Sunday, 3 November 2019

Growing is intimidating

What would you do if you weren't afraid?

Not exactly the most original question in the world, but I've found it a very important one in my career. Moving to GDS and London were very big, very frightening steps for me. Later, my manager and mentor left the organisation and I had to step into his shoes - another huge and terrifying step which plunged me into a very different working environment. Then later again, my role was reassessed and deemed a Senior Civil Servant role - and the game changed again.

This came to mind recently when I was talking about next steps with a friend. We were discussing a job that, on first look, was huge and terrifying. As we talked, we broke the problem down and it became a lot less frightening and started to look distinctly manageable. The scary part remaining was the change in scope and perspective.

On reflection, this is also true of many of the earlier changes I faced in my professional life. It wasn't so much the change in circumstances that scared me, it was the required shift in the scope and therefore the potential risks from failure. Moving to GDS, suddenly I had to think about the wide development needs of all of GOV.UK - the website which provides information from the government to the nation. Then, becoming Head of Software Engineering, I expanded that to other corners of GDS as well as accepting responsibility for the careers and development of every technologist working there. Now that is all still true, but I'm also involved in the future shape and function of the whole Cabinet Office and my role has influence much wider than that.

Each time, considering the problem has been much more frightening than actually dealing with it. Each problem has turned out to be a collection of smaller, and distinctly more manageable problems but with a shift in breadth which has made them look far more difficult.

It's not been easy, for sure. I've had to learn new skills and new approaches (especially around dealing with ambiguity), but that is hard work and not in itself something I find overly scary. I've had to learn to allow myself the space for the mental reset to deal with the new context - definitely something I have messed up more than once, with unhelpful side effects.

There is a world of difference between "terrifying" and "hard work" though. The latter is something to get through. The former can be a hard block to something new and interesting. Certainly, forcing myself (or being forced...) to work through it has utterly changed my life and "what would you do if you weren't afraid?" now sits alongside "ask and answer the obvious question" and "what would make you happy from your next five years?" as trite, but very important questions at the heart of how I think about working life.

This post is the first of five written in NaBloPoMo - the National Blogpost Month which, yes, is a thing. My plan is to write one post a weekend for the month of November. Due to some amazing planning, that means I have to write five posts rather than the four you might immediately expect. These posts will be a bit shorter than normal most likely and all of the posts will be tagged with (sigh) NaBloPoMo2019.

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