In lieu of travel

Once upon a time I bought a scratch-off map from Newverest. It was like a world map, lottery ticket-style. I took the time to have it mounted on foam board and framed. I joked that anywhere the framing company nicked on the map was somewhere I’d have to travel just to make sure the map stayed accurate.

Framed and untouched

Today, I was feeling a bit nostalgic for all the places I used to visit when I lived in Europe, would do singing tours at home and abroad, travel for fun, and travel for work.

Step 1… where am I now?

Oh, Ohio how I try to get away and keep coming back

Step 2… where have I been?

Still so many places to go

I’m going to hang this on the wall near my desk to remind me of the great big world waiting outside.

Still unpacking

One of the perils of nearly breaking my foot the week I moved into a new house, was not being able to walk or move heavy boxes until recently (nearly 8 months after getting out of the walking boot). Yesterday’s find was a long-lost beloved book of piano songs. So of course, I dove right in and started playing through it cover to cover.

Although “Just the Way You Are” is probably one of my favorite Billy Joel ballads, the entire book of “Fantasies and Delusions” brings me more joy. His classical compositions were so complicated he couldn’t play them for his own recording.

Have a listen on Spotify:

 

Weekend Projects

My high school friends nicknamed me MacGyver. I was often found repairing broken cabinet doors with toothpicks, loose towel hangers with paper clips, and piano keyboards with rubber bands.

There are only a few home improvement projects that will scare me off. I won’t re-roof a house (though I know the steps and have done less risky heights like sheds). I won’t mess with the main sewage line or breaker box. Everything else is fair game. Move a wall? Sure! Close in a door? No problem. Build a wider walk-in rain shower with body sprays and granite surround as part of a full bathroom remodel? Ha! I did that while 5 months pregnant.

Lately, I’ve been amassing unfinished projects during the pandemic depending on how much my recent foot injury lets me stand and my kids or homeschooling interrupted me. Today and tomorrow I’m going to plow through as many as possible.

Project #1 – that headboard I’ve been meaning to mount – DONE

Project #2 – I hate my laundry room

Will I finish it this weekend? Likely not. I have the unfinished cabinets, unfinished hanging rod, unfinished oak for floating shelves, but am missing a Kreg jig and unfinished crown molding for the tops of the cabinets. The conditioner, stain, poly, rod hooks are all ready to be used. I might DIY my own stencil for the wall. I have some awesome brushed nickel-looking paint that would be fun against the tan.

But I’ve been messing around with an app called Room Planner and I’m certain about the plan I have in mind. The paid version of the app lets you be more precise with inputting measurements, but if you draw the walls from scratch you can get closer than normal in the free one. I’m not wild about only having IKEA furniture options, but they’re close enough.

Project #3 – not enough bathroom storage

I’m hoping to dismantle inexpensive medicine cabinets and either 1) replace the front with framed art or 2) swap out the mirror for art and glass. Hopefully I won’t need a router.

Either way, I get to put holes in walls, break and rebuild things, and hang my own artwork so I’m happy.

Project #4 – those ugly end tables I got off Craig’s list

Everything matches if you paint it the same color!

Wish me luck!!

Virtual Offsites – Worth the Read

Working remotely at company that has grown from 149 when I was hired to 1191 at the time of this post, has been an amazing journey in optimizing communication.

As folks who work almost the entire day in text or zoom meetings, we value face-to-face downtime together where we can socialize. Tone, humor, intent, sarcasm, directness can all be misinterpreted over text. We learn these nuances of working together during the time when we can actually talk with one another.

Meetups have taken me to Hawaii, Sicily, New Orleans, Argentina, Berlin, London, and elsewhere around the globe to work on projects, new tools, and to get some focused time together to work on something really important. (I miss meetups and my coworkers.) Centralizing a meetup on a geographic midpoint of all participants is possible sometimes, but requires 12-24+ hours of travel for those in remote locations or isolated timezones. Additionally, having someone flip their nights and days can make them quite unproductive or sick during the meetup and when they return home. For a 5 day meetup, you could have someone be away for 9-11 days once you include travel, then exhausted the next 7 days after that when you include recovery.

Enter the “virtual offsite”.

Our VIP support leads team has been running a virtual offsite each quarter since November 2018 (possibly earlier). Instead of being gone for 4 more trips per year, having to organize child care/flights/hotels/meals/etc. and being gone for over a week, I get to stay in my home and just have 2 long work days each quarter.

My coworker Steph wrote this about the virtual offsites she’s organized, I highly recommend reading it if you’re looking for a way to get together virtually without having to get together in the middle of a pandemic.

