I’ve been wanting to write about my trip to Madrid, but I have something that has been bugging my head during the long-haul flight back home so here we are.
I grow up as an Indonesian with the usual “asian outlook” in life. Work (really) hard, hustle culture, never let them see that you are taking a break, put everything on your Calendar/make it looks busy, and give out quantifiable output/output that folks can put number on it — and if you can’t put numbers on it, your work should be saving people’s lives. Bonus point if it’s both: High number and saving people’s lives (hence, doctor as profession of choice for lots of families.)
In Automattic, as a Happiness Engineer, it was pretty easy. X number of tickets and X number of chats per day. X number of bug reports and X number of troubleshooting answers per day. And so on.
Then, I became a team lead. My life (and my work) felt like being turned upside down.
“You are no longer supporting our end customers. You are now supporting fellow HEs on your team.”
For the first three months, I went, “what the heck?” It was painful and confusing. I used to have my output displayed as numbers and I was freaking good at it. Then now, as a team lead, suddenly it’s not about number. It’s about support and contributions that folks can’t put numbers on it — and when they did or could, it took quite some time.
We had a leads meetup in Madrid, Spain last week. Basically it was a meetup for all team leads on WordPress.com’s Happiness (Support) division.
During an afternoon break, someone told me this:
“Think of it as a game. Being a lead is actually a long game. You can’t see the result of your work right away. You will see it weeks or months later, sometimes gradually. There will be pain and frustration in the process and you questioning yourself if everything is worth it or even if you worth it.”
Supporting a team, big or small, is about time and energy management. More often than not, it can be emotional and it can drain you really fast. However, if you keep forcing yourself to hustle and demanding yourself to constantly giving output meeting your standard (which, usually in a ridiculous standard,) it can burn you out pretty soon.
In one of the sessions, my colleagues shared a bit of their day, and they mentioned about “30 minutes for self-reflection and journaling,” “30 minutes for me to take a walk in the park nearby,” or “30 minutes for me to take a power nap.”
I sat there, dumbfounded.
“You— you can do that?”
“… What do you mean?”
“You can set 30 minutes for a power nap? Journaling? Taking a walk, outside, away from your laptop?”
“Uh. Yes. Wait. You don’t do that?”
“No. I thought I need to be constantly online on my laptop, you know? I thought I need to be ready all the time?”
That’s when I realized that I’ve been approaching my workday as a team lead wrongly. I thought my Calendar should be packed and I thought my online presence should be active all the time! I can’t tell you how stressful things were for me lately.
I also just realized how different it is between my (past) understanding about managerial work with Automattic’s. I always thought being a team lead is all about working relentlessly and doing everything as dictated by the higher-ups. In Automattic, and I believe in some other companies too, team leads need to reflect and see where they want to go and what kind of vision and goal they have in mind. They also expected to review/reflect on their vision in regular basis. Where are we right now? To where I want to bring my team? Are we in the right situation for it? Any blockers? — and you know what? I’ve been neglecting the part on reflection.
I am now learning to be kinder to myself and my time. I am also learning on how to build my schedule on the Calendar efficiently. Rather than creating repeated events with vague explanations (“Deep work, every Thursday”,) I can check my focus for the week, and assign the time for the specific work (“Work on feedback. Thursday, DATE, MONTH.”)
Also, to assign some time for me to take a break and take time for myself.
Here’s for a healthier me.