1 February 2015 - 12:36 pm


A kitten photo because this is serious, fluffy business.  (Photo: mine)

A kitten photo because this is serious, fluffy business.
(Photo: mine)

This year, January got off to a terrible start (I fell sick on the 1st and was horribly ill for four days). It ended, however, on a high note with my annual work performance review.

This led me to some introspective thinking (a fairly common phenomena for me) and reinforced just how much appreciation means to me.

2014 was a hard year for me. My health was crappy, there were mis-steps in my writing, and I was under a lot of stress for a significant portion of it. (There will be posts on some of this soon; they are under construction!) My day job contributed to at least some of this.

I can’t really go into details, so what follows is going to be a little vague in areas. I’ve mentioned this before: there was a shake-up in the latter part of the year and I shifted to a new team to help sort it out. The timing coincided with the busiest parts of NaNoWriMo, compounding the impact for me, and the project I took on was high-profile in the department (this year, it’s the highest priority in our whole department, so my team is under even more scrutiny, but that’s a different story).

I had a lot of attention on me and how I handled the issues in front of me. It was a chance for me to shine, if I pushed hard enough at the right stuff. (On the plus side, I couldn’t have done worse than my predecessor.) Of course, knowing what that ‘right stuff’ was was half the battle.

It was a lot of work. I had to learn a new technology – actually, several, as the part of the product the new team was working on was new to me, and involved interfaces with a lot of database, server, and network architecture that I’ve never had to deal with before. That was just to get the context of the area we were working in.

Then I had to figure out what the team was trying to achieve in the code they were working on and how to get them to achieve it. Bear in mind that I’m not a developer and I don’t have a developer’s training or background; my degree was in English Literature and Creative Writing, not software, engineering, or science. I’m more of a pick-up-and-run-as-I-go kind of person when it comes to learning this stuff, and I’m pretty good at grabbing the conceptual picture and fleshing it out. I can’t write the code, but I can usually tell you what it’s trying to do and why. As a technical writer and team lead, that’s what I need to be able to do.

On top of that, another part of being a Scrum Master (team lead-type role, in Agile terms) is helping the team work well together, as a team. I only really knew one member of the new team; the rest were faces I had seen around the office and that was about it. And they needed some help in working well together. Figuring out how to do this involves analysing personalities and using this to work out how to encourage them to get along. Understanding your team is essential if you want them to do well, and I was starting with pretty much nothing in that regard.

So I had to lot of catch-up and quick analysis to do when I joined this new team, because we were mid-project and couldn’t waste time. I had to hit the ground running, adjust things as I went, and bring some changes into the team in a way that was collaborative, encouraging, and positive. (Trust me, doing it hamfisted and forceful never works, and would have blown up in my face. I prefer taking the positive route and having the team come along willingly, as much as I can.)

It was a mad scramble. It was a lot of work and pressure. I was tearing my hair out at times, and counselling myself to patience, and pushing hard to get us to where we needed to be.

In the end, though, I fucking did it. 

We got there. We delivered our release with everything we had been asked for, along with a few extra bits we were asked to squeeze in. The team works better together (I still have some work to do there, but it’s coming along). The team all worked hard – I’m not taking credit for everything – but I did everything they needed me to do.

In my performance review for 2014, this was acknowledged and openly appreciated. All the work I put in was worth it.

Cynics may say that this is just a corporate HR thing, that performance reviews don’t mean anything in the scheme of things. Maybe. On the other hand, my manager didn’t have to emphasise this win so strongly, but he did. And it was a win for me. I pulled off something that few others could have done and they thanked me for it.

Sure, sure, monetary compensation would also be nice, but that doesn’t happen for another month or two. Maybe I’ll get a nice surprise then. For now, though, I’m proud of what I achieved, and I’m happy that my managers appreciate it.

This all got me thinking about the power of a simple ‘thank you’. They mean a lot to me. I think it’s because I try not to expect them; I’ve been disappointed a lot in the past. They tend to touch me more than I can rightly express.

It’s not just my day job. There are a few of my writer friends and event attendees who have gone out of their way to thank me, and it always bewilders me a little.

There are a couple of my writers who don’t come along to events and meet-ups very often, but whenever they do, they make a point of thanking me for my effort and time. A couple of thoughtful people have given me gifts as a token of their appreciation. Sometimes, someone buys me a coffee. I have people email me occasionally with glowing comments about my writing.

It’s those small, unexpected things that touch me most, I think. It’s not the gifts or the coffee that mean the most: it’s that someone went out of their way to do something like that for me.

I try to respond gracefully when people do things like this, but more often than not, I’m floored and don’t know what to say. I do my best not to brush it off – that’s just rude – and probably wind up doing something clumsy to express my gratitude for their appreciation. I don’t know if they know how much it means to me.

Honestly, it makes it all worth it: all the work I put in, the time I spend on it, the energy I devote to it. It means a lot more outside of work (after all, the day job is paying me to do what I do there), because compensation isn’t required or asked for. I choose to do what I do because I want to; I love it, and my people, and the things we do together. Knowing that others appreciate it, that I’ve touched someone’s life in a positive way, makes me insanely happy. (And sometimes a little bit misty-eyed.)

So, to all those who have thanked me, however you have done it: thank you. Please know that you have brightened my day and lightened my load.

A little appreciation goes a long way. In the spirit of that, I’m going to make an effort to spread more of my own.

Thank you all for reading. 🙂

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