True Happiness

When I am truly happy it’s a warmth that starts in my pelvis and spreads up through my sternum, but never reaches my heart.  My heart does not burst with cliche happiness.  It’s a much more primal emotion, and feels like someone has spread Bengay on my insides and slightly inflated me, but imagine the best possible feeling that could describe, not the torture version of inflated insides coated in Bengay.  Sometimes the happiness builds enough pressure that it seeps out my eyes.  I can describe this emotion today, because I am sitting here feeling it.

Why am I happy?  My life is filled with extraordinary people right now, and those people have caused a confluence of extraordinary experiences over the past two days.

Yesterday I planned a team outing for the amazing people I work with.  We were going out for a late lunch, partially to remember one of our colleagues who died a few years ago, and partially because we just needed to enjoy a good meal together away from the oppressive angst and uncertainty that currently permeates our workplace.  We also needed to celebrate.  An app 18 months in the making was finally approved by legal and went live on the Google Play store.  Funding that I have been fighting to get in the door for almost a year had arrived, and was enough to pay for two of us for a year.  If the looming budget cuts come, that money will save jobs.

Then my team turned the tables on me, morphing the lunch into a celebration of me, complete with a card, gifts, and a heartfelt gratitude for all I do for the team.  I was emotionally wrought and working off of four hours of sleep, so the fact that I did not break out in tears was a remarkable accomplishment.  Compounding the emotion was that because of Tuesday, I finally understood an additional facet of what I provide to the team.

Tuesday was my last Apocalyptic Fiction writing class, and while I never did accomplish my goal of being able to spell apocalyptic without the aid of spell check, I learned so much more.

  • I saw my own struggle in other’s writings, and through reviewing their work learned how I can improve.
  • I learned that I am terrible at identifying if a title is an apocalyptic novel or a death metal band.
  • While reading a book I despise I learned what I value as a reader and a writer
  • I learned that “bestseller” doesn’t mean “everyone likes this book.”  Related, I learned that I respect and value the opinion of people who like books I hate and people who hate books I like.
  • The utter terror I had sharing my work was replaced by the wonder of having people I trust not just enjoy my work, but provide thoughtful criticism on how to make that work better.  I also learned the value of giving and receiving feedback to and from other writers.
  • I learned that my love of maps can enhance my writing capabilities.  Sigh.  I love maps.
  • Through reading my classmates’ work I now understand why tension is important, what it means to have backstory delivered at the right time, how to convey information by both showing and telling, how to see the structure of a story though the mess of a draft, and why a story that has soul can pull readers in even in the early stages.

All of this was made possible, because our instructor Alexander Lumans built a supportive and encouraging environment where risks and experimentation were encouraged.  Couple that with a group of respectful, creative, engaged students and literal magic happened in our classroom for eight weeks.  Time stopped.  Worlds were built and dreams were formulated.  When there wasn’t magic, there was just great conversation.  We debated about the quality of the books we read and learned from our disagreements.  Beverage was not spewed out noses, but there was enough laughter to make that risk very real.

When the last class was over we spilled out of our couch and chair filled stuffy classroom into the real world and discovered that we liked each other as people too, not just writers.  The conversation flowed through writing, reading, television, videos, circuses, clowns, the cat in the hat, jobs, careers, and life’s injustices until the wee hours of the morning.

Walking to my car with one of my classmates I said, “I’m really glad that by the end Lumans became more than just our teacher.”  Those words came back to me at lunch on Wednesday.  I am wickedly horrible at self understanding, but a keen observer.  Often I have to see something in others before I can recognize it in myself.  Sitting at lunch I could understand how my team felt about me, and I could see ways I could make my work relationships richer through implementing what I appreciated from Lumans leadership in our class.

New friends?  A better understanding of how to improve my work relationships?  True excitement about my writing projects?  Hope of my new friends creating a writing group?  What an absolute gift the universe has given me this week in the form of two spectacular groups of people willing to open up and appreciate each other.  I’m filled with joy, trust and hope.  If that isn’t true happiness, I’m not sure what is.

