We all understand the importance of disconnecting when we are on leave from our daily routine. But, honestly… don’t you struggle to do that if you’re passionately committed to your role? I don’t know about you, but I particularly find it very difficult.
The picture above is one the lovely ones that I took during my holiday in Scotland. Idyllic, I know. What you probably can’t see is that my mind was probably hundreds of kilometres away, back in my office. I booked my holiday only one week before the release date of a major delivery from my team, a critical one. I did this before the release date was decided, and I chose this specific date based on a minimum commitment of three months after I joined my current company (I didn’t want to be on leave before I passed through that imaginary line).
But Murphy’s law was manifested at its best and decided that the first holiday in my new company as a Scrum master clashed directly with this major release. Made me feel really bad and I could not change my booking anymore. Everyone in my team was comprehensive and told me not to worry. So I went on leave.
Now, based on my previous paragraph, I ask myself the obvious following questions: why did I even consider changing my holiday? What made me feel bad about myself when no one else seemed to worry? Why did I have this imaginary deadline to start thinking of booking a holiday? And most importantly: why did I worry so much during my discretionary free time, when I had a chance to disconnect and enjoy myself in a lovely place away from everything and everyone I know?
I’ve put a lot of thought in this matter, but not just in this specific scenario. I’ve done it throughout many, many years. I’ve struggled with disconnecting from work since I can remember, and developed what’s probably a quite perverted, negative habit based on my previous professional experiences combined with my innate personality. I am a passionate person. And passion can be dangerous, a double blade. Luckily, we all can learn with time, lots of introspective analysis on our behaviours, and slowly but surely put a remedy to these habits. But it takes a lot (and I mean A LOT) of time to obtain event the slightest results. And this is why I’m linking this thread of thought to this Scrum blog.
Before I dive into these thoughts, I’ll share what I actually did on my holiday: after leaving the office on Friday evening, I kept thinking of all the possible things I may have forgotten during my handover. I will write another blog post about the huge challenges of handing over responsibilities as a Scrum master when you go on annual leave, but for now I’ll simply say that I sent a couple of extra emails on Saturday morning before I took my flight, and then I decided to delete all apps related to work (Email, Chat apps, etc) so I would not feel tempted to check constantly.
And I managed to do so until the last day of my holiday. I had no interaction whatsoever with the office or my team. However, I had this sort-of anxiety about what would waiting for me when I returned, or thoughts of potential problems and my liability towards them. That being said, the last day of my holiday I decided to reinstall my email app and go through the emails of the week. Over a hundred of them.
I don’t particularly believe it was a really bad thing to do. I saved some time catching up the following day, and there was nothing better to do while I was checking the emails (I was a passenger on a car and had about an hour ahead before reaching my next destination), plus I really managed to not check anything about work in over a week.
However, I don’t think it was objectively a healthy thing to do. When I returned the world was still standing. Nothing had gone wrong or horribly wrong. People kept on doing their routine and as I came back, it all felt as business as usual. And today, we managed to push that long awaited release live, and we will be celebrating it soon. So, there was really no need to go through all that worrying.
As I mentioned in my post about the dark origin of the good life practices in Japan, only by going through the darkness one can be led to the light. Worrying about being away from your work shows commitment and passion, and can and should be perceived as a good thing as much as a bad one. Like everything in life, it’s not black and white. It strongly depends on our inner attitude towards it and on how we reflect our individual behaviour on others. The way we deal with the way we work as individuals should never influence other people’s. We all have personal circumstances. We all have different personalities. My way is no better than his way or her way.
As a Scrum master, I must lead by example. Promote and enhance the work/life balance. Objectively, a person who’s happy outside the office will also be happy inside it. And even if I have symptoms of being a workaholic, I can never impose them. Just try to humbly find my own balance of productivity and personal conciliation in the hope that others will see something in it, never imposing it no matter my so-called level of seniority and being open to change my own ways not just to reach a peak level of synergy between myself and my role, but also with the people that surround me and I influence as much as they influence me.
That being said, let’s briefly discuss assertiveness. A funny word, because it’s been perverted so, so many times by companies and professionals. Officially, its definition is the quality of being self-assured and confident without being aggressive, the person’s rights or point of view without either aggressively threatening the rights of another. Sounds beautiful, but not when a company uses it to convince its employees that if they’re going through a tough period of intensive workload they should simply comply and be content that they have a good job in a good company. That happened to me when I was still 22 years old. I don’t even blame the company, just the old-fashioned ways of working a few years back, in complete opposition with the Agile values.
What I intend to say in relation with the beginning of this post is that I carry baggage. We all do. Our professional experiences define who we are in that aspect, and not all of our experiences are good. We acquire habits, bad and good, that are hard to correct. Like a bad vice. Like cursing. Like an unhealthy diet.
I became a Scrum master because I wanted to change all that. I do believe in the power of changing things through analysis, kaizen and promoting good ethical values at work. But still I need to keep fighting my own battles. I always will. Like getting rid of my relative lack of assertiveness or being able to delegate. But my previous experiences (in particular, a few years I spent with a really toxic manager that considered me pretty much like a slave in a time where I was inexperienced and malleable) have taken a toll on me.
The silver lining for this post is: do not feel ashamed, (as a Scrum master, as a Developer, as a Product owner) to show your vulnerabilities, your flaws. You’re human. You make mistakes and you have a journey to make. It is the power of introspection, the comradeship, the mutual respect and the true assertiveness that will lead you to emerge triumphant from every struggle.
I had a relatively bad experience last week in the middle of my holiday based on this baggage and my inner demons, yes, but much better than it would have been a few years back. Because I have learnt from my mistakes. And it’ll get better next time as long as I keep questioning my problems and entrust them to good, relevant people from my workplace.