Base Camp

2019/05/16

New year resolutions have helped support my thinking and decision making. I have diligently tracked my resolutions over the last nine years:

You might notice that each of the resolutions is more thematic than actionable. More underlying than specific. Each resolution exists as only one or two words. Each has multiple meanings and interpretations over the course of the year. I find this style of resolve allows for connections to the most important goals and activities of the year rather than being predictive and prescriptive.

Following suit, I share my 2019 New Years Resolution: base camp. 2019 is all about base camp. This year I complete my doctoral studies in artificial intelligence.

In mountaineering, camps are staging areas where one would prepare for transition to the next phase; a place to prepare for an attempt. These checkpoints are designed for safe temporary accommodations, rich in necessary resources. Base camp is a preparatory camp, designed for planning and acclimatization prior to embarking on the challenge ahead of you.

What comes after base camp reflects of how well your training and development went. There is an importance in embracing base camp itself; the importance of preparation. Base camp is meditative, it is present, it is about being in this moment. Base camp detaches effort from outcomes. Embracing base camp has allowed me to enjoy what leads up to the moment, or the attempt, or the next step, without dependence on the result or outcome.

Base camp is an opportunity to develop techniques and refine patterns, to sharpen your axe and practice donning ice-climbing crampons. To visualize and mentally play through the skills necessary for the frozen waterfalls which lay ahead. Before doing them with one hand hanging off the face of the mountain, it helps to know how to perform them in the comfort of base camp.

Personal Values

I have spent my time in base camp refining my values, upgrading my technical skills, and polishing the rust off of old techniques. 2019 is a base camp year for me. It centered on preparing for my doctoral defence. It allowed me time to appreciate where I was, and to think about where I would move to next. It has been full of job interviews with many different companies in the pursuit of gainful employment.

Each company has its own clear corporate value systems. Something which was surely developed in a base camp-like phase and continues to evolve. As I started to interview, it became apparent that developing my own values mandate would serve as a personal baseline on which to judge and evaluate potential futures. Collaborators and I have gone through values refining exercises before, for instance, for Improbotics: The Improvised Theatre Experiment.

As I considered the values of different companies, I reflected on what resonated most with me. I asked myself, what are my values? Here is what I came up with:

Personal Stories

While in base camp, I had plenty of time to reflect on my past. To reflect on my past successes and failures. In this time, it was helpful to check in with your own learning, growth, and development.

In reflection, it helped to use a structured pattern of thought to keep thoughts constructive. The pattern, or model, also helped to communicate these my personal stories to others.

Seeing Stars

One commonly used thought pattern, which I swear by, is the STAR method. It stands for Situation, Task, Action, Results. I love this pattern because it mirrors a typical story arc — something I am intimately familiar with — wrapped in an easy-to-recall acronym:

  1. The situation is the context of the story, the platform. Journalists refer to this as the 5 W’s (who? what? when? where? why?). This is the start of the story and gives a launching off point. Being able to describe a situation clearly and concisely is a skill. Not getting bogged down in ‘setting the scene’.
  2. The task is the goal, the want for change, the impetus or call to action. It is the inciting events/information which propels you toward doing something.
  3. The action is the specific personal steps you took. These are the actual things that you did. In a story, this would be the climax. The moment that you faced the change head-on, and used your own skills and expertise in a constructive way to affect change.
  4. The results are the outcomes. These are the ripples effects due to your task-related actions given the context of the story. That is, this is both the new normal (or how things have changed) and also the measurable impact that you had on the situation. Results here can be both quantitative numerical results (percentage change) and qualitative outcomes (such as psycho-social modifications).

Being able to frame my experience in a learning loop has been valuable. Given my time and comfort in base camp, I had an opportunity to systematically note down many of my own experiences and what I learned from them.

In base camp, as I prepared to move on to the next steps of my journey I was confronted with questions of self-reflection. It helped to take time to think about how to answer questions about personal stories prior to the moment I answered them. The value of preparation is something that my training in improvisational theatre did not teach me how to do.

Personal Prompts

My time in base camp has also reminded me that this self-reflection should be a daily practice. Now, I try to find moments every day to arrange my thoughts and recollect memories, to journal, and to practice. It has also been something that I have asked for around meetings. I have built personal reflection into my own schedule for conferences. Thinking about base camp has provided me with a thoughtful difference between uptime and downtime.

Conclusions

Base camp is a time to prepare for what comes next. It is a time to re-write your resume. To rebuild your Twitter and LinkedIn profiles. To seek out your mentors, ask them hard questions and listen to their answers. Base camp is also a moment to reflect on where you are and how you got there. And, most of all, it is a time to ask yourself: what comes next?