I’m going to come right out and say it here, I’m not a sailor… but there were too many really good metaphors that are going to help support this talk (and too many gorgeous pictures) to boot… So, my apologies to all those of you who sail for any errors in my terminology!
That said, here’s one thing I do know.
When you are heading into the wind, tacking is the manoeuvre you undertake to make your way in that direction and grab the wind you need to get where you want to go. The interesting thing about it is that you change direction to make it happen…
As is usually the case with the stuff I talk about; this talk has been inspired by my own story. A lot has changed for me in the last year, and a whole lot of how I’ve responded to that and made my peace with it has informed the basis for this talk. Maybe, some of that experience will help you as you negotiate this ever changing landscape of WordPress and web development.
“When people shake their heads because we are living in a restless age, ask them how they would like to live in a stationary one and do without change?” ~ George Bernard Shaw
I know for some of you the idea of change thrills you, you thrive on it, you can’t wait to see what the change does in you and for you – in some ways, that’s me… I tend to find myself itchy for big change every 3 years or so, change of job, change of scene.. I get frustrated with stasis…. However, for what I suspect is the majority of us… the prospect of change can be upsetting, challenging and can even leave us feeling fearful and anxious.
So, as you sit in the middle of all of this with a view to formulating your response to it it’s important to know that while you may be feeling overwhelmed… You don’t have to know everything, you don’t have to learn everything but you do have to know what you want, and decide what you’re prepared to do to get there.
Sailing Into the Wind
But before you make any kind of decision, or response to this looming change the first part of this experience of navigation through it is actually recognising it.
Seeing it, acknowledging it and starting to set your course in relation to it is what we’re going to call Stage one. Sailing into the wind.
Of course, setting a course towards the change, towards the wind is a bold approach, you could turn tail and run downwind… but where’s the growth (and the fun) in that?
So, having decided to approach things head on here are some things to recognise to help navigate some of the emotional upheaval that occurs when you embark on a change of course
Change is Uncomfortable
Change is uncertain and uncertainty isn’t comfortable…
We find ourselves asking, how will this affect me? How will it affect my future? Does this change solve problems for me or create new ones?
In general, we tend to prefer routine and stability, and, with any kind of transition this change disrupts self-confidence. We have to learn new ways of adapting, and, facing big changes can be anxiety provoking because it tests our competence. When we’re not feeling like we have mastery over our situation it’s challenging.
And that’s OK.
For those of you who are like me, you like to feel as though things are in control, you know where all the ducks are, and they’re all lined up in a row… when they’re not, then the sick feeling in the pit of your stomach just won’t leave you alone.
The thing we have to hold on to is the fact that this won’t last forever, just It really is OK. Just go with it for now, trust that it won’t last forever! You’ll regain mastery as you start to figure things out.
Yes, it will be uncomfortable…
But it won’t stay that way.
Change is an Opportunity
As uncomfortable as change is it gives you a great chance to sit down and take stock.
It’s an opportunity to re-evaluate where you’re at.
It’s an opportunity to think about where you want to go.
It’s an opportunity to look at what else is out there.
It’s an opportunity to dream a little outside of the box.
It’s an opportunity to ask yourself… what if?
It’s really easy if you’re just humming along merrily to be a bit oblivious to the status quo. Looming change is a great opportunity to take stock and experiment with the idea of mixing things up before you actually have to make life or business changing decisions.
Let me illustrate this with some of my story…
If you were at WordCamp Brisbane last year and heard my talk then, you may remember that I talked about my freelance business and the things you need to do to do freelance business well. I had been freelancing for 6 years and loving it, and was just about to start on a long term contract with XWP.
One of the things about being in solo business is that there are limits placed upon you by being a solo operator. If you want to continue to grow, if you want to increase profits, you will at some stage get to the point of having to spend more time on the business, maybe to bring in more people, you’ll find yourself often having to wear a manager’s hat, or a salesperson’s hat more than you will a technician’s one… ??I had found myself in this space and it isn’t a comfortable one for me. So the leap to working under a longer term contract to someone else did two things.
It allowed me to work on much bigger, more challenging projects than I could do on my own, and it allowed me to stretch into different skill sets that I might not have had a chance to develop as a solo operator… I was finding opportunities I didn’t know I wanted yet. It also gave me a regular paycheque and it has to be said, that’s a veeeery attractive thing.
Change presents Choices
On this project for XWP I was hired as a developer but it ended up that a huge amount of the work I was doing wasn’t actually hands on development. The initial part of it was in the front end of WordPress doing content and layout building that the team was developing the code for; the latter part of the contract was essentially leading a team that was doing the development.