Writing away the soul raisin


Have you read the book Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel?  It is one of my absolute favorites.  I’ve read it, listened to the audio-book, and am now experiencing the joy of studying it in my apocalyptic fiction class.  If you read it, be warned it won’t wow you out of the gate.  It’s a long slow dance of a book, and you won’t even recognize there is music until you are a hundred pages in and the true melody isn’t apparent until over 200 pages in.  But I think the symphony she creates is worth listening to on repeat.

I’m talking about those people who’ve ended up in one life instead of another and they are just so disappointed.  Do you know what I mean?  They’ve done what’s expected of them.  They want to do something different, but it’s impossible now, there’s a mortgage, kids, whatever, they are trapped….

I love the story because it’s an apocalyptic mystery punctuated by eye opening life lessons.  One chapter, in particular, speaks to me in such a way it is literally life changing.  Literally, literally, not like Gwen Stefani in The Voice literally.  (Gwen, your head has never exploded.  Just stop.)

…because I think people like him think work is supposed to be drudgery punctuated by very occasional moments of happiness, but when I say happiness, I mean distraction.  You know what I mean?

Section 4. The Starship.  Chapter 26.  Page 160.  No spoiler alert here, other than the life changing kind of spoiling.  Clark is heading in to do his job.  He conducts assessments of executives who need to improve and then makes a plan for their improvement. In this chapter he’s interviewing someone who works for the unnamed executive.  Her words cut through my soul.

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I have moments when I love my real job.  Moments when I feel important and valued and when I honestly believe I am making the world change for the better.  I love my team and the people I work with completely.  But… but… we work in renewable energy.  We are largely federally funded.  The bottom is falling out of everything.  Our leadership team changed and no longer values managers, like me, but values self-managing PhD’s and I have nothing but a bachelors of science.  I have indirectly been told that I am not qualified and not worthy.  The bureaucracy becomes oppressive and there are days, weeks, months when I can feel my soul shriveling to a tiny soul raisin in my gut.  There is enough good at work to keep the soul raisin from drying up completely, but I don’t want to live with a soul raisin.  I dream of a soul grape or, can you imagine, a big plump soul watermelon that fills my entire body cavity.

…they are like sleepwalkers…and nothing every jolts them awake.

So last week I made a change.  A scary brave change.  I dropped to 32 hours a week.  I gave myself a gift of Thursday, so that I can write.  So I can try to publish that short story that is almost perfect.  So I can write the second draft of that book that calls to me on my 45 minute commute to and from work.  So I can finish that second novel that just recently developed a muse who will not shut up.  She’s throwing books in my way that inspire me.  She’s providing workshop comments from my class that make me want to sob with the joy that somehow my story is pouring out my fingers, onto a page, and translated through reader’s eyes to something even better than I imagined.  Stephen King wasn’t kidding.  It’s magic.

So here I am.  I’m doing it.  I told my boss.  I told my boss’s boss.  I told my team.  I told them I am taking time off to pursue a masters degree – which I will get to – and to write.  (The masters degree makes the whole thing more legitimate to the engineers, and will be relevant to book three.)  I told them there was a novel that needed to be edited and another to finish writing.   And like most big announcements it had grown so much bigger inside me than it actually was outside of me.  People were kind.  They were interested.  They said they were jealous of my passion.

…he had been sleepwalking, Clark realized, moving half-asleep through the motions of his life for awhile now, years; not specifically unhappy, but when had he last found real joy in his work?  What was the last time he’d been truly moved by anything?  When had he last felt awe or inspiration?

So here we go.  I’m promising myself a year.  A year to finish what I have started.  A year to write, edit, submit, get rejected, network, and see where this journey takes me.  And even if at the end I don’t end up with a book anyone else will publish then I will do it myself, and I will do it having grown a grapefruit of a soul.  Because I want to live all of my life and I want it to be filled with awe, joy, and inspiration with a tiny contrast of drudgery.  The drudgery is still important, because if all you know is joy and a watermelon soul you can’t possibly appreciate it, right?

