Life Lessons For A COVID-19 World I Learned From Open Spaces
March 12, 2020 Jamey Alea 3 Comments
I recently attended (and presented at) DevOpsDays NYC. It was my third DevOpsDays event and it was a fantastic conference, as the other two had been! What I didn’t realize at the time was that it might be my last conference for a while. I was supposed to leave for SXSW in Austin the following week, before the news about its cancellation due to COVID-19. Railsconf is the most recent of my events that was cancelled, leaving my 2020 schedule now conspicuously empty.
For me, this has been a blow. I like doing conferences; they’re a major part of my career. Railsconf in particular is a favorite of mine. And more than that, the opportunity I had this year at SXSW was particularly lucrative: I was going to be performing in an interactive theater production called Unknown 9: Incident. It was supposed to be my first time doing acting professionally, and it has been a pretty crushing disappointment for it to get cancelled, especially only a few days before rehearsals were supposed to start.
Naturally, I have been reflecting quite a bit on the entire COVID-19 situation (as many of us probably have), but especially on the ideas of opportunities, disappointment, and the fragility of the plans we make for ourselves. And I’ve found my thoughts circling back around to DevOpsDays and particularly to one of my favorite features of that series of conferences, Open Spaces.
Open Spaces are a quintessential aspect of DevOpsDays events and part of what makes them feel so community focused. The premise behind Open Spaces is that conference attendees can talk about whatever they want, be it something they have thoughts about or something they want to learn more about from others. Anyone can propose a topic and, if there are more proposed topics than available time slots, everyone gets to vote on which topics they’d most like to see. The sessions themselves are open conversations, in which anyone is welcome to sit in, listen, and/or participate, to their own comfort level. I love Open Spaces; lots of people do. They foster conversations within our community that are both important and enlightening.
So why am I thinking about this now, in terms of my reflection on the COVID-19 situation? Well, Open Spaces work because they’re based on the law of mobility, which gives people both responsibility and empowerment over their spaces. The idea is that if you’re in a space, and you don’t feel like you’re adding value or getting anything out of it, you can (and should!) use your two feet (or other form of mobility) to get up and leave – and go to a different session instead. In addition, the law of mobility is extrapolated into four principles:
- Whoever comes is the right people.
- Whatever happens is the only thing that could have happened.
- Whenever it starts is the right time.
- When it’s over, it’s over.
I’ve actually always found these principles comforting. But for the past couple of weeks, the world has felt scarier than ever. The COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented in many ways and it’s hard to predict exactly how things are going to shake out. As it affects my daily life, I have found myself turning to these principles for comfort in a new context. I hope I can share a little of that comfort with others who are finding their daily lives affected as well.
Whoever comes is the right people.
Right now, none of us are “coming” much of anywhere, which feels offputting for DevRel folks and anybody who does a lot of events as part of their job! I have worries about how it will affect my career, but I’m also just sad to miss the company of tech friends who I only get to see when I travel. But people band together during difficult times and there’s solace to be found in community, even when we can’t see each other in person.
For me, that means two things. First, keeping in touch remotely with my conference and DevRel friends, which has become easier and easier. But perhaps even more importantly, it means spending time with and feeling gratitude for my local loved ones, who I may not get to see as much as I like when I’m busy traveling. The people I’m with are the right people.
Whatever happens is the only thing that could have happened.
I’ve been experiencing a lot of pretty profound disappointment, even grief, particularly about my lost opportunity as an actor. I keep playing through scenarios in my head about what it would have been like if I were there, rehearsing and performing like I planned. I can’t stop myself from daydreaming about it – and fantasizing about how great it would have been certainly doesn’t make me feel any better about the situation.
Of course, I can’t actually know how great it would have been. I would have been working extremely long hours amongst huge crowds of people. Maybe it would have gone okay, but maybe I would’ve gotten sick or been in the middle of a disaster of a quarantine situation. Maybe it will get rescheduled for another time and it will go better than it ever could have possibly gone at SXSW. Either way, feeling so regretful over a hypothetical situation isn’t serving me in any way. This is what happened – and it’s the only thing that could have happened.
Whenever it starts is the right time.
Right now, it feels like my life has been put on hold. A lot of my effort has been spent on projects that won’t be able to move forward on the timeline I was expecting. I don’t know when my show will be rescheduled; I don’t know when I’ll be able to debut my newest talk.
But it’s not that my efforts are wasted. I don’t know yet when my work will be able to proceed, and that’s disheartening. But whenever it does, it will be the right time and I’ll be ready to move forward.
When it’s over, it’s over.
Nothing lasts forever and all things eventually come to an end. It may not feel like it right now, but ultimately, this too shall pass. And when it’s over… that’s when it will be over.
Things are tough at the moment, for lots of people and in lots of ways. People are scared about their health and the health of their loved ones; many of our livelihoods are being affected. But we’re all in the same boat. It almost feels wrong to be hopeful currently, but when the alternative is giving in to despair, I’m going to try to choose to be hopeful. That’s what the Open Space principles would want me to do.
February 7, 2023 - 3:12 pm
Hi! I was at DevOpsDays NYC 2020 also. You brought back some memories. I remember having some kind of immune response to something on the train home to DC, but it never turned into anything. It’s also nervous-making to think back on some of the safety measures we took at the conference: in hindsight I think we ought to have been masked the entire time.
I came to your site looking for your wonderful talk on spoon theory… I think I saw you give it at DevOps Days DC… in 2018, maybe? A colleague at work was asking “what are spoons” and I thought of you. Do you have it up somewhere? Thanks for your time!
February 8, 2023 - 2:27 pm
Oh hey, thanks for saying hi! (: Yes, looking back honestly the right move would have been to not have the event at all, but when I think back on March 2022, I always think, “how could we have known what it would end up being like?”
That talk wasn’t recorded at DevOpsDays DC, but I do have a couple recordings of it from earlier events! Try this one from Catskills Conf 2017:
Thanks for thinking of me and my talk!
February 8, 2023 - 3:35 pm
Awesome, thanks so much!