As I sit here taking my first real break of the year, suffering with fever, chills and a ridiculously stuffy nose that has lasted since before the holidays began, I turn once again to a retrospective of 2018 after reading the one I wrote last year. Once again, life provided no shortage of “interesting things” this year and since I appear to be doing this on an annual basis (and enjoying looking back), why break with a new(ish) tradition?
If I had to define this last year with a word it would be resilience.
I have a couple other choice words for 2018. Crazy. Insane. Busy. Challenging. Frustrating. Stressful. The list could go on, but I don’t like any of those words because they just define the period in time. I like resilience because it defines me. How I handled all of those other choice words is summed up in this one.
2018 was going to be a challenging year, without a doubt. I knew that towards the end of last year when I found out I would be leading the Red Hat Product Security team, at least on an interim basis. I started 2018 as the interim Director of the team and the only things in my favour were experience and a crap-ton of tenacity and determination. It was not a given thing that I would remain in this role (I did not know if I wanted it, or if it wanted me). Before taking this role I had spoken with my new manager once for about five minutes, three years prior. He was a new unknown. My new peers were entirely unknown. Would I like working with them? I have this thing about working relationships, so knowing the answer to this question was important for me. Thankfully, they’re all awesome, a really great group of people. My new boss is fantastic and I really enjoy working for him. But this was a great unknown for me given I had reported to my predecessor for 9 years; he was an amazing boss and it was a distinct honour to work for him. I’d changed roles a few times in Product Security in the last few years but my manager was my single constant throughout that time.
At any rate, I also went with some friends from our church and my family to take a 2.5 week tour of Israel, Egypt and Jordan which was awesome. It was time off but I think I “worked” harder on that trip than I do at work (at least insofar as the walking is concerned!). Shortly after we came back, it was to the permanency of my role within Red Hat Product Security.
Which kicked off a whole new level of responsibility and ownership for a team that I have had the amazing privilege of working with for almost a decade. There was a ton to learn, a whole world of “stuff” that I never had to think about before. The weight of this responsibility settled on my shoulders and I think it actually settled pretty well. At least it felt comfortable. Hard to describe, honestly, but I never felt overwhelmed. Out of my depth at times, certainly. There were days that the “imposter syndrome” felt very very real. And this year I pushed harder, worked harder, worked longer, than I ever had before in the past. And while there were weeks that felt really rough and were really draining, I didn’t ever feel empty or drained. I think the sheer challenge in and of itself energized me.
Suffice it to say, from a work perspective, this was a very busy, very challenging, but very fulfilling year. I found how to be resilient and adapt to the change and come out of it at the end of the year better than I went into it.
On the personal side, things this year were also tough. There were some really significant medical things to deal with, from a family member suffering with depression, to another with acute pancreatitis, to another with a bleed in the brain, and finally to my own wife who by the doctors accounts really shouldn’t be celebrating Christmas with us this year (but who, by the grace of God, is!). Thankfully all of these are either resolved or looking so much better, but this was a real personal strain on me this year, while at the same time trying to lead my amazing team and grow into the role I thought I would have had a lot more time to prepare for.
Either one of these personal or professional scenarios on its own is pretty tough. When you throw both of them together, it’s been one heck of a year. But here I sit, writing this at the end of the year, looking back on all of these challenges and feeling no worse for it. (I do actually feel worse right now having gotten my daughter’s cold.)
I was having a conversation with some other leaders in Red Hat earlier this month as part of the ALDP (Advanced Leadership Development Program) that I am in, and we were talking about resiliency. Resilience was defined as: how quickly and effectively you are able to take steps that are positive and moving forward in the face of adversity or challenges. Without that conversation and that definition, I probably wouldn’t have defined 2018 by resilience. However when I look back over the last year, it simply must be defined that way.
What’s the purpose behind sharing this? Well, I’ve learned that resilience isn’t necessarily something that you’re born with and it can certainly be learned. Like a muscle exercised over time you can grow your resilience. I look at 2018 as setting me up to handle the challenges I’m sure to be facing ahead (without pointing to the big… ummm… “purple elephant” in the room). This muscle has been exercised a lot this year. With the perspective of time and distance, I can honestly say that it is stronger now (and was probably stronger than I thought to begin with). I imagine this is true for most of those reading this if you’re honest with yourself. None of us thinks we can do it until we’re put into a position where we have no choice but to do it. The amazing adaptability of humans will never cease to amaze me.
One thing I’ve realized is that the world is much more volatile and the pace of change is increasing. We all need to be more resilient in this volatile, uncertain and ever-changing environment. Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher, once said, “Change is the only constant.” How true this is. Jesus, in Matt 6:34 said, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” This too is absolutely true.
We can paralyze ourselves with what-ifs. All we can really do is take care of today and prepare for tomorrow. Worrying and stressing about it, or what it might bring, does us no good. Doing the best that you can today is all anyone can ever ask and honestly it’s all you can deliver. You can’t deliver tomorrow today, so why worry about it? Show up at your best today and worry about tomorrow, well, tomorrow.
Finally, I think a lot of what kept me going through everything this year boils down to a number of factors. First and foremost is my relationship with Jesus. I am simply no good without Him. Secondly, the faith and support of my amazing wife who put up with a 390% increase in travel this year compared to last year, not to mention a 50% increase in time spent working. I am simply no good without her. And finally to my amazing team, who put up with me for more hours a week than they probably should have had to and who do such a stellar job and, for the most part, make my job pretty straightforward. I could not do what I do without them.
I said last year that I would blog more. That didn’t happen, unfortunately. I make no promises for next year… we’ll see what happens. I hope everyone had an amazing Christmas with friends and family, as well as a safe and prosperous New Year!