Going All In

I am about to embark on a 6-month coaching engagement with the Handel Group. There is quite a bit of homework due before the first session which is next Wednesday, and I am both excited and a little scared.

lucid dreaming
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My coach assures me this is a good place to be. We are going to get truthful about some areas in my life where I want to make change, and it will require a commitment to doing the work, and taking action. I will be writing up a biography and evaluating 12 areas of my life, and also dreaming big about where I want things to be.

When I talked with my husband about this endeavor, I explained what it was, and why I wanted to commit some resources to it. I told him that I believe this can get me “unstuck” about where I am now, and that it is great timing because of the changes I plan to make in the next 6 months career-wise. He was understanding, and he said he thought it would be a good use of time and money, but only if I am “all in.”

As someone who likes to do a lot of personal development reading, experiments, habit change and self-help types of efforts, this is my jam. The challenge can come when I am pursuing a few too many different types of efforts, and dabbling a little in each. Then my efforts get diluted over a number of challenges, and no one effort gets real traction.

I recognize that my a.d.d. can contribute to this tendency to bounce around, doing a little of this, a little of that, but never fully committing to one or two BIG projects, or BIG change efforts. Why is this? I am trying to be honest with myself about why I find that hard, but also want to give myself the challenge of being ALL IN with this one.

commuters reading
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One of my fears that I have had since being young is that of being bored. I was the kid who *always* had a book on hand, just in case I was stuck somewhere, having to wait and having nothing to do. Whether it was long road trips with the family, or having to spend time in a waiting room, I never wanted to feel like I had nothing to do.

In fact I almost never leave the house without a journal to write in or a book to read, in case I am caught in a place where I will have time with nothing to do. Now that I meditate every day, I do not worry as much about having nothing to do. In fact, I look for opportunities to practice mindfulness, in airports, in grocery stores (though that one is still harder for me).

juggling
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But I still like to “toggle” in my life, between several different projects, in case I get stuck in one of them and then can switch to another one. That in itself is not bad. In fact, I think it is one reason I have thrived in my current department: we are always juggling a lot of different projects, and while it would overwhelm most people, I enjoyed it for many years, knowing I was sure never to get bored.

But there is a kind of Deep Work (Cal Newport writes about this) that I am missing right now in my work and life. When I have so many different “windows” open, like a computer running a lot of different applications at once, it exhausts me after a while. Sure, I never get bored. There is always something new coming my way. But it seems I sometimes use that to distract me from bigger, more important goals that deserve deeper and more consistent focus.

Do you ever struggle with that problem?

open windows
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I think this tendency may be endemic to the distraction-filled lives we live today. With technology providing these many gateways to rich content: books, classes, podcasts, blogs, social media sites, YouTube videos and the like, we have a plethora of choices.

Some of it can be nourishing for the brain and the psyche, and I love learning. But that can be a distraction from practicing skills, and really truly embracing change efforts in our lives. I recognize that I am sometimes so intent to fill my brain with concepts, that I do not always put things into practice. At least as a clinical researcher, I have a skeptical eye about claims in books. I tend not to believe things unless I have tried them, or I have some good data to back up what the author claims.

So this time around, I am going all in on this coaching process. The investment is not insignificant, but it fits into my budget. I commit to doing the homework, and maybe even to share some of what I learn on this blog. At the very least, it will help me figure out my next move career-wise. But I think it has the potential to change and improve many other areas of my life also. I am ALL IN.

Happy weekend, friends.

 

 

 

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Outgrowing your boss

When you have a boss who has been very supportive of your career growth and has helped you take the next steps in terms of your leadership, it can be hard to move on. But when you come to a point at which your boss is no longer helping you grow, and seems to have “checked out” a bit from the work, it is time to consider what is next.

They say people do not leave organizations, they leave managers. Even if you work in a highly dysfunctional company, having a good boss can be a beacon. Even one of my favorite books on Wellbeing by Tom Rath and Jim Harter begin with Career Wellbeing as a foundation to our overall wellbeing. Having a boss who cares personally about you and engages with your efforts in a meaningful way can have a very positive influence on your life. This is one reason I take my work as a manager very seriously and I am very intentional about how I work with each member of my team.

However, at some point you may realize that you and your boss may have different goals for the organization or a different outlook on the future. By necessity they have a view of the organization that may not be the same as yours. They have access to different networks and information. They may empathize with your position but not be able to connect their decisions with the operational reality of your work.