Now, time to write.


Credit for all quotes go to Emily St. John Mandel and her glorious Station Eleven.  Thank you for the amazing book, and for providing words to convey my unhappiness,  which motivated my change.

Personality Evolution

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Image from 16 Personalities.

People, people, people.  The past few days I’ve been obsessed with personality and character, which is not in my comfort zone.  As someone with a degree in engineering who works with a bunch of computer programmers I have spent my life interacting with other humans (because cyborgs aren’t perfected yet) but not always understanding other people.  In my work space I use personality tests and data to try glean information about those around me.  I’m really fond of the Strength Finder analysis and Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).  Oftentimes with those two pieces of data I feel more comfortable knowing those around me.

The one bummer about Myers-Briggs is that it’s ridiculously expensive, and depending on the year my company may or may not foot the bill to let new people take the test.  Well, this week one of my colleagues sent out a link to 16 Personalities.  You get a Myers-Briggs-ish result at the end, with an additional “identity” trait and it’s free! The price point is great, and there is an added benefit of a really spectacular website design.  In about 10 minutes I’d answered all the questions and got my result: INFP-A, The Mediator.

Reading through the results they seemed as accurate as any of those test are, but the F shocked me.  My entire life I’ve been a thinker (T), not a feeler (F).  (The third letter is either thinking or feeling.)  When I first took Myers Briggs in 1999 I was an INTJ (Introversion, Intuition, Thinking, Judging.)  From the MTBI website:

INTJ:  Have original minds and great drive for implementing their ideas and achieving their goals. Quickly see patterns in external events and develop long-range explanatory perspectives. When committed, organize a job and carry it through. Skeptical and independent, have high standards of competence and performance – for themselves and others.

About 10 years ago I took the test again, and had shifted slightly.  My structure, or how I deal with the outside word, had changed from Judging (J) to Perceiving (P).  I went from being settled and organized to being more flexible and spontaneous.  I was always on the borderline there, neither a strong J or P, so the switch didn’t really surprise me.  Also, my husband is a pretty strong J, so I think I naturally needed to provide some flexibility in our family unit.

The rest of my traits have always been pretty cemented.  I am a pretty strong introvert (I), I love interpreting information (N) and when I make decisions I am logical (T).  For example, I used a spreadsheet and a formula to name my daughter: happy to send you a copy if you want to try it out.  When I need to make decisions I take squishy ideas and turn them into hard numbers, then evaluate those numbers to make sure that I’m not just making a decision on a whim.  I was confident those three character traits defined me, until now.

This new test has me at 59% feeling, so not really even borderline.  The 16 Personality site says,

Feeling individuals are sensitive and emotionally expressive. They are more empathic and less competitive than Thinking types, and focus on social harmony and cooperation.

Okay, well I am still not sensitive and emotionally expressive, but the rest of the definition seems pretty spot on.  I am regularly commended at work for not needing to get credit for my work and collaborating.  My team is built on maximizing everyone’s strengths and acknowledging that we all bring very different but important skills to our work.  I, as the manager and client liaison, am not more important than our programmers, analysts, testers, or system administrators.  We all provide critical pieces to our work in different ways.  Similarly, as a parent I’m the one who listens to the woes of third grade and says, “Man, that sounds so hard.  I’m sorry you had to go through that.”  My husband, a T, has a million suggestions for every conflict.

So I’ve had this new personality suit I’ve been wearing around all weekend to see how it fits.  For highly-self aware people I’m sure that news like this isn’t even news, but for me having a new definition of who Johanna Levene is will take some adjusting.  I’ll continue to dig through my results, and compare it to my husband’s and my kiddo’s to better understand our family dynamics.  As people at work take the test and share their results I’ll figure out if that changes the needs and work of our team.  I’m also going to research if the differences between MTBI and 16 Personalities to see if may there is a difference in methodology.

All that said, I did have a moment of clarity with these results, that might help with my whole writing in a closet dilemma.  According to the 16 Personalities site, Mediators are led by their interests, and not rewards and punishment.

