The surprising advice most of us need to hear

If you ever want to know what it looks like when you get all-consumed by your work, here’s a glimpse: I’m on a conference call on a train pulling into the station. Doing constant conference calls on the road is my new skill. I get into a taxi and make it as far as the first set of lights before I remember I have parked my car at the station. The taxi driver is confused and unimpressed so I round up the fare. In hindsight I should have asked him to drive me to my car. I’m still on the call.

It has been 7 months since I started working at CloudBees and its been a steep learning curve in a fast-growing company operating in an industry where the pace is exploding. The best career advice says ‘Always be ready to change course‘ but it doesn’t say how painful it can feel when you are making the change.

I’m back to managing a team. A cross-functional one: infrastructure, security (yikes!), community evangelism & more- all at a scale that is new to me. It is a good thing my team knows what they are doing because so far my role seems to be getting them to constantly explain what they do. Then there is also the *big* project I’m working on – I can’t talk about it just yet – but it is really really exciting and also all-consuming.

I have full autonomy over how I structure my time so I really only have myself to blame when I get to points I have taken on too much. But it seems to be only with hindsight that I can clearly see the things I sign up for that I should not be doing. For instance, I say I will take a break from speaking at conferences until I feel more upto speed. But then Ant Stanley signposts me to an extended call for papers for VelocityConf. My default is ‘Never refuse stagetime’ and next thing I know I’m on the Kubernetes track to speak on ‘GitOps, Jenkins X & the future of CI/CD’.

I am great at learning things but here is the thing I find the most difficult. I get to work with some super awesome folks, both in the company and in the wider community. These folks are at the top of their game. It is inspiring and makes me want to be at the top of my game too. But it feels a bit like being dropped into training with Olympic athletes – patient & kind athletes – but you still can’t keep up. There is so much I don’t know. Plus I went from knowing things at the tip of my fingertips to getting used to saying ‘Let me get back to you on that’.

I’m travelling about a week a month – it feels like the right level. Every time I come home I notice the kids are taller – my son will soon be at eye-level. My spouse is super supportive and I am so grateful, especially when I have back-to-back meetings in the evenings. I tell myself this is just ‘a ramp-up’ but in the back of my mind ‘Cats in the Cradle’ is playing (seriously, read the lyrics!).

This prompts me to take a break and join my family in Italy for a few days after my company conference. Some holidays are not as relaxing as they should be and on the final day I scan-read the wrong boarding pass and we show up to the airport late. Comedy chaos ensues and we miss the flight. I learn that if you leave your tablet at security, they will page you, and your children will help prove it belongs to you by recreating their most recent poses.

I find myself working on my presentation slides at the airport. I lose loads of prep time for VelocityConf so when I get there I’m barely networking. The amazing Nicole Forsgren is there but I don’t even say hi – instead I head to the ladies bathroom to find some quiet space to finish off & practice my talk. It works out well in the end but I feel I could have done better and by the time I’m done I’m exhausted.

I’m still recovering a couple of weeks later, but at least I have not had anymore travel related snafus. There is a company email thread that catches my eye. In it, James Strachan, creator of Jenkins X is referencing my VelocityConf session. He writes “BTW Tracy did a great talk recently… and has the best slides I’ve seen so far”.

Wow. I’m blown away ecstatic.

I show my spouse and he says ‘I told you you are doing great, just be patient with yourself’. For the first time I really hear him. It can be hard to have perspective on yourself and how well you are doing. It takes so much pressure off of me to hear from someone I respect that I’m doing fine. Better than fine. My decisions are good.

My company is growing at a breakneck speed in an industry changing at breakneck speed. I have two kids also growing at breakneck speed. There is no having it all. Instead there is just constant figuring things out, course correction and preparing to always operate at the edge of chaos.

I make sure I’m not doing any conferences in December, book off a bunch off time over Christmas and join a gym. I’m starting to get the hang of things. It is an achievement to have a career you love and still have the time you want to be with your kids. Everything else is a bonus. My biggest challenge will still be reminding myself: I’m doing great, just be patient with yourself.

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