Hello, World! Well, not exactly. I’ve been around, just quiet. The better part of the last year has been spent on this project:
In early April of this year, Levi and I welcomed Player 3 into our family. Baby Bard is a silly, happy, loud, messy, clever little boy who quickly turned our lives upside down, despite whatever efforts we made to plan and prepare for his arrival. I’m lucky to live in Denmark where we have quite generous parental leave policies. I spent the first 7 months home with our baby and now Levi is on paternity leave with him for a few months until he starts daycare in the new year when he will be ~10 months old. I returned to my job here at Unity at the beginning of November and getting back in the groove of things (and shifting from “Stay at Home Mom” mode to “Working Out of the Home Mom” mode) has really led to a lot of thinking and soul searching about what, at the risk of sounding cliche, is really important. And in that light, for my first post in quite a while, I’d like to share with you 5 lessons I’ve learned from having a baby, going on maternity leave, and coming back to work.
The world really does go on.
Technology continues to evolve, users still need problems solved; and software still needs to be shipped. I spent many years at Unity building and leading the Build & Infrastructure area – an area that is a very central cog in the operation of the company. Several months before I went on leave, I knew I needed to move on somehow, so I took on a new role as Technical Director in R&D here and spent the remaining time before my leave handing over all of my duties to other capable people. But it was still extremely hard to extract myself from the responsibility for the operation of this area. I still found it very hard to let go and trust that the problems would get dealt with, developers’ questions would get answered, and things would move forward if I completely stepped away. I think I new all of this at a practical level, but emotionally it was still hard to detach. The Build & Infrastructure area was my startup within a startup and it was hard to let it leave the nest.
However, the time came. Baby Bard’s due date crept closer. I set my Slack status, turned on my email’s auto-reply, and with some handshakes and some hugs, off I went. I found it easier than I expected to detach from work (the flurry of preparing for the arrival of a baby probably helped), then after the baby arrived I was too busy trying to survive to think. As I came out of the fog, I checked in a few times and saw that everything was, in fact, just fine. Of course there were a few questions here and there, and a couple of bumps, but the world went on. While I could choose to see on this outcome as a measure of my lack of importance in the grand scheme of things, that’s just a bit too existential for me, so I’ll choose instead to interpret it as a job well done in preparation for a leave of absence and a measure of how wonderfully competent the people here are.
Find something meaningful to work on.
When I returned to work, I didn’t have a specific project to go back to (since, as I mentioned above, I’d handed everything over before I left). So I had to spend some time asking myself what I wanted to focus on. During this reflection, I realized I now have very little patience for busy work or projects and efforts that I don’t believe will have a real impact, either in improving how we do development here at Unity or improving the product we are shipping for our users.
I find that now that I am back, I am very interested in bigger picture questions. I’m quite keen on the principles of data-driven development and seeing how we can implement them here. We’ll see what comes of that, but I know that in the end, whatever I spend time working on, I want, more than ever, to really know that it has meaning and to genuinely believe in the value it will bring.
Don’t waste time.
Related to the previous point: I used to often work long hours. If I wasn’t very efficient at getting something done, it wasn’t really a big deal. I could just stay late: there was often not a reason not to, so why not? Now that I am back at work, working late means not seeing Baby Bard before he goes to bed. If that happens, then there had better be a good reason. I am more compelled than ever to work hard and efficiently, and be as productive as possible while I am at work.
Remember to live.
I have a tattoo that says, “memento vivere”. It is a reminder of life – a reminder to live. I find myself looking down at my foot and noticing it a bit more these days. Reminding myself that, whatever I am doing at that moment, whatever I am spending my time on, to really be there. To do focus on what I am doing with all of my energy, and when I move on to the next thing, to fully shift the context of my mind. Because time is limited, and if I don’t want to waste time and I want to do meaningful work, I need to really be there, in the moment, and focused.
Don’t care what others think.
Rather than being specifically about work, this is more of a life lesson I think I only now finally got around to learning. Perhaps it comes with the territory of being super busy. Maybe surviving the first months with a new baby will make you feel like you’ve climbed Everest. But Dr. Seuss had it right all along:
“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”
And there you have it. I am sure this is the tip of the iceberg, and there are many more lessons to learn in the future. But for now, I’ll be happily getting my bearings again now, here, in this new life.