Earlier this year, I had to take a tough decision.
It took me quite a while and I had to do a lot of introspective work but I have decided to stop my activities as a WordPress Community Manager for Plesk, a job that I’ve always been doing with a lot of passion and joy. My contract ended on March 31st.
Also, I will refrain from all contributio ns inside the WordPress project, as I have started to do already in the past few months.
And here are the two main reasons why:
Physical and mental health
As a few of you might already know because I happen to be very open about some health issues I have to deal with, I suffer from lipedema. If you like, you can read more about my personal lipedema story here.
After having been through three surgeries in 2016 and 2017, I had almost two painless years. Unfortunately, the disease stroke back a few months ago: I have to deal with water retentions and constant pain again. Wearing a tight compression garment has become inevitable, same as lymphatic drainage two to three times a week. Two more surgeries got planned for 2019. I will probably have to fight in court once more for my therapy.
Having to deal with the disease, its therapy and the fight in court, unfortunately, takes a hell of a lot of time and energy.
Deeply connected to my personal lipedema story is another chronic disease I have to deal with, a dark companion, who is an undeniable part of my life, who disappears occasionally only to strike back with more force than before: depression.
After having had some wonderful healthy years, the worst depression I ever had to cope with hit me last year. In September 2018, I started to take medication, for the very first time in my life. I already had years of therapy, but I never felt like I wanted or needed to take medication. Again, it took me months to realize, that depression is nothing I had to feel ashamed for. If I had to deal with a different health disease, would I judge myself in the same way for having to take medication? Probably not. Depression is a widespread and horrible chronic disease and we all need to remove the stigma around it!
I had to admit to myself that I was not as tough and reliable as I might have liked to be, also not in my job. My resources are very limited when having to deal with depression.
I consider myself lucky to have found the help I need: a soft medication that works and a brilliant therapist. I also have a wonderful husband who supports and endures me.
I’m proud of myself for working hard to get better: I read self-help books, stick to my therapy plan, I am currently experimenting with Mindfulness-Based-Stress-Reduction (MBSR) techniques and I started to take good care of myself again by adapting my diet, trying to live an overall healthy lifestyle and finding out what my personal core values are.
All this takes a lot of energy and time but:
"There is nothing ever more important in life than your own health!"
It’s all about setting priorities and managing resources.
I truly think this is a very important period in my life. I also feel that I’m on a very good path right now and I’m really curious to find out where it is going to lead me.
The WordPress project and my inner conflict
Talking about my core values, there is another important pillar for my recent decision.
2018 was a tough year for me being involved in the organization of two different WordCamps: WordCamp Retreat Soltau and WordCamp Europe.
For WordCamp Retreat I was the only woman next to 10 male organizers which wasn’t an easy position. There were many differences of opinion and values even though I got and still get along very well with my colleagues in private. I worked harder than everyone else to make myself heard although it was hardly appreciated.
"The very first WordCamp Retreat was a huge success but the price I had to pay when it comes to my mental health definitely was not worth it."
As for WordCamp Europe, I was a volunteer emcee during WordCamp Europe 2017 and a proud co-organizer for 2018. During my first time experience as a member of the WCEU team, I truly had a great time. Nevertheless, I noticed that there are things that can be improved upon when it comes to diversity (which is about way more than just gender!) and inclusion inside and outside the organizer team. Also, people tend to reach out to me about worries or personal (negative) experiences in these areas. And I hear them.
"Diversity and inclusion are not coming naturally. They come from the inside and we all have to become proactive."
That’s why I suggested creating an Awareness team for 2019. I wrote a project pitch which got immediate awesome feedback: my ideas and suggestions were told to be mind-blowing and I got asked to become the team lead for this new Awareness team to be created within the upcoming organizer team for WCEU 2019. Also, I got told that there had already been conversations beforehand to involve me more into this kind of topics.
I applied online to become an organizer like every other interested person was supposed to. After nobody getting back to me and all my further requests being ignored for more than 10 weeks, I found out on Twitter that the new organizer team had already been set up - without me. Only three days later, in which I had a hard time to deal with the uncertainty, I got a standard rejection email. Of course, I insisted on an explanation for the unexpected rejection and revocation of the concessions already made towards me.
What I got told is that my passion and performances from the past two years were remarkable and exceptional but that it could make other people around me feel uncomfortable and that might make me not the best fit for a team.
I was shocked. I never ever got any negative feedback or constructive criticism in the two years I’ve been working with the other WCEU organizers.
What exactly does that mean? Stop being awesome to make others feel better about their own performance?
Also, I truly wonder if I would have been told the exact same reasons if I was not a woman but a man?
I got an apology for literally having been ignored for so many weeks with the explanation that this unacceptable behaviour was the result of a personal issue with dealing with potential conflicts of one specific person in charge.
Only later I found out my name was not even on the list of people who applied for the organizer team when the 2019 team leads picked their new team colleagues. Some people noticed this and asked about my application. They got told: “Carole is not going to be part of the organizing team this year”.
I informed several other organizers as well as the WCEU mentor about my situation. There was no follow-up until today. Fortunately, I found a lot of support within the WordPress community: I had a lot of inspiring conversations and I want to thank all the people who were there for me, from the bottom of my heart. You know who you are and I love you!
