I’m a WIP

Ana Varela

But isn’t that what we tell ourselves to be the reason to keep on going- tough-faced, carrying on ignoring, pressing it all down, when in fact it’s the fear of seeing a pest infestation and realizing how far it has spread, how big the damage is?

Gee, what a handful. I know, bear with me here.

From reading that first paragraph you can sense a bit of the weight of the story of the process I’ve been into lately and that I’m about to share with you.

That paragraph can show you the speed of how my head jumps from thing to thing. The amount of concepts, ideas and thoughts active at the same time, and how it all merges together into a one big blob that feels so intense and big. 

And this story serves to share a bit of how problematic that has become and how I’ve been learning to deal with it.

What if you don’t tend to your garden?

A few months ago, I wrote about how, here at Komuhn, we are designing our new website.

I wrote it just as I was shaking off of me the dust from taking a tumble and falling flat down on my face (not literally; this was a personal, internal tumble).

I was not writing only about our new website. The website is almost irrelevant in all of what we are doing. I was writing about myself, about my team, about what we pursue and, mostly, how we do what we do.

I said how something “expires as soon as it’s done because we are not showing how it got done.(...) Because it’s a case-closed instead of an open book.” And right now, what I’m sharing here, I want it to be an open book. This is for future-me to look back on and see the process, the progress.

My intuition, my most basic instincts are screaming at me to go in the opposite direction.

For most of my life, I’ve listened to those voices, and I’ve been hiding behind some self-created cape that keeps me as invisible as can, that gives me as much protection as a piece of fabric only could. 

But this cape that felt comfortable became also a burden. It was heavier and harder to keep on. It was becoming a problem and keeping me from reaching further, from walking faster. 

As I’ve been learning, putting to practice and even teaching: “everything should go through a process of exploration. And this process can be as exciting as unpredictable. Most of us are not used to doing things this way…”. Not in how a website is built, most definitely not how a person is built. At least, not me.

This all meant I had to get ready to go out in the open, being vulnerable to the unknown, the unpredictable and to that discomfort.

My latest adventure

I’ve gone into an exploratory process of learning about myself, growing, going up and down the peaks of my own, and looking in to find the roots of problems so a solution can be – at the very least – pointed out and pursued. I’ve been learning that “It’s about how you take on the journey, not the destination”.

And I can assure you that none of it would be the way it is, none of this would be even written here if it weren’t for my team and our ways of looking at, well, everything.

I was very attached to my cape, and after the stumble, I was ready to get it back on, ASAP.

Not only did they ask me “don’t grab on to it so tightly”, but they also encouraged and advocated to make this adventure my priority – the most important factor, for me to be able to make a mind switch. They reminded me it’s okay to stop, to not be okay, to take care – or as Riikka so beautifully put it,It’s OK… to care.

So as I bit my lips, wiped my face and nodded in shy agreement - for words were too difficult to form at the time - I dove into it. Meanwhile, Andréa wrote “Design is a living experiment” and “oh wow”, how true and resonating to me, and what I was going through, it was. 

The same steps she mentions when we were experimenting with moving-to-early, were needed in the process I was adventuring in - if it was to take design as a tool and method to come to a new perspective on how to live more truly with myself.

The very first step: Agreement.

I needed to make peace with the fact that I have to go through the process. At the very basic level: there indeed was a process to go through. I had ingrained in my brain that I was always fine, I was good, nothing to see here, just carry on. But Yes! I do have - as we all do – things to work on, learn about and develop. I was just not able to deal with it before reaching a limit where I had to tell myself – “I’m a work in progress. Accept it, and start to deal with it”. 

We, as a team also agreed this would be a shared process, and as everything that we do, called it a “project”. We created spaces to work on it together, to update on the evolution and, most importantly, created a common ground of permission for talking, asking, proposing about it.

Second, we needed to document it.

If we don’t keep track of things, how will we look back on what was done, the progress, the process taken?

Documenting as much as possible had an immense impact on the project. I started exploring ways to document and share my thoughts through writing, mind mapping and mood boarding. These tools opened the reach in learning, understanding and processing what I was dealing with, the feedback my team was giving me and what I was researching. 

