3 min read

Shields Up

Shields Up
The new Star Trek movies were great, at least from my uncultured position. All credit to Paramount?

It's time for another stream of consciousness post!

I flew to Sydney for a full team get together this week, which is great, but it's enough of a pattern break that I knew I'd need to lower my expectations for what I'd manage to write.

If you were expecting a coherent stream of words that tries to make a point, probably best to back away slowly now, while you still have the chance. Though, in fairness, if you expected a coherent stream of words, I don't really know why you're here in the first place.

I came back from three weeks holiday recently. So recently in fact, that at the time of writing this post, I've only been back at work for five days.

During that period, I came to the conclusion that one of the main things that makes my job hard is caring too much.

That probably sounds worse than it seems, so bear with me for a second.

In my first few days back, I had a monstrous amount of context to absorb. A company the size of Atlassian generates a lot of stuff over the course of three weeks, and I'd purposefully disconnected myself from all of it.

When I came back, I had to either ignore everything that had happened, which feels stupid because that's going to lead to me making poor decisions in the future, or I had to spend some time cramming knowledge into my head to avoid that sort of thing.

At the same time, I had a team to run. A team with plenty of crises that needed my attention.

Absorbing context and updating my mental model went well at first. I had built up a sort of shield of detachment from being on holidays, so whenever I learned about something stressful, I had a mental and emotional centre that wasn't being touched.

But as the week wore on, and I learned more and more things and had to deal with an assortment of crises and changes and so on, I could feel the shield being chipped away. Bit by bit, I could feel each of the things starting to penetrate further into my mind, like torpedoes striking at the heart of a Federation-class Starship.

Now, that's a pretty dramatic retelling, and it probably makes it sound worse than it actually is, but that's how it felt. I could feel my anxiety and stress levels rising as the week wore on.

A lot of that is on me though. I could be better at not letting that stuff get to me, and I should.

I shouldn't need a three-week holiday to charge my shield of detachment. I should be able to have that thing up all the time.

Hence, why I think I need to care less.

It's not that I don't want to care at all. That would be stupid and would make me a terrible manager. I want to care enough to be effective, but not enough such that it causes me emotional pain.

I don't know how to get to that sweet spot though.

I'm pretty good at suppressing my emotions. I've spent my entire life doing exactly that for an assortment of reasons, but I'm trying to be better about it. Mostly because the psychologists I've talked to seem to think its important to being a functioning adult.

Annoyingly they seem to be right, because suppressing your emotions means that you tend to live in a world of grey. No lows, but no highs either. It's a pretty shit deal. The times when I do manage to connect with that long-forgotten side of me are painful and confronting but also intensely relieving.

Still, you don't knock down a lifetime of walls in a few years, and I'm pretty goddamn good at building walls.

Annoyingly enough, even though I think I'm supressing my emotions, it turns out that they still have an effect on me, which is where this post comes full circle.

I want to care less. I want to be detached enough to stay happy and centred, but not so much that I become ineffective at my job.

I want to maintain a shield of detachment at all times, not just after having a long holiday.

I think it will make me a better manager, though it might make me a worse person, which is something that I'm worried about. Still, I can't help other people if I don't take care of myself first and sustaining a high level of stress and anxiety about things that are happening is not healthy.

Not if I want to play the long game.

And I do.