As I have for the past 12 years (see list), my first post of 2021 across all my sites is of three(-ish) words that are my aspirations or “themes” for the year ahead. As my 18yo daughter has reminded me, the beginning of a new calendar year is a completely arbitrary marker 🙂, but it does provide a moment to pause and reflect. Particularly THIS year with the pandemic, we’ve had a great amount of reflection time!
Note: while last year’s post was super short, this one is much longer...
Some of my colleagues at the Internet Society are undoubtedly tired of hearing me say that we must “Do Fewer Things Better”. That’s been my mantra for the past several years, particularly after I took on our website redesign four years ago at the beginning of 2017. As I looked at all the many amazing things we were doing, it was clear to me that we were doing far more than we really could with our small staff. It was hard to capture in our website what we did as an organization, because we were doing so many things! As our new-ish (2018) CEO is fond of saying “We aren’t the Everything Society!” We’ve worked hard over these years to be more focused and have more clarity of purpose.
In 2020, some internal organization changes and internal opportunities caused me to think deeply about exactly what it is I want to be doing - not only within the Internet Society, but also in my larger life. In the immortal words of the poet Mary Oliver:
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
I spent a great amount of time just… thinking. Reflecting. Writing. Mind-mapping. I re-read a book I’ve enjoyed - “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less”, which may actually be from where I started using “Do Fewer Things Better” (although he uses a slight variation “fewer, but better” following on from the German “weniger aber besser”).
Perhaps most importantly, I went back and read my blog post about WHY I joined the Internet Society back in September 2011. A critical section stood out:
We have before us a choice of futures.
One choice leads to a future where innovative companies can emerge, thrive, disrupt and succeed.
Another choice leads to a future where what little "innovation" there is exists only at the will of the gatekeepers to the network after appropriate requirements and/or payments are met. Other choices lead to outcomes somewhere in between those polarities.
How will we choose?
I realized that something in my work that I had been missing from 2017-2019, with so much of my work focused on the organization’s websites, was being a stronger voice about this choice of futures we have. In 2020, I got a chance to speak and write more on this topic as I lead our Open Standards Everywhere project… and it left me wanting to do more.
The pandemic showed us how critical the Internet is. It is the lifeline that is connecting us in all we do. It is how we communicate, collaborate, create, connect…. It is how we work, how we go to school, how we buy things.
And yet… this “lifeline” of ours is not well understood by everyone using it. And in particular by so many of the people creating policies or making decisions around the Internet.
The “Internet” needs more voices explaining HOW it works… and WHY it works the way does… and why it is worth defending. (We see it right now with the “Section 230” debates happening where it’s clear that some people don’t understand what the actual topic is!)
This happens to be something I can do particularly well. And so out of all that thought and reflection emerged the clarity of a personal “mission”, not just for my work, but also for my larger life in general:
To help people understand our choice of futures in our ever-more connected society, and to be a voice for the open Internet.
There’s an amazing clarity that happens when you have that clear of a direction. It provides a lens through which to evaluate choices and opportunities. It provided guidance in those work changes and opportunities I mentioned above.
It also provided a lens through which to evaluate opportunities outside of work. As an example, over the past several months I’ve had people from two separate nonprofits that I greatly admire approach me about joining their Board of Directors. A few years ago I would have probably just said “yes” to both, because they are great organizations and I enjoy serving on boards and helping organizations move forward.
But this clarity of purpose, combined with “do fewer things better”, provided a lens through which I could evaluate the choices. With everything else going on right now, could I really give the time to help the organizations succeed? And secondly, would joining that board help move this personal mission forward?
For one organization, the answer was a clear yes. For the other, it wasn’t.
In 2021, I want to continue to focus on being more clear on my priorities in life, more intentional, more focused. As part of that, too, I want to evaluate the things I am doing and decide whether I truly want to continue (and have the capacity to do so), or if it is time to end some of those activities.
As noted above, if I truly want to be “a voice for the open Internet” and “to help people understand our choice of futures”… well… I kind of have to DO THAT, eh?
When I looked back over these 12 years of writing these “3 words” posts, 10 of the posts have included a word about doing “more” with creating content!
And yet… here I am again.
I have stories I want to tell. I have things I want to say. I have information that I think would help other people.
And yet… I struggle to get those stories and words out.
The “tyranny of the blank page” wins. The articles aren’t written. The podcast episodes aren’t recorded. The videos aren’t made.
As part of that clarity of purposed mentioned above, I’ve been looking at what is it that stops me from getting those stories out. In some cases it has been the fear of getting started. In some cases it has just been… well… life in a pandemic. In other cases, it’s been… getting distracted by everything else on the Internet.
A goal in 2021 is to break through those blockages. I want to get writing again. I want to more consistently create podcast episodes. I’d like to send out more than one email newsletter in an entire year!
Or not! Another goal this year is also to re-evaluate… if I’m not realistically going to send out email newsletters, then just shut it down! If I’m not going to publish posts on one of my sites… archive it! It’s time to do fewer content things better!
Finally, the pandemic of 2020 has certainly shown the strength of - and need for - connections with other people. In some ways, the pandemic has been amazing. I don’t think I’ve ever had a stronger connection with my wife and daughters than I have this year! My wife and I have been able to carve out some “date time” on morning walks that has brought us even closer together. The sadness of our 18yo not being able to attend her first year of university on campus has provided an amazing opportunity to learn so much more about the incredible young adult she has become. (For her sake, we’re hoping she can move on campus in the fall of 2021!) It was strange for our 11yo to start a new school entirely online and from home, but we’ve also embraced our ability to see more of her than we would in a typical school day.
But for all the strengthening of my immediate connections, I dearly miss seeing my parents and extended family. Video calls are great, but not the same. I miss seeing old friends … and making new friends. The pandemic has definitely highlighted to me that I while I’ve made some connections here in Vermont since we moved here in 2018, I do need to strengthen the ones I have and also expand a bit more.
As a strong extrovert, I enjoy the interactions with many people… and that’s so hard to do in this pandemic world. I’m hoping the combination of vaccines and behavior will help us put this virus behind us.
Two Other Themes
While those are my main themes, there are certainly two other themes that are constant in my life:
- HEALTH - I’m still working on this. (I say as I eat another chocolate chip cookie!) My wife and I both share a goal of eating better, exercising more, and just generally trying to be more healthy.
- SERVICE - I’ve always tried to have part of my life involving service in helping others. Whether it has been working as part of local organizations, helping with community breakfasts, or doing other active roles, it’s always been part of what I’ve done. But it’s crazy hard in the midst of this pandemic to figure out how to help others while still being safe yourself. Sure, we donate to local organizations as we can. We help our local food shelf with supplies. But I want to do more to help in this time when so many people need help!
So these are all thoughts as we leave the craziness of 2020 and enter into 2021… we’ll see how the year shapes up - and how well I do!
How about you? What are things you want to accomplish or do differently in 2021?