I recently had a birthday – and next year will be one of the big “Star-Oh” birthdays, you know, 20, 30, 40, 50… I try to reflect back every year, and project forward, something like a retrospective you might encounter after completing a project at work. During this look-around, I think about the lessons I learned over the year, any highlights, and any lowlights. Last week, I talked about lessons learned over my past year, and this time I’d like to talk in very general terms about some highlights and lowlights, and end with a bonus: some things I’m grateful for.

Lowlights

Because I’m the person I am (I want to be an optimist, even though I often approach the world with a slightly-negative bias) I will start with the lowlights so we end on a high note!

  • I tried to put on a strong face for a job, and muddled the job badly by being inauthentic, or only partially-authentic. I regret a lot about using the facade I chose to use, and how badly it fit me
  • I over-booked my money, and therefore I made some rash choices to respond, and kept my living costs artificially, unusually, painfully low for about a year so that I could actually pay my bills on-time. I miss things like travel, new clothes, restaurant meals, and gym activities (partially offset by the fact that many of those things aren’t really available during covid, but still painful nonetheless)
  • I haven’t visited family in the Midwest all year! I usually visit at least one person, one time a year…

Highlights

I am more fond of sharing my highlights, because of the optimistic face I like to direct toward the world, and also because I feel like focusing on negative thoughts makes me a negative person.

  • I’ve gotten such good feedback on these posts here. I could wish I got more, but the few responses I have had on the blog and online leave me with some serious warm-fuzzies
  • I bought a house! I didn’t know that last year would be the year I bought a home, but I closed on the birthday before this one, and have enjoyed doing projects and making things happen around the hosue, since then
  • I’ve managed to make new friends even despite the global pandemic. I worried that I would go hermit and lose all my friends, but instead I’ve managed to uphold my most important relationships, despite the distance, and even carve out one or two good new ones, somehow

Thanks

I hear that being grateful is good for your mental health and well-being, and I can guarantee you that this is true. Whenever I’m struggling a bit, I add in a daily gratitude list to my routine, where I express how thankful I am for 3 things (which vary day-to-day). Here are three things I’ve been grateful for consistently, this last year.

  • I am very thankful for my friends, old and new
  • I’m very thankful for the many gifts my hard work and a decent amount of luck have brought me
  • I am grateful for my supportive and interesting family members who bring me joy with every phone call (and someday in-person, again!)

I recently had a birthday – and next year will be one of the big “Star-Oh” birthdays, you know, 20, 30, 40, 50… I try to reflect back every year, and project forward, something like a retrospective you might encounter after completing a project at work. During this look-around, I think about the lessons I learned over the year, any highlights, and any lowlights. Because I’m not doing this at work, I skip developing a list of any Action Items 😀

Here are some of the lessons I learned this year:

  • I still need to improve my prioritization methods. (I primarily use Dale Carnegie’s Important vs Urgent quadrant and block time on my calendar to execute.) I am good at addressing the highest priority, most urgent items, first. However, I don’t always look ahead with a wide-enough window, and so large projects that are due somewhat soon, but not immediately, get allocated time in a sub-optimal manner. This means I struggle to complete these types of task to my high quality bar, in the little time I have remaining before the item comes due.
  • I need to be more intentional with my hiring. Amazon has trained me to always be hiring, because I’m likely to get headcount for my rapidly-growing team in steady blocks at least once a year, more likely twice, sometimes even four times a year. So if I have a pipeline that I’m curating all year round, I’ll be more successful at filling my projects than if I’m reacting. So while that part’s working well for me, I hired two engineers when I had three positions open up on 1/01. The third position, the project manager, I thought I’d have in the bag since I used to be a TPM! I was mistaken. After moving through my warm-backlog of candidates without finding the right person, I had already hired and started my two engineers, and with the two interns who are also starting soon, I have 4 more engineers’ worth of work on my plate, and no project manager to help split the load. This is the first time I’ve regretted being so successful at hiring, and makes me hesitate to be so enthusiastic about adding engineers, temporary OR full-time, anytime in the near future.
  • I need to coach my team on management tasks earlier and more often. I took a couple of months after joining my current team to figure out who was interested in learning any management skills, and then made sure that these individuals start to develop the personal goals they need to encourage, track, and support their learning in this area. Then I coach them in the skills themselves. In the meantime, I went on to hire more engineers than I could comfortably on-board, without having the task-level and project-level management support available from my more senior engineers, and still with that TPM slot open. While that’s support is coming soon, I’m currently working a bit more than I had imagined, because of the mis-allocation.
  • I need to keep my eyes open more frequently to people’s non-verbal signals, especially when they’re at the front of the pack. I tend to believe leaders: when they say a thing, their words are simply true. I sometimes choose to ignore the non-verbal signals that accompany that signal and make it a bit fuzzier. Leaders don’t get respect just because they’re leaders, they get respect because they’ve earned it. If they haven’t earned it yet with me, personally, I must trust AND verify in order to be sure I’m reading their words, body language, and the situation correctly.

These are the main lessons I’ve learned in the past one-circle-around the sun. Next post, I’ll discuss some highlights and lowlights from the past year!