Jessamyn West
Mar 10, 2015 · 5 min read
not your circus, not your monkeys

On March 6th 2015 Matt Haughey stepped down from his position as CEO/leader of MetaFilter, the community weblog that he started in 1999, to take a job at Slack. I was his deputy community manager there for the previous decade and left in 2014. I wanted to pass on some things I’ve learned about moving forward in a career on the web.

How to Leave Your Internet Job

Advice for @mathowie on his new adventure

Congratulations on your new Internet Job! I’m so happy for you. This is going to be great, if you let it.

Getting a new job means leaving the old one, or trying to. Our generation’s blurred life/work boundaries make this a much stickier problem than it used to be. I’ve been there, sort of. Here’s some advice.

1. Unlink yourself

Switching jobs was simpler when we worked in offices: we’d take our small set of things home in a box; we’d hand in our keys and our badges; we’d show up at a different place on Monday. Your new Internet Job is at the same place as your old Internet Job. It’s in your pocket, your home office, your bookmarks, your priority inbox, your Twitter stream, your saved Google searches, your laptop stickers, your custom keyword searches.

Do yourself a favor and turn off the My Old Job radio station for now. You can always tune in again, but for now delete bookmarks, unfollow lists, get those emails the hell out of your inbox and tough love yourself into a “Somebody That I Used to Know” mindset. Just for a while.

You don’t have to have a scorched earth policy, but quit checking your MeFi email for a while.

Tell yourself it’s temporary. Maybe it will be. They’ll let you know if they need you.

2. Trust the new team

Your old job is a place you like to be, even if you are not working there. You’ve got status. People listen to you. People genuinely care about you, sometimes maybe too much. That’s partly why you stayed there for so long. With a job that doesn’t always feel like work it can be tempting to just help out a little, do a few work-like things here and there. You still have the passwords. Your name is still well-known. You could send a user an email, fix that typo, take down that shitshow post, explain a decision you made a long time ago.

Don’t. Not yet.

If the place is going to function well without you, it needs to develop new procedures and policies and routines that work for the people running it now, people with a little less “buck stops here” clout, people who need to establish their new authority. Show them that you feel that the site is safe in their hands by letting them run it.

Embrace your retired role. Flag. Move on. Use the Contact Form when you have feedback. Stay out of the backchannel entirely for days or weeks. Let users get used to the new normal.

It’s hard to adjust to the idea that people will do your job differently than you did, possibly better. The mark of a good leader is seeing the guard-changing as a win for everyone: you, the community and the people you trained and mentored.

They’re good. Give them room to do a great job.

Learn to delight in clusterfucks that you didn’t create and you don’t have to fix. I’m here to tell you there is nothing at all like closing the browser on an angry thread and walking away, nothing in the world.

3. Own your new role & say goodbye to the old one

You will always be the guy who started the thing and stuck with it through thick and thin. You have a great opportunity now to just get to enjoy the thing you built, without also having to keep one eye on the business end of thing and one eye on your old-job inbox. Ignore the flags, the server status messages, and the @replies on Twitter.

Every time you’re tempted to use your admin password or privileges, every time you get a personal email asking you to do a former-job thing, every time a reporter calls to ask you about the current state of the site, hot-potato that shit to the people who are doing that job now. Don’t be that roommate who moves out but never forwards his mail or leaves a bunch of stuff in the basement to pick up at a later date that never comes.

At first, this adjustment will fit like an itchy sweater with a stiff tag. It won’t feel natural. It won’t make sense to pass on work—work that you could do—or have someone else frame the MetaFilter story or set the site’s ongoing priorities.

This is your remaining post-job job. Find a voice for yourself on the site that is different from the old one. Own your “retired” tag and enjoy the freedom that comes from not having to be on-message 24/7. Tell the assholes they are being assholes. Play favorites. Don’t fix your typos, or anyone else’s. And learn to love it in an all new way. There’s a lot to love.

does anyone even read the comments down here?

MetaFilter was one of the (many) ways you were awesome for so so long. Now you’re going to go be awesome somewhere else. It’s a big wonderful world. Welcome.


The Message

A Pandaemonium Revolver Collection. Season 2 stars @anildash @alanalevinson @ftrain @hipstercrite @itsthebrandi @jamielaurenkeiles @vijithassar @yungrama @zeynep. Season 1 available on DVD shortly.

Thanks to Quinn Norton and James D. Poolner.

Jessamyn West

Written by

Rural tech geek. Proud member of the librarian resistance. Collector of mosses. Enjoyer of postcards. ✉️ box 345 05060 ✉️

The Message

A Pandaemonium Revolver Collection. Season 2 stars @anildash @alanalevinson @ftrain @hipstercrite @itsthebrandi @jamielaurenkeiles @vijithassar @yungrama @zeynep. Season 1 available on DVD shortly.