This River I Step In

In Home Life, Work Life
On a precipice of another big addition to our family, Cassie reflects on her time so far at the Mozilla Foundation. This week will be her final few days as Design Director before a year-long maternity leave, which we anticipate to be a short year, full of long days. As the ground thaws and daily routines teeter on change, we find ourselves thinking about what comes next.

A couple years ago, Cassie was invited to speak at the inaugural SmashingConf event in NYC. Baby Moo and Mark cheered from the sidelines as she played Talking Heads and eventually spoke about her career. At that point she had worked as a designer at a variety of places – small web agencies, bigger advertising companies and non-profits doing print, freelance, writing, and finally, designing healthcare mobile apps for chronic disease management. From there she went on to lead a team of designers at the Mozilla Foundation, instigating an organizational change from a predominantly engineering-led culture to one more that was more balanced with design thinking.

Photos by @marcthiele

Each of these jobs and environmental changes called for exploration of different values: What made a job interesting? What kind of people are best to work with? What was boring, what was challenging, and where did the compulsion to be a designer actually come from?

In the SmashingConf talk, Cassie broke down her career development into four phases, a good checklist for anyone considering a job shift.

  • Inspiration: Why do what you do in the first place? What deeply compels you?
  • Independence: What do you do when people stop giving you direction?
  • Impact: How can your work have meaning in the world?
  • Environment: How best do you like to work? What type of work / culture / people suit you?

One of the major themes in this talk is that the only constant in life is change. There is a bridge in east Toronto, the Queen Street Viaduct, over which there is a saying wrought in iron: “This river I step in is not the river I stand in.” In other words, by the time you enter a flowing river and find your footing the water has already rushed by and you are in a new and different river.

Baby bumps in 2013 and 2015 at the river Sauer in Luxembourg

The idea of taking a year off for maternity leave or changing jobs or responsibilities is so paralyzing for most people to the extent that they limit themselves unnecessarily. They fear failure, so they don’t take a job. They fear embarrassment, so they don’t take a risk. In reality it is the change that happens to us – getting fired or becoming ill – that is so frightening. When we instigate change by taking measured risks, we usually find ourselves in a better spot than when we started.

There are countless proverbs about accepting change, but it is a true lesson of parenthood to learn to embrace change – to anticipate it, if not expect it. This lesson has without a doubt trickled down into our careers and daily lives. Whether traveling, breastfeeding, taking photos, potty-training, working with teams or designing an interface, we accept that some change is inevitable and unpredictable, and that other change can be grabbed by the horns and made to work harder for us. We hope the latter is what this next year will be!

Mozilla has been an awesomely flexible employer and we’ve considered it valuable and humane to be able to adjust our schedules around the needs of our family. We are eager to embrace our coming changes over the next year and so grateful for the river past that has gotten us to this point.

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