How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love…My Job.


I spent much of 2015–2017 in a near perpetual state of professional anxiety — that is when I wasn’t totally checked out mentally due to getting overwhelmed. Now this wasn’t all bad. I achieved a lot — especially initially — but in the long run I ended up in a bit of a mess.

My eventual diagnosis with type two diabetes seems pretty connected to the effect this period had on me physically as well as mentally but horrible as getting that news was it does seem to have been the wake up call I needed across the board. My weight loss and general lifestyle changes are the obvious manifestation of this (I have to be honest I loved bumping into so many friends at #oneteamgovglobal I hadn’t seen for a couple of years and seeing their shock at how I look now) but actually I think I also emerged from it all with a different, maybe healthier, approach to my work which might be having an even bigger effect on my well-being.

I’ve tended towards two (for me) unhealthy behaviours.

  1. Having a tendency to go completely all-in on a project — totally ‘method’ on the thing. This can lead to great things but it takes its toll (and I am friends with a LOT of people with the same tendency and who have paid similar prices.)
  2. I have had a really uncomfortable relationship with my own ambition — chasing ever more senior (or influential) roles without really understanding why or whether it was the best thing for me or the employer. I think this was particularly related to my love of public service but dismay at so much of the leadership around digital for so long.

What I have discovered though is that I have enough knowledge and experience now to add at least some value without the need to do that full Strasberg thing. I know what good looks like, what institutional* levers to pull to make things happen, how to protect a team and I have access to, and I’m not overstating this, a network of world class people who really add value and can occasionally make me look great by association. So (for now at least) that is enough for me.

I’ve also realised that where I am happiest is with a team (or maybe a couple of teams) and not trying to make sense of the whole organisation (let alone the whole of Government!). My thoughts on ‘scaling agile’ (or rather that you don’t) and how to empower teams really aren’t in vogue and I’m not really interested in fighting the same fights again and again. So again (for now at least) that is enough for me.

Also there are many, many more great people emerging as leaders across public service now — as #oneteamgovglobal demonstrated. It is far from perfect and their are many, many frustrations still out there but the tide is turning and maybe I don’t feel the (totally narcissistic) responsibility I previously did.

To be honest self-awareness only goes so far. I’m lucky to have landed in a role that allows me to act on these epiphanies and now I need to get better at acting on them.

But as continues to freak people out…I am happy and healthy at the moment. I am loving my current role. I’m excited about what is likely to be my next assignment and am looking forward to becoming a better coach and facilitator as well (because to be honest I’m probably a bit rubbish at this in any kind of formal sense — instinct only gets you so far).

*..and it is institutions and bureaucracies where I add value. I often wish it wasn’t but that is the hand I dealt myself!