Preparing for Sabbatical – Five Years with Automattic

I hesitated this year on writing an annual post on my anniversary with Automattic. While it’s true that I love my work and continue to push myself forward, so much of my growth has been internal and making a post to mark a date in time felt somewhat trite.

For me it’s not about what I’ve accomplished while working here or where I’ve been. It has always been about where I’m going. I’ve had a few professional setbacks, but nothing that has kept my spark away, and I’m coming to realize now that my optimism about the future stems from a wonderful gift that I’ll be receiving one month from today.

Every five years at Automattic we get a 2-3 month sabbatical. Yup. Time to recharge, to breathe, to take a step back and take care of all of the things that we’ve put on hold for the past 5 years. I don’t know about you all, but I work hard. I work a lot. I put myself third in the order of my priorities, behind work and family, always.

I’m not saying that’s a good thing, but it is reality.

I’ve scheduled this break for the summer months, which means that I’ll have the summer off, just like a kid. I’ll be around for my family and get to take time for me.

Take time for me. Even writing those words scares me. What happens when all the work stops? What do I do if I’m bored? I won’t have a default work to go to, so how will I spend my time? Is too much time on my own something I can handle?

I started to think about this quite a bit over the last few months, and I’ve come to the realization that if I want to make this break count, I need to do it right. So I’ve been preparing. I’ve been thinking about the fact that I’ve spent the last few decades working myself to the bone. I’ve been thinking about how I eat and my lack of exercise. I’ve been thinking about my need to have an internet connection and a computer that’s always on. I’ve been thinking about how I spend money and what I give priority to in life. I’ve basically been preparing for an existential crisis, and hoping like hell that I can avoid it.

In the grand scheme of things it’s impossible to know how I’m going to react when the time comes, but I absolutely want to be sure that I’ve prepared myself as well as possible. Here are some of the things that I’ve done in anticipation of more free time than I think I’ve ever had:

  • Started a household project list, including the small things like fixing the wobble on the living room ceiling fan
  • Started a project wish-list, like finishing my smart lights project that currently works, but only if you really know how to use it
  • Trying to figure out what Yoga is and how it might fit into my life
  • Eating less and with more purpose. Not really to lose weight, but I’m really sick of feeling sick
  • Going to the doctor. I had a full blood-work panel and now eat fewer eggs. I’ve also had my ongoing appointments to solve an ear problem that I’ve had since I jumped out of a plane in 2008
  • Working on my motorcycle and getting the equipment that I need for long trips
  • Playing more games with my kids and keeping my phone in my pocket more

I don’t know if any of these things will help me with what I’m about to get into, but I do know that they’ve all been missing from my life. The idea of always waiting until I have time to do something now seems so silly, because if I’m always waiting nothing will ever get done.

If there’s one lesson that I hope I learn here it’s how to be true to myself in terms of what I’d like to do with my life. Happiness only exist in moments, it’s not a state of being, but with any luck I can push myself to have more of those moments in my daily life, beyond the sabbatical.

I’m approaching this break with the intention of getting healthy. Mentally healthy. Physically healthy. Emotionally healthy.

I’m so incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to look into myself this way. I’m really, truly, thankful to Automattic for supporting me in this way and incredibly humbled to have have made it to a station in life where I can make it count.

 

My Name is Alx Blog

Like many of my co-workers, I have a brand new and shiny domain: alx.blog. I giggle each time I read it because Alx Block and Alx Blog sound so similar, and I can just imagine the conversations that I have when I tell people where to find me online.

This domain comes at a good time for me. I’ve been burnt on writing for a while because I didn’t want this site to be all about grief, and it’s felt hard for quite some time to write about anything else. Instead of forcing myself to publish, I just sat back and let this site get stale. But that’s lame. I know that’s lame. I need to find it in me to change that, and starting a new year with a new domain is as good of a time as any.

