by Maya Middlemiss
The story starts with the end of 17 years in a command-and-control, all or nothing work situation. Let’s call it a rather dark shade of Amber. Giving 100% of myself, to build something ultimately owned and controlled by someone else… and then ending up with nothing at all.
I have no regrets about the ending – health and sanity must come first. However as a breadwinner with a family, settled in a home life miles away from ‘traditional’ career options, the stakes were high. Things had to get to rock bottom, before clawing my way back up was even visible as an option.
But it’s funny how things work out, how opportunities for transformation are lurking in the places you least look for them. Having had my previous role judged and defined by an epically delayed software project, I’d come across Agile methods for managing software development in principle and on paper, well over a year ago. At a stage where it was far too late to realize that we never should have approached the project in the way we did, for so many reasons – but having no choice but to move on from where we were then, in an environment where admitting to a huge mistake in approach would have been psychologically unsafe. So I filed the Agile epiphany under ‘stuff I wish I had known’, and tried to deal with the situation I was up to my neck in.
Too much big stuff was going on anyway, including the crisis which lead to the separation itself – and which finally gave me time to think, to reflect. To examine what had gone wrong in a business relationship, in an organisational culture, which had so much going for it on the surface.
Desperate for answers, I started to study this in earnest, and from an unexpected connection got introduced to Management 3.0 and concept of the business case for happiness. Pennies were now dropping, new thoughts and percolating… Whilst working on personal wellness and recovery, I was also thinking and reading and learning about the reasons for the crisis and why I’d had to leave. I knew it wasn’t healthy to go over and over what had gone wrong before – but learning from it seemed not only crucial, but a positive way to move forward.
Not there, not that organisation or team. You cannot step in the same river twice as the saying goes, and anyway there are many more rivers out there to cross, oceans to experience. Could I have made other choices at different points in my professional life? Sure I could, and I can learn from that now – but without analysis paralysis. The only way is forward. And that means something new.
“New” in itself is scary, because we’re talking about 17 years of my life. A period spanning 20s through to 40s. Intense specialisation… and huge financial risk. But gradually I started to see a pattern forming, of ideas, or potential. If management can be done in a different way, businesses can be self-organising with the accountability and trust built in – then maybe my whole life could be? My career – could I apply Agile principles to professional fulfillment?
Could I think in terms of a series of experiments and iterations, instead of the Next Big Thing?
De-risking had to come first, to create the freedom. In career/work terms, this meant finding a way to reliably earn a basic sum at least temporarily, to keep the rent paid and food on the table. To have the incredible good fortune to find this at Happy Melly and Management 3.0 was a boon I never anticipated, and has proved psychologically healing as well as amazingly interesting and enjoyable – being part of a team who truly care about and support each other, as well as sharing with total transparency, was just what the doctor ordered.
But what else? Time to create a backlog of possible projects.
Books to write, clients I’d love to work with, roles to experiment with.
Reflecting and brainstorming with friends and colleagues who helped me to see that rather than niching down my skillset to the point of unemployability, I had actually acquired a diverse range of competencies and experiences enabling me to do many things – provided I didn’t expect to find them all within a single permanent role.
Prioritising the backlog is interesting, fun and enlightening. In a world filled with many uncertainties on a macro level, diversifying sources – even currencies – of income, makes so much sense right now anyway. Having deluded myself for years that I had a ‘safe’ job, I now see that true security comes from variety, and a portfolio of interests and activities. Managing the complexity is energising and refreshing.
Of course it’s still early days, but I can see how applying Agile principles to my career will help with so many aspects. Avoiding overwhelm amongst the possible options, by limiting work in progress and time-boxing experiments. Reflecting and retrospecting on completed actions. Thinking about ways to continually improve, and working collaboratively with clients, instead of in a hands-off supplier relationship… All these things feel natural and intuitive, to the extent of many a recent ‘duhhh – why am I only just realising this now?’ moments just lately.
But realising you CAN reinvent yourself, at any age or point in your life’s journey, is incredibly liberating and exciting.
That makes me happy.