Pavane in Progress

If we ever sit together on zoom one of the things you might notice about my office is the lid of the baby grand right behind me.

Poor baby. I’ve started trying to play again more, but between work and childcare or homeschooling responsibilities I’m thinking a keyboard and headphones might be an easier future.

I’ve started working on an old piece I must have studied at some point. It’s Pavane pour une Infant défunte by Maurice Ravel.

Hopefully I can work out the large chords, clean up the chord changes, and pick up the speed and page turns.

Getting closer!

DIY Dictionary Print

I’m trying to make do with what I have in the house during this quarantine, as well as find ways to do something slow and peaceful.

I’ve been eyeing my living room wall the past few days and thinking I could finish this now that the kids don’t have activities for 3 weeks. The living room in my new house is quickly turning into an ode to back and tan. I’ve been trying to figure out how I can make an inexpensive wall of pictures, quotes, or artwork that means something to me.

I was browsing Etsy and Amazon and saw an unfamiliar term “dictionary print” and instantly knew I could do this on my own. I grabbed an empty frame, a torn piece of sheet music that lost its way from the rest of its tattered book generations ago, and a Sharpie.

With the help of a font website, I freehanded the chosen quote, fattened the letters, and then reassembled it all.

It’s going up with a poster I got in Köln, a bouquet I inked in 7th grade, and a quote to calm my kids when they try to be perfect.

Recovering

This year (and past ones) I’ve been putting myself last too often. I thought after buying a house this summer that I’d try to switch that habit.

I was limping a lot. Walking excursions in London and Berlin turned into needing to taxi my way back and having trouble walking the next day. I knew I was overdue when the WCEU roles I requested involved sitting and no lifting.

I made an appointment with a well-respected podiatrist in town the moment I got back. I told her my friends urged me to see her and take care of myself, and this was me doing that.

I wasn’t surprised when the doc said it was a sprain. Being put immediately into a walking boot the week before my college reunion hiking trip was inconvenient, but it was nice having the pain subside.

As I graduated into shoes and insoles a month later, I felt more pain than when I had first started seeing the doctor. Turns out it wasn’t a sprain. MRI showed two metatarsals and a joint were about to break, so back into the boot I went.

Meanwhile the boot started causing excruciating pain in my what-I-thought-had-recovered Achilles in my “good” foot. Walking and standing hurt no matter how many lifts I tried on my shoe. So physical therapy started up for the right side.

Daily rituals included stretches, trying to write the ABC’s in the air with my toes, and so many ice packs my freezer has a dedicated section to reducing the swelling. I learned to add 20 minutes to every trip I wanted to take since it’s illegal to drive with a boot on. Sit in the car, take it off, drive, arrive, put it on, do errand, go back to car, repeat.

Eventually as I tried graduating into shoes again on the left, I’d go to physical therapy for both sides.

So after about 5 months in the boot, shredding the lining, needing a second boot, months of physical therapy, spending too much time not exercising, and an injection into the joint I’d prefer to never have to repeat (but know I will need to in the future), I’m finally walking without a limp for 85% of my day. The boot hasn’t been on for 3 weeks and I feel like progress is being made. I was so excited the first time I went grocery shopping in shoes and not a scooter I told the cashier and she gave me a high-five.

I might actually be able to lift boxes and unpack them in my new house now.

I might actually be able to walk my children to the bus stop now.

I might actually be able to take ahold of my exercise routine and do something about it now.

Things are getting better and I’m recovering.

Staying Positive

I’ll be at Automattic for 7 years this fall. That’s a long time to be writing correspondence in a remote workplace, on many teams, in many roles. In a past Automattic life, I did live chat for WordPress.com and trained live chat teams to be more efficient and intentional in their word choice. Once someone asked me to write about staying positive.

In honor of this post’s 4 year anniversary on an internal p2, I thought I’d repost here publicly on my blog with a few tweaks to be relatable to a larger audience. I hope this helps you. I wrote this mid-divorce and mid-cross-country-move during one of the most stressful times in my life.


An unhappy Happiness Engineer is a contradiction we’d all like to avoid, amirite?! It’s not a challenge that faces only live chat operators, but everyone some time in their lives.

Sometimes it’s not something at work — it’s something personal — and the combination of stress at home and work is enough to kill your mojo. Remember, we have a very supportive company that lets you take UNLIMITED vacation, or leave (and even sabbaticals if you’ve been here long enough). When you’re having trouble balancing things, talk to your team lead or HR.

I’m trying really hard to not make this sound like some sort of cheesy pep talk. It’s what has gotten me through a few tough times recently. Here are some simple steps to think about next time if you’re having trouble staying positive.