Two years with Automattic

Two years ago, today, I started the current adventure of my life. I found a work community that appreciates who I am and the work that I do. I found friends that hold me up, and push me to be better on a daily basis. I found home.

In the last year, I’ve seen quite a few changes in both my life and my work.

I now help to lead our Store Team, and do less user-centric support. I harmonize happiness for 35 incredibly talented, driven, and passionate people. These people keep me up at night thinking about all that is possible. They drive me to push harder and be the best that I can be. These are the people that make the world go round, and I’m so lucky to be of service to them.

I lost the person who understood me most. Automattic held me up and allowed me to take the time that I needed to process and move myself forward. I would be in a very different place if it weren’t for this support. I’m eternally grateful for those who stood by me, and made this life transition as smooth as it could have been.

I started walking. After years of sitting all day, Automattic purchased a tread-desk for me. I now walk about 6 miles each and every workday. I have more energy. More focus. More happiness. Walking every day fixes something that was broken for way too long.

I’ve started to give back more to the community. I became one of the organizers of the Philly WordPress Meetup, and of WordCamp Philly. I’m excited to give back, even a little bit, to the community that has given me so much in life. I’m excited to continue to learn.

I traveled quite a bit to meet my coworkers. Italy, Kauai, New York, New Orleans, Mexico, Charleston, and Park City. In the two years since I’ve been here, I’ve traveled close to 68,000 miles to 26 cities in 7 countries. What an incredible gift.

There are more words than I can possibly write about the gratitude that I feel towards the company that I call home. I have a true sense of community and ownership. I have a true sense of belonging, and I’m just as passionate as the day that I started. I’ve grown up at Automattic and have learned more about myself than I ever thought possible.

Thanks for the amazing two years. Here’s to many more laughs, ah-ha moments, forward movement, late nights, and making the web a better place. Here’s to the future.

Happy birthday, mom

Today is the birthday that you didn’t make it to.

It’s hard to imagine, still, that your body gave out before you were done with it. Your soul. Your being. Your presence. They never gave up. They continue to wrap us with joy and laughter and learning.

Today is March 17, 2015. You would have been 63.

In the seven months since your body left us, we’ve continued to grow. We now know grief. We now know love and bonding and what strength really means. We’re starting to know what it’s like to not have you laughing in the next room. Or this room. We’re starting to let the gaping void heal. The wet wound is drying.

Nothing is getting easier and it’s best for the people around us to ignore our pain. None of us want them to see it because it’s not their burden. Our emotions range from freedom to happiness to soul-crushing desperation. But there’s acceptance. Acceptance keeps us moving forward and our daily lives are just as simple as they ever were. Family comes first. Then work. Then play.

The kids have grown to the point where you might not recognize them. I’m overwhelmed with pride at each corner. Each turn is better than the next. There’s thoughtfulness and tenderness and a wit that is amazingly disarming. These kids are everything that you would have ever wanted them to be. They’re my kids. They are kids that you would have raised. They are who they are because of you.

I’m proud of you, mom. You built an amazing community, incredible family, and a life worth living. You fill me with hope, daily. You remind me about the important things and allow me to step back from the ones that can wait. You’ve taught me to cherish my moments and the people around me. You’ve taught me to live and to enjoy this life. You’ve done well. Your best was the best. I can only hope to be like you one day.

Happy birthday, mom.

May this day be filled with overflowing martinis, damn-good Chinese food, rowdy dancing, abundant laughter, and a few tears. May this day be filled with your eternal light. May this day be filled with your presence and all of the joy that it brings us.

Today is a celebration. Today is the day that you were born. Today, we celebrate your life.

Happy birthday, mom.

Minecraft Birthday

This week my dude turns seven. Seven. I don’t know how it happened and I don’t want to know, but I sure am proud to be his papa.

For his birthday, all he wanted to do was play Minecraft with his friends. I mean, who can blame him? It’s a pretty neat game that becomes more neat as you add people to your realm. So Lu and I decided that we would make it happen. What I didn’t know was to what extent we would make it happen.

