2020 has been extra challenging for people. Maybe for most people, though I have seen thoughtful people point out that, for example, the 30s and 40s were hard for many people in Europe, the decades up through the 60s and beyond were especially hard for black people in the U.S., it is hard to compare experiences.
I worked from home long before the pandemic forced most everyone to do that. I did not find myself having sudden free time to learn a new craft or skill! That said, I also no longer traveled after February. Being at home all the time was a really lovely change for me and I felt quite lucky to be in about the safest place one could be on this continent. I had a lot of work-related challenges throughout the year. Thanks to help from many friends, including talented coaches, I particularly value one thing I’m taking forward from 2020.
Who is Lisa?
This year it really hit me that my personal identity has been all wrapped up with my professional identity. I don’t only have a day job. Janet Gregory and José Diaz and I run the Agile Testing Fellowship together. Janet does most of the heavy lifting, along with wonderful contributors that José brought on board to help and along with fabulous trainers around the world. For example, Janet adapted our three day in-person “Agile Testing for the Whole Team” course for remote facilitation within three weeks of the start of lockdown.
I speak at conferences so that I can attend them for free and learn. After all the conferences went virtual, a lot of them (amazingly) were free anyway, yet I still went rather overboard in 2020 doing talks at remote conferences and meetups. I didn’t have to get on a plane to do those, but they still took a lot of time. I spend as much time as I can helping people via mentoring, collaborating, reviewing, giving feedback, whatever I can do to pay forward all the help I’ve gotten over the decades of my own career.
As a result of investing so much time in software-related pursuits, my self-image has been all wrapped up in what I do for a living. So over the years, when things go badly for me at my job, I feel disproportionately distressed about it. I felt like if I fail at work – I’ve failed at life! And as I have reached an advance age at which many of my friends and family retired from work – though I have so many non-work-related interests, I still felt like without my professional work, I didn’t really have any value.
A year that provides extra perspective
Many thousands of people dying daily from COVID-19 – that really makes one think even more about how one spends the uncertain amount of time left for life. It turns out there’s a lot more to Lisa than what she does at work, at conferences, in professional communities. Yes, I really value all my contributions related to software. And, I really value all the time I spend apart from that. Being at home all the time has reinforced how much I love spending time with my cats, dogs and donkeys. My husband and I have delighted in relaxing, simple pursuits like walking around our property and driving around our local area enjoying the beautiful views. We enjoy creating a better habitat for wildlife and watching the creatures who share our farm. It’s harder to spend time with friends, but I’m lucky to have people who can safely come “play donkeys” with me, socially distant out-of-doors walking and driving the donkeys.
I wouldn’t do things like write blog posts if I didn’t enjoy doing them. And, there are so many non-professionally-related activities I enjoy even more. Looking back on the year, I do see some professional failures. I got outside of my comfort zone, and it turned out I didn’t have the right skills yet to accomplish what I hoped. I didn’t contribute as much value as I wanted. I over-committed to a lot of professional things and that caused me a lot of stress. And, I have learned a lot – not only new skills, but a lot about myself and what I most enjoy doing.
I have ideas about how I could succeed and contribute more professionally in the future. More importantly, I feel committed to keeping my priorities right for me. I want to live life. I have to work to afford some of what gives me joy, like my animals. It also enables my husband and me to donate to organizations trying to save people, animals and our planet. And I can enjoy my work more by not spending quite so much time outside my comfort zone. I’m a Libra, it’s all about balance! (OK, I don’t think astrology is a thing, but I like the balance idea anyway(,
I end 2020 with a lot of fear about the future of our country, the planet, my loved ones, but also with a feeling of contentment about my life in our Vermont bubble. I am grateful every minute for having so much good luck and so many good friends. I know there is a wild roller coaster of feelings and events ahead in 2021. And there will be a lot more to it than my professional identity.
I wish you all the best for the holiday season and new year. Excuse me now, I’m off to hug a donkey.