Identify & Address the Issue Immediately

If you’ve found your happiness balloon deflated, identify what did it – fill in the blank for this sentence:

I am having trouble staying positive today because ________.

It could be a multitude of things, but start small… start with the one thing that is bugging you the most or the one thing that pushed you over the edge, and address it. Do something about it ASAP.

I try not to let things sit. A painful tactic I use is going after the worst problem first. I know that it could be difficult, but once I’m done everything else will seem so easy comparatively.

Change your Outlook

Challenge your negative thoughts replacing each negative thought with a positive one. Start your day with something positive.

Silence vs. Good Morning!

“Oh man, the queue spiked. Cue panic.” vs. “We can totally squash this under 5 hours if we all take 28 tickets right now.”

Change your language and use happy/positive language – gladly, happy to, love that, will, available vs. negative – can’t, won’t, don’t, unavailable.

Try saying Sorry less and saying Thank you more. “Thank you for your feedback about ____” instead of “I’m sorry _____ did not work for you.”

Don’t forget to smile in real life and in text. Add smilies to your words! 🙂 😀 😉

Restore your workspace to your place of zen. If it’s not contributing to your mental health, switch out your desktop to something that makes you laugh or makes you happy, fix the lighting, remove the clutter. I have a picture of my kids on my desktop.

Give Thanks in Order to Receive It

What might be contributing to the negativity? Remember, positive attitudes are just as infectious as negative attitudes.

Practice gratitude. Even if you feel like you’re at the bottom, take a moment to compliment a customer on something they’ve worked hard on or :high-five: a coworker on a job well done.

Offer to help when someone is stuck, and the “thank you, you’re awesome!” at the end may be enough to get the positivity-snowball going. Pick them up and they may end up picking you up in return.

Coworkers:

  • Thank you sooo much for training this morning. You were so on top of things. I appreciate knowing I can count on you. ❤
  • Thanks for taking on the review coordination. I don’t know what I’d do without you.
  • Thank you for not reaching through the computer to slap me for scheduling training on Sunday night in the middle of Memorial Day weekend.
  • You are once again my hero for automating that task. The time saved across all of support will be exponential.

Customers:

  • Thank you so much for sticking with me on this. I knew you could get it.
  • Your site looks beautiful. I can see how much you care about the way it’s presented.
  • Thank you for raising your concerns in such a clear manner.

Stop Rushing and Take a Break

Think about the last time you were overwhelmed. Was it because you had too much to do? Were you hurrying to finish it all?

stop. breathe. refocus. take a break.

Eat lunch away from any screen of any kind. Audit your chaos filters and see if you really need notifications on that many platforms. Go away in Slack or put it in separate view/desktop and only respond to @ mentions. Put your phone on vibrate and check it less frequently. Plan your day better to give yourself the time to do the things you wanted to accomplish.

Speak Up When Something’s Wrong

If you’re having trouble solving something on your own, ask for help. Worries are like bug reports, you don’t know how big of a problem something is until everyone starts reporting issues.

Keep a Hug Folder

The president of the last company I worked for had a very prominent yellow folder in a sea of manilla ones on his desk that I asked him about one day. This is back in the day when people still printed things out. 😉

He handed me the happy yellow folder and said “take a look.” Upon opening it, I saw emails addressed to him with highlighted sentences.

Dean, you’re a genius!

Dean, I never thought I’d be smart enough to master this software, but it’s so intuitive and your staff are so helpful I can’t fail.

This latest update read my mind. You fixed everything that was bothering me and added things I didn’t know I couldn’t live without. Thank you!

He told me whenever he was feeling down, he opened the yellow folder to give himself a hug and remind himself of why he was doing it all.

So start tomorrow, make a screenshot of your next #hug and put it in a hug folder. You could set these as random images for your desktop or screensaver. Remind yourself why you do what you do and that you’re helping people.

Admit to Your Mistakes, Learn from Them, Then Move On

If you complete the sentence “I’m having trouble staying positive today, because this last chat/ticket was sooo difficult and I don’t think I worded it as well as I could have,” try going to transcripts to see from coworkers how you could have handled it better. Ask a buddy for some feedback about it.

Admit your mistakes to the customer if you’re leading them down the wrong trail – it makes you more human. It also helps you reset, so it’s not something you dwell on after the chat concluded.

You can even apply the “Fix it Twice” mentality to interactions going sideways. Fix it once for them in the moment, then be deliberate in an after action review to go over what went well and what didn’t. Fix it a second time to prevent the sub-optimal parts from plaguing you in the future.