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By Bella Cary
“They say to play hard, you work hard, find balance in the sacrifice And yet I don’t know anybody who’s truly satisfied” Adele
saw an Instagram post earlier this year that Scorpios feel the world is against them. I can’t deny that I’ve often agreed with this sentiment, especially in 2020. I returned from an intense three-year stint working in New York at the end of 2019 and after a couple of months the world, let alone London, changed. Context changed.
Just prior to covid emerging in the public domain, I had the financial privilege to afford 1:1 coaching at the end of 2019 to help with the transitions I was facing in all the different aspects of my life. In hindsight, the mental tools this gave me were to become invaluable. And it led to my first stint of therapy which I will pick up again. But all of this doesn’t make a human brain bulletproof.
We all experienced (hopefully) once-in-a-lifetime constraints on our freedom over this pandemic. We have all witnessed or been directly impacted by traumatic, compound grief. The common phrase “life is too short” gained meaningful gravitas. When restrictions were permanently lifted in London after two years, I asked myself if everyone was just going to pretend the last two years didn’t happen and keep calm and carry on. If I was feeling disoriented, wasn’t everybody else?
I found myself suggesting to my design team all the options they could have to take time for their well-being or switch things up. But I’ve always strived to be a leader who walks the walk, not just talks the talk. Why wasn’t I giving myself options?
I consider myself to have a cup-half-full mentality, but I was running out of ideas for remote team bonding and quizzes to inject some humour into a repetitive, day-to-day “living at the office” routine by the end of 2021. Over-analysing articles and blog posts about how remote working is the future described wholesome cultures which were easier said than done. The thing I’ve found with organisational culture is that it will start to change you if you can’t change it. Culture is bigger than any individual.
Fast forward 4 months of summer sabbatical and I’ve reflected on a lot. If you don’t read any further, there’s one thing I want you to take away from this: You don’t need a sabbatical to ask for help. We all need help to understand how we’re feeling. Don’t wait for someone else to ask you what you need right now. You might have to make the time to ask yourself.
“Why am I obsessing about the things I can’t control? Why am I seeking approval from people I don’t even know?” Adele
Mo Gawdat poses a super intriguing question about retirement. What would your life look like if you took the amount of time you hope to spend in retirement at the end of your life and distributed it backwards throughout your career? How could you distribute it? I accept there is an inherent cultural and passport privilege to even be able to contemplate such a concept, especially for women. I learned recently that in many industries women already have less than a fifth of the pension wealth of their male colleagues. For me, the financial safety net was the biggest factor to consider but you can probably think of one hundred reasons why you shouldn’t contemplate it. But the thing is, you only need one reason to consider it.
For those reading who are also running the creative treadmill, I hope these paragraphs will spark your own thought process. Creativity relies on external inputs. If you don’t know me well, you should know I’m a big Adele fan. One of the songs from her album 30 was released at just the right time to strike a chord with how I was feeling. I hope that if you consider embarking on your own thought process, the song will also strike a chord with you too.
Long story short, only after three months did I start to feel at peace with myself (and the world). I’ve since heard other people discuss the time it took them to rest and appreciate the luxury which rest really is. For me, the best way I can describe it is finally feeling like my energy level was back at 0 rather than below 0. In month four I felt like my cup was refilling above 0 and I had the energy to flow with, not against, the things I wanted to do with my time. Serendipitous things started to happen but my experience has had a lot of highs and lows.
I started to track how I was feeling each week. The highs centre around moments of connection. Discovering communities like The Stack World and MamaMia, time spent with my family, pets and closest friends, and unexpectedly reconnecting with colleagues from the past.
The lows centre around disconnection. I’ve had the time to critically question and reflect on all aspects of every ambition I’ve ever had. Pressing pause still feels like going against the grain. However, I credit the group of people around me for challenging my thought process and boosting my confidence. I’ve learned a lot more about myself, to say the least.
“You better believe I’m trying To keep climbing But the higher we climb, feels like we’re both none the wiser” Adele
As I write this, I have rekindled my original curiosity for experience design. It is a lens that allows me to have an impact on our world. I started to feel confident again about my purpose and I had just enough courage to find a new challenge at my own pace. I wanted to cast a wide net and I took the advice to say yes to anyone who wanted to interview me. As a result, I’ve interviewed with a dozen very different companies but it felt like only a handful took a step back to think about the end-to-end experience from the candidate's point of view. Considering I’m interviewing for design roles, isn’t it mad that the experience to get the job hasn’t evolved to improve the candidate's experience?
I personally have always enjoyed interviewing creatives before I started this journey, but now I have experienced a wider variety of interview processes and I've changed my idea of what good looks like. Jared Spool is the only outspoken design thinker I’ve found who pushes for our industry to change the way we do things (and I would love to learn from more people who want the status quo to change).
One of my key frustrations was not getting to speak to a human being at moments of heightened emotions. I didn’t know until now that the concept of ghosting seriously applies to job hunting as well as dating. You will wait for the phone to ring at the agreed time and sometimes it will never ring. People will ask for your details and never get back in touch. You will do hours of interviews and never hear anything. I got thinking about the system at play here and started wondering how the incentives for candidates and recruiters could change to encourage behaviours which benefit both sides.
Preparing a candidate properly and creating good quality interview structure, topics and questions are overlooked for numerous stages, presentations and design tasks which create a forum for decision by committee. If the first couple of paragraphs in the job description can’t tell me about the work the person in this role needs to do, the advert could be for any company. As Jared Spool would say, you need to sell the work not the job.
“So I hope I learn to get over myself Stop trying to be somebody else” Adele
This Adele song brought up a lot of feelings for me at the right time. I’ve realised I held a grudge that the corporate world had taken more than I wanted to give. Susan Cain describes so well that where light and dark meet is bittersweet. Pushing past the fear of change is hard, and rejection is real but when everything is uncertain, anything that is important becomes clear. I’ve come to think that from now on I’ll be telling my new team to play hard, you work hard and have to find time to rest really hard too.
A journey of rest, slowing down and rejuvenation
By Bella Cary