At their best, these qualities enable Mediators to communicate deeply with others, easily speaking in metaphors and parables, and understanding and creating symbols to share their ideas. Fantasy worlds in particular fascinate Mediators, more than any other personality type. The strength of their visionary communication style lends itself well to creative works, and it comes as no surprise that many famous Mediators are poets, writers and actors.

Oh… well at least that helps explain this insatiable need I’ve had over the past three years to start writing and telling stories.  Because really, this new passion of mine is really incongruent with an INTP/INTJ personality type.  See, eventually my inherent N trait will sort this all out…unless I become an S someday…

If you take the test I’d love to hear your thoughts on your results!

Being the best you

It’s the hallmark of every performance review.  Your boss tells you everything you are doing great and then ends with the motivational “You really need to work on” laundry lists of faults, problem areas, and things that annoy you about him/her.  Some of the feedback is really helpful, and some isn’t.

As a manager, I subscribe to the StrengthsFinder management philosophy.  In a nutshell this means that everyone is really good at certain things and as a team we should spend our time and energy making sure that everyone is doing stuff they are really good at.  If we find we need a skill that no one is good at, we should hire someone who is really good at that skill and offload that work to them rather than making someone magically change into a new and different human being.

Now, the strengths in StrengthsFinder aren’t normal work things.  They are themes that exist at work and in life and help you understand what you are good at in the big picture.  Mine, in my own words, are:

Ideation – the ability to tie different things together in new and innovative ideas

Responsibility – the ability to own tasks and problems and bring them to resolution

Maximizer – the ability to make the most out of people

Relator – the ability to build relationships with the people around me so I can really understand them and work with them

Strategic – the ability to think about the big picture and move a team together in a common direction

Note I do not have all 34 of the strengths, only five.  I am not great at everything.  For example I do not have Woo (“Winning others over”.) Woos like to talk to strangers; I DO NOT HAVE WOO.  However, there are times in life when I really need to talk to strangers.  I need to network with new people and not seem like I am not being tortured, because cringing makes new people uncomfortable.  As a traditional manager I would think, “I really need to work on being more comfortable talking to strangers, because if I don’t change it’s going to hamper my career going forward.”  As a strength based manager I say, “Susie really likes talking to strangers.  Maybe I can offload this part of the project to her, or take her with me to meetings to help with the networking.”

Strength based management isn’t about making you better at what you hate, it’s about teaching everyone that different people like and excel at different things.  Let me state that another way: there really are people who enjoy doing the stuff you hate and you should find those people and hang out with them and work together.  Also, they  might hate doing things you love, so you’ll get to do more things you enjoy.  You will be happy and more successful and they will be happy and more successful.

I’ve found StrengthsFinder useful in my home life too.  It was mind blowing when I realized that many of the conflicts between me and Mr. Afthead happened because we are both Responsibility people.  While you might think that means every problem in our home gets an owner and resolution you would be wrong.  I see an issue and take responsibility for it; I own it and will see it through to conclusion.  However, my husband sees the same problem takes responsibility for it, owns it and sees it through to conclusion.  Conflict occurs as we both try to solve one problem, each in our own way. Because of StrengthsFinder we see these problems coming and can circumvent anger…sometimes.

The last thing I love about Strengthsfinder is that is relatively cheap to get started.  For $18.35 on Amazon you can get the book, which includes a code to take the online test.  The book will lay all 34 of the strengths and the test will tell you which 5 are yours.  It will also tell you how your strengths interact with each other.  Knowing and understanding you own strengths is incredibly powerful.  Then, if you can get those around you to take the same test, you can start to find your partners.  If you can’t get anyone to take the test, you can use the book to try to derive the abilities of those around you and start to make partnerships that way.

As a person who isn’t always self-aware or people aware, this has really helped me.  It’s helped me realize that everyone is good at different things.  It’s helped me really understand where I thrive, and it’s given me a way to understand weaknesses in our team and solve them productively.  I’m not affiliated with the Gallup folks who created this idea, but I am a fan of their work.


