Micro wins

When my kids were at childcare – somewhere between 1 and 60,000 lifetimes ago at last count – they started talking about filling their buckets. If I snarled at them or asked them to do something they didn’t want to do, they would accuse me of emptying their buckets. When they were particularly happy they’d proudly tell me their buckets were full, or that they had helped fill someone else’s bucket.

As buckets were mostly used in our house for washing or for throwing up in, it was all a bit mystifying until they finally explained to their tragically dimwitted mother that it was an emotion bucket (context is everything). You could do things to fill a bucket by being nice to people, and you could easily do things to empty a bucket by being mean – even if it was unintentional.

I’ve been pondering that metaphor a lot recently because there’s been a lot of stress on my bucket, and it’s been feeling sadly empty a lot of the time. That bucket is more full of holes than a swiss cheese at a shooting range. And yet I love my job, have a most extraordinary collection of beloved friends who really, really get me, and have a very happy, albeit sometimes complex, home life. It didn’t make sense. What was going on with my bucket?

And then, one Thursday, nearly 2000 years after one man had been nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be nice to each other for a change (if you don’t recognise that line, read more Douglas Adams), a remarkably wise and insightful friend of mine commented that it was really hard sometimes for tech people to go into management, because they don’t get the micro wins. I won’t say that choirs of angels started singing celebratory hymns in praise of this revelation, but it hit me pretty hard.

You see, working in tech does contain a lot of micro wins. Every time you get something to compile, and then find it produces the right result, that’s a micro win. Every time you successfully install something, or fight off the windows auto-updater, or find out how the heck to do that thing you’ve been trying to do all day, that’s a micro win. And every time you explain something to someone and they understand it, that’s a micro win too. And every micro win brings with it a little dopamine hit that boosts your wellbeing. It fills your bucket.

As a teacher, every lesson – even the ones that went badly – were chock full of micro wins. Because I’d explain something to a student who actually got it.  Or I’d use an example that worked. Or debug a kid’s code – or even better, ask them questions that helped them debug it themselves. Or we’d have a really interesting discussion about a complex topic. Even if I was fighting with management, drowning under marking, and almost fatally entangled in bureaucratic red tape – the base state of the teacher in most schools – every time I walked into the classroom I would receive a barrage of micro wins.

Don’t get me wrong. Teaching can be exhausting and incredibly draining. Even I – the extroverts’ extrovert – would sometimes come home all peopled out. But the micro wins really kept me going. And now I’ve become the Founder and Executive Director of a charity startup that is exceptionally sporadic, feedback-wise. In this role it’s definitely feast or famine. Mega-wins or no wins at all. And that’s an incredibly challenging adjustment.

What I’ve realised, though, is that it’s possible to make your own micro wins. I keep a journal file where I simply list all the things I did in a day – however trivial they may be – and the length of the list is a micro win. Sometimes I don’t get around to filling in the journal, but that’s usually because I was too busy to even think about it, and that’s a win in itself.

You can also get micro wins through catching up with friends, cooking a nice meal, or clearing your desk (for me that’s such a mammoth task it’s more of a macro win). By reading an article that really resonates (hellloooo Annabel Crabb) or a chapter of a great book. A hug from a loved one, or smelling a Spring flower. But if the micro wins aren’t flowing at the rate you’re used to, I think it becomes important to actively seek them out and make sure you appreciate them fully.

That means it’s important to make sure you notice your achievements, however small (a la my journal), and to document your progress. Did a little exercise? Tell someone, or write it down. Make sure you take the time to notice it, and appreciate your effort. Tidying something that’s been driving you mad? Maybe take before and after photos so you can really see the difference.

Did a load of washing and hung it out? Two micro wins, right there. Got out of bed and got going when you really didn’t want to? Champion! Cleared a patch of garden bed? Don’t focus on the rest of the bed that still needs work. Appreciate the step forward represented by the clear patch, however small.

Sometimes we’re so busy keeping our eyes on the end goal, we fail to appreciate the effort that went into the steps along the way. Taking the time to recognise the micro wins might just turn a long slog into a cheerful journey.




Feeling vulnerable

A couple of days ago I wrote a poem that I sent to a handful of trusted friends. I didn’t feel like I wanted to post it publicly because it made me feel very vulnerable. And it turns out that even given the level of personal information and vulnerability in this blog, there are lines I hesitate to cross.

But then last night our conversation group, Chatting for Change, started talking about some of those feelings that we think we are the only ones to feel, but when you have the courage to talk about them, it turns out they’re really quite common.

