Right so yes. 2020, hello. One of my 2020 resolutions is to get back to my personal blog. Weekly. Yeah right. Let’s aim for weekly and be happy with monthly.
For my first post let’s do the obligatory look-back-over-last-year. Not because it’s trendy (I’m 41 now, I don’t care about being trendy any more), but because it’s super important for me to understand what I went through and what I achieved last year (every year), otherwise I get caught up in the hamster-wheel of the-next-thing-and-the-next-thing-and-the-next-thing. Progress should be celebrated, not just ignored for the next item on the ever growing, ever pressing TODO list. Also, looking back helps me to plan the next year. Doesn’t have to be super-planned, but setting some goals, objectives, ideas for which direction I’d prefer to go in helps me decide how to prioritise that ever-growing, ever-pressing TODO list.
Also can I just take this moment to express how liberating it is to say “I” and “me”? My professional blog posts contain a lot of my own “voice”, but you have to think a lot more about the reader. For the personal ones, it’s so refreshing to be like “sure it’s nice if this helps someone or they find it useful, but ultimately it’s my thing and it’s all about me.”
Am I procrastinating over writing about 2019? Yes for sure. I’ve thought about writing this many times but not motivated myself to do so yet. I’m sat on the plane with nothing else to do and I’m still desperately writing any other words than the words that cover one my hardest years. Deep breath. Just do it.
Warning: in this post I talk a lot about the death of a parent.
In 2019 my Mum died. There, let’s just put it out there, rip the bandage off and start crying on the plane before I’ve even written anything of substance. That’s what 2019 will always be remembered for. I’ve already written a bit about Mum so I’m going to try not to go on specifically about what Mum meant to me, but obviously I’m going to talk about her here.
2019 started off rough. At the end of 2018 I was already concerned that I was burnt or burning out. I’d tried to cram 12 months-worth of work into 9 months of actual time (let’s talk another time about how maternity leave affects us actually or in our own minds). Mum had already been diagnosed with terminal cancer but was bring treated for it. My eldest (only 3 at the end of 2018) had just started school. Things were hard at home (I have a fantastic support network but it’s still really difficult having two tiny children, it puts a lot of pressure on your relationship with your other half). We had all gone to the UK for Christmas, including my Spanish mother-in-law, stayed in a miserable hotel for two weeks so we could spend what could possibly be our last Christmas all together.
With home being much, much higher priority than work, plus (and I cannot stress this enough) a very supportive boss and employer, my focus for 2019 was not on my professional life. I said yes only to travel that was to the UK, or to trips that I thought I was going to personally enjoy or benefit from (my trip to New York in February left me feeling recharged even despite the food poisoning!). I went to the UK most months, alternating trips with the kids so they could see their Gran, and trips alone so I could spend real time with my Mum.
I tried to balance doing an adequate job with my personal needs. Have you every tried to do “merely” an adequate job? I actually found it very challenging not to push my very hardest, not to do my best, at work. To let things slip because other things were frankly more important. I felt like I was doing a bad job at everything all the time (of course, I’ve always felt like I could do better, and since becoming a working mother it’s even harder to escape the feeling that you’re doing an inadequate job at everything). I turned down as many tasks, opportunities, offers as I felt that I could. I tried to put my professional life on hold, but also keep it ticking along, but also wind it down a bit… it was hard.
Early in 2019 (March I think) the doctors said they were going to stop Mum’s chemo because it wasn’t working any more. It was only a matter of time and we didn’t know how much. “Probably not years”.
In July I got the call from my sister I was both dreading and hoping for: “Mum’s not doing well”. Dreading, for obvious reasons . Hoping for, because at least there may be some warning, and I could be there. Difficult to tell if this is just another fever that will pass, or something more. I got on a plane to pop over there for the weekend, extended my stay when things were clearly more serious, and was “fortunate” to be able to look after Mum for the two weeks when she most needed us all, and I most needed to be there. I missed the kids horribly but it was liberating to be there alone and to be able to focus entirely on what Mum (and Dad) needed. My presence also meant my sister could juggle what her kids needed as well as being available for Mum (and for me!) as much as possible. My husband came over the day after Mum passed away when I needed him the most. It was an awful time but strengthened the most important bonds. I’m also extremely grateful for my Spanish family’s support looking after the kids, and I recognise my position of privilege which made this the least bad it could be.
August I didn’t work at all. Me, the husband, the kids, the Spanish aunts and the mother in law had all planned to be at the beach for the month anyway, so we got away. Dad came to stay with us there for a week too, which was lovely.
September I felt compelled to “get back to normal” and to “do some actual work”. I worked my butt off from then until the end of the year . I’m not sure I did what people at JetBrains wanted me to do, but I did what I thought were valuable things for a Java Developer Advocate at JetBrains to do: I presented at Googleface to face of the JCP in San Franciscolong, complex live demo at Spring Oneten video-and-blog series took literally weeks); I did all the usual stuff (release videos, annotated monthly, some Twitter tips (note: I’m not the only one who contributes to these), another conference talk and a webinar). I didn’t take a day’s vacation, and I travelled much less than usual, although I did go to the UK and took the chance to have some precious time with just my sister and Dad.
I took nearly three weeks off over Christmas. Dad came here for two of them, it was fantastic to connect with him and for him to spend lots of time with his grandchildren. It was also great for him to see how we actually live here in Seville now, with Mum’s health he hasn’t been able to come for over two years.
