Open Thinkering


Tag: life

I needed to write a blog post this morning…

…I don’t know why. Perhaps it’s something to do with self-actualisation. While I use 750words in bursts, the words I write there are private. There’s something about writing for an audience that’s qualitatively different. I guess it’s a different form of communication, even if the means we use to get there are the same.

While I write my weeknotes regularly, they tend to focus on ‘hard’ stuff, the things I’m working on, the places I’ve been. What I often let slide are the things I’m thinking, the things that have inspired me, the relationships I value. So let’s rectify that a bit. Apologies in advance if this feels a little stream-of-consciousness.

I’m writing – or, to be more precise typing – this in my local library. I walk my son to school most mornings and then come here. And then,  until ~10am I ‘work’ on things that are important to me. Whenever I talk to people about money and salaries, these are things on which it’s impossible to place a numerical value.

Until very recently, I checked my work emails as soon as I got up. I knew it wasn’t advisable, but I wanted to ‘be prepared’ for the day. Now I’m learning once again that there’s better ways to do that preparation; getting something under your belt in the morning is important. It’s about doing something that emanates from your own thinking rather than someone else’s. I’ve seen people talk about taking their ’emotional temperature’ for the day, which I think is a great idea:

Finding my baseline is like checking to see which version of me showed up. There’s some thing which some of us aren’t so good at, but we’re good at other things. Restless me isn’t so good at sleeping, but he can read like a motherf***er. Yelling at him isn’t gonna get him to sleep any faster. (Zefrank, via Vinay Gupta)

Some days I wake up bouncing, and ready to get ALL THE THINGS done. Some days I wake up melancholic. And some days I wake up angry. On days where my emotions are sub-optimal, I find it’s helpful to keep myself to myself and read some Marcus Aurelius or Montaigne.

A couple of people on our team (Michelle and Laura) are based in Germany, so are an hour ahead of me. However, like me, they tend to time-shift their working day to overlap more with the bulk of our Mozilla colleagues located in places that use Eastern Time (GMT -5) and Pacific Time (GMT -8). While I enjoy the slower start to the day, I do find it awkward to balance the need to have meetings between the time my children come home from school/nursery and the time they go to bed.

Working from home isn’t what I expected it to be. It’s better in lots of respects, and worse in others. The thing I find hardest is being ‘present’ but not ‘Present’, if you see what I mean. I have an office in a converted garage separate to the house, but I need to pop into the house now and again to grab something, go to the toilet, or get a drink. Having to turn down playing with your kids on these occasions sucks, but it’s the nature of the beast.

The great thing about working from home is the lack of commuting time and the ability to work from places you choose. As I’ve already mentioned, I’m currently in the library, and I’ll switch to my Mozilla work before heading to the gym later. On Friday I’ll work from places in Newcastle after dropping my wife off at work.

I know some people struggle with the performativity of remote working, but I’ve found that, in general, people treat you in ways that you allow them to treat you. Things that help with that are over-communicating things – “I’m going to be…”, “I am…”, “I was…”. At Mozilla we ‘ping’ each other a lot. If the other person doesn’t respond, then we use an asynchronous means of communication (or find someone else to ask). Setting my IRC status and Skype status to ‘Away’ when I’m having lunch or at the gym helps manage my colleagues’ expectations.

Routines help a lot. As I’ve written before, habits are things you get for free. Every lunchtime we can, upon returning from the gym/swimming, I make eggs and coffee for my wife and we do the crossword together. It makes me feel old saying it, but I can’t tell you how much pleasure that brings me.

One thing that feels a bit odd having just bought the house we’ve been renting for the last few months is that, unlike previous places we’ve settled, this time it feels like we could be here for a long time. I’m not great at sustaining friendships, and I’ve previously been able to justify that by knowing that I tend to change jobs (and move house) every couple of years. But this time feels different. I’m pretty happy in my current role, and everything’s set up for us here in Morpeth to put down some roots. I need to make the effort.

A colleague of mine got married recently and on return from honeymoon said that they had “done some thinking about what [they] want to do with their life”. Someone else on Twitter who I hadn’t heard from since leaving teaching said that they were “still looking what to be when [they] grow up”. It’s an interesting dilemma, as on the one hand, we want to reject the ‘job for life’ approach that previous generations had. We don’t want work to define us. But yet, on the other hand, we struggle with our place in the world, our identity, because the transient nature of our ‘knowledge work’ doesn’t define us.