In the same context, I had to find out that my situation was not an isolated case.
All these happenings had put me in a really bad place, mental health wise. As I wrote earlier, I have a history with depressive episodes, but I am convinced what happened to me would have been hard to deal with for pretty much everyone. With my background, it became an almost insurmountable hurdle.
"I was clearly shown that my contribution to the WordPress project as an organizer for events is neither valued nor respected."
Even though I had a hard time to deal with what happened to me, I tried to make something positive out of the situation and to pass it on to the outside world. This is why I wrote the “Manifesto by a female open source contributor” and gave a talk at WordCamp Nijmegen with the title “Turn rejection into personal growth.”
When the new WCEU organizing team members got finally published, I was saddened to see that the Awareness team project had been completely cancelled and that the female ratio inside the team had dropped considerably, the exact opposite of what I would have tried to achieve. I found some consolation in the fact that some great people inside the organizing team were able to make a difference when it comes to the overall diversity of the speaker schedule.
I truly wish my situation would just have been an isolated case. But neither was I the only woman to be rejected or removed for very dubious reasons from the WCEU organizer team nor was I the only person whose contributions have been treated with a lack of respect inside the WordPress project in general: in the months following my rejection, other people got either eliminated or urged to resign from different projects on different levels. Others have been continuously ignored and their efforts belittled. Several people had to take a tough decision by stepping back from projects very close to their hearts for the sake of their own mental health.
In some cases, these were people I personally deeply care for, and it hurt me again.
I’d like to come back to my personal core values now. I can barely find the words to explain how much I think it’s wrong to put people’s mental health, partly knowingly, in severe danger.
"The lack of true leadership, its intransparent decisions and partly disrespectful behaviour towards contributors have become toxic in this open source project."
I don't have any problem with decisions that have to be taken, even if I might disagree, as long as there is transparency about who took this decision and why. I would also welcome a true leadership structure as long as there is a clear hierarchy, which should also be communicated to the community. To be fair, I had some pleasant conversations in the past few weeks, which give me hope that the situation might improve in the mid-term.
To me personally, at the moment, there are only three ways to cope with the current situation:
→ Accept it!
It just doesn’t seem right to me to continue to be an active part of a system in which my personal values are repeatedly violated and to pretend everything would be ok. Because it’s just not ok for me at all and there is no way I could accept it.
→ Change it!
I would love to contribute to a change and I tried to do that on a smaller scale. I got clearly thwarted.
At the moment, my resources are very limited for reasons I explained earlier and I have to focus on my health now. I will not burn out for an open source project but I hope my passion for the community and the inspiration I find here so often will empower me at a later stage to come back and to help to strive for a change.
→ Break out!
At the moment, I just I can’t be the all-time cheerful WordPress Community Ambassador for Plesk. I was earning good money and I was travelling the world with WordCamps. Believe me, when I say, it is very (very) hard for me to let go of all the advantages that are coming with this amazing job! I now feel I had to deal with this inner conflict for quite a long time before even being able to realize it was there. And It’s a very tough decision, for sure.
But I would not be the person I want to be if I just kept going like this. It's part of my inner healing process to find and to stand up for my own values. And this is why I speak up now and have to break out of the current situation, for the sake of my own health!
Again, all this is about the system, a system that I don’t want to be an active part of anymore.
Don’t get me wrong, I truly want to remain a part of the WordPress community, but definitely on a smaller scale.
"It’s because of the people that I initially joined the WordPress community and it’s the people that make me want to stay."
At the moment, I just don’t want to be professionally involved nor do I want to actively contribute to the project. And I’m pretty sure, that the people I do care for and who care for me, will be able to understand.
Thank you, Plesk!
Last but not least, I want to thank Plesk for always having been an amazing partner who treated me with respect, always valued my performance and services and gave me the freedom to decide what’s great for the company’s brand inside the WordPress ecosphere and what would benefit the community at the same time.
Thanks for giving me the opportunity to find out what I’m really good at and what I enjoy most: becoming the enabler for creating win-win situations.
Thanks for the great collaboration with every single colleague I had the pleasure to interact with. I feel blessed that my last official working days have been at CloudFest, surrounded by most of the people I have been working with during the past two years. I had a blast during that week and I’m gonna miss you like hell!
Thanks for the crazy ride we had in the past two years; we travelled innumerable cities together and met amazing people from all over the world.
And thanks for the full understanding of my current situation and for giving me the opportunity to continue to work together whenever I might feel ready for it.
I will participate in the 64° NORTH 2019 trip, a digital detox adventure in Iceland in April. Yay!
I’m going to focus on my physical and mental health and I will continue to work on a healthy lifestyle. I will take good care of my two- and four-legged family, who particularly needs me at the moment on top of the two main reasons I just exposed.
And last but not least, I will be going on another introspective journey of self-discovery which I’m already looking forward to.
Meanwhile, I will probably attend a few WordCamps as a simple attendee to be around the people that have become very close to my heart and have always been a source of inspiration to me (hopefully vice-versa).
Sooner or later, I will find out if I want my personal and/or professional journey within the WordPress community to continue, or not.
And then, to be honest, I don’t know yet. But I'm looking forward to finding out what "Carole version 3.0" will be and I’m pretty sure it will feel great!