Thinking about the future in reverse

It is no secret that I struggle for inspiration to write.  Or is motivation?  Maybe opportunity?  My head is full and I am overflowing with observations, but for some reason it doesn`t make it to my hands.

Is it possible to have carpal tunnel that blocks thoughts from the brain to fingers?  I am certain there is. I have it.

So here I find myself on a train for a work trip and I am ready to write.  It seems that all I needed was to get out of my space and be alone among others to get the itch to write.  I was totally born in the wrong era – I need a typewriter and a permanent seat on a train.

So I am sitting here, watching the scenery that has already passed by in my rear-facing seat, reflecting on how you can move forward when you are stuck facing backward.

There are quite a few food dishes that I swore I hated as a kid.  I grew up hating them, whether it was the taste, the smell or the texture.  Then I became an adult and had someone other than my mom cook these dishes and I was amazed to discover I really enjoyed them.  My mom made solid meals, far be it from me to complain about being fed, but they just never lived up to their potential.  Please don`t tell her.

And then there are quite a few books that I swore I hated.  I loathed discussing them in high school – felt they were the obligatory Pablum we were supposed to read.  Then I became an adult and realized that there was a reason to read these books and that maybe with fewer distractions (ahumph…boys) and more actual discussions, I would have liked them more back then. Except The Stone Angel, that remains on par with canned peas.

One of these books is The Great Gatsby.  This is one that people like or hate.  I like it.  I like pretty much everything about it, and the ending in particular always stays with me:

“Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And then one fine morning— So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.“

It is the idea that as much as we think we want to move forward, and make attempts to stride into the future,  we are always drawn back to our past – something that both defines who we are and that we feel compelled to try to re-write.

This is both an individual and collective compulsion.  As individuals we get older, we have new experiences, we have goals, we reach milestones, and then we hit a loop that brings us back to some part of our past that forces us to realize that as much as we thought we had moved forward, it wasn`t quite as far as we thought.  Two steps forward, one step back.

As organizations, we live to re-define what we have already done, but as we run forward, it is hard not to feel like you have seen that tree before….and that rock, I am sure we passed that rock already…wait a minute, we have DEFINITELY passed that blue house.  And we are asked to trust that this new path, while familiar, is new and better.  It will lead us to new paths, smoother path…it will be uncomfortable and yet, this feels so familiar. Organizational déja-vu.

When change becomes the usual state, then is it really change?  Or is it like walking into a mirrored room and seeing one thing reflected in multiple surfaces, leading us to believe we are seeing a number of different things.

One of the most dreaded war cries of long-term employees is: `that won`t work, we have tried it before`.   We have all heard it.  Hell, I am certain we have all said it.  (Admit it, you did).  And it`s true.  We have tried it before, and it didn`t work, but to quote Fitzgerald, “tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther“ and hope that this is the time that it will work, that this time we will crest the wave and move closer to the green light.

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My expectations for 2018 (and why last year can suck eggs)

I recently said that 2017 could end any day now because I was done with it.  As if on January 1st everything would re-set and we would be starting fresh.  That would be nice, but the reality is far from that.

Last year was one of the most difficult years both professionally and personally.  And to ensure that I could be confident with that claim – it went out with a bang.  Or at least my car did…while my son was driving it.  Anyone want a 2008 Honda Civic, needs some work. What about a 17-year old boy, also needs some work.

Screw you 2017.

And so the new year started and things became even more challenging.  I don’t want this post to sound like a pity party, I am keenly aware that others are struggling with harder circumstances than mine, but allow me to take a minute to acknowledge the recent death of a really great guy, my father-in-law.  Although he had been ill since the summer, we expected more time than we had with him and he died quickly and peacefully early in the new year.

I am not sure what I expected of the start of 2018, but that was not it.  Nor was it the curve balls that my son feels compelled to throw at us on a daily basis.  And it certainly was not the feelings of being completely overwhelmed and exhausted that required me to take off more time than I am comfortable with taking.  It left me feeling disappointed with my ability to deal with things and with life in general at this moment.

Disappointment.

That seems to be a constant refrain in my brain…disappointment with how things are going, how people are reacting or not reacting, how I am coping or not coping, and pretty much any outcome that is not in line with my expectations.

Over the holidays I read a book that was referred to my husband called Unfu*ck Yourself by Gary John Bishop and while it was a quick and repetitive read, there were a few points that really stuck with me.  One of these is about disappointment, which it essentially defines as the gap between expectations and reality.  The bigger the gap, the greater the disappointment.

