On promotions, sabbaticals and revelations

It's been quite a fortnight. I got promoted, helped launch the revamped M&G website (after a year of work) and left for a three month sabbatical to the USA which Amanda and I have been planning for nearly six years. Any one of those events would tend to make me introspective – but all three of them coming together is just surreal. 

First, the promotion. 
I'm now General Manager of Digital Operations at the Mail & Guardian. In many ways this is just a formalisation of a role I've already been fulfilling since I moved to the M&G nearly two years ago. I was hired by my friend (and long time mentor) Chris Roper to be his technical guy on the M&G site, with some additional work on new platforms like the iPad and smart phones. Hence my title "Digital Platforms Manager" – a title which just confused most people. 

What happened, almost immediately, is that I realised there were big gaps in the whole digital and information technology fabric of the M&G. And so I was soon upgrading office networks, tweaking ad servers and upgrading digital editions. At the same time I was trying to push ahead into new territory: the Kindle, the iPad. This meant a lot less focus on the M&G site than I would have liked, and a lot more grappling with the practicalities of hosting costs, procurement processes and accounts payable. To their credit Chris and Verashni (our talented Deputy Editor) were extremely patient with me, even as I seemed to be doing everything and anything other than what I had been hired to do.

I feel like I've grown in leaps and bounds since I joined the M&G. I've made a lot of mistakes, and caused myself (and sometimes others) a lot of stress and pain. The products I've helped launch are imperfect and all of them need a lot of work before I'll be able to feel that they live up to our high standards. But I'm proud of all of them – warts and all – because they are all products of small groups of talented people working extremely hard on something they care deeply about. In all of the cases – particularly the iPad and the new site – we're working with new technologies and new paradigms. That's often deeply uncomfortable and frightening. Before we launched the new site, for instance, I had no idea whether our installation of MySQL Cluster would stand up to the rigors of our audience numbers. The same applies to our iPad edition. The night we launched, none of us were 100% (or even 75%) sure of what the outcome would be.

I'm naturally self effacing – usually to a fault – so I would normally have trouble accepting an honour as significant as this promotion without a great deal of hand wringing. But for once I'm just proud of myself. I wouldn't have been able to get to this level if I weren't at the M&G. I'm standing on the shoulders of the aforementioned talented people. 

And in very few other companies would I be able to move the needle the way I can at the M&G (even if I sometimes do so in the wrong direction). And that's possible because, for all its flaws, the M&G is a company open to change and receptive to challenge and dissent. It's pretty nauseating to thank your superiors after a promotion, but without Chris, Nic, Hoosain & Trevor I would not have had the room to grow like I have.

Now, the sabbatical 
If promotions normally make me bashful, then imagine how ditching work for three months would make me feel. But again, this time is different. Amanda and I started talking about this trip in early 2007. By 2009 we were starting to talk about booking tickets and reserving hotels. But life intervened, not once but twice. I was poached by Media24 Magazines, and again by the Mail & Guardian and Amanda was asked to start a new social media division on Ogilvy PR. Each new opportunity pushed the trip out by at least a year. We don't regret choosing the path we've taken, but it was painful to delay a dream that was often mere months away when we were head hunted.

After all that planning and saving and stressing, it feels like a waking dream to finally be sitting here at Starbucks in beautiful downtown Savannah, finally getting the time to process my thoughts and feelings about these last few weeks and months. I realise, every day, what a lucky man I am. I try not to take it for granted. But at the same time I'm proud of both Amanda and myself. We've plunged head first into our dreams, despite the possible consequences. This trip is going to be expensive in every sense of the word, but I also know that it will be priceless. I'll try to remember that when we're stranded at an airport somewhere and we're both hot and irritable. 

The most challenging thing for me about this dream trip is to stay in the moment. I'm so used to living in the future, saving for this trip, distracting myself with iPad games and to do lists. Now I'm here I need to unclench myself, to give myself time and space to live instead of merely exist. I love my job, and I like working hard and striving, but I've been unbalanced for the last year. I need to get back into balance and back to essentials – particularly the essential of the one person I love most in the world. To be on this trip with my soulmate is the most amazing gift I have ever received. I am truly grateful.

Love, love, love
On the subject of gratitude, I have to mention how much easier our trip has been made by some very special people. Misha and Kate are looking after our fur child, the ever increasing Boo. Best. Aunties. Ever. The inimitable Verashnip is looking after our apartment – we couldn't ask for a better sitter. And Renier is looking after my other children – the digital platforms at M&G. Sterkte meneer.

It would be so easy to be smug and self satisfied about all of this bounty currently raining down on my life. So I'm trying to stay humble. I didn't get these gifts because I'm better or brighter. Yes, the hard work helped, but the luck was just important. I'm mainly grateful for everyone and everything that let me be here, now. Thank you universe.

Speak!

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