I grew up relatively “poor”, at least by US standards. We went without a lot of things that my friends had. We wore thrift store clothes mixed and matched with the occasional new item (if it was on clearance), and ate a lot of potato soup … that is, diced potatoes + milk + chicken broth.
But because my mother was able to get a job teaching pre-K at a private school in our area, my siblings and I were able to attend tuition-free.
It was a relatively small school, I think between 400-500 students at the time (K-12), and so they didn’t split students into kindergarten (K3-K5), elementary (1st-5th), middle (6th-8th), and high school (9th-12th), like many schools in the US.
Instead, 7th through 12th grade was all just considered “high school”.
I remember being in 6th grade, basically the top of the elementary school food chain. We were the oldest kids in the elementary building, and although you wouldn’t think it would, it kind of went to our heads. We felt important.
Then came 7th grade, and our world shifted completely.
We were bigger than we were in 6th grade. We had lockers, and instead of just one teacher, we had one for each subject. There were free periods, and study halls. We had P.E. instead of recess. Everything about our schedule was different, more mature.
And yet we felt smaller, less important.
We now shared a hallway students up to grade 12. We were the smallest kids, the least “important”. No one looked up to us any more, and as a matter of fact, we were a little bit annoying, as we’d find out later when we watched new batches of 7th graders join the hallway.
We were “promoted” to high school, but it felt like starting over, at the bottom.
Nothing lasts forever
Since the mid-2000s, I’ve been building websites and software for WordPress. In 2010, we released the Genesis Framework at StudioPress, and experienced almost immediate success and market leadership.
But in 2018, StudioPress was acquired by WP Engine, and I came over as an engineer to keep working on Genesis products, as did several of the folks I worked with at StudioPress.
And at some point, during our regular conversations about my career and aspirations, my manager and I discussed the potential of moving me into a different kind of role, managing a team of engineers that work on Genesis products.
Would this actually be the right move for me? For my family? For the Genesis products that I’d worked so hard on over the years?
I’ve only recently realized what I wouldn’t admit to myself back then: I wasn’t enjoying writing code to build software very much lately. I saw my colleagues excitedly share what they had been playing around with over the weekend, all the cool things they were able to create, and just how much they were enjoying the process of learning and experimenting with new things.
That used to be me. I’d lose track of the time, and spend half the night wiring up some crazy idea, or blogging about a new way to enqueue CSS in WordPress, just for fun.
Not so much lately, though.
I realize now that I was losing my passion for writing the code.
But I also realize that I was gaining a passion for something new. I was spending more and more of my free time reading and watching talks on quality teams, effective leadership, and strong communication.
So when the opportunity to move in a managerial role came available, I decided the time was right.
I know nothing
It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows.Epictetus, Discourses, Book II, ch. 17
Picture this: it’s week two of my new career. As I had been doing for a while, I was up early, trying to get a jumpstart on my day before the rest of the team was up and working. I like the head start. It gives me breathing room, and most importantly, it gives me the opportunity to plan my day, sometimes down to the minute.
But as I sat there, before the sun was up, I realized that I had nothing to plan. I’d run out of “things to do”.
I had no one-on-one meetings scheduled for that day. I only had a single 30 minute team standup meeting on the schedule, but I was just an observer now.
Honestly, I kind of panicked. It felt wrong. I was “promoted” to do nothing? My schedule was empty!
To be fair, I was told (several times, from several people) that this would happen. The maker vs. manager schedule transition is tough.
So I went for a walk to clear my head. I just happened to have some audiobooks in the queue, so I figured I’d listen while I walked (a recent habit that I find incredibly efficient and effective). It also just so happened that High Output Management by Andy Grove was next in my queue.
That book really helped me begin to feel better. Why? That’s another blog post for another day.
But now I know that I really know nothing. And knowing I know nothing means I have to re-learn everything.
And that’s OK. Better than OK.
Passion is Passion
I’m currently up on a Sunday morning before the sun, reading about how to be a more effective leader and better career coach, writing this blog post about my recent transition into leadership, hoping that it helps someone realize they might have it in them to take their next right step too.
Different can be good.
It has been for me.
6 Replies to “Starting over.”
One of the best ways I’ve heard this process described was in four stages of growth: Unconscious Incompetence -> Conscious Incompetence -> Conscious Competence -> Unconscious Competence
It really is a difficult thing. Sometimes you get the overwhelming desire to simply go back and do the familiar: write code, think about solving challenging problems with code, building something fun or useful, etc. That’s ok to do. But it’s also good to lean into areas of discomfort and explore them fully. It’s hard work to be consciously competent. But eventually it will be second-nature and less taxing mentally. Glad to hear you are in a growth stage!
Thanks Chris! Love these thoughts. I’ve been practicing proactive introspection for years now, so I’m all too aware of my incompetence. It’s good to hear some verification that this is all just part of the process.
You’ll probably regret it sometimes, that’s normal, then you’ll find some new reason to have passion for the new role. As you wrote, passion is passion. At least that’s how it’s always been for me all these years, missing my days as an civil engineer but loving mentoring others as a different way of creating.
I am literally going through this right as I type this. It’s been nearly two years since we sold StudioPress to WP Engine, and I have yet to fully embrace what it is I want to do. I will admit that defaulting to what I had done for nearly twelve years has been my M.O. so far, but I am slowly trying to change that. After all, the WordPress ecosystem is soooooo much different than it was back then.
Hats off to you on embracing your new role. Of course, I have a front seat experience of what you are going through. I continue to enjoy our bi-monthly calls, and hope I bring value to you, as you have to me. As our friend Buzz would say, to infinity and beyond!
Copyblogger bought you a book by Shannon Waller. The formula for management was right inside. Build capabilities, provide direction, and give confidence. Follow that formula and you will do great.
Thanks Derick, that’s awesome advice!
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