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My experiences of ‘mental maintenance’ and leadership – by Sally Morgan-Moore

In a fast paced, competitive and multi managed industry such as Game Development, you can often find yourself having to engage all manner of coping mechanisms in order to ensure that you keep your focus in check.

There’s no doubt about it – from young, experienced, role specific, confident, introvert – everyone is going to experience a degree of personal strain throughout their creative career.

For me, I find that I have quite a complex degree of “mental maintenance” that I need to engage in, and I’ve not entirely made it easy for myself in industry (let’s keep it honest here).

Throughout my career I’ve found myself driven in management roles, while at the same time have found great benefit and enjoyment in being community focused too. Because of this, I have my brain segmented three ways:

  • One for ensuring my team are on track to succeed and feel supported in their success.
  • Another for ensuring my stakeholders are confident in my performance to deliver.
  • And an additional for maintaining a personable connection to the outside player base.

All three of these require a specific handling of their very own, and it’s incredibly easy to forget that you also have yourself to be mindful of too.

Quite often, when your energy is split into niches, you can find yourself to be silently accumulating “impactful waste” from any negative experiences or general fatigue, in a sort of dumping ground away from your work. After all, you don’t want it to have a negative influence on what you’re passionate about, right?

The thing is, it will. In the past, I have been terrible at being honest when my “dumping ground” is starting to weigh in heavy. I’m not afraid to publicly admit that I absolutely have cried in front of at least three Execs before. There can be this stigma, you see, where if you cry or complain then you’re a failure at your job. This can turn into one heck of a mad cycle which leaves you feeling like the last decade of what you’re good at is all for nothing. If you don’t talk that through then you’ll forget who you really are.

Similarly, as management or in a leadership role, you need to know when to be prepared to listen to others in their own instances of stress or dilemma. You need to be open and compassionate toward each individual’s situation, especially when they’re willing to talk things through with you. In my eyes, if someone is willing to share their personal feelings with you and look to you for your opinions or advice, then that’s an honor you should never take lightly or abandon.

For me, first recognising that I wasn’t talking enough came from the sudden overwhelming assumption of my incapability to perform. This was despite me clearly having proven that I can achieve things I’m passionate about. It would creep up on me on leaving work and sit with me until I was back with the team the next day, making the magic happen and proving it.

Zac Antonaci, a previous director of mine, would often reiterate to me that “Pressure can be good, but if it’s stress then it’s bad. You need to recognise the difference”.

Zac took that advice from someone else so I don’t think he can take all the credit, but he did use it on me, and it certainly guided me when I needed to figure out what was going on.

It is right though, pressure can be quite the motivator. If I know I have a deadline to hit, have great ideas I’m trusted with, and am driven to achieve the goals, then it’s all great. Sure, there could be hurdles, but if I have an optimal mindset to tackle them, then I am very much thriving on that pressure.

If stress sneaks in, you feel it as a hammer upon your mentality. That will inevitably impact on your performance and feelings of self-worth, not to mention your energy towards your team, friends and family. This is the point you need to reach out, admit to some higher hurdles and find the support in others. That’s not weakness. Self-awareness is a superpower. You can achieve a great deal by taking advantage of nurturing it.

When I know I feel a loss of confidence – be it in my ability in a new skill, my understanding of a specific detail, or reading the intentions and actions of others – I make sure I’m not feeling locked in with the doubt or confusion. Being open and honest about it doesn’t give it time to manifest into something crippling. It also keeps you true to yourself and to others, open book style.

Fast-forward through further life and professional experiences to one of the most valuable and touching points of feedback I’ve since had in a performance review. It was given to me by my wonderful Studio Head, Sitara Shefta, who actually commended me on my self-awareness, entirely unprompted.

Sitara is a constant advocate for ensuring mental and physical health go hand in hand, one no greater need than the other, both equal in importance and valid of the same level of care and attention. As a team we’ve entirely benefited from her notions on this.

As leads, it’s important for us to care for our teams, as well as know we have an outlet for our own thoughts and feelings too. It’s wonderful to know we’re able to do this with Sitara, and she too knows we’re also there for her in the same capacity.

It’s all about openness and being yourself under all that labelling and set direction. This doesn’t make you any less of a professional – it allows people to see that you’re human, and in many ways, just like them.

There’s much more to share on these matters, but I’m so happy that I’ve been given the opportunity to put down a few preliminary thoughts on my experiences so far. I really hope that in some way, people in and out of industry who may be struggling to relate with their feelings can find something from this. To know that even the most energetic of us are constantly learning along with you.

A few summary points I’d love to share for further reading:

  • Allow yourself to be relatable. This doesn’t mean sharing your personal life with your team or community but do allow your true personality through. It takes some “cherry picking” but suppressing your personality too far can deliver falseness…also it’s exhausting trying to be someone you’re not.
  • Choose your allies. Tap into people who you find deep set trust and happiness with. Maintain relationships with those who make you comfortable enough to confide in, and bring out your happy, positive, and adventurous side. Be there for them in return. Why wouldn’t you be?
  • Be mindful to circumstance and personalities. You’ll work with people from all walks of life, with all manner of needs and traits. Take time to understand them. You can’t assume everyone will manage things the way you do, so take an interest in individuals and how you can add a splash of “you” to their intentions. You might find you can learn a lot from their actions, and they can find encouragement from absorbing yours.
  • Identify when you’re impacting others negatively and be open when someone is impacting you too. Adapting isn’t a failure on your direction. You’ve not failed if you’re willing to work through differences for the better.
  • True story: Not everyone is going to like your qualities. There’s a much longer story behind this one, but I’ve certainly had to be mindful of my actions and dominant personality traits on occasion, toward others who might not click with them. I see this as a positive learning experience, however, and a side of me that I am continuously proud to refine. Reading the room, adapting and accepting when you’re perhaps not being that mindful of others is a big deal, and a very respectable one when maintaining good relationships in both the workplace, friendships, and social situations.