Finding (and losing) your voice
Hello hello, how are you? I had a break last week because it was only a 2 day week for me. We had (another!) bank holiday and it was also half term, so I took a day off to look after my little one.
Despite having some lovely time off I’m feeling very tired. This has culminated in me losing my voice yesterday despite not really straining it or, as Gail has suggested, doing ANY karaoke.
So I’m writing this from bed, I have been extremely achy but the paracetamol finally seem to be working, so, here I am. Hello.
I realise now that being at #WellbeingCamp yesterday is colouring a lot of my thinking so I’m going to use that as a lens this week.
If you’re not sure what I’m talking about then you’ll find all of the information about it below:
This was a One Team Gov event but all based around the topic of inclusion, with a collection of speakers and events that, frankly, you just don’t get elsewhere. Talks on the effects of being ostracised by a peer group and how that can lead to work-based stress and depression? Talks about being intersex or about neurodiversity? About burnout?
There was also the opportunity to try “desk yoga” and mindfulness practice, or do some colouring, sketch-noting and craft.
Maybe these last few things sound a bit flimsy and fun, and I am sure that some people will try and frame it that way, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
In parts of the civil service, and indeed in modern life, self care can be a radical act — craft can offer some of that much needed self care.
We need to look after ourselves, not because it’s cool to be selfish, but instead, in recognition that when we are well we are able to offer more to each other, and learn the skills to ensure that people don’t suffer alone.
I’m constantly amazed at the One Team Gov crew’s ability to blaze a trail when it comes to events like this, and to take these subjects to people outside of the Westminster bubble who might not get many opportunities to talk about them.
There were 250 people there yesterday, 90% of which had never been to a One Team Gov event before, which shows that what we are doing still has wider appeal, and I really hope it grows even more. Look out for a post by me and Prateek soon on this topic.
I’m so glad that I played a small part in it.
Burnout (Listen to your body)
I met Sarah Carter yesterday and saw her awesome talk about burnout. This is something I’ve spoken about in my weeknotes before and have discussed with other people; we’ve pondered about how it’s possible to be dealing with low level burnout and not recognise it in yourself.
So Sarah’s advice to “listen to your body” is why I’m in bed today, after some terrible migraines and losing my voice. I’m becoming increasingly aware that these things are my body telling me to stop and slow down.
As an aside I thought that Sarah was absolutely lovely, with excellent taste in needle craft and geekery. I loved her ability to talk openly and honestly about her experiences (despite being nervous because the room was so busy!)
Plus, her talk was genuinely useful, so I’m sharing it below:
As an aside, there was a slight issue with the order of slides for Nour and Joanne’s welcome yesterday which led to some lovely, funny exchanges which was a breath of fresh air. It makes a huge difference to have real people, real brilliant, funny people stand up in front of a huge crowd and demonstrate that you can deliver brilliantly, imperfectly and show what people can do, don’t need permission to do, whoever you are.
Risk / Privilege / Weeknotes / Radical Futures
I wrote the other week about “weeknotes privilege” and about how it’s difficult to reconcile having enough privilege to work in the open, with how that might mean taking up space rather than making space for others.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot, but you’ll find my original thoughts here if you’re interested:
Yesterday at Wellbeing Camp Amanda ran a couple of sessions about weeknotes (I’m sure she will write more about this soon) and one of the things she said stuck with me:
- that the majority of the room for her first session didn’t know what weeknotes were, which makes a lot of sense,
- that a lot of people were wary about what they could or should be allowed to say, which again is an interesting and useful conversation about agency,
- that some others in the room were noticeably defensive about the whole idea.
DavidBuck and I also encountered similar when we asked people if they would be interested in responding to our questions as part of our Nesta Radical Futures work (more below). We wanted to take some recordings or videos but received many negative responses. People didn’t feel able to put themselves out there, even if we promised not to use their videos publicly.
This, I think, also reflects role and geography-based privilege that we sometimes see in the Civil Service, in that, people working outside of digital and policy (or Westminster) often don’t have as much agency.
We need to make it clearer to leaders what the risks are and what the benefits are too.