Final Thoughts

If you have the means, go get a copy of StrengthsFinder 2.0.  If you want to learn more before you invest, get a copy from the library and read about the Strength Themes.  Note that the one-time-use code will probably be used already in the library book, so if you like the idea you’ll need to make an investment.  Once you take the test you’ll learn what you are great at and what makes you special as a person.  It will also provide you with suggestions for strengths you can partner with.  Start finding those people.

If you really love the concept, like I did, recommend to your manager that they get the Strengths Based Leadership book.  This will help them understand their strengths as a leader and introduce them to the concept of team based strengths:  everyone needs partners to be successful.  Then maybe they’ll get everyone you work with to take the test.  (That’s what I did.)

If you love the concept, but your manager is a jerk, you can still tell colleagues about it or family members.  Then you get to have fun conversations about what others are good at and how they can maximize their own strengths.  No one dislikes talking about what makes them special and different, trust me.

I highly recommend you go find out what makes you special and different, if you don’t know already.  You’ll be able to use that knowledge to build opportunities for yourself that will make you happy and successful.  It’s like magic!

Write a Cover Letter

Let’s say you ready  my second post in my Management Monday series, and decided that you really need to find a new job.  Congratulations.  Now dust off that resume, get it up to date, and find some jobs to apply to.  However, before you hit that submit button or lick that envelope, I would like to strongly urge you to write a cover letter. Let me state that another way. Do not bother applying for a job if you don’t want to write a cover letter. If you don’t want to take the time to explain how your skills, life, and time on this Earth are applicable to the job you are applying for then why should I, the hiring manager, take the time to read through your resume to understand?  The cover letter is a gift bestowed upon you by the job seeking gods to give you a chance to wow your future manager for the first time.  It’s your chance to make an impression, show some personality, and make me want to read your resume. (Which had better be no more than two pages or one page front and back and ideally, I really only want to read one page. Again, if you can’t tell me what’s important in your life, why should I try to do that for you by parsing through 10 pages of detailed job history?  But I digress…)

Okay, I know this all sounds harsh, but really, a hiring manager can get hundreds of resumes for one position. It’s a lot of work to read through those resumes and if you don’t make it easy you are likely to get thrown in the reject pile. Maybe the job you are applying for doesn’t have a crazy lady like me who is nutso about cover letters. Right, so then you don’t need to write one, but how do you know? Unless the process expressly forbids writing a cover letter why would you skip the opportunity to showcase what’s amazing about you?

If I have convinced you that a cover letter is important, let me now impress upon you that what you put in your cover letter is also important.  Prove to me that you’ve read my position write up. I’ve spent hours on it, and it’s been reviewed by my boss and my boss’s boss. These are our words about what you are going to be doing in this job. Show us that you understand the job, that you can translate our description to your experience. If you are missing experience, use this as an opportunity to tell us why you’d love to grow in that area.

You want extra double bonus points? Go to Google. Search our website. See if you can figure out what we do. Find some recent press releases or news that you think might be applicable to the group you will be joining at this new company. Even if you guess wrong and talk about some other group’s work you’ll get points for trying, and it gives them a good reason to bring you in for an interview. They will want to correct you, and tell you what their group does and why it’s better or different than the group you mentioned.

This all requires work, and it feels risky, but I promise you that putting that little bit of extra work in is worth it if you really want the job.  Yes, I know if you are applying to ten jobs you have to do this ten times (and I really suggest you also tailor your resume ten times, but again, I digress) but think about it as your first chance to show off to your new employer.  When you work there you don’t want them to think of you as just another person, you want them to think you are special, right?  So make yourself special from the beginning.

One last thing. If you are lucky enough to get an interview, send a thank you note afterwards. Get someone’s contact information and send it electronically, or for extra bonus points, hand write thank yous to the interview team. The personal touches really make a difference.


References?

I really like Don’t Send A Resume by Jeffrey J. Fox as a reference for finding for a new job.

