🗞️ Issue #9: “We are not Heart Surgeons” and other Learnings from 2021
At the beginning of year, I was not in the best state of mind. I was coming into 2021 disappointed, resentful, and scared.
I didn’t get the job I didn’t think I wanted until somebody else did. My co-founders and I decided to take an indefinite break from our business, Career Hacking for Women. And, as always, I was taming the constant nagging at the back of my head that I will never be able to save the world (whatever that meant for me at that time).
My plan for the year, at least in January 2021, was just to roll with the punches, see where my decisions take me, and eat all the good food in between. I had my North Star. So at least I had direction, if not motivation.
Then life happened, and alongside it many amazing things. Including 2 important opportunities that I’m extremely proud of and turned my year around.
Early this year, I took over the role of Product Lead in our tribe. And it has been a roller coaster ride, to say the least - if by roller coaster ride I mean doing the Kessel Run, not with the Millenium Falcon, but with Elliot’s bike with a flat tire. By the time I logged off for Christmas break, we’ve accomplished so much as a team and I couldn’t be more proud of ourselves.
In October, I suddenly found myself forming an EU-based volunteer campaign group with people I have never met, for a presidential candidate we were all so desperate to win. What started out as a comment thread in a Facebook group evolved into different campaign teams in almost all of the European countries where Filipino communities are present.
In the end, 2021 turned out to be amazing as much as it was exhausting.
Sure, I did not get exactly what I thought wanted. I also cried and tore at my hair quite a lot too.
But I still gained so much more from last year. I gained new experiences. I even got to know myself a lot better. Somewhere along the way, I had positive impact on other people’s lives. And in between all of that, I learned. And had wine 😀
And because sharing is always caring, let me do just that. Here's are the things I learned about life, leadership, and relationships in the year of Covid, 2021. At least about mine. I hope these learnings will be helpful to you too, no matter your context and experience.
01. “We are not heart surgeons. Nobody will die if we make mistakes.”
Is a line my manager always tells me every time I’m worried about making the wrong decision, saying the wrong thing, or doing something bad in general.
It’s usually followed by “What’s the worst thing that can happen?” and a realization that the worst case scenario is actually not so apocalyptic.
This was especially an important message to remember a few weeks before going on holiday. When everybody was so stressed out and the tension in the air was so thick, we can cut it with a knife. I was constantly frustrated at myself, for realizing my mistakes only after I’ve made them
In an especially difficult day, when I just felt paralyzed and afraid to make one more mistake. My manager reminded me
“It’s ok, Kax. We’re not heart surgeons. We will all survive.”
And we did.
02. “Make your own definition of good. You can’t please everybody.”
Working with many teams and many people, it’s impossible to make everybody happy. Every decision I make can generate widely different responses. People can agree strongly, disagree vehemently, or even be completely indifferent with the same idea.
For example, I can get strongly worded messages from my stakeholders for something that gave relief to my teams. And vice versa.
If I just based my definition of good on other people’s affirmations, and good feelings - I can never win.
So I made my own criteria. Here’s a much simplified version of mine for reference:
Did I try my best?
Did I manage to help anybody, solve a problem, have an impact?
Do we all still have jobs?
Yes to all? Great, then I did good. Next time, it can be better.
03. “Remove strong opposition instead of seeking for full agreement”
Earlier this year, it took me more than a month to design a new planning process that we wanted to test.
It took too long because every time I put the process in front of somebody for feedback, I always end up going back to the drawing board with something to change or to add. It was a never ending cycle.
Until an Agile coach I was working with asked me to try to ask people instead, if they had any strong reason to not move forward with the idea as it was, at that moment.
In the same week when I started asking people for their opposition vs general feedback - we finally closed the first iteration of the process for testing.
In a big group, everybody will have opinions as well as ideas. And that’s fantastic. But alongside the preferences is the difficulty to get 100% agreement.
It was a good reminder that we shouldn’t seek buy in, and instead seek confidence. And we do that through removal of risks (or opposition in this case) and through validation (which seeking buy in was blocking us from getting to).
We do it for products we build, so it works for processes for teams. After all, aren’t they all just solutions for problems anyway?
04. “Authenticity is important, but be mindful of your influence”
The more responsibilities I got, the more visible I’ve become. Which means that my feelings, opinions, and random remarks now had wider reach than before. And there were people who actually paid attention to them.
I’m not saying to put on a mask and hide real thoughts and feelings if they were less than ideal. What I realized is that I can’t be as loose with my ranting as much as before when my circle was smaller, and the only people who can hear me are the ones who knew whether to take me seriously or not.
I also didn’t want to be the kind of leader who would pull my team down further during hard times by indiscriminately spilling my ill feelings here and there.
The last time I made the mistake of shit talking in front of somebody from my team, it completely biased the way they interacted with the person I made the remark about, and not in a good way. And in a way, it was unfair to both of them. I took away the opportunity for them to have a good start to their collaboration.
05. “Real Diversity Brings High Quailty ”
Since October, because of campaign activities, I’ve found myself spending a lot of time with the Filipino community in Spain. I was with people who look like me, speak the same language as me, even curse like me (we were mostly all women too) - only to realize how different we all really were from each other.
We had different backgrounds and came from different sectors. We had different priorities and motivations. And we were all from different generations therefore giving us different contexts.
We didn’t see eye to eye on a lot of things. And we disagreed a lot.
But one thing is for sure - we always had rich conversations because we all brought to the table ideas and perspectives that were unique to our experiences.
And the outcome spoke for itself. We organized an assembly of supporters that not only had a high turn out but really reflected who we are as a group. Different but brought together by something more important - a shared mission.
06. “Eudaimonia and finding confidence in uncertainty”
Somebody once said that the only certain thing in life is uncertainty. And this year really underlined that (all caps, font size 200, in bold).
It’s hard to make decisions when there is very little information to build a foundation of confidence with. It’s hard to make a path and move forward when we don’t know what forward is there to get to.
Can we plan our priorities for 2022 even if we don’t know if there will be a reorg?
Should we continue with the public assembly even if we don’t know if we will have new Covid restrictions by then?
I think it was Aristotle who said that every decision we make, and all the decisions after that, are made with the hope that it will bring us closer to what will give us the good things we seek - regardless of what information we have or don’t have (Apologies To my Philosophy 103 professor for this poor explanation 😅)
And this thought brings me a lot of comfort.
Good decision or not, the decisions we make in our daily lives are supposedly made with the intention of being closer to our north stars. And even when we make bad decisions, we can still course-correct by making the next one. Or the next. Or the one after that.
Sometimes it will take time. Sometimes it will feel like things are getting off track. But really all we need to do is to trust ourselves and the things we say yes to. That in the end, we will be where we are supposed to be.
Sometimes we have expectations for the year. Either we expect it to be exactly like we planned it to be or we expect it to fall apart into many pieces.
Whatever the outcome is, it’s ok. It really is.
Things don’t really have to turn out the way we want them to. We’re not heart surgeons. Everything will work out one way or another. The most we can do is to learn from the things that we go through - in the hope that in applying them for next time, we can have better outcomes.
Unless of course, you ARE a heart surgeon. Then I hope things turn out exactly the way you want them to.
Happy new year, you amazing people! 🎉
Got questions, feedback, violent reactions? Or other learnings you want to share with other human beings? Leave them in the comments below👇
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