What you see here is the work of Lu. I was just a pawn, catering to her every need. Take a look at the images above and note the beauty of her work:

  • Floor to ceiling Enderman
  • Shoot the Creeper game
  • Skeleton Piñata
  • “Make a chest” gift bag, that each kid filled with supplies
  • Snacks galore, each with their own Minecraft sign

Of course, I did have my dad-specific projects as well, which included the “Survival Potion” for the grown-ups and the Game Cave.

The Game Cave was pretty neat to put together. I ran two iMacs and a MacBook Air, as well as some additional monitors in case the stations got crowded.

iMac 1 was the “server,” which was hosting the game on our local network. The MacBook Air served as not only the space for an additional monitor, but allowed me to use AirPlay to mirror the display to the TV up in the living room (via an AppleTV.) This made it so that the grown-ups could watch the game that was taking place in the basement, live. When they decided to battle the Ender Dragon, I saw it as it was happening, and went downstairs to offer my advice.

Overall the day was fantastic. We had a blast and so did the kids.

Last night, while putting The Dude to bed, he wrapped his arms around my neck and said “Thanks, dad.” Mission accomplished.

My mom. She lived. She died. She’s here.

image(2)I’m not good with talking about my emotions publicly, openly, and without hesitation. I’m not good at feeling angry or upset or confused. I’m not good at knowing that my life is changed forever.

What I am good at, though, is realizing that just because my life is changed that doesn’t mean that life is going to be bad. The raw pain will turn into a dull one and I’ll soon be able to see myself living again. Being a father. Being a husband. Being an Automattician.

It’s been three weeks since my mother died. My mom. The woman who had so much faith in me that I learned to have faith in myself. The woman who loved me so much that I learned to love myself. The woman who was so optimistic about my future that I became optimistic myself. She died.

I’ve been visiting her grave and speaking out loud like a lunatic. When I visit, I feel like I hear her. She tells me to stop visiting because I can talk to her from anywhere. My mom. She died.

There are moments when I feel like I can’t breathe and I don’t know how to have faith or love or be optimistic. And then there are moments when I’m determined to make the most out of every second that I have left. My mom. She died. She was 62.

When I think about her final years, I think about how much she lived. My mom never struggled. She never fought. She never battled cancer. She lived with it. She took what was a devastating and horrible turn in her life and she lived. She traveled. She loved. She laughed and danced and sang. She married people. She continued to grow and learn about herself and become the best that she could be. My mom. She lived. She died. She was 62.

I know that she’s here with us. I still ask her advice and I still lean on her for support. She’s around us and she always will be. She weaved her soul into me from the moment I was born. Teaching me, learning from me, growing me. My mom. She lived. She died. She was 62. She’s here.

My mom. My mom lived and then my mom died. She had 62 amazing years. I’d rather live with the gigantic hole in my heart than have had my life be any other way. I’m so lucky that I got to know her. My mom. She’s here.

 

Hey, mom.

We buried you yesterday and it was awesome. You would have been proud of the service and you would have been proud of us for keeping our shit together. Had you physically been there you would have danced and laughed and sang louder than anyone else in the room. You would have cried too.

It’s not easy to say goodbye to your physical being and all of us have a lot of work to do to get used to the idea. Rabbi Marc reminded us, though, that your calendar is now wide open and we can talk to you whenever we want. You’re here around us. Everywhere.

I’m not going to eulogize you. I didn’t at the funeral and I won’t do it now. There are too many words for any of them to have any meaning. Instead, I’m going to live the rest of my life with your influence. I’m going to treat people the way that you taught me to treat them. I’m going to raise my children the way that you raised me. I’m going to use my brain for good. I’m going to love myself. I’m going to hold those around me close and build my personal community to be the strongest it can be. I’m going to feel things. I’m going to be conscious and deliberate and I’m going to enjoy my moments like there’s no tomorrow.

