It's OK to be vulnerable

Captain's log, stardate d51.y39/AB

MarsBased Mental health
Àlex Rodríguez Bacardit
Founder & CEO
It's OK to be vulnerable

This is a letter I sent to our team, internally, to send them hope for the times ahead.

A couple of months ago, on May 18th, I sent an internal message to our team on Basecamp to cheer them up. We were two months deep into the lockdown, and it was wearing down on a lot of people.

Working from home is a blessing when it's your choice, but when you're forced to do it overnight, and your partner just lost her job and/or you can't send your kids to school, things can get extremely tricky.

While we weren't affected business-wise, it seems most of us were struggling on the personal side of things. Luckily we've kept almost all of our clients and they haven't been affected either, so there was little to no worry regarding the stability of anyone's job.

Another reason why I wanted to send it is because this situation was also affecting our team and their self-confidence. Whereas pre-covid messages on Slack/Basecamp were more uplifting and of a more positive nature, the messages being sent right at that moment were showing a loss of motivation and self-confidence by a few of our folks, and we wanted to address this as soon as possible.

Last, but not least, I personally started to feel the imposter syndrome, whereby I didn't feel like I was the right person to lead the company at this stage, with almost 20 salaries on my shoulders and a huge pandemic looming on all of us for a potentially very long time.

Parts of this letter have been edited to change the names of our Martians for fake ones to keep their privacy.

Hope you find this useful in these trying times.

It's OK to be vulnerable

Hi all,

I want to share something that's been getting my attention lately.

We live in a complex world, and even more so now, with the COVID-19 stuff going on globally. It's easy to feel overwhelmed by the situation or to succumb to the pressure of having to deal with everything at once, when there are so many unknowns there (how long will this go for? will we able to send kids back to school? will there be holidays? will my wife keep her job? and so on).

In this sense, we are all vulnerable.

That's why at MarsBased, we have communicated as much as possible to reassure that everything is OK here. You will hear more next week about the direction of the company, but that's not what I wanted to address in this post.

Rather, I wanted to repeat the message that we will be as flexible as possible to accommodate your requests to be able to balance life and work. We take advantage of the fact that we can do it. Others aren't so lucky, so it's only our duty to make it easier for every one of us to take turns to babysit, to work, to look after our most loved ones and so forth.

We have always been flexible, but we're more flexible than ever now because there's no reason not to do it.

In the last weeks, we have seen people returning to their offices without enough protection, disinfection gadgets or safety measures. Some of our relatives/friends have been forced to do so. Now, more than ever, is when companies like ours need to stand up to the challenge and speak up and/or act.

In this regard, I want to send across the message of tranquillity. If there's something troubling you, or you're under too much stress/pressure, you're not able to concentrate properly, let's talk about it. We can talk about it on Slack, on Basecamp, or in a private meeting.

Some people in the company have traditionally shared this in their Friday highlights on Basecamp (👏👏👏 for them), but some of you/us find it harder to open up and share these challenging situations for whatever reason.

We just wanted to let you know that we can speak and deal with whatever situation. We'd like you to feel as comfortable as possible and to reach out for help any time.

And because I like to lead by example, I'll be the first one to start.

First of all, I'm thankful that all my family is doing OK and that I can live on my own, so I don't get the daily stress of having to share a flat with neither flatmates nor family.

My issue is on the work side of things.

I have the feeling that I have been underdelivering lately as a CEO. I think I've done a great job as being an outwards CEO, but not so much internally. I communicate a lot, talk in events and do a lot of stuff to bring projects into the company, and sometimes hires, but I find myself failing to connect with the team more.

I do not engage much with projects, once they are signed off, and if so, it's mostly at a high level. In terms of internal projects, I have been part of the Martian Tapas since the beginning of the year, but almost never prior to that.

I feel like I can do more, and I have ideas, but I'd like to hear from you if you feel like I can do something more as the CEO of the company. Most of my work is hard to notice in the day to day, as I'm mostly stuck on calls, writing/reviewing contracts, working on the SEO of the site, doing marketing actions, talking to potential hires, experimenting with new lines of business, holding/speaking at events and deciding high-level stuff, but in short, you never get to work with me.

Part of this feeling comes as a result of seeing an increasing number of messages in the company like "I don't think I can teach anyone else in the company" or "I don't have anything to show to other people". Like, for instance, when asking for content for the Martian Tapas or the Martian Day, we used to get a lot of ideas, some years ago, whereas now we get a lot of "I don't think my stuff is interesting to other people".

While it's ok to feel like that (we all do), it doesn't mean it's right. This is another example of vulnerability and it's ok to feel it, but we need to prove each other that we're stronger than we might feel at a given moment.

I find myself learning a lot from most technical highlights, but also from the emotional part I get out of them. I feel empathy with Mark when he shares that sometimes he regrets having chosen certain framework for a project, or when Jason says that he's had a couple of weeks that were unsatisfying because of too many meetings that left him with a feeling of not accomplishing enough, or when Patrice shared her lack of motivation a few months back, or when Oswald or Janice didn't feel at the top of their performance because of working with a technology they don't like. The list goes on, but you get the point.

There's always something we can learn from one another. I think I can safely speak on behalf of everyone when I say that we've always learnt something from each and every presentation we've had at our Martian Days and the Martian Tapas, and we need to keep this going. We're building this company together with our joint actions and learnings.

My question to you is: maybe there's something we can do from the leadership positions to help in these situations?

I'd love to hear your opinions on this.

Thanks for reading!

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