The simplicity of this explanation smacked me right between the eyes.  If I am constantly expecting things to be something that I am acutely aware that they will not be…I am ultimately setting myself up for a letdown.

And I am not alone, I started to see how many people do this to themselves (and others)…like say my mother with Christmas.  No matter how much she plans and expects that this is the year we will be that family in the idyllic Christmas dinner scene in a magazine or Christmas special, the reality always falls spectacularly short.  And thus the annual traditional of maternal disappointment is upheld.

Of course I can relate this to work…you knew I would.  Employees expecting significant recognition or higher than usual bonuses for doing their job and the ultimate letdown, when all they get is a bi-weekly pay…for doing their job.  Managers who hire that spitfire who will push the boundaries, challenge the norms, and lead the team to greatness are disappointed when the person turns out to be a disruptive pain in the ass that no one wants to work with and is putting the business at risk.

My challenges lay more within the personal domain.  I need to recalibrate my expectations…not lower them…just make them more realistic.  Of course, the idea would be that as things progress, your expectations can evolve and ultimately get to where you would like them to be.  However, this isn’t going to happen without awareness and work.

I am a hopeful person, but also a practical one, so I am often looking for the best outcome, but not overly surprised (and ultimately disappointed) when it doesn’t happen.  Forget work-life, this is the real imbalance that I struggle with.

So what does all of this mean? It means that I am going into situations asking myself, what are my expectations of what will happen?  And what do I realistically think will happen?  Now how far apart are these?  And I am adjusting my expectations as required, but still hoping for the best.

So from the ashes of 2017,  I am emerging with a better sense of what needs to happen, more realistic expectations and less disappointment.

And hope.  Always hope.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The simple act (and gift) of offering help

I know, it’s been 4 months.

Give me a break, if you can wait 11 years between Avatar movies, then surely 4 months isn’t that big of a deal.  Unless you have no intention of seeing Avatar 2…but why wouldn’t you?  You saw all of the Harry Potter movies, and the Star Wars movies (even when it was obvious that they were hi-tech pablum) and you probably watched all of the Twilights (admit it)…and all of those required waiting for unreasonable and contrived delays.

Why should my blog be any different?

When we last left our heroine, I was waxing poetic about cleaning the laundry in my head and implying that there was mountains of it.  Fast forward 4 months…the laundry piles are still there, but there has been progress made in sorting them.

Here’s the interesting thing, much like the real laundry I do, I realized that many of  these piles are not mine.  However, unlike real laundry…I can’t deal with other people’s stuff.

2017 has probably been one of the most challenging years I have faced on many fronts:  professionally, physically, mentally, spiritually, and whatever-ly.  Part of that is dealing with my own issues, but another significant part has been dealing with supporting others with theirs.

I have done a pretty good job of keeping my blog focused on myself, my work, or other non-personal things.  Every once in a while I will write about my family in a peripheral way, partly because they did not ask to be part of this and mainly because they are not aware it exists.  However, today I am going to break that rule in a respectful way.

My husband has been a paramedic for over 20 years.  That means over 20 years of repeated exposure to tragic and traumatic situations.  That means over 20 years of working through shifts, bodily fluids (other people’s), exhaustion (his own), anxiety, stress, anger, and frustration.  These are not independent situations that are resolved, documented, filed and forgotten.  These are cumulative, haunting, and heartbreaking experiences that do not stay at work…they follow you home, they live under your skin and in your brain.  They taint how you see people, how you speak to people, how you respond to situations, how you cope…and taking a couple of days off or calling your Employee Assistance Program is not going to make it go away.

There is defintely a price to pay for doing this type of job and when it comes collecting, you better believe that they are carrying a baseball bat.

That is my husband’s pile of laundry that I cannot do it for him.  I see it, I can help him work though it, I can support him when he needs to face it or walk away, I can hold him when he gets overwhelmed, and I can remind him that no matter what…he is not that pile of laundry. But that’s really it.

I have never wanted so much in my life to be able to do laundry – to take care of this for him, but I can’t and dealing with this has been cumulative, haunting, and heartbreaking.  It follows you to work, it lives under your skin and in your brain.  It taints how you see people, how you speak to people, how you respond to situations, how you cope…and taking a couple of days off or calling your Employee Assistance Program will not make it go away.

