About three years ago, Chiu-Ki and I were wondering around Copenhagen and we came up with the idea for Technically Speaking. We sent the first issue to ~100 people from the hotel lobby in Malmö, Sweden (we were both speaking at Øredev). It’s been such a great experience to build this project out of that – to measure our reach in thousands, and to make it revenue generating (and give most of it away). Putting together our Emoji Report Card at the start of this year made it clear how far this has come.
I love working with Chiu-Ki. I love – and I’m proud of – the impact that we make.
But I don’t love the project right now. So after a lot of thought, I told Chiu-Ki that I needed to take a break, and I didn’t want to do it in 2018.
I have the urge to apologise at this point, like that’s what should come next in this kind of post. However, rationally, I don’t think I owe anyone an apology. What I will offer is an explanation and some insight into how I got to this place. Because I don’t think I am the only person who does community work who ends up here. And I don’t think Technically Speaking is the only project that stops for these reasons.
Is this a casualty of the world ending? I don’t know. It is definitely true that everything feels trivial. All year I have have been grieving for lost human potential – mostly from women (who have been making 86% of calls to resist the US regime) because instead of doing what we were going to do in 2017 we are dealing with this shit-show instead. I think this was an amplifier, but not the cause.
The biggest reason why I decided I needed a complete break was because I had started to feel resentment for it. In community work, people copying and basing their work on yours without credit is honestly one of the better outcomes. If I start to need more than that, something is wrong. Two years ago or so a dude made such a poor copy that we couldn’t even call it out. I managed to laugh that one off, observe that nothing says you’re doing a good job better than a mediocre copy from a (white) man. I can’t do that, lately.
Community work needs to be a gift. I’ve been (slowly) reading the book The Gift (Amazon) – slowly because I hate it, because it’s a very long expression of one small idea. The small idea is that gifts have to keep moving, they can’t be taken out of circulation by being consumed or used for personal gain. I feel that way about community work. It has to be a gift – but also, it has to keep moving. I don’t write with any expectation of return – I put things out there and trust that they will come around and come back. With Technically Speaking, I started to feel it wasn’t circulating.
Is this true? I don’t know. This isn’t really about what is objectively true, but how I feel. I feel jaded and in need of a break.
I hate hustling for sponsorship. Mid-year we dropped to bi-weekly, and the biggest driver for that was not wanting to try and find sponsors. I am so grateful for our sustaining sponsors Glowforge and TravisCI who supported us since we went on strike in March 2016 and enacted the rule of no-sponsor-no-issue. This project would likely have ended much sooner without their support. This has helped us give our guest contributors a meaningful gift, and also allowed us to help inclusive events we believe in.
Will Technically Speaking come back in 2019? I don’t know. I think we have to give it space to not come back. I hope by stepping away we can see the core and the most valuable parts of it more clearly.
Three years is a good run, though. I know we have helped people get started or level up their speaking. I know we have helped events diversify their lineups. I believe that we have moved forward and created transparency into conversations around Codes of Conduct and speaker travel. I believe that we have made a difference.
The sad thing is that I don’t have any good alternative to offer people. There are resources I recommend (like the Eloquent Woman blog) but nothing with the angle we had on content, or with the standards of curation we had for CfPs.
I want to leave you with some takeaways.
The first, and the most important, is that you have something to say. Yes you. Your voice is valuable and you deserve to be heard.
The second thing is that if there are projects you appreciate, please keep the gift in circulation. Saying thank you is good, crediting and paying forward is better.
Third, and finally: without financial support community projects die. Our sustaining sponsors doubled the lifespan of this project – that’s incredible. But we were well connected and lucky, and it has still been really painful.
Good luck on stage in 2018, y’all. I might not be actively helping… but I still believe in you.