Friday, October 24, 2014

From School to Work

I visited multiple schools today. If you are a parent in New York City, that's just what you do. And if you are the parent of more than one child in New York City, you do it a lot. At a variety of stages in your child's life, you are called upon to choose (I use this term loosely, since you may "choose" what you want, but someone else actually "chooses" whether you get it!). You visit, you compare, you prepare for tests, you take them, you discuss, and discuss, and discuss, and then you fill out a form and wait to find out what happens.

It is a long process, and today was just an early step.

I learned a lot of things in just one day, things that I have probably learned before, things that, as I think about it, are remarkably similar to looking for work...

1. It's difficult to know for sure what something is until you see it. No amount of reading and asking around can really prepare you for "being there." And just as you can't be quite sure how a job interview will go, you can't quite be sure how a school visit will go.

2. Wanting is important, and waiting is hard, but both are unavoidable parts of the process. In both job-hunting and school searching, it is important to be invested--to figure out what you want, and to do your best to go after it. Unfortunately, after you've done your part, and become suitably invested, the rest (and that "rest" may take a while) is not necessarily up to you.

3. You may think that there is one "right" place for you--or your child--and that you will have failed if you don't get in to that one "right" place. Despite appearances, this is as untrue in school searches as it is in job searches. We are adaptable people, really we are, and often, we find real satisfaction, and growth, in places we never thought were the "right" ones.

4. When job-searching, you dress the part, set up all the logistics for the part, study for the part, put your very best foot forward, and play nicely with others when you're there. Not easy, right? On the school hunt, add to that making sure your child does all these things too. Suddenly, the job hunt sounds a whole lot simpler.

5. Ultimately, in both processes, even if you start out thinking you can control your destiny, you quickly learn that "control" is a very, very relative term.

Like job searching, school visiting (if you are a parent in New York City) can happen a lot more often than you ever imagined. Pace yourself, on both fronts. Chances are, you've still got miles (and interviews and days of waiting) to go.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Managing Drama

Today, in the drama of work (I can't help it--I work in an industry prone to drama), I found myself staring straight ahead at my computer, chugging through my work at hand. Sure, I paused, and even peeked out my office door from time to time, so as not to miss anything, but for most of the hours I was there, I forged ahead with a kind of intense focus.

I say this not to demonstrate how hard a worker I am. While I do derive satisfaction from a job done well and quickly, what struck me about this day was the degree to which I found the focus calming. Somehow, in the midst of chaos, intense focus relaxed me. If I couldn't control what was around me, I could at least control what was in front of me. Whether or not anyone would care to see, I would have something to show for my time, time that would, with such focus, pass quickly.

Often, we get caught up in the drama. It is easy, and it is fun (or wearying, depending on the nature of the drama!). But when the drama is over, where are we? In my business, perhaps just prepared for more drama. Today, I found out that for me, the not very dramatic computer screen was my lifesaver. It kept me focused, and productive, available enough to witness drama, but distanced enough not be overcome by it.

In my business, there will always be drama, and that's okay. Drama can be fun, as long as we know, at least some of the time, just how to manage it.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Control Freak

No, I am not one. Ask anyone. I am the most easy-going and collaborative of people. I love other people's input--I just find that sometimes, a big meeting to hear everybody's input can agitate me. I could certainly sleep till 11am sometimes. I just find that a five a.m. alarm lets me get more done. And I confess, when I was working as an AD, I would sometimes ready a camera that I thought looked good so that the director would cut to it.

Okay, maybe I am a control freak.

In all seriousness, I think most of us are probably control freaks in one way or another. Though we may not all feel a constant need to control other people, most of us feel a lot better when we believe that things are a little bit in our control. When we go to the gym, we may be happy because we lose weight or gain energy, but ultimately, we feel good because we have taken control of our health and stamina. When we do more than we have to at work, we may think we are doing it to impress our bosses, but often, we do it more so that we can have control over how things turn out. Having control feels good. Handling things completely OUT of our control usually doesn't. We want to be able to do something, whether that something is effective all of the time or not. We want to be in control of our surroundings. I would venture to say that even the most easy-going and collaborative among us are really looking for control.

So, maybe in some ways, we are all control freaks--all of us just looking for ways to make sense of things that don't always make sense. Each of us trying to be on the "make it happen" side, rather than the "what will happen?" side. Some really good camera shots got on the air because I "took control" and readied them. Some of my best decisions have been made without the help of a committee meeting. And I really do accomplish a lot at 5am.

Sometimes, it just pays to be a control freak.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Crossed Signals

Some days, all the pieces connect. The buses are made, the "t's" are crossed, and the coffee does its job. You and a friend are on the same wavelength, and you know exactly what you need to do (and do it) by day's end.