Post-traumatic stress is insidious and the impact on the individual, as well as their family, can be significant. Fortunately, in many cases it is reversible… with help.

The tricky thing with help is that you generally have to ask for it and that’s not always easy to do.  However, sometimes someone steps in and unexpectedly offers help – they make it that much easier to step forward and accept.  And that is where we are now…accepting help and beginning to turn things around.  Breaking that pile of laundry into smaller batches and washing by hand when necessary.  We have reached a point where we can see that the idea of being healthy isn’t as impossible as it felt as recent as 6-months ago.

I have struggled about whether or not I should write about this because I felt it wasn’t my story to share and because it is so personal.  However, I have come to realize that I have a supporting role in this story and it is for that reason that I am sharing…as for the personal part, yes it is, but that is all the more reason to share it.

I recently exchanged tweets with the wonderful @MJCarty who, in response to my vague comments about 2017 being a challenging year, offered me his help.  He had no idea what the issues were or what I would ask of him, but he offered nonetheless.  So I decided to take him up on it.

Given everything that is going on, you probably guessed that I would ask him for words of wisdom to help me get back to blogging.  Because yes, at a time like this – blogging is an obvious priority.   Well, actually for me it is.  I mentioned how writing has been very cathartic for me (it purges the sarcasm,  which is for everyone’s good), how I missed it, but that I felt like my voice was frozen.  He honoured me with his support and encouragement and gave me what will probably be one of the best Christmas gifts I could get this year.

So here I am starting again to put words down to help myself and at the same time, I am putting this out to the universe to see what comes back and what I can offer.

 

Dealing with the laundry in your head

I used to write because I liked trying to sort out what I was thinking – I have always been much more successful at expressing myself in writing than in speaking.  As someone who needs to reflect a bit, digest and then make sure I`m clear – writing is the perfect format.  There`s an opportunity to sit back and see what you have “said“, backspace, delete, edit, copy/paste, and add in missing words.  Then I can re-read and make sure before I hit send or post.

Of course, this process is more about “big thoughts“, persuasive arguments or explanations.  When it comes to one-liners and smart-ass comments…I don`t seem to have any issue in just saying it or hitting send without a second thought. It`s the reason why it might take me days to write a post, but 2 seconds to respond to a comment.

I know.  I gave up trying to figure out, so don`t bother.

So, back to writing.  A quick glance through the archives of this blog will reveal that I spend absolutely no time on researching (other than looking for the perfect image to capture my point).  Any attempts in this area will not doubt result in a badly written assignment paper from school.  There are far better writers out there who I leave that level of writing.  I rely on them to challenge my thinking and steer me in new directions.

I write about what`s in my head, which on a good day is a solid mix of HR-related shenanigans, personal reflection, and tales of raising teenagers.  Some have suggested a dash of philosophy, but I think that`s a stretch.

Without those sources of inspiration, I really don`t have much to say.  Or at least I don`t feel as though I do.  And when those sources become off-limits, by choice, then I`m really at a loss.

My husband recently asked me why I don`t blog anymore.  A few months back I would have said, I don`t know.  But now I do.  I told him what I have shared here – I write what`s in my head, but that means having to sort through the laundry in my head, which I haven`t wanted to do.  And no, I was under no illusion that if I ignored things that they would go away; I just didn`t want to deal with it….dealing is messy, and unpleasant, and unpredictable.

Classic avoidance.

But, you know what happens when you ignore the piles of laundry.  They start to take over the room and you run out things to wear.  So I have found myself with figuratively nothing to wear, or better said, no more excuses for not dealing with my shit.  I just need to start tackling this one pile at a time.

So I expect that as I go through this mental exercise, I will likely find some interesting things to share…or maybe some loose change, my lip balm that went missing, and that elusive black sock that has left its mate a widow.

I know all of this is absolutely fascinating reading and in no way, shape or form related to HR.  So I apologize to anyone who thought I was either going to talk about my “dirty laundry“ or cleverly relate it to something in HR.

Oh sure, I could relate it to how managers avoid dealing with their employee behavioural issues, because the work is getting done and well…dealing is messy, and unpleasant, and unpredictable.

But I`m not going there today.

I have some laundry to do first and well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The price of saying yes

I have a history of backing out of things.  I would like to think that most of these decisions were sound and that there was a reason that I decided to not pursue whatever course of action I was on.

