I had a LOT of time to reflect on the 2019 gregorian year today… since we loaded up the car around midnight and headed to a distant airport for a 5 am flight back home from a winter wonderland cross country ski adventure. I’ll remember this year for recovering from ass surgery, embracing the Curly Girl hair method, speaking at Dreamforce, committing to a Pilates routine, celebrating 3 years with my partner at the Crocs store, swimming in 2 summer waterfalls, finishing my most intricate craft project ever (looks something like this), becoming the treasurer of my synagogue, getting a family membership at Longwood Gardens and Costco, and redecorating our living room (I am currently lounging on our new couch!). I wrote a little less, consulted a lot more, and hit some exciting personal and professional milestones. Oh, and I finalized all of my business paperwork so that this lil blog can grow into a sustainable, legal, etc life of it’s own! That’s right – I’m officially one of those “small business owners” politicians keep talking about 😉
The biggest blog highlight from this year was hands-down collaborating with my data bestie / business chevruta Emily on our Change-Making Mindsets webinar. (Get to know how brilliant and fun Emily is by visiting their website here). I don’t want to leave that work behind in 2019, so I’m dedicating this blog post to resurfacing our ideas & offering some fodder for New Year’s goalsetting (if you’re into that sort of thing). I’m also featuring art by TDAA’s resident artist and visionary Katie Blanchard (check out her Etsy!). Katie and Emily – what should we make together in 2020? Bring it on! #dreamteam
In May of last year, we shared 7 mindsets that support changemakers to be their full selves when dealing with potentially frustrating tech problems. Since then, we’ve kept nurturing the ideas but we haven’t had time to expand them to reach their full potential (ahhh but the ideas abound!). One new perspective (very much inspired by my political and spiritual community organizing) is that change, itself, is constant (h/t adrienne maree brown), so it’s a good idea to get better at expecting it, adapting with it, embracing it! As activists, we tend to champion political change and resist technology change. What if we were willing to soften our grip on that pattern?
Meet the Mindsets
I AM A PROBLEM SOLVER
I use this mindset when I need to move past feeling stuck and frustrated. I often remind myself “I’ve solved hard problems before!” Whatever I’m trying to tackle isn’t stopping me because I’m “bad” at technology – it’s in front of me because I seek out challenges and problemsolving is part of my social justice work. I love Katie’s interpretation of this mindset as watering the a plant – where problemsolving can take on a domestic, nurturing quality rather than bravado and urgency. This is the work ahead of us!
I CELEBRATE MY WINS
“All I do is win, win, win, no matter what!” Ok, ok, not necessarily THAAAT type of celebrating wins. Emily pointed out that sometimes we don’t celebrate our wins because we think a win is “too small” or something we should “already have known how to do.” I’m here to say, there’s no such thing! Some tactics that work for me are… walking a lap around the office after completing a tough task, texting or tweeting to connect with some buddies who will cheer me on, moving emails to my “good job” inbox folder, and taking a deep breath with my hand over my heart. I know that sounds corny, but it really works! Thank you, Katie, for introducing the imagery of a bouquet of flowers. I love that metaphor!
IT’S OK TO TRY AGAIN
As Emily has pointed out (and they are SO right!), projects are often easier AND better quality the second/third time around, plus it takes way less time to restart, even from scratch. You’re never really at “square 1” again! My biggest spreadsheet accomplishments have all required multiple re-dos. It’s part of the learning process and I encourage you to embrace it. Tell that “impostor syndrome” voice that trying again is what experts do all the time! If one plant droops, you can always plant new seeds, and root for their progress in growth that is truly miraculous.
I LOVE ERROR MESSAGES
This is the mindset that gets the most reactions when I share our poster. “I love error messages?!” my friends exclaim! (Interrobang implied). I think this is one of the most transformative mindsets. Error messages don’t represent failure, they represent CLUES! Software companies are getting better and better at making error messages useful, and if you slow down to read them, you might just be able to solve the problem in a jiffy. I use error messages to decode formula problems in Salesforce, Excel, and Google Sheets all the time! Our beloved neighbor and former roommate has a houseplant that droops in a similar fashion to Katie’s vignette. We always doted on that plant the most and we knew that she could come back to her perky self under the right conditions. And when she drooped (boy is she a dramatic plant!) we didn’t despair but rather slowed down, paid attention, and followed her clues.
SUCCESS LEADS TO MORE QUESTIONS
There are few things more simultaneously … paradoxically … discouraging AND encouraging than sharing a new spreadsheet feature or system, and hearing that people immediately want to see new extensions. What about this? Could it do that? You know what would be really cool? on and on and on. On one hand, I just want to “celebrate my win!” On the other hand, this shows that the new thing has inspired others to imagine even BETTER spreadsheets, which is kind of the whole point! Reframing these moments as enthusiasm and buy-in, rather than moving the goalpost, has helped me feel less defensive and more genuinely interested in feedback and brainstorming. Who wouldn’t want to add a few more flowers to a beautiful bouquet?
CHANGE IS POSSIBLE
In my two years of blogging (!!!) this is one of the ideas that has provided the most fuel and fodder in replying to the Dear Spreadsheet Whisperer column. Change is possible! We are not stuck with repressive political systems and neither are we resigned to bad technology. We have agency and we are the architects of our future! So lets get to work! As Katie draws and Zapatistas remind us, “they tried to bury us; they didn’t know that we were seeds.”
I AM PART OF A COMMUNITY
The times when I feel most isolated are when I feel completely stuck – hopeless, embarrassed, miserable. The classic “blank screen” moment. Perhaps as you’re reading this, you can relate to that feeling. I’m sad to say that it’s a very common experience, as isolating as it is! It seems at first like a contradiction to write that the times when I feel most CONNECTED to community are when I ask for help, as soon as I turn the corner past despair. For example, while I was prepping for my Dreamforce presentation, I asked friends and family to join me for a practice session. Getting feedback from professional peers, activist pals, and fellow technologists (though experts in *other* technologies) was the best decision I made. I felt supported, I learned a ton, and I got a boost from seeing my communities overlap. Always remember, asking for help is brave AND helpers love to help. It’s really a win/win for everyone!
After meeting these mindsets, maybe for the first time, you might already be a rockstar at some of them and others might seem totally aspirational. That’s ok! I think it’s helpful to pick one or two to focus on for a day or a week at a time, and then reflect on how that mindset is coming along… how natural it feels … and in what scenarios it was most relevant to recall. As adrienne maree brown says, “what you pay attention to grows.” The more I think & write about the 7 mindsets, the more I see examples in my day to day tasks of how I can amplify them and set myself up to feel empowered in my work.
Wherever you find yourself in your spreadsheet and social change work, I hope you’ll give these mindsets a try, and then report back about how it goes. I’d love to hear from you! More on that below 🙂
Keep you… posted (pun intended)
This week, I’ll be printing paper copies of the Change-Making Mindsets posters to share with clients and anyone else who wants one. If that is YOU, send me an email with your preferred mailing address to firstname.lastname@example.org so that I can pop one in the mail, and together, we can stay empowered all year long.
We have so much to celebrate and so much to mourn. This year, I’ll be here for all of it. Let’s make some badass spreadsheets, break all the rules, win some hard hitting campaigns, and strengthen our internal resources for the work ahead. I’ll see you in the video call or in the streets! xo
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