fail fast, fail often is a common mantra in a world that values quickly finding flaws in a product so that you can find the subsequent solution.

I’ve been known to shy away from failure.

Far from that, I have made a habit of avoiding things I know I’m not any good at. A handful of years ago, I realized that this habit wasn’t based on any real evidence that I would not succeed. I would worry and worry leading up to the onset of a project and get so distraught over the possible outcome that, as often as not, I wouldn’t even begin.

Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear—not absence of fear. Except a creature be part coward it is not a compliment to say it is brave; it is merely a loose application of the word. Consider the flea! — incomparably the bravest of all the creatures of God, if ignorance of fear were courage.

Mark Twain, Pudd’nhead Wilson

The idea that courage is the ability to overcome fear was somewhat foreign to me. It’s not that it sounded odd when I heard it laid out, it’s just one of those things that was not clear until I’d seen it. Avoiding what I wasn’t guaranteed to be good at was actually just me being a coward.

So I’ve taken up, and really failed at, a lot of things: kayaking, West Coast Swing, coq au vin, and sewing an Armani design… just to name a few. The only way to learn is to boldly try. I’ve been learning to fail, and therefore broaden my horizons just as my teachers promised, by boldly trying things that I have no prior knowledge of. My next guarantee-free hobby will be learning Spanish.

I am starting with Duolingo to get some basics under my belt, but after that I will move on to conversation groups and Spanish radio.

If not radio, then something equally immersive!

Busting Through Road Blocks

Anyone who has written knows the pain of facing a creative block. Sometimes it happens right when you least expect it; in the middle of a paragraph, right before a deadline, or when a project depends on the wording and suddenly you have no direction.

The most common one for me, and my least favorite, is the ‘just getting started’ creative block. Fortunately, that is also the easiest one to break through. Here are three sure-fire ways to get past that first sentence.

  1. Say Anything – Long gone are the days when writing things was a costly and time intensive endeavor. Hand-pounded papyrus, quills, and chiseled tablets are now the stuff of hobbyists and, more likely than not, you’re working on a computer somewhere. Write whatever comes to your mind first and fix it later.
  2. Bookends can wait – If you simply can’t write a solid introduction without a heavy dose of inspiration, then don’t. Write a full-sentence outline of your main points and then fill in the transitions. When you’ve finished the meaty insides of  your post, then you’ll know how to best introduce it.
  3. Get a Prompt – When all else fails, find a question out there to answer. A big one or small one, having something to answer takes away half the battle. I recommend The Daily Post or, for some of our poets out there, describing a photo from Instagram.

I will leave you with a subversive piece of advice that I give to parents who want to ‘get their girls into tech’. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to have a single-topic passion from the start. Passion is something we learn by practicing and mastering an activity and mastery comes in small chunks and minor errors.

Every error is a learning opportunity or moment to change course. Embrace it and write with courage.

No torrential rain. No puddles the size of my car. No screaming children. This already is looking more promising than the first time I was here. I climbed out of the car with insurance/registration papers clutched in one hand and my Nalgene with my car keys dangling idly from the other.

“Brace yourself,” I thought. “You know it will be a long and boring wait. Be patient and remember not to make eye contact.” You see, my roommate from last year has gotten me worried about silly things such as talking to people in rundown buildings, making eye contact with people near rundown buildings and being in the general proximity of rundown buildings. Also I am now worried about the house being broken into. Well done, there.

I stalked into this unnecessarily unkempt Office of Registration for the second time in one day, walked right over to the line for renewing your tags and set my mind on chill.

“Nice hair,” rasped something to my left. “Very dark. I thought about dying my hair black once but I didn’t.” I looked to the left only to find that a man who was altogether too old to be talking to me was indeed talking to me. He was telling me the ever fresh and interesting story about how once he and his son had died their hair blond. And to add to the merriment, they dressed up as the two guys from Night at the Roxbury and milled about at Club Gecko. “Your hair really is very nice. And of course the lady underneath it is also very nice. Do you like to dance?”

“No,” was all I could say before he headed back in with talking and I am sure that my face was an fantastic blend of horror masked by complete apathy.

Apparently, it was normal for this fifty-eight year old Irish, Scottish, Indian to be hit on by the wives of his bosses and by girls half his age. I nodded politely as he regaled me with stories of the 20-somethings who all wanted to date him and the jobs he has had to leave thanks to the “head honchos little wife.” After all, who is he to get in the way of a marriage? Especially, since they would inevitably fall for him and he’d lose their friendship. Right. Chalk up yet another weirdo on the board for me! I attract them. Like some thing that madly attracts weirdoes as if it were going out of style (that is assuming it ever was in style of course).

“I can’t- That’s no good. Um. Oh! My number has been called. Excuse me, yes. Ow!” As I fell all over myself to get away from this extremely uncomfortable situation, the lady at the desk said I needed a new license plate but that she had no idea why.

Lies! How dare they not tell me why I need a license plate! And how dare old men hit on me! Give me that thing. Stupid piece of metal. Yes, thank you, I can put on my own license plate. No, old man I don’t need any gas money from you. Get off! I’m leaving. Run away! Retreat!