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2019: A Retrospective - Grit

Vincent Danen

January 02, 2020

I've enjoyed reading (and writing) these annual retrospectives. This will be the fourth that I've written. There are two recurring themes I read from the past retrospectives: tough and hope. Life is tough -- be that in work or personal life. But there is hope. Every year I look back and see how much was painful and hard and yet, at the end of each year, I see the accomplishments. The things that made tough worth it. The things that make me hopeful come the next time I write one of these.

2019 was no different.

It seems like every year I say this was the toughest year. Then the next year I say "no, this was the toughest year!" Will I say the same thing again? Probably! What I'm coming to see is that as we grow and look back and experience new things, it's always harder. As we move forward, as we accomplish more, there is more adversity to conquer. There is more growth to experience. There is always more that we strive for and in that striving comes cost and sacrifice.

So what can we say about this year? We'll start on the work side of things. When I look at what was accomplished at work, I'm honestly blown away. This was my first year of really feeling settled in the role I unexpectedly found myself in just over a year ago. Last year was hard because I felt like I was treading water just figuring out how to lead the team -- no training, no instruction, just expectations. It's like learning anything new: riding a bike or surfing. There was a lot of unsteady riding, a lot of figuring out how to keep balance. I remember teaching my daughter how to ride a bike -- there was a helmet, training wheels, a bike her size. As she grew more confident the training wheels came off but those first few "solo" rides saw me running behind her hanging on to the bike to keep it balanced. And then she was riding free, all on her own using her own muscles and her own skill.

2018 was like a kid learning to ride an adult bike with no training wheels, no helmet, and no parent hanging on to the back to keep me upright.

2019 was not mastering the ride, but remaining upright more often than not, catching my balance, falling and dusting myself off and getting back on and riding for all I was worth.

For me it isn't about how much I stayed balanced on the bike, pedalling like a crazy person. It was about how many times I fell off the bike and chose to get back on and keep going. It's for that reason that my word for this year is grit. Because without a huge dose of grit I don't think I would have gotten back on the bike as many times as I did, or went as far on it as I had.

I can't get into all the details of what I accomplished at work, but suffice it to say there was a lot! I hope my team, who had the opportunity to live through and hopefully experience the benefits of those things, would agree that we did a lot in 2019 that we'd never done before and there was a lot of change made. A lot of "back to basics" to reset some things, some pivoting, some chasing of new things that have profound impact on not just us but our customers.

Looking back I feel really good about what was accomplished this year, even if there were some mishaps. I also feel good about finishing ALDP (Advanced Leadership Development Program), which consumed a lot of time and effort for the first 6 months of the year. Graduating that program was, to me, a huge benefit. Not for my career, although there is that, but for me personally. I learned a lot about myself through that program that I might not have learned otherwise. When you're stretched to the point where you're ready to snap -- yet stay held together -- you learn a lot about what your capacity is, about the load you can bear... even if just for a time (and I certainly wouldn't recommend doing it for a prolonged period of time!). One of the things I appreciate about Red Hat is the investment in people -- growing and stretching leaders in hugely positive ways so that we can take what we learn to then grow and stretch those we are responsible for. Our whole point as leaders is to grow and build people, so programs like this are amazing.

Midway through the year we got our new "parents in blue" and I don't have much to say about that aside from it made things feel different and challenging at a meta level. The day-to-day didn't change, at least not for me or my team, but the feeling of no longer being masters of our own destiny was there. Whether this is an accurate statement or just a feeling remains to be seen... I'm well aware that feelings are often wrong so, as they say, the proof is in the pudding. I did get a chance to meet with the IBM PSIRT in person which was cool and I think they're a great crew. We'll see what that means for the future.

On the personal side of things.... well, life continues to be messy. The health challenges my wife was facing last October are unfortunately back again and we still have no answers. But now we recognize the symptoms and can manage them even if we don't yet know the underlying cause. Hopefully we will have answers soon this time around. Honestly, the last year with her has been a gift because I know that without God's intervention she would have died a year ago. It is a bonafide miracle that she was around this year, and I'm immensely grateful for it.

My daughter became an adult this year which has proven to be interesting. All the things the father of a daughter knows is coming are here now -- she is her own person and making her own way in the world. I only hope I did a good enough job! She's shown a lot of grit this year in her own way and while she didn't do everything the way I would have or wanted her to (makes sense, she is her own person), she's done pretty good. Especially the last few months of her schooling, I've seen her adapt to the new realities of adulthood and I couldn't be prouder. 2020 will be a good year for her, I think, as she's getting out the gate well and really wants to do well.

She's even reading David Allen's GTD book which is pretty astonishing =)

Finally, I've done far too much traveling this year. Again. I've been to NC twice, Boston three times, Atlanta, Victoria, to the Czech, Israel, and Australia. I actually obtained status with Air Canada which is a bit mind blowing. 2020 is shaping up to be more of the same. The nice thing about having an adult child is that my wife will be able to come with me on some of these trips.

All in all, 2019 was hard -- lots of challenges, lots of new things, and a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. But here at the beginning of 2020, I'm grateful because through adversity you find where your true strength lies. And when you've found it, and you know it exists, it is something you can always lean on and it will always serve you.

On a final note, years ago I read the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. I cannot recommend this book enough. One of the main things I pulled from that book was to create a set of personal guiding principles, a personal mission statement, that serves as a compass for everything you do. I cannot stress enough how invaluable an exercise like this is. Every circumstance, choice and decision has to stand the test of alignment to that compass. When you have a thousand things coming at you a thousand different ways, having that compass to steer you to your True North is beyond valuable -- it's absolutely critical.

I created the personal mission statement, and then because I'm both a nerd and a Christian, I aligned them to verses from the Bible because I knew that if they were the right things to have, I would find substance to support them in the Bible. I've had this for years and I'm not sure whether I shared it before. I'll share it now as an example of what is my personal mission statement and, perhaps, this may inspire some to figure out what their own compass is.

  • Jesus Christ is first in all things
  • Seek and merit divine help
  • Never compromise honesty or integrity
  • Facilitate the success of those who work with me
  • Listen twice as much as I speak
  • Money is my servant, not my master
  • Be generous with my time and money to those in need
  • Take an honest interest in the people around me
  • Always believe the best in and about others
  • Be courageous in the face of obstacles
  • Never give up
  • With God's help, be the best husband and father that I can be
  • Maintain disciple and properly manage my time
  • Control my emotions, never let them control me

Cheers, and my hope and prayer is that everyone who reads this has an amazing 2020 of learning, growing, and developing!

KB Singh
January 02, 2020 @ 10:37 PM

Have a great year ahead Vincent, see you in the trenches.

Vincent Danen
January 03, 2020 @ 1:25 AM

Thanks KB! The trenches promise to be interesting this year I think =)

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