There was a time when I would have reflectively said it must of been fate or meant to be, because otherwise I wouldn’t be where I am today.  Well of course I wouldn’t…I would be somewhere else reflecting on a completely other decision that I didn’t take.  You see, when there are choices to be made – you are always picking one over the other, so you could argue that you could always wonder “what-if”.

It’s all very Inception-like.

So yes…history of backing out of things…missed application deadlines, cancelled interviews, emails of introduction not sent…you name it.  If there was any type of increased  uncertainty factor associated with the decision, I likely chose the safe option.

Clearly this has served me well insofar as survival and employability goes, as I am still alive and have a job.  However, I did reach a point in my life where I decided that I was tired of wondering how things might have gone if I had done the hard thing.  And I vowed to say yes to every opportunity that came along.

Oddly enough it was much easier than I thought.  I started saying yes and then figuring out how to do whatever it was I had agreed to.  Fake it until you make it, they said.  It was a lot easier than you would think to fake it.  It still is.

And so I went on.  Saying yes – getting projects, getting interviews, changing jobs, changing employers, joining groups, learning new skills, meeting new people…all because I started saying yes.

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At the organization where I work there are 10 values that are widely shared and referenced, but the one that stands out (and is coincidentally relevant to this blog post) is “Think yes first”.

You would think that this value was just for me – that those words practically glowed on the posters when I read them.  That music played in the background.  That my life’s purpose was suddenly clear to me in a way that would make one of Oprah’s “ah-ha” moments pale in comparison.

And yet, it was the opposite.  I had this really unpleasant taste in the back of my throat that made me realize that I hadn’t really put a lot of thought into whether I should say yes, but only that I needed to say yes.

In the beginning, I had to do this.  I had to get beyond the inertia that was threatening to overtake me and just get moving.  However, I realized that once I got going, I didn’t spend very much time thinking about whether the next offer was the best one for me or whether I had the time, energy or interest.

And an unintended consequence of saying yes first is that people expect you to say yes. In fact, the expectation was so strong that many people actually misquoted the value when pointing out “I thought you were suppose to Say yes first“.

I can assure that in those moments, I am not thinking yes first.  Perhaps a few other two word combinations, but none are them are very affirmative.

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So now that a few years have gone by and I am a more experienced person from all that saying yes, I am starting to shift gears again.  I am no longer driven to accept every opportunity that is presented to me, I don’t have the same need to prove I can do it to others, and quite honestly, it some times boils down to I just don’t want to.

So is this a lack of motivation? Low engagement? Laziness?  I don’t think so.  I prefer to see it as maturity, awareness, and above all the realization that you can’t fucking do everything.

Saying no may be harder to do, but saying yes all the time is only easy in the moment, then it just becomes exhausting.

I still don’t believe that it’s fate that guides the choices that I make and I know that I will wonder about the choices that I didn’t take; however, I know that I am now in a better position to consider whether I should say yes to any future opportunities rather than assume that I have to.

 

 

Midyear: Are we there yet?!

Midyear review season is upon us and it is a time for reflection.  A time to look back over the past six months at all that you have accomplished.  Or, in my case, wonder what they hell just happened and how am I going to spin this.  I mean, it was just January, right? I swear I have been busy and done work-stuff.

For many people, the midyear review and associated self-reflection activities are meant as a check-up on whether you are on track to achieving your objectives, or when it’s blatantly obvious that things are heading in the other direction, giving you the don’t steal.

However, for those people (I am not naming names, but I have a friend…) who may have a tendency to procrastinate excel at the last-minute, midyear reviews may feel a little contrived.

I have a 17-year son.  We don’t see him too often outside of meal times, unpacking of grocery times, or I need you to sign this paper times.  As such, I have a habit of popping my head into his room to say hello an ask him if “everything is okay”.

I am pretty confident that the look on his face after I have done this 3-4 times in an evening is the essence of what a midyear review is to a procrastinator.  It’s the “are you serious – nothing has changed since you asked me 30 minutes ago”.  (Which in work  terms would be: “are you serious – you just asked me about this 3 months ago…nothing has changed”)

hermione_hair

(For the record, my son looks more like Ron than Hermione.  If he knew I was writing about him, I am certain that he would want me to clarify that. The face though…spot on.)

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I am not hacking on midyear reviews. Well, okay maybe I am.  Let me start that again…I am not hacking on the intent of midyear reviews, I’m pointing out that the way they are done may be lacking.

