While I’ve had my ups and downs that have shaken and changed my faith through the years, my core worldview has never changed:
People inherently have the instinct to help and connect to others and will do so when encouraged and valued for who they are and what they contribute to the world. Technology is the catalyst. Time is a currency. Financial gain is only one of many forms of compensation.
It took me less than 48 hours after being laid off last month to know exactly what I wanted to do next (besides re-start this blog).
I want my professional life to be centered on using technology to lead impactful, flourishing community again.
Besides my Salesforce or nonprofit technology experience, those who know me best know me for knitting.
Serious knitting. Not the, “I knit a scarf once” knitting. I mean the, “I have entire parts of my house devoted to the craft” knitting. I will travel hundreds of miles for a good yarn festival. I will detour to a yarn store no matter where I am. I first learned how to knit when I was a kid, got into it more in college, and have been knitting non-stop since 2008.
I average 15-20 completed projects yearly, primarily full-size pullovers and cardigans. I post most finished projects to my Instagram account here. Yarn will always be nearby no matter what happens with my career or life. As such I will post blogs like this that focus on the craft from time to time.
My knitting “mojo” is mainly in sync with my overall sense of comfort and stability. I’ll do full-size complex garments when I’m feeling grounded – even if I’m super stressed and busy. This cardigan is an example of a recent project when my head was in that space. Happy at work? No, not particularly. But my life was stable and my knitting complex.
My knitting gets smaller when I’m off kilter, whether stressed or not. At those times, I crave knitting smaller projects and accessories. In 2020 when the world was locked down, I knit 15 pairs of socks, two scarves, and two hats. Only one pullover and one cardigan that year.
Guess where my head is now? It’s back to small knitting.
The last call
Tuesday, January 3 was an otherwise typical workday besides the first day back in 2023. My day was filled with the usual meetings and catch-ups. My final call of the day at 6 pm was with one of the senior engineering leaders for a product my team supported. We met monthly and chatted on Slack from time to time. I considered her a friend and colleague, so our check-in calls were as personal as professional. She is also a knitter, but not as experienced as I am. She mentioned that she had started a scarf she loved over the holiday break but was frustrated that she couldn’t understand the pattern stitches. She said she thought of asking for my help, but didn’t want to bother me over the holiday.
She shared a link to the pattern with me. A free pattern by Purl Soho that called for a much thicker yarn. Interesting play on brioche knitting I hadn’t tried before. I had a skein of nothing special Lion Brand lying around that I didn’t plan to use for anything else. I decided to double the number of stitches to make up for the difference in yarn weight. I cast on and got the hang of the stitch after a few repeats. I intended to offer my co-worker a special session to show her how to do it.
After nearly eight years at the company, that was my last work call. I got the dreaded layoff email at 6:15 am the following morning.
Even though that wasn’t my intention, I’ve decided to finish the scarf (or the skein, whichever comes first). My progress so far:
Is it perfect? No. I’ve made mistakes, especially at the edges. But that’s okay. Every time I look at the scarf or wear it, I’ll think about it as part of the end of that job. It was a conversation with a friend, about doing something I loved. I disconnected the call wanting to help them make something warm and cozy.
Rather than post another depressive missive about layoffs and career pivots, I’m excited to talk about the tool and productivity system that has kept me sane for the past few years: Obsidian
Back in the day, I had notes in every corner of the hard drive: some text files, some in Evernote, and some in Google Docs. Tasks and reminders were in calendars or other apps. I relied more on my excellent spacial memory to figure out where to search than was healthy for a middle-aged brain.
Over the past few years, a new crop of tools and learning emerged around Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) or Tools for Thought. I think this sums it up best:
PKM is a set of processes, individually constructed, to help each of us make sense of our world, work more effectively, and contribute to society. PKM means taking control of your professional development, and staying connected in the network era, whether you are an employee, self-employed, or between jobs.
I had a job that required juggling a lot of information, people, ideas, plans, and projects alongside a personal life that required as much attention. It was exhausting to keep straight in my head. I tried every app you can imagine, and nothing clicked until I fell into the world of transclusion, and everything clicked for me. Trans what, you say? Most common in Wikis, it creates the interconnected “graph” that turns notes into ideas and ideas into projects.
For example, I can type [[apple]] in a sentence on a note titled “fruit.” Now when I go to the automatically created “apple” note, I’ll see a backlink for the “fruit” note in context.
After starting with Roam Research for a while, I ultimately decided on Obsidian, and I have no regrets. 18+ months later, and I still love it.
Obsidian is an Electron app built to work a folder of Markdown files stored locally. Plain, boring .md files. Simple, boring text files that are yours to keep, manipulate, destroy and store in whatever way you please.
Obsidian is as secure as you need it to be. Nothing is stored in the cloud.
You can purchase their sync service or bring your own if you need to access your vault of files on multiple devices. I had my work vault local only on my work laptop, backed up to work Google Drive. I had a second vault for personal use that I synced to a remote vault that, in turn, synced to my iPad and iPhone using the Obsidian mobile apps.
Obsidian has a collaborative user community helping each other, sharing guides and resources, and building a robust open source plug-in library. There are over 800 plug-ins covering every use case, configuration, and integration you can imagine.
At work, I used Obsidian to take notes. Tons of notes. I then used those notes to build my presentations, talk tracks, promotion docs, and more. The faster I got details out of my brain and connected with similar ideas and notes, the better overall.
For example, I had folders and pages for each team member. I took notes in every 1:1 meeting and cross-referenced the projects they worked on, their challenges, their plans, and the actions I needed to take to support them. When I got feedback or praise on their performance or had questions, I cross-linked back to their page, which was visible for our following conversation.
I kept track of strategic plans, project ideas, and much more. It allowed me to maintain a “bird’s eye view” of everything. It was painful to let that go when my job ended last week.
In my home life, I follow Tiago Forte’s PARA organization method (Projects, Areas, Resources, Archives).
By offloading our thinking onto a “second brain,” we free our biological brain to imagine, create, and simply be present. We can move through life confident that we will remember everything that matters, instead of floundering through our days struggling to keep track of every detail.
A single Obsidian vault is now my second brain behind:
All tasks and action items
Notes related to separating from the job I held for nearly eight years
Updating my resume, researching and taking notes on opportunities and related conversations
Researching and interviewing financial planners
Managing disability services for my adult daughter
Notes related to learning and exploring new ideas
Research, outlines, and drafts for this blog
Goals and journaling
And more. It changes and is as flexible as I need it to be.
It’s my hub.
I look forward to sharing my favorite plug-ins and the templates I’ve created in more depth in future posts.