2023: A year in (p)review

It has been a while since I wrote one of these. After the shit show that was 2020 I guess the inclination just faded away and truth be told 2021 was no bed of roses either. Still this was a big year for a bunch of reasons so I dug around in the sofa cushions for the keys to this blog, dusted it off a little and here we go – lets see if I remember how to do this.

Lets get the big milestone out of the way first. I turned 50 back in March. From one vantage point I thought I handled it pretty well to be honest…though I guess from a different perspective a case could be made that it precipitated my blowing up my life a bit (but we’ll get to that.)

I spent the evening of my 50th in New York City at the rooftop bar of the CitizenM in the Bowery. A small cadre of close friends had made the trip with me and some unexpected, but appreciated, cameos were made from friends from the States and Canada. I spent the day after my 50th recovering.

On the one hand 50 feels ancient but on the other I still feel like a work in progress. I looked around at my friends and colleagues and everybody seemed to be comfortable in their skins (and with their decisions) and I still felt a million miles away from that. So I made some changes.

I’ve never really found it easy to settle in for the long haul anywhere (professionally) but by my birthday I had been with Foundry in one incarnation or another for five years. I took a sabbatical for a couple of months last year (postponed from 2021) but other than that it is my longest ever spell with one employer – though my role had changed significantly in that time – in March I was actually interim Head of People and Culture and was enjoying it.

In April I quit.

It was all very amicable, if a little awkward. The Board went through the motions to try and keep me though it was all a bit half-hearted on both sides. The company had long outgrown my particular eccentricities and the desire to keep me around was mainly born out of personal relationships rather than hard nosed business reasons. Which was nice to be honest.

I left with a little financial cushion and no desire to work for anybody else and with nothing lined up. I’d long thought I would return to the Civil Service after leaving consultancy life but that urge had long past given the ongoing war on public servants from the Government and I had no interest in joining a large(r) consultancy (to be fair Foundry is hardly small these days). Also after a couple of years of embracing remote working the pressure to be back on-site several days a week was returning across public service and big institutional clients and I had no appetite for that.

So despite a complete absence of any entrepreneurial spirit I decided I’d go out on my own. Doing what I was not really sure. I felt like I needed a change but I wasn’t really sure what that looked like. I mainly had the slightly childish desire just to do the things I enjoyed and stop doing the things that made me want to invest in Nurofen.

It was my intention to take another sabbatical (is it really a sabbatical without a job to go back to?!) to come up with a plan (but really to tick off my of my travel bucket list) but fate intervened.

At the end of 2020 I’d seriously considered quitting my weekly vacancies newsletter but in the end if anything I doubled down on it in the following years. It was a reliable anchor week in, week out. People appreciated it and it felt like something useful I was contributing to the community as I pulled back in other ways (I’ve never really been comfortable with in-person conferences – un or not – since I got Covid the first time so my profile dipped) but I’d never really thought of it as a career.

Until it was.

I announced I had left Foundry in May. By June I had received my first real offer for sponsorship for the newsletter. It wasn’t loads of money but 3,000+ subscribers with a 60% open rate meant it was better than a kick in the rear. Soon after that I got my first paid advisor gig helping a start-up build its team and that was quickly followed by an offer to work with a large charity to do something similar for its new in-house digital and technology ambitions. It was all tied to the newsletter and the research and blogposts that had spun out of it. I wasn’t going to get rich off any of it but also I wasn’t going to go hungry and it was the work I loved. So ‘Product for the People Limited’ was unveiled (after a long hibernation!).

In September fate intervened again. A niche jobs board I liked and pointed to regularly was struggling and the founder (coder/product manager/sales director – he was a busy chap) was looking to offload it and asked me if I knew anybody. In for a penny, in for a pound I thought and so thanks to some advice and support from my friends at Foundry & The Panoply (glad I didn’t burn any bridges there!) I now find myself the proud owner of my own jobs board! Alongside my newsletter and a little boutique consultancy advising on better hiring. I used to joke to a colleague about morphing into a product management / recruiter hybrid…guess that came to pass after all!

I’m going to relaunch the jobs board – with a shiny new brand thanks to an old friend from mySociety – in January. Yes there will be stickers. That said if it doesn’t stop snowing here in New York I’ll be launching it from here – I’m back in Manhattan for Christmas and New Year. Back in the hotel where I had my 50th party and decided it was time to change things up. Lets hope I’m somewhere cool in a years time looking back on 2024 with as much pleasure as I am writing this.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year gang!

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