 

It isn’t just about payday

I graduated from college almost 20 years ago with my degree in Chemical Engineering. Most of the open jobs were with oil companies drilling on the north shore of Alaska.  After having spent 3 years interning in renewable energy I didn’t want to go rape and pillage the Alaskan wilderness.  The other options were limited.  Caterpillar was hiring in Peoria, IL but that interview started with a large man with a large hat scanning my 22 year old self and slowly asking, “So little lady, why would…YOU…want to come work for Caterpillar?”  I didn’t get a second interview.  The other opportunity for me was to go work in the hugely growing world of computer programming.  I’d taken a few programming courses, I liked them, and I was offered a job with a huge consulting firm in Chicago.   They said I was smart and they would train me to code.  I’d be surrounded by people my own age.  It seemed like a great opportunity, but why?

Your first real job offer.  Do you remember it?  Did you spend a lot of time figuring out if your job was a good fit?  Did you wonder if the corporate culture fit your needs?  I didn’t, or I didn’t evaluate my opportunities consciously beyond “How much do they pay?”  Twenty years later, I know that for me, that’s one of the last questions I need to ask myself.

Last year I was invited to a women’s networking event where the featured speaker was going to present on “Women entering the C-suite.”  The presenter was a woman, 5 years younger than me, who was a career coach that charged between $15k – $45k per person to coach women into finding C level positions.  You know, for those of us dying to become a CIO, CFO, CEO, or COO.  Personally, I have no ambitions in this direction but I have friends who do, and there was free food and wine, so I went and what I learned was eye opening.

This woman, who had to make 3 times my salary, explained that in order to reach your career goals, you first have to understand what you want out of your career.  She then challenged us to make a list of things that we want out of a job.  I have no real notes from this discussion, because I have since lost the notes I took in my daughter’s notebook with her colored pencil, but I have a strong recollection of our list.  It looked like this:

  1. Money
  2. Flexibility
  3. Benefits
  4. Friends
  5. Learning opportunities
  6. The mission
  7. Mentors
  8. Potential for advancement
  9. Leadership opportunities

She then told us to pick the top three things we wanted out of a job and shared her choices.  She picked money, potential for advancement, and leadership opportunities.  She went on to tell us that she owned her own company because she wanted to be the leader of whatever she did, and her goal was to make enough money so that she could have three homes when she retired at 45: one in Aspen, one near her family, and one on the ocean.  She wanted to be able to use these homes to host her family and live out her days in luxury.  Those were her C-Suite career path values.

If the notepad with googly eyes wasn’t enough of a clue that I’m not destined for CTO, her list solidified my lack of interest.  Mine said: mission, flexibility, and friends.  I want a job where I can go every day and know that what I’m doing is making a difference in the world.  I need a job where I can go to my daughter’s Halloween party, or coach her soccer team.  I want to go to work everyday with people I really care about and who care about me.  Don’t tell my boss, but money and benefits aren’t even on the list.  Of course, I want to make enough money to support my family and keep our house, but our needs are pretty simple.  I don’t want three homes.  I don’t want to retire at 45.  In fact, I dream of a life where I can work into my 60s or 70s, but be able to take sabbaticals have opportunities to pursue other passions mid-career.

Okay, so what’s the point of all of this?  Well I’m a manager, and I have conversations with people who say things like:

“I need opportunities for advancement.   There is nowhere to go in this organization.”

“You don’t respect my skills here.  I am a great software developer, but I can’t move up without content knowledge.”

“It’s your fault that I don’t have enough work to do.  That’s a manager’s job.”

“I’m an expert.  I don’t need to change.”

“Just tell me what to do.”

The truth of the matter is that those are all valid opinions and statements and these people are really unhappy.  The other truth is that those complaints cannot be resolved at my company.  For example, in my job family there are six levels and I was hired at the third one.  In twelve years I’ve received one promotion.  I have grown and developed, but unless I want to get a PhD, I only have one more promotion I’ll ever get. The “I need opportunities for advancement” person is doomed for disappointment if they don’t leave. We aren’t going to create new promotion levels.  Sometimes you can’t make your needs match what your company provides.

