Out of Control

Since I’m still sick (and in case you didn’t know, April and I caught terrible colds right after Christmas and have been sick ever since), I decided to take yesterday evening off from sermon prep and plant myself on the couch to watch TV and rest. I had been coughing all day and was exhausted from it, so I made a hot toddy and some soup and continued in season 2 of West Wing.

I’ve been enjoying West Wing a lot, partially because of how optimistic it is. Compared with House of Cards, it’s very positive and everyone in the show just wants to do a good job and serve the country well. That’s refreshing, and it gives me a bit of hope.

But the show is definitely getting darker. In season 1, something would happen and the staff would take care of it. By the end of the episode, things were mostly wrapped up in their favour. Each show had a pleasant catharsis and everyone was generally happy. Here at the end of season 2, that is no longer the case. Things happen that are not the fault of the White House, and often fall outside the staff’s control, but they have to react to it and spin it and fix it. They’re being blamed for things they had nothing to do with, but have to fix, even though they aren’t really equipped to fix them.

And as the evening progressed, I became more and more stressed, and more and more anxious. I finally had to turn it off. West Wing was reminding me too much of my own job.

I don’t want to go back to work next week. My fear isn’t of my office, or my staff, or the University in general. We all did fantastic work last year, and my staff are amazing, and I’m pleased with the job in general. But season 2 of last year was rough. One thing after another went wrong, and in almost every case those things were out of my control, but I had to figure out how to fix or address them. My staff take the calls, and we take the hit, because when people call the Help Desk, they see Computer Services as one big thing. If a system is down, we’re blamed, even if we (the Help Desk) don’t run that system.

It wore me down, and I don’t want to go back into that cycle. I’m also realizing that we may be pushing ourselves harder than we need to. I’m a big fan of being cutting edge, and I try to keep us on the latest versions of applications and operating systems, but we’re not having time to fully develop and test things. My team’s time is split between operations and engineering, and the operations side continues to grow as we take on more and more responsibilities and call volume goes up year after year. Despite this, our demand for new solutions and development also goes up while our amount of staff stays the same. When both of these areas, operations and engineering, grew last year,  the solution was for me (as the only person on my team who is overtime-exempt) to work overtime to figure things out and get them done. I wonder if maybe we need to spread things out further so it fits within the time we have better. I hate to do that, because I feel we’re already too slow at completing some projects, but we can’t keep going at this pace. I can’t keep going at that pace.

Hopefully I can get over this anxiety, if for no other reason than that I really like West Wing, but being able to deal with work without thinking about it evenings and nights and weekends would be nice too. Part of that is inescapable because I have a staff that works 24 hours during the week, and I have systems that run 24/7 that I’m responsible for, so I have to be “on” all the time. But I need to find a way to shake it off better so I can rest better. And I need to come to terms with being a reactive unit whose purpose is to take the blame and try to make amends.

In one of the episodes last night, someone mentioned a story about a French revolutionary who saw a mob running past, and he said to himself, “I need to find out where they are going so I can lead them!” The context was polling to find out what people think in regards to gun control, and the idea was to use those poll numbers so the White House would know what direction it should go. The advice given to the staffer was to stop trying to figure out where the crowd was going and instead to lead. And if they lead, people will follow.

That’s what I want to do. It’s just hard when we’re constantly putting out fires. It’s also hard when so much of my time is being spent on both operations and engineering and not being spent on management.

I guess that’s my work goal for 2014. I think I did it well in 2013, and we did well as a team, but it was at a great expense. Can it be done within a healthier work-life balance? That’s the thing I need to figure out.

4 thoughts on “Out of Control

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