On a related note I’ve also noticed a new joke popping up at work a couple of times recently. I know it is meant in absolute jest but it has been troubling me a bit…
[When something goes wrong or someone gently ribs me about something] “that’ll go in the weeknotes!”
It’s not a joke for me really even though I’ve been laughing along, and I wanted to explain why.
This month I will have been writing weeknotes for two years, and, even though I know other people have struggled with it, I have been safe and nothing negative has ever come from it. These notes are about me, for me, and I’ve grown in this reflexive practice.
Writing and learning takes a lot of work, I don’t knock these out in 20 minutes without any thought. It takes time and effort.
The suggestion that I might “go rogue” and use whatever small platform I have created for myself to cause harm makes me really uncomfortable.
This practice enables me to reframe situations and to work out what I need to do to improve or manoeuvre around things that I’m learning. I would never put anything negative about other people in these weeknotes, though I am honest about my reactions to certain situations. I might write about difficult situations, but always with the framing of what I need to do and how I can reflect and change them. I write so that I can learn, and I publish just in case others might be feeling the same, so that they know they aren’t alone.
I’ve taken time to learn how to write about these things and it’s not easy. I’m sure I sometimes slip or don’t explain myself properly, but I wouldn’t ever make assumptions about people’s motivations or make suggestions about things I think people should change — who on earth would I be to do that?!
This is one of the reasons “Be generous” became a thing.
But similarly, every time I hear this joke its a reminder that what I’m doing could still be seen as slightly threatening. It makes me more wary, makes me question what I’m doing and why. I need to turn this into energy somehow, perhaps it’s a sign that weeknotes are still also somewhat revolutionary, and I’m all for quiet revolution #TemperedRadicals
One Team Gov Stuff
There’s been loads of action in the One Team Gov community and I’m really enjoying being a part of it all.
I volunteered at #WellbeingCamp and I don’t think I’ve really been a “Camp Maker” before and it was a really nice opportunity to meet loads of interesting and cool people.
One of the cool things is that as soon as we finish an event, we are all immediately thinking about what we do next. Prateek and I have hatched a plan to write a blog post, and the Wellbeing Camp team have already been approached by a government department who want to run one, and are looking at a potential source of funding to take it even further.
I ended up talking rather more than I’d expected about this BBC programme, Years and Years, especially the trans-human character. It’s interesting to see such depictions of transhumanism in the mainstream media. I remember reading a lot about it when I was in university, and it still felt really mechanical back then (early 2000’s). One of the things I think the programme does really well is to show how progression happens but also, how things stay so much the same, culturally people’s views and personalities change very slowly.
Anyway, it was good to see all these thoughts come together and a plan emerging. There’s a nascent WhatsApp group and I have started drafting a brief that we can send out to our global One Team Gov friends to help us collect video.
And what else?
Well I suppose I should talk about work a bit! We had a good week still looking at all of our funded projects and thinking about what comes next. It’s been interesting but hard work and I’m thinking a lot about how we work out what good looks like and what comes next.
I’ve been struggling a bit with concentration after a major migraine knocked me out on Saturday, so I’ve been slower than usual which is frustrating, but also “listen to your body” right?
We had an internal show and tell on Wednesday and I enjoyed telling the story of the alpha project I’ve been working with because I believe there are a lot of really exciting and interesting things that they have done and learned.
It was especially nice to have two new team members join us for that, and I’m really looking forward to working with our new service designer as he had the confidence to ask really interesting questions during my presentation, which I appreciated.
I’d felt really nervous, in fact more nervous speaking to less, internal people than I have talking more publicly. Some kind of impostor syndrome crept in and I questioned whether I really knew what I was talking about; I’m not great at detail and especially number detail, I tend to remember key insights but not the actual details of them. So, I stumbled over some numbers which is a cause of much anxiety for me.
Anyway, I watched the recording of myself back and the reason for telling you that, is this: at first I thought it just made me vain and self-involved, but I’ve realised that watching myself is actually the same as my weeknotes practice, I’m looking out for things I can note down as good or things I can change and improve for next time.
And I think, on that note, that I’m going to call it a day and have a bit more rest (and paracetamol). More things than this happened, and you’ll find them on my twitter account @stamanfar.
Oh and finally, a bumper two week playlist, enjoy: