My my three months of leave are coming to an end. It was a wonderful luxury and a necessary break. I thought I would do a little update on how things are going and what might be coming next.
I had every intention of diving right into the question of "What do I do next?" as soon as I got free. This turned out to be a really bad idea. I was in no state of mind to explore writing or coding or teaching or anything. What I needed was a recovery - not a restart. I quickly figured out that this summer needed to be about doing nothing - not about figuring out how to spend the next few years of my life.
Doing nothing turns out to be harder than I would have thought. Going through the process of figuring it out starts to teach you some things about yourself. In my case, I realized that I am a problem solver at heart. I'm always looking for problems to work through in my head. This can be a challenge when your aim is to do nothing. I started off my break by waking up at 4 or 5AM every morning with some grand new idea pulsing through my brain. While it was nice to know that I haven't totally burnt myself out over the last 25 years, it wasn't exactly helping me relax and recharge. Eventually, I was able to apply my inner problem solving drive with some more focused, break-friendly activities. This included family roadtrip planning and execution (2900 miles over 3 weeks!), cooking, cycling, gardening and deck refinishing. These were all rewarding experiences that allowed me to destress while still keeping my brain from spinning up on bigger questions.
It turns out I also love learning things just because I'm curious. I completed a MOOC on complex systems that was run by the Santa Fe Institute. I've been sharpening my technical skills on a range of personal projects like this blog, a mail server and programming projects. I was able to dive into a number of books. (I'll be writing another post on my reading.) I even bought a guitar and have started to learn a few chords. The NSA news has inspired me to learn more about privacy and security. And, I've dug into what and how to eat better. When I'm in this learning mode, I feel that sense of 'flow' where hours can go by without my noticing. It needs to be an important part of my future.
Finally, I discovered that getting control of my time is as important to me as I suspected when I started this journey. Learning and solving problems happens best when I am doing it at a pace that is comfortable and blends with my need to be attached to family and community. Just being at home for 3 months where I can be around my wife and kids almost constantly has allowed me to reconnect. I have been able to feed my need to learn without the drive of deadlines or the distraction of constant interruption. It has allowed be to be very productive and very relaxed at the same time. It has also allowed me to slow down and get more depth to my thinking and more intention in my actions.
I still don't know exactly what I'm going to do next. But, I will be working through it from a much better place. I have a stronger sense of self and a much better idea of what drives happiness for me. That is information that I will keep front and center as I move on the next phase of this journey. More specifically, I return to Rackspace in a couple of weeks and begin crafting a role that works for both of us within the above goals. There is clearly an opportunity to do that to the benefit of everyone involved. I'll continue my work as a member of the OpenStack Board of Directors and put more energy into the OpenStack community. I'm also planning to renew my graduate studies in Computer Science at UTSA in the fall.
Going forward, it's all about putting myself in the 'luck stream' while keeping firmly anchored by a strong sense of what 'lucky' looks like for me.
My coach looked at me and said "If you want to create 'new Troy', I think you are going to have to kill 'old Troy." It was a dramatic way of saying I wasn't going to get where I wanted to go with some small, incremental changes. What had started as an 18 person team focused on building a public cloud offering around OpenStack had grown into a 200 person (growing to 400 person) org with 24x7 operations and non-stop acceleration. I was increasingly drained and easily frustrated. I kept trying to make adjustments to my role and how I spent my time. But, it wasn't working. It was time to write my third story.
It wasn't an easy decision. I was leading the charge on OpenStack at Rackspace. We were building one of the largest clouds on the planet. I had a great team. The place was buzzing. I had been promoted twice in the past year. Everything looked ideal. Except I wasn't happy.
I was in the perfect job for someone. But, it was the wrong role for me. I was spending more time in areas of weakness and not enough time in areas of strength. My balance of maker time vs. manager time was off. My ability to connect with family, even when not at work, was moving in the wrong direction. I was living someone else's life.
One glaring illustration of the disconnect came from looking at my strengths profile. According Strengths Finder, my bottom strengths themes (out of 34) are:
I heard Marcus Buckingham speak at Rackspace's Global Leadership Offsite in January. He asked us to rethink our definition of a weakness as an activity that was draining. He pointed out that a weakness might be something you've become very good at - but that remains an energy zapping activity. It turns out that is the case for all of the four items above. These traits are essential to successfully running a large operations team at Rackspace. I could do them well (which results in getting asked to do them more). It was a bad cycle and it was sucking me dry.
In February, I began an orderly transition out of my role as VP of Cloud Infrastructure Products at Rackspace. I communicated clearly my intentions and involved as many people as practical in the transition process. I agreed to keep doing what I was doing through the OpenStack Summit in Portland. I prepared people on my team to step up and take on more. I finished up some outstanding projects. I had strong desire to leave on my terms and without significant disruption. I'm happy to say, that process seems to have been a success. And, as of last Friday, the transition process is complete. I'm wrapping up a few loose ends this week. Them, I start a 3 month leave from Rackspace in order to lay old Troy to rest and begin a personal reboot.
As of Friday, May 3rd, I will be disconnected from all things Rackspace until early August. Hopefully, this will allow me to recharge and rediscover my passion and my energy. I have committed to myself and my family that I won't make any decisions about what comes next until my leave is over. That, in and of itself, will be the first real change.
I do have a few things to work from, however. Some hints about what energizes me comes from the top end of my strengths report. My top 5 strengths themes are:
These point me towards smaller teams, more writing and speaking and working in forward looking spaces. I want more control of my time - more of a maker schedule vs. manager schedule. I've rediscovered my love of software and coding. I have developed a sincere appreciation and passion and open source software in general and OpenStack in particular. I continue to serve as a member of the OpenStack Foundation Board of Directors. I have an open seat at Rackspace where I have the option to craft a role that is better in keeping with what I learn during my break. Rackspace has been hugely supportive of this journey I am on and there is a lot of places where our interests aligned. But, all options (except my commitment to San Antonio) are open for question during the next three months.
Life has been a great ride this far. I've no regrets about the path that got me here. I've had tremendous opportunities and significant accomplishments. But, I have sacrificed a lot of myself and my family in the process. Now is the time to turn that around.
It should be fun ...
Since Twitter announced it was shutting down Posterous, I've been looking for another solution. I've decided to take a shot a hosting my own blog site. This is hosted on Rackspace Cloud Servers and is using Nikola. There were a number of factors that led me to this tool:
If you are reading this, it means that I at least got the site up and running. We'll see where it goes from here.