2019 was shit for some other reasons too:
- We lost (Ok, “came second in”) the rugby world cup. I cried in the pub.
- Brexit. Everything about Brexit. And the stupid election. Just… don’t get me started
- My husband burst another blood vessel inside his eye and can’t see properly. Technically that was Jan 5 2020 but I’d like to pile that up with the 2019 crap.
From memory, that’s my 2019. But I do want to pull out achievements/progress, good stuff, etc. These aren’t all about me, but family life is so entangled what impacts one of you impacts you all:
- E (now 4) is well settled at school and has real friends. Yesterday she even said she had a boyfriend (er …). She missed her friends so much over Christmas she was desperate to get back to school. Evie is funny (very funny), smart, and kind. She’s also stubborn and intelligent. Intelligence in a four-year-old is not always a good thing….
- A (now 2) is at that ridiculously adorable age. Old enough to be like a tiny person (also potty trained over Christmas, yay to the end of nappies!! Just as soon as I can trust her overnight…), young enough not to require quite as much negotiation over freaking everything as E. A likes to make you laugh, she gives the best hugs and kisses, and she’s not stupid at all. She also is capable of the most insane meltdowns.
- E and A also seem to be not only getting on OK together, they seem to genuinely love each other and like playing together. It’s adorable. And less effort for me. Marginally.
- My husband and I are working much better as a team than last year. This is my blog, not his, so it’s not right to talk to much about this in public I think, but it’s important progress in 2019: we have come a long way from arguments in the car in the alps to a couple who, in the words of my friend “actually like talking to each other”.
- Speaking of him, he has had some huge achievements himself. From an idea of “something cool” to a working application that is open to friends and family, an incorporated company with other actual real people (i.e. not just me and him) who are all super excited about the product, and investors genuinely interested in giving them money (when they’re in the fortunate position of not needing it. Yet.). Huge professional progress.
- For me, I made actual real friends in Seville. 2019 was the sixth year I’ve been here. Working remotely cuts you off from people, but mostly I cut myself off. I find it hard to make friends and couldn’t be bothered to learn enough of the language or invest enough emotional time in making friends. Evie’s school opened up options, so now I have acquaintances I like in the other mums and dads, but also have made a very good friend of a lovely lady . She’s welsh so I’m still too lazy to learn enough Spanish! She’s opened me up to a group of other British mums (with Spanish partners and small children), and she and I do body pump regularly too.
- Fitness-wise, I’m not as thin as I was at the end of last year, but that’s probably because I eat better and look after myself more. I don’t run as much as I’d like, but I’ve been going to the gym at least twice a week, and getting out for a run a few times a month. I’d like to improve this in 2020 but I’m happy to have worked it into the routine a bit in 2019.
- Professionally, the tail end of 2019 forced me to think a lot about what I want. And as part of that I’ve changed my working habits to prioritise “meeting” people (via hangouts or whatever) over content. I need to change the way I work and I recognise now that I cannot do that alone, I need to bounce ideas off people and to get outside of my own head. Also, while my content is valuable it’s not the only value I bring as a) a developer advocate and b ) Trisha Gee.
- We sold “el campo”, our villa outside of Seville. It was hard to let that beautiful space go, even harder clearing up a lot of Mum & Dad’s stuff that they had there before Mum even left us, knowing that however long she had left she was never coming out to see us. But selling that place really has been one less thing to worry about, one less bit of guilt about not using such a beautiful child-friendly space.
- Brexit forced me to finally switch my UK driving licence for a Spanish one. Losing my residence card in San Francisco in 2018 forced me to get a new one, which meant I applied for a “permanent” one, whatever that might mean. We’re married, so that paperwork is done. I pay my taxes. So I think I’ve done all I can now to mitigate the Brexit effects, whatever they might be. We still don’t know. We might never know. I just can’t worry about it any more, I’ve done all I can, and there’s enough (literally) keeping me awake at night, I can no longer stress about something so completely out of my control
Given the shitshow that was 2019 (sorry I mean “enormous pile of ‘opportunities for learning and growth’"), I have one key objective for 2020:
The shit that was, well, shit about 2019 was almost entirely out of my control, so this might seem like a weird objective since I don’t know what crap 2020 is going to throw at me. But anywhere I do have control, I want to use “be happy” as my steering vision. Given a choice, which option will make me most happy? Given my ever-growing, ever-pressing TODO list (both personal and professional), I’m going to prioritise the stuff that gives me more joy, or leads to more happiness. Sometimes, that will mean doing boring or crap stuff (like paperwork) in order to free me from worrying about it. Sometimes it’s going to be saying “no” to a “great” opportunity that may be fantastic, but will mean more work, more worry, more time away from my family or simply isn’t something I want to be doing right now.
Life is short. Really far too short. At 41, married with two tiny kids, living like you might die tomorrow doesn’t mean clubbing, drinking, loads of sex or whatever. It means being with my family (and actually being present with them when I am) but also taking time for myself. Whether that’s travel for work (which can be like a mini holiday if I get your mind and everything else in the right place) or whether that’s prioritising Body Pump over creating some new Twitter tips. It may mean slowing down professionally, or it may mean working smarter not harder.
I want to be happier in 2020. I want to be much more creative (by which I mean, feel freer with what I create, not “create more”). I want to feel better about everything, I want to feel happy with what I’ve done, not simply look to do more to fill the hole.
I don’t really know how to do this, but that’s never stopped me before. It’s just something else I’m going to have to learn.