It is important to have open dialogues about your perspective and to be as direct as possible about your position. Your boss may not agree and this is not fatal to the relationship in itself. But your boss may make decisions that compromise the execution or the quality of your team’s ability to deliver, or the credibility of your organization. It is probably not intentional. It may reflect their relationships in industry, or fears that saying no will limit future possibilities.

bird rising watercolor
This watercolor reminds me of the song “I’ll Fly Away.”

I have so much gratitude for the opportunities that my director has given me over the past 4 years while I have reported directly to him. At the same time, he is making decisions that compromise the ability of our team to deliver. There is political pressure for these decisions, and I realize that higher up, the forces are different. But I can no longer support a department that puts what I view as undue stress on its employees.

I enjoy being creative and finding ways to be efficient in our work. It is an area where we have grown into a team that is known for going the extra mile. But now we have a situation where we are below “critical mass” in terms of our ability to execute. Dumping more responsibilities on top of an already over-committed team will not work. 

And yet, he continues to add, despite the promise that we would only do this with more resources. I realize he may define resources in terms of dollars, while I define resources in terms of people. But I find myself unwilling to swamp my team yet again when we have barely recovered from the last restructure.

So in a way, I have outgrown my boss. I am extremely grateful for the opportunities I have had for personal and professional growth in the past few years. And I am ready to move on. This is something I have had to grieve at some level. I believe my boss cares personally about people on the team. It has what has kept me here so far. But it is not what will help me grow to the next level in my career.

Goodbyes are hard. And it will be especially difficult to say goodbye to my team. They are wonderful people. But they may have outgrown me as well, who knows? My soul is leading me toward a big leap of some kind. I am ready to listen, look and leap when the next step becomes clear. It is almost less important to me WHAT that move is, than the fact that I will go. That’s how I know I have outgrown my boss.

Embracing our darkness

Last week I wrote a bit about dark nights of the soul, a contemplation of my battles with insomnia, and coming to terms with changes I anticipate in my life. I also wrote about home, and what that term means to me. I realize in writing every day, what I am doing is mining my own stories and allowing them to take shape in a purposeful direction.

I began reading Thomas Moore’s Dark Nights of the Soul and I am surprised and delighted by some of the insights. Moore’s biography also intrigues me. His amazon author page describes him this way: “He has been a monk, a musician, a university professor, and a psychotherapist. He also writes fiction and music and often works with his wife, artist and yoga instructor…”

I love his eclectic career and life. He clearly mines the depths of his experiences and others’ stories, both light and dark. The darkness is not something to be avoided, in his view. He describes the transformation that happens in this darkness this way:

Your story is a kind of water, making fluid the brittle events of your life. A story liquefies you, prepares you for more subtle transformations. (p  61 “The Self in Solution”)

I so completely identify with this passage. And it speaks to what I attempt to do in pursuing this daily writing practice, using the process of story to understand my own life, and the path thus far.

The Triple Hecate

William Blake [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

He uses mythology as a key to understand and cultivate our relationship with the darkness, which is a part of all of us. The imagery he uses of Hekate (Hecate) the moon goddess really speaks to my need to delve below the psychological models that seek to bring things to light, to overcome darkness and to make things manageable. There is a role of this, of course. Most of us have bills to pay, people to care for, work to accomplish. When we are pulled totally into the dark, these things become difficult, and we need assistance to accomplish the basics of survival and maintaining our foundation.

But the “Lunar consciousness” of Hekate helps us put things into a context of deeper meaning, beyond our surface concerns. By mining and embracing the “waste” of our dark nights, we actually may open to some deeper truth within us. The more we try to banish our darkness, and live a moralistic life the more this darkness will assert itself in unhealthy ways. Moore writes: “I want to enter the darkness, because that is where the soul is.”

Yes. He describes the magic of this dark place, and the cyclical nature of light and darkness in our lives, the yin and yang. This all speaks to my struggle with discovering the next steps in my life, knowing my soul is calling forth different actions than what worked in the past.

I am in a cycle of change right now. Some parts of it are joyful as I realize realize my concepts of marriage and commitment have evolved. I may return to some types of work that I really enjoyed but left behind over a decade ago. And yet, I may have to let go of some comfortable notions of my middle class life, and embrace the discomfort of growing into new roles. I may leave behind people with whom I enjoy working, so that I can more fully realize my potential outside the confines of a corporate bureaucrazy.

I am mindfully preparing myself and my husband for these types of transitions. And I am often impatient with this soul-mining. I want an action plan, a step-wise process for this, a clear path. But human lives are seldom so orderly and the soul does not operate on command. So I will embrace this period of quiet, with these occasional dark nights and creative dreams to guide me.

Some wisdom from Rumi (The Guest House) can perhaps serve as a reminder:

“The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.”