Frances Hocutt's session at Open Source Bridge, "Exit Condition: when to ragequit, raise hell, or duck and cover", was pretty awesome. I got a lot out of the session itself, out of bouncing ideas off of other conf attendees, and out of just thinking through this stuff in general. My takeaways kinda blew up too much to fit into tweet-sized points, so here they are.
Support your complainers.
When something goes awry and needs to be complained about, one person often ends up being the Designated Complainer. This is the person who is willing or expected to pipe up about any given problem (voice) even though it affects many people, not only them.
If you keep doing this to one person it will burn them out.
When raising a grievance, the Designated Complainer will eat the consequences of any disfavour from above. Worse, if they pipe up and nobody else has their back, it looks as though they are the only one who is upset. This undermines the effectiveness of their complaining and puts them at even greater risk of reprisals.
A couple of suggested strategies:
- Rotate the complaining duties amongst everyone on the team.
- Complain in pairs—both for mutual support, and to show that more than one person is having the same problem.
- If, for whatever reason, the Designated Complainer has to go it alone when making the initial complaint, at the very least make it clear that they are representing you as well.
Not my circus, not my monkeys.
It can seem cold, heartless, and selfish to say "fuck this" and drop a project on the floor. But when you are perpetually grappling with a task that is causing you pain, ask yourself: is doing this thing actually your job?
This often shows up as an issue that is your problem because it is causing you grief, but not your responsibility, because you are not the one with the authority to fix it:
- If you were hired as a Software Developer, it is Not Your Job to unfuck your company's broken product strategy.
- If you're a Community Manager, getting your CEO to unfuck their broken open source policy is similarly Not Your Job.
You can advocate for these things, or even try to fix them outright if you want to and have the spoons. In a good environment, your efforts will get traction; this kind of thing can even be a growth opportunity. But when things are not so cheerful, you can keep spinning your wheels until you've run yourself well into the ground.
Think realistically about consequences of your actions.
Back in my army days, when someone was stressing out about the possible consequences of a trivial screwup or an act of principled disobedience, they were frequently told
"What're they gonna do, stamp 'NO DESSERT' on your meal card?"
Speaking for myself, I find it easy to freak out about the Horrible Consequences of some act without evaluating what these Horrible Consequences might actually be. While you don't want to be cavalier, you also shouldn't let yourself be held hostage by fear of consequences that are exaggerated or impossible. They can't fire you if you've already quit, they can't force you to work if you're a volunteer, and they can't take away a raise they were never going to give you in the first place. Think carefully about both formal and informal consequences, but don't be hemmed in by fences that weren't even real to begin with.
Don't save the world, just make it better.
Those of us who care deeply and who see all the things that are wrong in the world are oft given over to trying to save the whole world. We feel like a utter failure unless we manage to catch every ball, right every wrong, and save every kitten.
This sort of perfection is literally impossible. It is a one-way superexpress ticket to Burnout Gully, population you.
Instead of taking it upon yourself to save the world, and kicking yourself when you don't succeed at this Sisyphean task, focus on the fact that you are making the world better than it was before. Every helpful thing that you do, no matter how small, wouldn't have happened without you and your hard work. Go you. ♥