Keeping busy between jobs

Being out of work is a blessing and a curse. On one hand, having long stretches of time to focus thoughts and efforts on pet projects and learning is amazing. With clear vision and consistent effort, one can make tremendous progress in achieving high-value goals. On the other hand, you’re still out of a job.

The search could surely be going better – summer vacations really slow down the hiring process – but it’s at least moving, giving me hope that I’ll land in a great spot. And on the plus side, I’d already planned to have some time off this summer, so I had a bit of savings put aside. Once I became free, I let my inner circle know of my availability and began sending out my updated resume (link).

Once this transition from the old chapter begins, I’m able to focus not only on my new career goals, but also make a dent in real and actionable work to “sharpen my saw”. As you review my progress, reflect on your own methods and projects. I’d love to hear what others things passionate agiliasts do to make positive strides in their personal and professional growth.

What I’m doing with my time

Blogging – My first priority has been to give attention to my own personal blog. I’m not a very consistent writer, and I’m not extremely confident in the voice or style I employ, so I set an aggressive goal of one post a week. Now nine weeks without work, I’ve produced enough posts (this being number eight) to be pretty close to that aspiration. For me, posts are reflections of my working philosophy and summaries of experiences I’ve had on the job. They allow me to inspect and prepare to adapt my approaches to coaching and working with teams. As of this writing, I’ve got another eight posts pending – some started as drafts, others mere ideas on a backlog.

Product Development – The Lean Coffee Starter Deck is another important project I’d had in mind for a while. I’ve been hosting local meetups twice a month for over three years, with little downtime. Since the earliest sessions, I’ve kept a running list of all topics the groups brought up. As you can imagine, there’s quite a lot of repeated questions over the three years, so I affinity-grouped these and created two decks (54 pre-printed cards each) of the most popular topics. I’m preparing to put together a kickstarter campaign (just need to finalize a nice video), but you can have a sneak peak here (link).

Reading – What’s a summer without some good reading? I now begin (after morning meditation) and end most days with a chapter or three from either my long-ignored pile of books or one of the many new selections I recently acquired. I’m currently juggling Reinventing organizations (Laloux) and Leadership Agility (Joiner and Josephs), and I’ve already finished off quite a stack: Essentialism (McKeown), No Asshole Rule (Sutton), Three Pillars of Agile Quality & Testing (Galen), Management 3.0 (Appelo) and Art of Agile Development (Shore). In the queue is Fritjof Capra, Kent Beck, Peter Senge, Ron Jeffries and a few others. (I do my best to model reading to my nine-year-old, but she’s having none of it; instead enjoying her summer break surrounded by her little pony toys.)

Volunteering – A few activities (gratis) to keep me insanely busy but also connected to actual humans. First, I’d presented a lunch-and-learn at the L.A. office of TEKsystems in June. An hour of Agile and Scrum to a roomful of recruiters – hopefully I did some good to the world of job-seekers. Next, I’m once again helping organize the Agile Open Southern California (link). If you’ve attended in the past three years, those new emails you’re receiving are from me. (You’re welcome!) I’ll be pulling other duties for AOSC as well, perhaps holding space alongside Diana and others. Finally, I show up at a number of Dr. Dave Cornelius’ 5Saturdays (link) events to share techniques of Lean Coffee and other goodness with high school kids and their adult instructors. Good times.

Podcasting – Of course there’s still the Agile Coffee Podcast to maintain. We’re up to episode 32 published to iTunes and Stitcher, and I’ve got three more recorded and in the editing pipeline. This project is among my most self-fulfilling as I get to talk with passionate agile minds about topics of great interest. I average a new 45-minute episode posted every two weeks with no signs of abating – so please subscribe and rate us on iTunes. And holy cow, WOW, I was recently interviewed by Ryan Ripley on his Agile for Humans podcast, episode 8 (link). Ryan’s show has quickly become one of my faves (I listen to many other terrific Agile shows), so it was quite the honor to appear with him there. (And guess what? Look for an Agile Coffee for Humans crossover in the near future.)

Industry Events – Back in June I participated in two great affairs: Scrum Day San Diego (link) and Scrum Alliance’s Scrum Coaching Retreat (link). Compelling voices and good friends gathered in by the waterfront in San Diego, and I talked with many Scrum heroes there for podcast episode 32 (link). The retreat in Seattle was a particularly rewarding and welcomed opportunity to escape the grind of the home office and meet truly awesome people. The project team I joined was engaged in building out a Coaching Dojo, an undertaking that made great use of research that I’m doing in the area of pair-coaching. Teammates were engaging, and they inspired me to raise my game. What more could you ask for?

What’s next for me?

It’s hard to deny that I’m keeping busy. I feel that I’m striking a good balance between personal/professional development and community involvement. I believe in the value of giving, and I’m grateful for all I get in return. Still, I feel driven to do more. There are a few presentations (link) I want to revise or develop, plus a couple videos I’d like to produce. Then there’s the kickstarter project I mentioned – really stoked about creating card decks to help coaches, scrum masters and other agilists create conversations. And I have an idea for another podcast, one focused narrowly on the topic of servant leadership.

Is it enough? I can’t answer that. No one can. But it certainly gives me new experiences to discuss in the future. And focusing on self-improvement keeps me from sinking into a victim-like mindset of pity and self-loathing. It helps give me confidence to have honest conversations with colleagues and potential employers, unashamed of the duration between engagements.

I’m curious to hear what others do in times like this. Leave a comment below or hit me up on twitter (@AgileCoffee). What keeps you busy improving? How do you sharpen your saw?

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