Just say it

Writers block, worrying and leaving.

I haven’t written since June. I think this is the longest I’ve gone on a break since I started writing weeknotes, and the first time I’ve really felt unable to formulate words and thoughts into any kind of (semi?) coherent post.

Is it that? It’s also that my confidence dropped off and I’ve become super-conscious that what I write will be seen as inane, pointless, boring… I mean, I thought that before but somehow managed not to let it stop me from writing or hitting publish.

Gif: Tom Hanks sits as a computer, types something, then struggles and shrugs looking confused

I’ve tried to write several times, but it’s never felt… satisfactory. Work at the moment is ongoing but not something I can talk about, and the projects that I work with have their own communication channels, plus with our team sprintnotes and newsletters there’s been little point writing.

I also had a bit of a rough ride in June which made me quieten myself and which I think had a more profound effect on me than I gave credit for. It’s not just writing on here, I’ve also been lurking more on Twitter; seeing but not engaging, reading and then recoiling. People have noticed and have checked in with me to see if I’m ok. I’m ok.

Gif: From Monsters Inc, Sully tells Boo to shhh by putting his finger to his lips

I’ve been grappling with a need to move on, move forward, and with what that means, and I’ve decided to leave the Civil Service. Which might seem like a nothing, but feels like a big thing for me.

There have been a few reasons for the decision, and I’ve been trying to work through them but it’s been hard and I have conflicting feelings about it.After-all the Civil Service has been the past 6.5 years of my life. There have been good times, some really good times, and some (honestly) pretty horrible ones (that I don’t want to dwell on). I don’t want to write with any sense of blame or to make it look like there’s been any singular thing which has caused it, there hasn’t. I still wholeheartedly believe in the purpose of the LDCU and working with amazing local government folk has been brilliant.

I tried to user journey my civil service experience in Miro to see if that would offer me any further insights. It didn’t massively help.

No I wasn’t joking, I really did that. You’ll find it here.

The reasons are many, big and small. Some are to do with me and my own sense of being, purpose, and the expectations I set for myself. They’re down to ambition, and aspiration and more. I’ve been disappointed at myself that I haven’t progressed my career in the ways I hoped for, disappointed that I haven’t been able to get a promotion and have been at the same grade for more than 6 years. For me promotion is not about hierarchy, I’ve little interest in being in charge, but about access to opportunity, that includes opportunity to work on hard things, interesting things — and to deliver good work.

I’ve failed to “make the sift” for roles I really wanted, I’ve failed interviews for things I didn’t want. I’ve failed at interview for things I really really wanted. And other opportunities just kinda fizzled out. I’ve taken numerous opportunities to work beyond my scope that ultimately haven’t lead me anywhere or felt like they’ve added up to anything.

I kinda feel like I’ve flunked the Civil Service.

Gif: Travid Birkenstock from Clueless gets his fail mark on a test. He looks upset.

A large organisation populated with some of the most intelligent people I’ve ever encountered in my life, lots of them have even become friends. I’ve loved seeing them doing interesting and impactful work, move about, start things, deliver things; working out how to be the best versions of themselves they can be, use their skills and more. I feel like I’ve failed to do that.

Gif: A kid walks along a surf machine thing to get a surfboard but accidentally steps into it and falls and is swept away. Search fail gifs and this is literally the first one to pop up.

Similarly the CS is so academic, focussed on achievement, excellence and progression, or at least it feels that way to me. I’ve always felt like there’s an instilled expectation to progress, or to strive to progress (when ultimately making that progression is really hard as roles get more limited the closer you get to the top of the hierarchy). It’s like a weird game that you get sucked into playing, but the odds aren’t in your favour. I’ve been told to change how I talk, how I structure my thoughts, how I display confidence and humility in order to progress. I’ve felt all these things chip away at who I actually am.

While I know that the environment is no longer right for me, I also feel like I’ve flunked because maybe I should be more resilient than this. Maybe I’ve failed because I feel like I can no longer stick it out.

I don’t know, but what I do know is that I’ve been increasingly unable to separate what is important from what is not, everything has felt hard, bigger than it’s needed to be, and for that reason I need perspective. That means leaving.

Gif: One of the guys from Community, I can’t remember his name, says “I hearby pronounce you a community” … Jeff… is it Jeff?

If all this sounds a bit downhearted I guess it is a little bit. Like I said, I’ve met some of the most amazing people since I joined and that’s a community I definitely don’t want to loose. But I also know a huge number of ex-CS who are “loyal to the network”, and public-sector-adjacent people who are awesome. I hope to join that community and still be involved in GovCamp, One Team Gov and with Local Gov even from the other side, and to slowly make my way back to tweeting and writing about work (but maybe not for a while yet).

Finally, all of the above doesn’t mean I’m not looking forward to my new role!

In October I’ll be joining the incredible digital and data team at Social Finance. I’ve worked with them over the past three years on a number of our funded projects and I appreciate their approach and ways of working, plus they’re all really nice and care about what they do.

It’s going to be a new challenge, closer to delivery and still working with brilliant local gov people.

So as they say, onwards xx

Gif: Blossom from Pwerpuff Girls flies in a superhero pose.




Now: @socialfinanceuk Prev:@ldgovuk, Head of Digital at National Leadership Centre. GDS. Proud to be @OneTeamGov.

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Sam Villis

Sam Villis

Now: @socialfinanceuk Prev:@ldgovuk, Head of Digital at National Leadership Centre. GDS. Proud to be @OneTeamGov.

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