No matter how many amazing trips we go on, no matter how many letters we have after our names, no matter how happy our family lives are, there’s always something missing. Part of the problem, I think (and I honestly think this) is that we over-educate ourselves. We’re forever analysing situations that should just be experienced. The other thing is that knowledge work tends to be collaborative, but you don’t tend to get the feeling that you’ve crafted something into being.

Since moving house at the start of the year, I’ve started going back to church. The rest of my family never stopped. To be honest, it’s not that I’m a believer and that I’m going for the biblical teaching. I’m going for the community, the feeling of being part of something that’s not your work and not your family. I know there’s other outlets but, for men at least, they tend to be competitive. I’ve put our names down for an allotment, so perhaps there’s an answer there, too. There’s definitely something cathartic about gardening and growing stuff.

So there we are, a blog post of >1,000 words. If you’ve made it this far I’m not sure if it’s enriched your life in any way, but I feel a lot better for having written it and knowing that, at least potentially, other people have read it. 🙂


A tribute to Chris Allan (@infernaldepart)

This morning I woke to the tragic news that Chris Allan had been found dead. I wasn’t sure whether to write anything here. I wasn’t sure if it was appropriate. But given that news of his death reduced me to tears, I thought I’d better.

Despite only living 40 miles or so away from one another, I only met Chris in person a few times – interacting with him more regularly via Twitter and email. He was a great guy: enthusiastic, brimming with ideas and, as an ICT teacher, keen to try out new technologies with his students. In fact, he’d been working on integrating Open Badges within the curriculum at his school.

Chris came along with his son to a #MozParty Newcastle event I organised last year. I like this photo of them together as I believe that’s how he should be remembered – as someone who went out of his way for the young people in his life. In fact, I can still remember a couple of years before that when he came round to my house to buy a computer from me for his son. My heart goes out to the family Chris leaves behind. What a loss.

[I’ve redacted the last section to keep this focused on Chris]

Special Delivery: a letter to my children this Fathers Day.

Wreck This Journal-Doodling Back of Envelope

Dear Ben and Grace,

At four years and five months old, respectively, you’re both too young to be able to read this by yourselves. But I hope one day when you’re a bit older and have a little more understanding of the world that you’ll stumble upon this and reflect upon it.

First of all, I wanted to say how proud I am of you both. Whilst it’s hard to be proud of the actions of a five month-old you, Grace, manage to give me big, beaming smiles just at the right time to help me forget your impressively-piercing crying ability and tendency every now and again to fool us into thinking that you know how to sleep through. I’m also mightily impressed at the way that you’ve managed to surpass even Ben in the putting-on-weight front. Above the 99.6th percentile? Impressive.

With you, Ben, it’s easy to quantify and express the ways in which I’m proud of you. As I keep saying, I’m proud of you because you try so hard. Never stop that. You’re going to come up against challenges in life which are completely unfair and which, in the main, will seem to be the result of ‘the system’ rather than the individuals comprising it. Don’t let that put you off. You can change that system. Your Daddy spent his first thirty years on this earth believing the half-truths people told him about qualifications and job titles mattering. They don’t. Carry on doing what you do now: focus on relationships, focus on happiness (your own and other people’s), and try your best to be as good as you can be at the things you enjoy doing. Everything important flows from these things.

I can’t predict the future, but what I can predict is my enduring love for you both and for your Mummy. I don’t know where we’ll be living next year never mind by the time you come to read this, but I do know that how we live is a lot more important than where we live. So I’m sorry for the times when I’ve neglected you both due to work, a selfish mood or an undue fascination with technology. You’re both so important to me in ways I only realise when you’re not there.

Much as sometimes I feel I’d like to, I can’t be around to protect you all of the time: not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually too. Both of you are going to come across narrow-minded and shallow people. You’re going to struggle to understand people who trade authenticity for material possessions and their hopes and dreams for status. Don’t be tempted by that road. Strive instead to follow the path less travelled, the path where your first response to “What do you do?” isn’t simply repeating your job title. Although it will scare Mummy (especially)and Daddy to death, I implore you to go travelling at as young an age as you can. It really does broaden your outlook on life. And although this isn’t a “avoid what I regret” letter, never stop being creative: draw, paint, play musical instruments, speak foreign languages. Cultivate as many different ways of understanding the world as you can.

Most of all, my message to you this Fathers Day is that life can be whatever you want it to be: take risks! Ben, I’m trying to do that as much as possible with you now, which means you get into some scrapes; Grace, I know that I’m going to find this so much more difficult with you. Forgive me. Parenting really is the hardest job in the world sometimes (but I wouldn’t have it any other way).


Your Daddy, xx

Image CC BY-NC Deborah Leigh (Migraine Chick)