Most days, however, you function on less than complete information (despite extensive technological gizmos for communicating information). Most days, you are grateful for the precious few moments that connect, the brief moments when you are on the same wavelength as ANYONE. Most days, you are the recipient of so many crossed signals that it's remarkable there's more left than rubble on the tracks at the end of the day.

Luckily, we are lighter on our wheels than your average train. Luckily, despite signs to the contrary, we are slightly more in control of our tracks than the average train. Luckily, even when we get our signals unbelievably crossed, the results are more often annoying than dire, more often momentary than permanent.

Some days, it feels as though just about all of our signals are crossed. And maybe they are. But we are trained to handle it, and move on. Because we have places to go. And we won't get anywhere without getting back on track.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Showing Up

This morning, I attended a committee meeting, not because I had committed to (on the contrary, I had spent a week consciously NOT committing to attending or not attending). Two hours later, having spoken a little and listened a lot, I prepared to return home. As I was leaving, several people thanked me for my insights and input during the meeting, and said they were glad I had been there. In two hours, I had not volunteered to do anything. In fact, when we went around the room stating what our actions would be before the next event, I said "pass." Yet, when it was done, people were still glad, at least so they said, that I had been there.

Often, we are required to have such clear definitions of our usefulness. Did we accomplish a task? Did we earn a certain amount of money, or solve a very particular, previously unsolvable problem? What I found out this morning, two hours after I showed up at a meeting I could just as easily have skipped, was that sometimes, just showing up and being ourselves goes as far as doing the most work or solving the most problems. Sometimes, speaking our mind or our heart, without the preparation of knowing that we'll have to, is the greatest contribution we can make. My time could have been spent sleeping, or negotiating kid conflicts, or preparing my apartment for the coming week. Instead, I showed up, and a few times, I spoke up. My presence and my words mattered. And that felt good.

Sometimes, the best present we can give ourselves is just showing up.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Releasing The Past

Today, in the course of cleaning (it's the weekend--what else would I be doing?), I came across preschool artwork and handouts from fifteen-years-ago seminars, welcome packets from companies I've left already, and little souvenirs whose origins I barely remember. Before I knew it, I had filled a giant garbage bag. It was just the tip of the iceberg, but it felt good.

I am a keeper. Whether it's a gift from a friend or relative, or the evidence of a purchase, or the construction paper "snapshot" of a child from some moment in time, I default to keeping it. After all, you never know when you'll need it, to refresh your memory, or to prove your case with a service provider, or to re-teach yourself something you learned many years ago.

The problem is, when you keep all of these things, you can't even find them quickly enough to accomplish any of these worthy goals. Are you really going to spend an afternoon going through preschool artwork to remember your kids at that age? Is the information from that course really relevant--or accurate--in the workplace anymore? Keeping may be a lovely thing, but when it means that the climbing over and the wading through precludes actually using what you are keeping, somehow, the "lovely" kind of goes away.

I am not wholesale releasing my past. Neither time nor emotion would allow that. But even if I do fill a few more bags, I am realizing that releasing the tangible pieces of a past doesn't mean the past won't endure. It just means we have to hold on to it in different ways--in the work that we do NOW, in the records we keep and use NOW, and in the memories we enjoy and retell NOW, even without the construction paper evidence to back them up.

Releasing the past doesn't have to mean letting it go. It just means moving it around a little, so that we can still have room to enjoy the present.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Right Turn

I stopped ever so briefly, to explore a store just after it opened. I decided to take a particular train, and come out at a particular exit. I chose to run a particular errand, for which I had to turn a particular corner. And as I walked to my destination, before me appeared an old friend with whom I spent the next ten minutes catching up.

It was wonderful to see my friend. After all, in the chaos of everyday life, weeks and months go by without your being able to schedule lunches or coffees or even phone calls. We get wrapped up in our own "craziness," and the last thing we're thinking about is checking in to find out about someone else's "craziness."

I walked away from our conversation somewhat amazed by how many little decisions on my part landed me on just the same block at just the same time as she was there. Any one different choice on my part, or on hers, for that matter, and we wouldn't have seen each other. Months might have passed until we communicated at all.

Sometimes, in our lives, we are worried that we have made the wrong turns--the big ones or the little ones. Today, I was reminded that even the questionable turns can turn out well, whether they produce a task completed or a friend seen or, well, nothing at all. You never quite know until you make the turn, until you allow yourself to veer off an otherwise straight path, and see what's around the corner. Sometimes, around that corner, you realize you've made exactly the right turn.