December 20th, 2018

What I have learnt in 2018

This year has been quite different for me and I wanted to capture my learnings to look back on in time. 

I left my job at the end of January and decided to give freelancing a go. I took a few months off and dedicated some time to creative writing classes. I loved immersing myself in the world of children's literature. It was the refreshing break I needed but before long I knew I needed to get back out there. 

My profile had withered whilst working in-house so I dedicated some time to rebuilding an audience for my writing and redesigning my neglected personal site. I was offered some speaking opportunities. I joined a new Research Ops Slack community, met lots of new people and got heavily involved in the community. 

I finished up the year completing some great discovery research projects for a few clients. By chance rather than design they were all centred around academia, higher education and publishing. 

Phew, it turned out to be a busy year but what went well and what did I learn?

Three successes

  1. I got paid! There was a time there where I thought I wouldn't get any work but I actually made it and some people asked me to work for actual money! I made it as a freelancer.
  2. My voice was heard. I wrote lots of new content and republished a lot on Medium at the start of the year. My posts have been read countless times and people have even said they found them useful! I also delivered a talk to just shy of 600 people at UX Brighton (thanks Danny Hope for asking me). I think this was the largest audience I've spoken to and the talk seemed to go down well. I had lots of nice comments and I actually quite enjoyed myself on stage at the Brighton Dome. 
  3. I gave back and passed on my love of books. As well as spending a lot of time writing and reading childrens stories whilst doing my creative writing classes, I volunteered at my children's school for a term. I listened to children in the Year 3 and 4 class read each week, I helped with their class work and activities outside. By talking about my story ideas, I inspired my children and their friends to set up a book club. This continues now and we write stories together. 

Three things that have been challenging

  1. I lost my confidence. Taking time out was great but it compounded my sense of isolation from working quietly in-house for 4 years. I struggled initially to find my focus and kept applying for jobs when I saw them pop up. My confidence took a huge knock when I went through a soul destroying 11 week recruitment process with a well known design led tech company (that went no-where). 
  2. I missed my colleagues. I have worked with my husband and our old team for 10 years. Not working with Mark in particular felt like going through a divorce. It was a huge wrench for us and took a fair bit of adjustment emotionally. Having to jump in and get to know new teams and individuals whilst freelancing was challenging but actually really good for me and helped rebuild my confidence.
  3. I struggled to juggle. Since becoming a Mum nearly 11 years ago, I have worked part-time and had a lot of autonomy to figure out my schedule. Finding clients who were able to accommodate my need for flexibility was tough at first. Many freelance gigs are actually full-time on-site contracts and there aren't many of those in South Wales anyway. Just as I was starting to panic, I was able to find some brilliant companies who could see my value and were flexible in their approach.

Three things I have learnt

  1. Don't put all your eggs in one basket. I like to be committed to things and tend to put my heart and soul into everything I do. I made a mistake during the 11 week recruitment process mentioned above and started to care and feel committed. This was partly because of how drawn out it was but also because of the strategy I was asked to write and present during interview. I should have been focusing more on getting other opportunities at the same time and I paid dearly for that mistake.
  2. Don't be afraid to be vulnerable and ask for help. In the past I have dealt with work stress fairly silently, relying on those closest to me for support. Instead of staying quiet this year, at the times when it felt like things were spiralling out of my control, I spoke up. I also used a counselling service instead of overly depending on poor Mark like I usually do. Making new professional connections and in particular the people I met in the Research Ops community was brilliant for me. I am really grateful to all the people I have met and had good conversations with this year. Thank you Kate Towsey for being instrumental in this.
  3. Listen to your inner champion. I have a very strong inner critic but I usually keep it in check. I work on keeping mentally healthy. I try to eat well, not drink too much alcohol and get enough sleep and exercise. I've dabbled with meditating, I do yoga and have a dog who drags me out walking. At times this year though, I have had to deliberately make room for my happy voice. My inner critic has made it pretty hard at times but I have found strength from listening to the words of others and making them my mantras, 'you've got this', 'you can do it,' 'you are valued'.

Three things I want to achieve in 2019

  1. I want to help user researchers to do their best work. I have really enjoyed getting involved in the new Research Ops community. I have also enjoyed helping a variety of people and teams do hands on research. In 2019, I want to continue to help facilitate the conversation around Research Ops with the rest of @teamreops. I want to help shine a light on the great work happening in this new field. 

  2. I want to continue the conversation on Research Leadership. In September I put out a call to Research Leaders and ended up speaking to more than 20 User Research leaders across the globe (with a waiting list). I heard and learnt so much from these folks who gave me their time but I have yet to find time to write it up. My biggest take-away was that Research Leaders want to give researchers more support so that they can concentrate on doing what they do best. I want to continue to understand how to make this possible.
  3. I want to continue writing children's stories. Since February, I have been writing children's stories for the Golden Egg Picture Book Programme. My time is almost up and I have a few short weeks to finish my work and submit the best ones for review by Andersen Press. I have learnt so much about writing this year and have really enjoyed the creative process. I am not expecting to become a published author anytime soon but I know it's something I need to continue to do in my spare time. Being able to bring the magic of stories to children is a gift. In an increasingly digital world, the joy of reading long form writing and consuming physical books is a pleasure we all need.
Previously : Leading research