We’re going to be fine. You knew we would. There’s a lot of love in this house and life is such an amazing adventure. We’re all just so lucky to have known you and to continue to know you. You didn’t leave us behind. You grew us all. We’ll continue to learn from you each and every day, regardless of your incarnation.

I love you, mom. I hope the music is good wherever you are today. If not, I’m sure it will be good tomorrow.

Alx: 1, Bad Guys: 0

Almost exactly a year ago, my motorcycle was stolen. It was locked up to my stoop. The lock was cut and it was gone.

This happened the day before I embarked on a new life adventure, and I didn’t really have time to feel all of the emotions that I wanted to feel. It was a shock, for sure, but sometimes it’s better to accept your lot than to dwell on it for too long.

In many ways I accepted my fate. I remember standing on the steps, mouth agape, staring at the spot where my bike had been and thinking to myself that there was nothing that I could do. At that moment I knew that I would never see it again. I was wrong.

I called the cops, like any good Philly boy, knowing very well that the dance that we would do involved filing a police report that would make it’s way to a cabinet without a second glance. I didn’t have comprehensive insurance, so the loss was a loss. I wasn’t going to get a payout for it, which meant the money that I had spent was just gone.

About three months after it happened I wished for my bike back. In my mind, the thieves had had enough time with it, and it was time for my bike to come home. Over the year there were many moments where I hoped that it would return, but after a while I was totally numb to it.

On February 6, 2014 a letter showed up in the mail. The letter explained that my bike was found in Deptford, NJ on October 16, 2013 and that I should come and claim it. (What?!)

So I did:

It was a live stop by a New Jersey officer that brought my bike home. They caught the dude and it kind of feels like a miracle.

Recovering a stolen vehicle is a costly endeavor. The amount that I will pay out to restore the bike, plus the cost of the impound is only slightly less than what I paid for it. But instead of buying a new bike for the same amount, I’m getting my bike. The miracle bike. The bike that came home.

I yelled at my daughter. . . because she’s two.

It can happen to anyone; the feeling of being overwhelmed with work or technology or responsibility. All of us are prone to it, given the right circumstances. Sometimes it just sneaks up on us without warning and sometimes it builds up over time. Regardless of how you land there, it’s your duty to deal with your emotions in a way that doesn’t hurt those around you.

Last night I yelled at my daughter. I yelled at her because she’s two.

After a long day of staring at a screen I came home to daddy duty. My wife was headed out for the evening and my lot was to feed and bathe and snuggle the kiddos before putting them to bed for the night. This isn’t a rare thing, but for some reason, last night it felt insurmountable. Even the thought of rowdiness gave me stress. Dinner was rough, getting their PJs on was rougher, and bed time was a nightmare. And I lost it. I snapped.

After 2 hours of trying to get the little one to just lay down in bed, I let her have it. I threatened a time out. I walked out of the room. I raised my voice to a totally innocent two-year-old because I was overwhelmed.

Being a parent doesn’t mean that you have to be perfect. Raising your voice happens. Discipline is important. But it’s also important to recognize when you’re at your wits end; if it’s their fault or yours. Last night it was my fault.

I don’t ever plan on being the perfect father. I think that having parents that mess up is an important part of childhood and an important part of becoming a well-rounded adult. I also think that it’s important to be honest with yourself when you do cross the line and appreciate that being overwhelmed happens.

Given the opportunity for a do-over, though, I wouldn’t accept it, because this was an important lesson for me. I’ve recognizing that my wee one didn’t deserve what I dished out. She still loves me (she’s sitting on my lap at the moment playing with my hair and trying to type this for me.) She doesn’t remember my raised voice. She’s as happy as can be.

All of this is to say that it’s important to think about your actions. It’s important to feel their repercussions and to grow yourself in their wake. Try not to yell at your kids for being kids. If it happens, think about why and try and learn from it.