The Friday before the 2016 Presidential Election, I was at the same coffee shop that I had been going to almost every day for years. At one point I looked up from my laptop and noticed someone with an ear piece standing outside the window. After working for a while longer, I remembered that Vice President Biden was speaking in Madison that morning, campaigning for Hillary Clinton and Russ Feingold, who was running for his old Senate seat again.
A little while later, I noticed that Secret Service had actually stopped letting people in without Press credentials and there were many reporters inside and outside the cafe.
The next thing I remember is the motorcade coming around the corner and stopping right in front of Colectivo. I just found the moment in Slack where I was in the middle of a conversation when I said:
brb, joe biden is here i think he’s literally walking into Colectivo he is
First Russ Feingold came in. I had been sitting in the front of the cafe when all this started, so I was one of the first people to shake his hand when he walked in the door. (It probably didn’t hurt that I had a huge Russ Feindgold bumper sticker on the cover of my laptop 🙃)
Then Joe Biden came in and shook everyone’s hand. He noticed someone with a Green Bay Packers phone cover and told a story about how he got out of school early on Mondays if the Packers won. Then he walked into the middle of the restaurant and announced, “I’m Joe Biden and I work for Russ Feingold.”
I think about this day a lot when I encounter people that are less than enthusiastic about the idea of a President Biden. He wasn’t my first choice in the Democratic primary, but he is qualified to be President, he’s a good person, and he would make things better for most people instead of worse. In a lot of ways, he’s the opposite of our current President.
This week is five years since I started working at Automattic. In some ways, it doesn’t seem like it could possibly be that long. We’re growing fast — over 80% of the company started after me. At the same time, my job has changed a lot and when I think of everything I’ve worked on, I don’t know how it all fits into five years.
In a few weeks I leave for a three month, paid sabbatical — a perk everyone is eligible for after five years. I’ve been getting advice from colleagues. Unplug. Take time for yourself. Travel. I’m excited for the opportunity.
People are often surprised to hear that I’ve worked at the same company for this long. Apparently five years is a long time in tech. Or maybe it’s because I’m a millennial. Regardless, they usually want to know why I’ve stayed for so long. The sabbatical is a big, exciting thing to talk about, but the day-to-day flexibility is the real reason. We have an open vacation policy, I get to set my own hours, and I can work from anywhere with an internet connection. The list goes on. This can be an adjustment for most people — especially not having a central office to work in, but after you’re used to it, the alternative sounds worse.
Lots of people tell me they’ve tried working “remote” and they don’t understand how I do it — or how we run a company of over 700 people this way. I’ve learned this usually means they’ve had an opportunity to work from home a few days a week. It sounds like the same thing, but it’s fundamentally different from what Automattic does. The main difference is communication. If you work in an office, you’re naturally worried about missing out on what’s happening in the office. As a fully distributed company, communication is all online and there are no office meetings that you never hear about. We have a saying, “P2 or it didn’t happen”, which means if you don’t post notes to an internal blog, you can’t expect anybody to know about it. And everyone does because it’s the primary way we communicate.
I’m excited to take a break and unplug, but I’m equally excited to come back this fall because things are moving fast around here and there are some exciting changes ahead.
As grown-ups, dare we admit to ourselves that we, too, have a collective immaturity of view? Dare we admit that our thoughts and behaviors spring from a belief that the world revolves around us? Apparently not. Yet evidence abounds. Part the curtains of society’s racial, ethnic, religious, national, and cultural conflicts, and you find the human ego turning the knobs and pulling the levers.
Happy New Year! I’ve spent the last week reflecting on 2016 and thinking about what I’d like to change in the coming year. You can probably see there’s an accidental theme. There are no professional goals, which wasn’t on purpose, but I think even one or two of these would positively impact my focus during the day.
I’m going to use Headspace at least once a week. The idea is to meditate every day before work, but I know I will miss some days and that’s fine.
Run a half marathon
And also train for it. I have this terrible habit of signing up for races with the idea that it will force me to run more and then just running the race out of shape.
The half marathon isn’t really in question. I guess the real resolution is to train for it.
Read more books and less news
I find books — especially paperbacks — to be more relaxing and calming. Right now I’m reading Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari. He writes in the same voice he performs and it’s pretty hilarious. I’m very late to the game on this one, but highly recommend it if you liked his Netflix special.
For news, I’d like an app that sends notifications about actual, important, breaking news. I had high hopes for the Apple News app, but they let publishers decide what justifies a push notification.
I’ve started to use the news as a crutch, like Facebook or Twitter, when I’m bored. The fact is that most of it isn’t important enough, also like Facebook and Twitter, that I need to know it in the next 24 hours — or ever.
Play more music
I tried to be specific for most of these, but the music thing is hard. Realistically, I have a couple months of Saturdays left until I’d rather be on a bike ride than playing guitar. I learned a few new songs over the holiday break and generally find it’s a good way to clear my mind when it’s too cold to go for a run.
Last week’s episode of This American Life is about people making the wrong choices even when they know they are wrong. The first segment, from Malcom Gladwell’s new podcast, Revisionist History, is especially interesting. He talks to Rick Barry about Wilt Chamberlain and perfectionism.