However, if your midyear check-in consists of referring to all of the agreed upon performance objectives, updating the status of each of the aforementioned performance objectives, making modifications to any of the performance objectives (because we know that happens), or adding in new performance objectives (because we know that also happens), then I believe this is the only tool you will need:

checklist-2077024__340

On the plus side, using the Acme Checklist will result in your meetings being much shorter and you can even use a different coloured marker for each employees.

So what do you do if you know you have someone on your team that may be a bit more flexible with timelines or if you happen to be that person for whom the 11th hour is a real and legitimate target.

First of all, skip the checklist – it will be useless, frustrating and the employee will feel compelled to compensate for the lack of tangible deliverables with creative, if not entertaining, explanations of work-stuff. (Or so I have been told).

Next, listen and talk , in whichever order is most appropriate given which chair you are sitting in.

Talk about what has been going on, what have you been doing, who have you been working with and on what.  What are you enjoying? What are you avoiding because you don’t like it? What do you wish you could work on? What would you like to learn and why?  What stands out from the past few months?  What do you need over the next few months to do what you need to?

And then listen.  Listen to what others are saying about your work? About who appreciates working with you and why? What are the things you should consider in the upcoming months? What are the things that you need to do or stop doing to avoid irritating/ alienating/ isolating/ your peers or clients? What are some things that you might not have considered for potential projects or development? What are the expectations by year-end (or perhaps sooner)? Are you heading in the right direction? If not, what do you need to be heading in the right direction?

There is no template for this kind of meeting. There are no specific boxes to check-off.  The meeting may not be quick and should spill over into further conversations, some of which may be difficult.

It will however provide you with a better sense of how your employee is doing rather than what they have done.

I mean, don’t sweat it, there are still 5 more months to go in  2017…plenty of time to get that thing done.

 

 

 

 

 

Sweating the little things

Years ago someone gave me the book “Don`t Sweat the Small Stuff“ (with the cutesy subtitle: “and it`s all small stuff“). I can`t say that I was overly impressed at what I considered to be the implication that I get worked up over little things…because that simply isn`t true. (*cough*)

Of course it`s true.  It`s probably true for everyone, whether they want to admit it or not, and quite frankly it`s probably not such a bad thing.

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Recently my daughter called me from Boston where she is doing her almost final semester/ internship.

Right away I could tell three things:

1 – She was in her car
2 – She was on the verge of losing it
3 – This was not going to be a quick call

I won`t get into all the details, but suffice it to say that she proceeded to have a minor meltdown about the lack of available parking and the price of parking being charged at a lot near the place she wanted to go.  (“Why mom?! Why would someone charge that much for parking“, she wailed).

Yes, she called me parked on the side of the road, from over 700 km away, losing her shit over the fact that she had not been able to find free parking and refused to pay the ridiculous rate of $15.00 (which for the record, I know is not that unreasonable).

It would be easy to assume a few things about my daughter based on this situation. That she is  privileged, spoiled, high maintenance, incapable of dealing with normal every day things.  That although she is almost 21-years old, she clearly cannot function without parental guidance.  In fact, she thought the same thing and asked me if I thought she might be crazy.

I mean, it was such a small thing to lose it over.

And yet, this young woman has lived away from home for the past three years, in another country, and is studying to be a midwife.  She has attended over 30 births and has been the solo attendant (yes, meaning she was the only one there) at three home births.  She has stayed up for over 24 hours during long labours, regularly travels over two hours to attend births/appointments.  And yet, she has never lost it in any of these instances – she is calm, composed and mature beyond her years.

How is that possible?

I have sat through termination meetings, difficult conversations, exhausting work sessions, frustrating strategy meetings, hopeless conversations… and can keep it together.  Even smile once in awhile.

And the next morning, I can be reduced to tears because I have nothing to wear that goes together (incredible since my wardrobe palate is a range of grey and black items). I can absolutely lose it because  “someone“ ate the last banana.  I am paralyzed by the idea of picking a restaurant idea because how can I possibly know what “I feel like“. And god help the printer if it decides to be out of cyan toner when I need to print something.

I know I that I am not alone in this.  I have seen people lose it over the smallest thing, but completely rise to the occasion when the walls are falling down.

I believe that it`s easier to let go when there is less at stake and we give ourselves the luxury of having a meltdown over the small things because we cannot do so during the big things.

So when my daughter asked me about her sanity, I told her…well I don`t think you are, but if you are…then so am I.  Either way you aren`t alone.