The flip side are the people who say:

“I never want to work anywhere but here.”

“I don’t jump out of bed excited to come to work everyday, but I’m always happy to be here.”

“I really appreciate all the opportunities here.”

“This really is an amazing place.”

Same job, just different people.  What I find fascinating about management is that every person is different, and what is stifling to one person is invigorating to someone else.  The job isn’t bad and the person isn’t bad, there is just a mismatch.  Of course it’s hard to leave a job, but you spend at least 8 hours a day at work.  If you can, try to find somewhere that can give you what you need.   If you can’t leave at least there is some solace in understanding why you are unhappy.


 

Final Thoughts

List out your three must haves from your job and think about if your needs are being met. Then think about if it’s possible to make your needs met given the corporate culture.  If you don’t know how to answer that question, find someone you trust who you think might know and ask them.  If you can’t make your needs align, do you get enough out of the job to stay without being completely disgruntled, or is it time to find another job?

If it’s time to find another job make sure you are going somewhere that can meet your needs.  As a manager, I try to be very upfront when I hire people about the culture of our team and our organization.  I explain what success looks like and what we expect from teammates.  I am honest about what’s amazing and what sucks about the job.  I don’t want to hire someone who will hate their job, and no one wants to work at a job that they hate.  If you interview for a new job and don’t get that kind of feedback ask.

As a worker, I try to evaluate my values from time to time and make sure they align with where I see my company going.  If I do find my needs are no longer being met, I’m realistic about expecting wholesale changes to my workplace to make me happy.  For example, I hate bureaucracy, but my current position is awash in it.  However, I can take a step back and realize that my three key values are supported by my workplace and for now I can overlook the things that suck.  It’s empowering to know that you are putting up with something for a good reason.


 

Thoughts and comments on the new Monday Management posts are appreciated!

Management Monday

I’ve been throwing around the idea of starting a regular blog post about my 9-5 job.  I manage a team of web developers, analysts, database administrators, designers, web strategists, and QA personnel.  Everyone’s asleep now, right?  Everyone has moved to the next blog already.  Dear God, please don’t tell me she is going to bore us about management.

Wait though.  In real life, I care deeply about the twelve people I spend 8 hours a day with.  I get bureaucracy out of their way so they can do amazing work.  I search for opportunities to make sure that they have the absolute coolest projects to work on.  When their personal lives fall apart I make sure they have meaningful work with whatever bandwidth they can give, and I remind everyone to be kind to each other, because we are all human beings.  I’ve called my team one by one on a weekend when our coworker passed away, because who sends that in an e-mail?  I help them learn and capitalize on their strengths and find them partners to shore up their weaknesses.  I inform everyone that “we all do shit work” but no one on my team does all the shit work.  I have spent 8 years trying to create a team who cares about their work, each other and delights our clients.  Rumor has it I’m not bad at my job.

I swore I would never be a manager.  I scoffed at my managers in my early twenties.  I rolled my eyes as they slinked out of the office at 6:00 or 5:00 or (gasp) 4:30 when my day was easily going to last until 9:00 or 10:00.  I railed that they were never with us when we worked Saturday and Sunday.  Early in my career I was a technology consultant where my worth was literally determined by the number of hours I put in: I got paid for overtime and we billed by the hour.  I made money and my company made money when I worked constantly.  My claim to fame is that I worked a 116 hour week once.  Yes, I collapsed getting out of bed one morning and was stuck on my Sioux Falls hotel room carpet for an hour until my legs decided to work, but I went to work that day, dammit and didn’t mention my collapse to anyone.  I barely remember the managers who told me I “exceeded expectations” and that my areas for improvement were “to clone myself,” to “do a better job coloring my spreadsheets,” and to “stop rolling my eyes in meetings.”  Want to bet I rolled my eyes at that comment?  I was a workaholic who turned out reams of code and could optimize any process you handed me, making four hour reports run in 4 seconds.  People put up with me and I did what I needed to do with little support from above.