There’s an incredible sense of comfort and connection in finding out that your deepest, most vulnerable feelings are actually ones that other share. We had a few of those moments last night.

So when I was talking with a friend about this poem this morning it occurred to me that maybe it was ok to be vulnerable. Maybe it was even powerful to share these kinds of feelings.

So here it is. This is how I was feeling on Thursday. In fact, it’s how I feel quite often. Maybe some of it will resonate with you.


I wish I could take a photo of the way the air smells today. Of the sweet spring flowers, the fresh mown grass, and the scent of life.

I wish I could take a photo of the feel of hot sunlight on my skin, stirring my sluggish, winter-borne blood into life, and rousing my aching brain.

I wish I could take a photo of the sound of crow wings flapping overhead, the whisper of the spring breeze, and the song of distant wind chimes.

I wish I could take a photo of my heart and show you everything that’s real. Unfiltered by my overcomplicated brain. Unconstrained by expectations and decorum.

I wish I could take a photo of my brain, and have you understand my fear, my insecurity, and my loneliness.

I wish I could take a photo of my hope, as it grows, and shrinks, and shivers over time.

I wish I could take a photo of my love, and see its ferocity and strength up close.

I wish I could take a photo of my strength, and be sure it still exists.

I wish I could take a photo of my life, and know it’s on track.

I wish I could take a photo of my worth, and know that it’s enough.

If this resonates with you, share it with someone. Or share some other feelings. Because I think that sharing can only help us come closer, and understand each other better. And goodness knows the world could use some more understanding.

Please stop making it so hard

My 12 year old, Sol, is non binary. That means they don’t identify as a boy or a girl. The gender roles and societal norms around gender simply don’t make sense to them. They use they/them pronouns. They prefer to use unisex toilets, so that they don’t have to choose a gender identity that does not fit, simply to go to the toilet. They dress, often, fairly androgynously. They have a classically queer haircut. They are proudly, and bravely, one hundred percent true to themselves.

But sometimes there isn’t a unisex toilet available. In which case Sol uses the toilet of the gender they were assigned at birth, and has to brace themselves for the backlash. Inevitably someone, somewhere, will tell them they are in the wrong toilet. You might never have thought of this as an issue, but in the queer community it’s known as bathroom policing, and it’s deeply distressing.

Think about it. You are in the toilet that your chromosomes and genitalia say you should be in, but it’s already deeply distressing for you because your heart knows this is not who you are. Then some busybody demands to know why you are in the WRONG toilet. You know you’re in the wrong toilet, but there isn’t a right one for you to use! And how are you supposed to prove to that busybody that it’s ok for you to be here? It’s generally not considered socially acceptable to flash either your chromosomes or your genitalia in order to assert your right to be in a space.

After the umpteenth incident like this, my problem solving, FIX THE DAMNED PROBLEM urge became overwhelming. It’s not ok for my child to have to have these conversations, but since we can’t eradicate busybodies who like to bathroom police, how can we make it easier? How can we educate the bullies (because that’s what they are, I’m afraid), without causing confrontation and further distress for a child who simply wants to be able to go to the loo in peace?

And that’s how the Non Binary Business Card was born. Pride Flag on one side, Non Binary flag on the other, they avoid the need for confrontational conversations, but provide education in a gentle, and hopefully lasting way.


The text on the non binary side says: I am non-binary. That means I am not a girl, or a boy. I’m just myself. I use they/them pronouns. 

And on the pride side it says:

You can support non-binary and trans folk:

  • DON’T gender segregate.
  • DO provide gender neutral options in all things – bathrooms, clothing, activities, etc. 
  • DON’T insist there are only two genders.
  • DO respect people’s identity.
  • DON’T mis-gender or assume you know someone’s gender unless they have told you.
  • DO ask people their preferred pronouns.

I’m not saying the problem is solved, exactly, But at least when Sol is confronted by someone who doesn’t get it, they can simply hand them a card and walk away. They have a safe, non-confrontational strategy that they can use to exit the situation.

I wish they didn’t need one. I wish all public toilets were unisex, and that people didn’t feel a burning need to inquire about the state of other people’s genitalia. But given that we have to live in this imperfect and intolerant world, this seems like something constructive we can do.


Please share this far and wide, and encourage LGBTIQ kids (and adults!) to create their own versions of these cards to address their own needs. Sol and I share these under a Creative Commons Non Commercial Attribution license, which means we encourage you to use it, adapt it, and share it (acknowledging us as the authors) but not to make money from it.