When to take your foot off the gas

It has been a really difficult year. I try not to indulge in self-pity, but I am a fan of self-reflection for the general purpose of attempting to learn from my experiences. Some of what made the last year difficult was out of my control (my nephew’s cancer diagnosis and fight, our wonderful nanny moving on to a family with infants since my boys are definitely not in that category anymore, etc.), but a lot of it was my choice. Sometimes I wonder why I am so intent on pushing when situations are already stressful. I suspect human nature here, but also likely a special flavor of masochism. I self-identify as doing hard things, and sometimes, wow that makes things hard!

I started a new job a year and a month ago. The transition to this type of role was something I had contemplated for a long time–I love semiconductors and feel like we are in one of the most interesting phases of innovation within design and manufacturing that will occur in my lifetime, but having experienced Silicon and system design without ever having had to operate those systems and understand what it takes to resolve the issues that occur at scale was a hole in my development. I knew there were aspects of design tradeoffs and decisions I could not reason about fully from the feedback of my customers and partners alone. 1+ year at Cloudflare, and I am still learning daily from the teams who keep our network up and running how to build better systems and how to help our vendors design more optimal products for services like ours. In 6 weeks I learned more at Cloudflare about the realities of managing systems at scale than I learned in 20 years of development and design. And I learn more with every project everyday. I will never stop loving the fundamentals of design and manufacturing, but I have greater humility and I hope insight from this experience.

My first day of orientation was also the date of my nephew’s first brain surgery to remove a baseball sized tumor from his brain. My first month was punctuated by PICU text messages from my sister. While trying to learn a whole new suite of products, understand our current projects across my various teams, develop relationships with my key partners and vendors, understand internal processes, build my team, and formulate my vision, I also was trying to make sure my nephew was getting the care he needed, and my sister and brother-in-law got some support. I am VERY lucky to have a large family of sisters and aunties as well as amazing parents, and everyone rallied to this cause, but it was a constant weight. Then the house remodel we had been planning for nearly two years finally kicked off (with us camping in the house because the rents in the Bay Area are no joke!) So I added the “fun” of cooking in my outdoor kitchen at least three nights a week during the wettest winter I have ever seen here in California.

Throughout all of this I remained the Chairperson and President of the Open Compute Project Foundation–hiring our new CEO, helping oversee the vision and strategy, and ensuring that we have tools and capabilities in the staff and infrastructure to support a healthy and vibrant community. I also remained the singer and primary booker for my band, Sinister Dexter, and you know just for fun (or honestly stress management) ran 4 half marathons (including a PR post having babies).

Then in September, I had to find a new au pair, our first match did not work out, and the immigration process for the second meant we went with part-time and strung together childcare for 2 months while balancing the schedules of two working parents. Seriously there were days when I thought to myself, how about I call in sick? I didn’t. I took two one-week vacations with my family and one with friends who have become family, and these were precious, did weekend visits to see my nephew and my sister, and I did actually get sick enough one week that I stopped working at 4 pm to take a bath and pass out, but otherwise I didn’t miss a day.

I don’t say this because I am proud of it–there are times when you need to take a step back and take care of yourself, but the insidious thing about cancer is that the process of fighting is a lot of work for the individual and their direct support team (my sister and brother-in-law) and for the rest of us there was a lot of waiting, hoping, praying, and worrying given that we couldn’t be in the hospital due to covid19 precautions (still!) I don’t like to worry. I’d rather do things, and honestly that was why I consciously chose to stay SO busy, but I am not going to lie that there is a lot of internal reflection going on right now. We got the blessed news in February that my nephew is officially in remission, and the precious dinners, and family nights with him over the last few months are particularly sweet. I want to say yes to the trips, visits, TIME together to make memories. I want to have family dinners around my new kitchen table. I want to be with the people I love and take a deep breath, and maybe, just maybe, not run up a hill in the rain for the next few months.

Stay tuned for a slightly chiller Rebecca. There are times when we just have to take a step back in order to be able to step forward. I think this is finally the time.

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