Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Notes from the front line (Part 2)

Following on from yesterday, welcome to...

Knowing what I do now, I can reassure you that (Part II):

4) it's a great idea to get a mentor, and an even greater idea to BE a mentor.

Throughout my career, I was blessed with exactly one excellent General Manager. Twenty years: that's a lot of general managers. Sure, I had some lovely direct supervisors. But, from what I can tell, general managers are usually appointed because they are good at stuff in general but nothing as specific as managing people. And people at the helm who don't care much for other people tend to leave human resource mayhem in their wake.

In absence of someone who actually cared, I felt stuck, oscillating between over- and underwhelm. How does what I'm doing fit into the bigger picture? Am I allowed to admit that I'm bored? What do I have to offer, beyond the statement of duties in my position description? How can I be strategic about my next move? What IS my next move? I mean, I'm so uninspired, I'm starting to doubt my employability...

Finding a mentor really helped. Sometimes this was in an official capacity e.g. joining a mentor scheme for women; asking a senior colleague in another area whom I admired if she would be willing to mentor me.

But more often this was an informal process. I asked experienced colleagues out for coffee so that I could ask their advice and hear their perspectives. I attended seminars and conferences when the opportunity arose. I also found books and blogs written by people who seemed to be grappling with the same things as I was. I started to feel a bit less like floundering and more like I had something to gain from and contribute to where I was... even if the path forward was still not clear.

And then, over time, I noticed that I became one of the people that younger colleagues asked out for coffee, so they could ask my advice and share my perspective. And I loved this. Not just because it felt like "paying it forward". But because it was an opportunity to consolidate everything that I knew.

Every coffee, every email, every piece of advice or reassurance sought challenged me to review everything I'd done and make sense of it for someone else. I'd worked in a diverse range of roles and settings, got to know people throughout the organisation, developed a strong sense of how all the pieces of the puzzle fit together (or not). In sharing my experiences with others, I noticed themes and patterns I'd not seen before. This gave me greater confidence that I actually knew what I was doing and was working my way towards something.

5) it's more than OK to have a life outside of work. In fact, it's VITAL.

At one point in my career, I was travelling overseas a lot for work. Most of my friendships fell by the wayside, except for those I'd made at work. I moved out of my share accommodation, unable to justify the rent when I was away so much of the time, and moved back to my parents' house. I stopped writing and reading and only occasionally socialised by seeing movies or live music.

It felt like a dark and hollow time, even though I was the envy of a lot of people. As far as they could see, I was travelling around the world and staying in five star hotels and shopping a lot. It's true: I loved a lot of things about the role,  particularly what I learned about working with people from other cultures. But the industry culture was bitchy, competitive and highly politicised. And mostly I felt lonely, bored and tired. And I grew to hate airport transit lounges with a passion.

I see now that the biggest detraction of that lifestyle was the disruption caused by travel and overtime. I couldn't really commit to anything or anybody outside of work. Work sucked up all of my waking hours and some of my sleeping hours too.

I believe it's around this time that I lost perspective. I started taking things that happened at work very personally. Trust me, when you start to think that every change in policy direction is intended as a personal slight... it's time to rethink your life balance.

I honestly believe that my contribution to the organisation improved a million-fold after I had children and started blogging, then writing in earnest. For starters, I literally didn't have the time to get involved in petty politics: worked two days a week and had to make every minute count as there was a lot to be done. Also, once I left the campus, I had no choice but to switch off and focus on my family. But then I'd return to campus refreshed: I could see exactly what needed to be done and would approach it with purpose and precision.

This detachment enabled me to receive feedback on my work with equanimity, where once I would have fumed with defensiveness and amended my text with passive aggression. I now saw that the documents I was writing needed to serve a greater purpose and they actually worked better if I got out of the way. As a result, my writing matured and my papers represented a much more balanced perspective. And as far as academic board approvals went, I held a track record second to none.

Come back tomorrow and I'll tell you where I am now and why it took me so long to get there (and why it probably won't take you nearly as long).

1 comment:

  1. You know, yesterday I was in interviews to fill our after-school tutoring positions, and the first question was "Tell us about yourself - your career, your interests, your hobbies." All of the applicants were current teachers, and to a person they said that they didn't have hobbies. The work they are being asked to do is so consuming that there isn't time for anything else.

    And that is a clue to me. Time to find something else to do with myself and my life.