I won’t lie, there was a huge part of me that found this frustrating. Frustrating on 2 fronts.
One was that I had taken this project on to improve my development skills. I’m acutely aware that as someone who came to development late and who has focused my development efforts on Genesis that I had limited myself in a couple of ways. I was keen to actually break out of those limits and gaps in my knowledge and the project wasn’t fulfilling that need.
The second was that the longer I was away from having my hands on the tools the harder it was to anticipate going back and getting my head back into that game. So I was a bit stuck.
This was my looming storm.
This was the place of choice for me.
I could throw myself into other avenues of learning in the development arena or stop, take stock, and explore other options; and there were a couple of critical moments that inspired me to do the latter, to change tack, to take a different approach.
The first was a casual drink with the Program Manager of the project we were working on. In the course of the conversation over a very tidy wine he told me that prior to what he was doing now, he was a coder. I was surprised by this, and as it was in the middle of my angst about not having my hands on the tools, I asked him “do you miss it?”
He said “No” and that response stuck with me… I started to wonder if maybe it was possible to see a life outside of what I was currently doing.
The second was also a conversation, one with a member of the his team about plans he was undertaking in regards to further study. He was doing a Scrum Master (agile project management) course and it sounded really interesting. So I started looking at what that looked like and found myself wondering if actually ratifying what was actually doing day to day in terms of bridging the client’s team and my team to move a project forward was something that was worth looking at as a future option.
So here I was looking ahead at all that was changing about WordPress and all the gaps in my knowledge on one hand, and on the other, finding myself doing really well at running a team, and seeing possibilities to transcend even WordPress and allow my skills and experience to spread my wings even further into other fields…
That’s when it all starts to get … rocky…If you’ve ever watched sailors tacking, or coming about you’ll see them transitioning from catching the wind on one side of the boat, and then swinging the boom and the tiller around to turn the boat across the wind to catch it from the other side; the sails flap, it looks untidy, there’s a flurry of action on the boat as the sailor moves the jib from one side to the other and you transition to pick up the wind 90 degrees away from where you were picking it up before.
Navigating change can be equally as messy as you transition from one state to another. When you’re uncertain, when you’re feeling out of control, it feels a little like that flapping sail. Here are some ways to manage the emotional transition that occurs.
A huge amount of the anxiety around a change is the fear of the unknown… so do your research, uncover some of the unknowns – the more you know the less uncertain you’ll feel, and the less anxious in transition.
Identify what you can control!
You can control what it is you know and what you don’t know and you can take steps to redress the imbalance where there are gaps… so if you’re flummoxed by the REST API then you have the power, and resources to find out about it!
You can control the direction your business goes in! You can adjust your business goals to catch the change if you wish! Your business is yours to do with as you wish!
Decide how you’ll respond
So set a course!
You can do the research, find out what’s coming, find out how other people are responding. Find out what your options are, think through what challenges lie in your way.
You are not powerless in the face of change… you really just have to decide how you’re going to exercise that power.
“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on the old but on building the new.” ~Socrates
Now that you’ve started to make your peace with the idea of change, and transition your thoughts and emotions through what that change is going to mean for your future, it’s time to let go that which has gone before and focus on what’s up ahead…
Tacking (or Coming About)
Here are 8 processes to put work through that will help the discomfort of looming change feel better, help you get some clarity about the possibility of what new directions you could actually take.
Identify the Dream
Before you make any radical or drastic decisions, take some time and ask yourself what is it you really want? Do you want your business to grow? Do you want to carry on doing the same work you’re doing now? Do you want to do something different? Ask yourself what it is you WANT?! Where do you want to go? And use that desire to fuel what you could do to move forward…
As I started to really think through the idea of taking my hands off the tools for a bit I had to ask myself a bunch of these kinds of questions… I had to weigh up that frustration of not having my hands on the tools enough and ask myself what I was really chafing against? The truth? I was struggling more with not finding myself challenged and inspired in my work… and so I then had to ask myself if skilling up my code was going to satisfy that. And the more I asked myself that, the more I found my responses lacking…
The things that started to light me up were things like working on large scale enterprise projects, working with great teams, helping coach people to great results MORE than the idea of sitting in my great little office digging away at gnarly code… I have to say… seeing the dream shift was a big deal for me… and at the moment I can’t honestly tell you if it’s going to stay that way or if things have the potential to change again, maybe there’s room for both. But knowing that I wanted to earn more, wanted to have more flexibility.
