Overcome Complexity with Optimism

My job is increasingly complex. I’m leading a team of 8 people and we have a bunch of different plates spinning all the time. There are regular and frequent shifts in priority, and this means we sometimes have less capacity than we would like to get everything done that we want to do.

On Friday, a project was approved which means we can move towards a goal that I’ve had for almost two and a half years. But some other situations mean that we’ll have to sacrifice some other goals. Not completely–we’ll still be doing the work we have been–but we’ll need to go a bit slower so we can balance everything.

While thinking through how I can make this all work practically (what do we do less of? how do we deliver what we need to deliver, and what’s the highest priority work?), I found comfort in the awesomeness of my team. They’re so great that I know we can make this work.

Complexity is stressful, but as I focused on the optimistic thoughts of, “We can do this!” I found that I was a lot less stressed. And very quickly, what had at first seemed to be a complex challenge soon seemed more simple and achievable.

Per my last blog post, I also gave it all to God and asked what part of this complexity is truly mine to manage and what can I lay down. I don’t have a really clear answer on that, but I think recognizing my team’s strength, helping them to also see how great they are, and building their confidence in us working together to do what we need to do… that’s my priority.

Starting a New Adventure

In December of 2011, I finished my bachelor’s degree and resolved to give myself a year before making any big changes in my life. I wanted to spend some time figuring out what I really enjoyed doing and where I wanted to go next. Along the way, I realized that the part of my job I enjoy most is project management, and I decided to start a master’s of science in project management in the fall of 2013. I had planned to finish that before making any other big changes, but circumstances have caught up with me, and in the best possible way.

My work at the university, as many of you know, is not easy. I’ll leave the understatement at that, and go on to say that after talking with my boss in both January and June of this year about how I needed to see some changes in both the number of hours I worked and the type of work I was doing, I decided to start looking in June for a new job. Last Monday, I was offered a position for which I have been interviewing for almost two months.

I’m crazy excited about this job. The company for which I’ll be working is Adaptavist, and I’ll be a remote-work consultant specializing in Atlassian’s Confluence and JIRA and combining my technical knowledge with project management and communication skills. It’s a small, agile company that looks to have a fantastic work culture, and their methods and priorities align with mine.

They’re based out of the UK, so I’ll travel there for a week-long orientation sometime in the next month or so, but most of my work will be from home. We’re not moving away from Springfield, and I’ll be continuing work on my master’s. I’ll still be on-campus at Missouri State regularly to go to the rec center or other events. It’s going to be strange being just a student, but I look forward to that experience.

I really appreciate all the people I met and all the experience I gained at MSU, but working for Adaptavist is just about my dream job. Three years ago, I started thinking, “What do I really want to do?” and now I’m going to start doing it. Between that and Meta-Manage (which has sadly languished while I’ve devoted more attention and energy to seeking a new job, but which will get going again very soon), everything is just great.

My last day at MSU is Friday, October 3rd, and I start working for Adaptavist on Monday, October 6th.

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.

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Full Court Press

I woke about an hour ago from a dream in which I was playing basketball. We were at the new fitness center on the Missouri State University campus and it started as a friendly game between me and some co-workers and student workers. There were only 4-5 people per team, and we were playing on a full-sized court (rather than just half a court), so we had lots of room.

But then other people kept wanting to join. This was fine at first, but I started getting annoyed because people were right up in my face while I was still holding the ball on the sideline and looking to pass in. In friendly games, I prefer people stand a bit further off for the initial pass, and really I prefer the defense always maintain a half court press and stay on their side of the court.

More people kept joining the game, almost all of them ex-student workers. They kept just walking onto the court, walking up to me, and standing right in front of me. Everyone thought it was ludicrous that I wanted them to back off a bit, to at least go halfway to the free throw line, and when I looked behind me to back up a bit I discovered that another 20 people had filled in that space and were standing behind the hoop.

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What’s the alternative to subject mastery?

We throw the phrase “subject mastery” around at work a lot. It is always with a positive connotation: we want people to have subject mastery, or we wish someone had greater commitment to subject mastery, or we’re glad someone does have subject mastery. It feels like the modern dichotomy between extrovert and introvert, where introvert has all kinds of negative connotations (shy, reclusive, weird, loner, anti-social) and the assumption is that people need to be moved from introverted to extroverted. In this case, you have people who are subject masters, and then everyone else who either isn’t smart enough or isn’t disciplined, determined, or focused enough.

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While sitting in a too-small seat, not paying attention to a class I’m almost failing

In my defense, I’m only almost failing because I missed an assignment while out of town to attend a wedding. Most weeks, we do nothing, but that particular week we had to put on a play with a group. I wasn’t here, couldn’t do the play, and subsequently missed the points.

It wasn’t as big a deal before, but I just checked grades online and the professor magically doubled how much that assignment was worth, which has dropped me by 10%. Hooray.

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Confrontation

A lot of people hate confrontation, and they do everything they can to avoid it. It’s uncomfortable, and it’s hard for confrontation to lead to a win-win result; usually, someone has to lose, and for many of us we don’t actually feel better if the other person is the loser. We feel guilty, remorseful, or ashamed. Even when a confrontation is necessary, many people will procrastinate, put it off, and secretly (or perhaps not so secretly) hope the issue just goes away.

I began wondering the other night why people dislike confrontation so much. I don’t think, despite what I wrote above, that people are afraid to confront others. That’s too easy, and our motivations are, to be honest, generally more selfish than that. No, I think people are afraid of confronting others because they have never confronted themselves.

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