We took tools we use for collaboration –  a framework we’re developing called Colab – and applied it to this. This meant having:

  • Regular sessions to talk about it. To have time to check in on how we are feeling and dealing with the project, to propose topics, to create rhythm and permission to discuss and give feedback.
  • A shared discussion space for the project where we share all the developments and work being done, where we discuss and make decisions, with time for everyone to, asynchronously, process, think, give feedback and propose.
  • A project document, where written content is gathered and has tools for giving feedback.
  • A digital project whiteboard to gather information, research, learnings, mind maps, mood boards ideas and insights.

I have to enhance a giant learning, or in my case, confirmation. Had I been able to share more, the better and deeper achievements would have been reached. This is such an intimate and intimidating challenge, to open up this far but never did I regret it. Quite the opposite – one should always invest more in sharing, in exposing things to achieve more clarity and transparency. 

Third comes courage.

And again, comes the question: what if you don’t go through this process?

What if you just continue to endure things the way they are even though it is so hard, so painful? (not that this process isn’t. But it’s good pain. It’s worth-pain).

Might you get to a point in your life where you look back and your own life feels like sand slipping through your fingers? Even your work feels outdated, distant from yourself. You feel stagnant and revolted you didn’t do anything earlier?

If we don’t go through the process, we lose track of where we’re going, the control of the wheel, and ultimately of ourselves.

If we don’t take the time and effort to tend to the garden, to the plants, they won’t outgrow their pots – they will become root-bound; with roots formed into a dense, tangled, spiraling mass that allows little or no space for further growth.

I was root-bound. It’s a pretty perfect description of how my head, mind, and feelings were at the time – dense, tangled, spiraling and stagnant, completely buried and hidden inside.

It takes guts to keep yourself present, present to your own self.

Ultimately, that was the realization, decision and commitment I had to come to. People have been distancing themselves from others, mostly because we’ve been distancing from ourselves so much in the first place. Gladly, my team pulled me up and is helping me untangle the mess.

As Pedro wrote on outgrowing: “We (the Komuhn team) put ourselves on a path to understand and allow change, complexity, difference, nuance, polarity. We did it because we think that if we want to do better we can’t stop growing. We have to be able and willing to always be curious and kind and optimistic.

Oftentimes people go through these normal, natural cycles of growing and living, that fluctuate up and down alone, clueless, afraid and in denial. Time and again we see people left behind, put aside, kept quiet due to the discomfort these complex feelings bring to people around, for the disturbance it brings to the fragile “normality” we try to keep all the time.

This creates a downwards cycle of stagnation that kills all curiosity and will to grow.

There’s a saying in Portuguese: “After a storm comes the bonanza”; a situation which creates a sudden increase in wealth, good fortune, or profits.

During this year, the theme Care has come to the center of our work. We’ve always known and acknowledged it as a core, essential key factor to take into consideration when talking about “work”, but recently we took an even deeper dive into upgrading Komuhn. 

We’ve been working on understanding and implementing the concepts of capacity and how taking care is the whole basis to support the goals we want to achieve, and the way we want to achieve them.

Taking care for me has been a process of acceptance, of analyzing and deconstructing these concepts I had built based on wrong things.

To put in practice the tools and learnings, to develop based on feedback from my team, to share the process and to bring up clarity, I used one of the tools that has been helping me so much. A mind-map of the problem, that makes it all visual, broken in parts that are easier to understand:

In conclusion: 

People dismiss important issues, using progress as a pretext, to not deal with the discomfort of the vulnerability required to face them and to develop the courage to work on solving them. 

The discomfort creates avoidance. And so many times we avoid issues because we simply don’t know what the problem is, let alone how to fix it. But we don’t have to know this to start working on improving things. 

The first steps are the hardest, but once you start walking, once you get in the rhythm, it becomes easier, more natural. And if you have someone to walk with you, that can give you a hand when you trip or tumble, the better. 

So, do reach out to lend a hand and to accept a hand, even if you don’t know where the walk will go. Find and follow a process, a map to guide it, and get on exploring.

A book I’m reading, that is inspiring me in my adventure, and I believe is of value to anyone:
Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead
Ana Varela

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