I Over Thought This


How knowing who I am helps me make better decisions

I experienced a moment of growth (I think) recently. I took advantage of a strategically important opportunity for me without compromising my values. There is a lot to unpack so, bare with me.

So, what was this strategically important opportunity? Well, I’m building a product called Rubric. It helps STEM educators mark coursework faster while giving students more meaningful feedback. It happens to be marking season at the university I work at and one of the Teaching Fellows (TFs) I work with was tasked with marking some coursework. As I’d marked it the year before I was asked if I could help find / prepare the spreadsheet that was used to mark it. This was potentially and chance to get someone to test Rubric!

I deliberated seeking permission to asked the TF if I they would be open to using Rubric to mark the coursework. I was “worried” about doing so. About my colleagues accepting me. About having to make the changes to the product that would make the testing possible in the short time available. About forcing my partner to cook dinner (I do that usually) at short notice. At bailing on the evening Zoom call with friends to play Zoom games (for posterity, this was mid COVID-19 lockdown). To. Many. Things. I panicked.

My partner and I talked and I explained my fears. They offered to do the cooking, to give me the time to work on the product to take advantage of this opportunity. They offered to skip the call with friends for me. This is the part about my values.

I’ve written about understanding who I am before and one of the core things I’ve come to believe is important is discovering your values. I actually wrote a game that explores discovering values and needs.

The opportunity presented to me seem to conflict with something I’ve come to believe is currently important to me. A healthy work-life balance, even for founders. I want to believe that it’s possible to build a business (albeit slowly) whilst maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

Hopefully the conflict is relatively obvious but to clear, skipping cooking my evening meal, skipping my call with fiends, taking the whole evening to work more on Rubric. These things all conflicted with my value of work-life balance.

After some more discussion with my partner and remembering a startup mantra “Its easier to ask forgiveness than to get permission.” (thanks Grace Hopper) that I’m not sure I’ve ever actually used before I experienced my moment of growth. I pushed through the barrier of worry and fear to glimpse a path to taking this opportunity without compromising my values. It required that I trust myself in my development abilities, in my ability to assess the work I needed to do to get Rubric ready for the TF to test it and it required that I trust that my colleagues would still accept me if I acted without asking for permission.

If I accepted that Rubric as it stands right now is very much so an Minimally Viable Product then it would be ok if it only did the thing about 80% as well as I would like it to. I had about 1:30 the next morning between starting the day and the onboarding phone call I had booked to prep the product which, if I focussed on only making the changes required to get to 80%, would be possible. I am actually good at this development malarkey.

So I decided to trust myself, to step back from work now and do the cooking, have the call with my friends and enjoy my evening! And that is exactly what I did (it was a blast, I’m coming to see that as much as I’ve characterized myself as an introvert for many years I get a LOT of energy from interacting with friends).

The next morning I got up, did the morning routine and started work at 09:08 am. I made the minimal changes, it took me about 30 mins longer than expected but I explained to the TF that I was going to be late and they were totally fine with delaying the call for 30 minutes (yay, acceptance).

I finished up everything, tested that it worked in a number of environments and deployed the updated product (along with the actual rubric the TF would be using for marking the assignment) to our server. Immediately jumped on the call and had a great chat with the TF, talked them through using Rubric and marking a few students (I’d marked that assignment before so could offer some thoughts on assessment).

By the end of the day I received a wonderful message from the TF:

Rubric is great - it’s easy to use and has definitely made the marking more efficient. I’ve used it all day and jotted down feedback, I hope it helps:

Amazing, but there was more. When I then asked “Would you use it again?” they said:

Yes, it has already made marking reports faster and more consistent. The pre-filled feedback has been written by a course leader, which gives me confidence that I am providing the students with solid feedback. It has also taken out the tedium of typing/pasting similar comments report after report. I think Rubric will be even more useful when marking the same assignment with others, helping us to reach a consensus faster.

There was also a tonne of really useful feedback on how to make Rubric better but I’ve left that out for brevity. The positive feedback made me feel so great. I know it isn’t the pragmatically useful part but it is so emotionally gratifying, to know that someone used something you wrote and that it actually helped them in the way you intended it to. An experience that not only did I decide to create for myself but that I created without compromising on something I really care about, my work-life balance.

I’m not sure a previous me could have achieve this. I think I could have picked one or the other. Upholding my values or leveraging the opportunity but not both. It took connecting with myself and my body to discover how important work-life balance is to me, listening to myself. It took developing trust in my own abilities, something I’ve been working on with my self talk. It took really listening and engaging with my partner while I was panicking.

Reflecting on that moment as I write this I’m struck by how weary retracing the steps make me, even though I’m only recounting a short space of time (like, 16 hours in total). I feel like I’m experiencing this stuff in such fine grained detail and it is a little tiring (or maybe that just that it’s 3am now…). Either way, I hope it gets more intuitive as I practice.