Establish your Motivation
So making that intellectual leap away from pushing deeper into the code and off onto something is all well and good. It’s fine to know that dream, but what is it that’s going to motivate you to take the steps to bring that dream to pass? Why are you going to change this direction?
Spend some time thinking about your motivations for making changes, and document them. Is it better profit? Is it establishing yourself in a niche? Is your motivation personal satisfaction? A better work/live balance?
Whatever it is, get in touch with and draw on it to keep your steps moving in the right direction.
As a caveat to this, I think one of the important things to take into account when you’re thinking about motivation is make sure that the thing that’s motivating you is YOUR thing… it’s not specific to ‘keeping up with that other coder in your neighbourhood’ it’s not all about what someone else wants you to do or what everyone else is doing? It isn’t even the current trends in WordPress or web development that should be motivating you… these things come and go and are fickle… but having your goal set and your reasons for that goal clear make achieving your goals a lot simpler and make changing your direction less like something to be feared, and more like something to get excited about.
Know what You are Shooting For
What is life going to look like after I have made the change? What’s the goal? If your motivation for making changes about how you’re approaching your work is a better work life balance, what does that mean? Working less hours a day? Spending more time with your loved ones? Having enough set aside for travel?
Having a goal is different than motivation. Having a goal is measurable, something you can tick off as achieved. Having the goal takes the Why and turns it into a How.
What is the pay-off if I don’t change? Here’s your reality check… What happens if I stay still?
This is a legitimate question and probably also serves to help be a motivating factor as well, but when you’re journeying through any kind of change management process whether it’s in your business, or it’s personal, when you’re responding to external changes or desiring internal ones it’s a valuable and sensible proposition to have an idea of what the alternative is.
Do I like that this change is happening? No? Do I have to change? Also no.. but what will that look like… you might not like the answer but you’ll have to make your peace with it and adjust your expectations accordingly…
Inventory your Resources
So once you’ve established the groundwork of the dream, you’re motivated, you know the goal, you know the alternatives, send some time establishing what you have at your disposal to help you get there? Is it your unique body of knowledge? is it your skill set? Is it the experience you’ve gained, is it the people and community around you? Is it all of the above?
What are the resources you have to be able to start formulating a plan of attack?
Set a plan of Action
And how are you going to combine all of these thoughts, goals and resources into a workable plan of attack? What are you going to to make it happen? What does your plan look like? How will you carry that plan out?
What will you need to do actually put that plan into place?
For me I’ll pick up some sticky notes, or a Trello board, break down the action plan into a whole bunch of simple measurable tasks, and tackle them one by one through a workflow of To Do, Doing, and Done.
Rinse and repeat through all your tasks until the action plan is complete.
Finally, there is nothing like some external accountability to keep you on target with your plans. Telling someone about it makes it real!
And if you’ve ever heard me talk before, you may have sensed a pattern in that pretty much every time I’ll come back to the need we all have for connection and the power of being part of a tribe. Which of course gives me the opportunity once again to extol value of the WordPress community and the value of the community to help each of us reach our goals, and to support and encourage us in our ongoing WordPress enterprises whatever they may look like. For me it’s absolutely the best part of what we do.
We are all in this together, we are all facing the same ‘environmental weather conditions’ in this business. We will all respond differently, and of course there’s no right or wrong way to respond! Just know that you’re not alone, that change will make you stronger! It can make your business stronger, it can be a catalyst for really really good things if you let it!
So here I am, a year after some significant changes of circumstance and direction having walked through all of the process I’ve outlined today… and now? I’m 80% hands off the tools for the greater part of my day, I’ve taken additional study, I have a new qualification and I’m gaining experience in the enterprise arena leading a diverse, and dispersed group of people through a brand new website project.
This change has given me a chance to spread my wings in ways I’d not expected to be able to, and as I look at the future, it also removes the ties from any particular technology or tool, so it’s helping me future proof myself to some degree as well, I could transfer these skills to other platforms as opportunities arise!
Is it a permanent change? I don’t know. Is it one that’s working for now? Absolutely. Did it hurt? Yes, Does it still? No!
It’s been quite the ride and honestly? the people I’m working with are huge part of the payoff for me. I’m still working from home, I’m still in my own home office, but I’m also part of a fantastic team and the angst of changing my direction is nothing compared to the benefits of making them and the fun of working with the people I have the opportunity to build awesome things with.
There you have it… I hope that having this chat this inspires you to do some critical reflection about where you’re at, where you want to go, how you’re going to respond to the winds blowing your way. I hope too that you’ll be a little better armed to respond gracefully as the winds come and go!
Thank you for listening!