In hindsight, the managers in that job weren’t set up to succeed.  They were expected to work the arduous hours I did, but they were 5 years older.  They had young families, but couldn’t be honest that they needed to slip out to go to their kid’s doctor’s appointments or school play.  That was career death.  No one was willing or able to stand up to the consulting machine and say “We are all humans here, can we be kind to each other?”  The company was set up for retirement at 40 and the only way you achieve that is by working all the hours most people work by the time they are 65 in 15 less years.  You could have a personal life at 41, except you really can’t live that way.  Eventually I left when I started realizing that I wanted a life outside work too.

Two jobs later I was told that a first level management job was going to be posted and that no one else was going to apply, and no one else did.  I found myself in charge of a team and I stumbled through two life changes simultaneously:  learning how to be a manager, letting go of measuring my worth via my own personal accomplishments, and learning how to be a mother, letting go of measuring my worth via my own personal accomplishments.  All the while, the voice in the back of my head kept taunting me with that line from the monster.com Superbowl commercial, “I want to claw my way up to middle management.”  Was this what I really wanted in my life?  (Oh man, I just watched that commercial again.  It is so gut-punching.)

Like most people, I have no good answer to the “what do I want with my life” question.  I don’t have the wisdom or the perspective to say if I’m in the ideal job for me.  I am happy I made the transition to the manager role and am really proud of what our team has become.  I enjoy being involved in the decision making process, the business development process, and the people development.  I feel like a fraud, because I don’t have an MBA.  Everything I’ve learned has been through books, trial and error, and instinct.  I long for personal accomplishment still, but often when I try I just become a logjam in all my other roles.  All that said, I feel like I have some stuff worth sharing:

  1. How do you decide if a job is right for you?
  2. Should you work in the public or private sector?
  3. How do you find work life balance?
  4. How do you help your manager give you a more constructive performance review?
  5. What tools are out there to learn your strengths and what do you do about your weaknesses?
  6. Oh crap, I’m a new manager, what do I do?
  7. Competition or collaboration?
  8. When do I know it’s time to leave my job?

So I’ll spend a few months trying this topic out and see if there is any interest.


 

The insight from today’s post?  We are all human.  Try to be kind to each other.

Spirit Animal

I work in a pretty conservative organization, so I was shocked at our strategic planning offiste when my new director recommended we start off sharing our “spirit animal.”  We were to write down our choice on an index card and then pass the cards to him so he could read aloud all of our spirit animals to the group.

I was delighted with this little task, but couldn’t decide if I should take it seriously, make a joke, or be an ass about the assignment.  A variety of options passed through my mind: owl, Loch Ness monster, cat.  Then someone in the room said, “We should have picked our patronus” and I wrote down unicorn.

The mixture of animals our leadership team picked was pretty cool and diverse:  fox, penguin, Canadian goose, sea lion, otter, turtle, mouse, deer, dolphin, desert sheep, baby robin and duck-billed platypus were all in the mix.  (I said we were a conservative organization, not lacking creativity.)  I was the only mythical creature and when asked to explain why I picked a unicorn I said:

  • “Because a unicorn seems like it might wear rose colored glasses.”

I am a bit of a Pollyanna at work.  I think things are going to work out and that people are trying to do their best and in the end things will be okay.  This perspective is a bit unusual in my organization, so I wanted to pick something that conveyed that optimism.

  • “We could really use more magic at work”

Who can’t use more magic at work?  Pixie dust, Star Trek transporters, a pope who believes in climate change, and miracles all are welcome additions to my tool box.

  • “I wanted something different from everyone else.”

I am an individual.  I want to stand out and be noticed for the things that make me special and valuable.

By the end of the day I really liked this weird exercise.  We referred to our own and other’s spirit animals throughout the day.  We acknowledged the accuracy of choices and suggested modifications.  At one point my spirit animal morphed into unicorn mold.  Something about my growing and sticking to things, like mold.  So the final evolutionary step of my spirit animal is a magical sparkly rainbow mold with spiky horns.  Be careful not to step on me.

What’s your spirit animal?