I started getting up earlier and getting to work earlier so that I would take breaks during the day and try to get some exercise and fresh air and perspective. Instead, I seem to have also tacked an extra hour on the end of every day and am not taking regular breaks. There is still way too much work to do and now I’m working eleven hour days. Time to re-assess that idea.
How I feel about my work could probably fill a novel. As Christmas approached and I was facing a huge backlog of work to get done I was feeling like I should just keep at it; pick away at it every day. I figured it would be good to clear it off and that it would be satisfying. But the reality of actually having some days off with family thwarted most of those plans and I found that there were better things to do. Now, faced with going back to work tomorrow, I just don’t want to. The pile of work is the same, the pressures are the same, the rewards are the same, but it feels far less interesting. Sadly, I think the interest I felt before Christmas was because I was operating at high level of unhealthy compulsion; constant crisis-driven movement. It was exhausting. So, while nothing has actually changed, I need to do some thinking about what could change to find a more settled and sane pace.
While exploring this whole idea of failure as akin to pneumonia I also came to a self-realization that I was, well contagious. I was forwarding it on to other things and people. The job, my partner, my colleagues. I’d have a vague inkling that it wasn’t their fault and I’d feel bad, guilty, ashamed, and then take it all back on as another failure. Which turned the failure pneumonia into double pneumonia with a helping of scarlet fever on top. None of that is helpful. The only way to deal with this is personally and constructively. Yes, the job has some demands that make failures inevitable. My partner and I disagree, and sometimes that may seem like a failure. But preventing those day-to-day “failures” from becoming full blown psychological damage is entirely on me. That realization is pretty exciting because it means I have some hope of controlling the degree of the infection.
I’m struggling mightily with failure this week. Some difficult work challenges, some stressors around home. As a result, every little things feels like a massive failure. A small bug in some code is clear indication of my incompetence. My partner disagreeing with me feels like complete rejection. I feel like a total fraud doing demos at work. Playing music feels the same; I’ve never really been good enough. It creates a vicious cycle because you grow to expect it, you don’t try as hard, you look for reasons for self criticism. And in the ultimate fail, I didn’t recognize how bad it had become.
PS I’m reading Emotional First Aid right now, and will share a few insights on this topic.
I’ve been rewriting a bunch of code recently, converting an old btrieve based system to SQL. That may not mean much to non-coders but it is a bit of task. I ran into something that revealed some poorly written code and, while I’ve avoided re-writing most operational code, I had no choice here. It has taken longer than expected. And it turns out that it may not be doing what it was supposed to do in the first place. I realized I was in a bit of a panic. But then I realized that this is really what my job is all about and that improving the code, making it more reliable, more predictable, more maintainable, is what I do. Problems exist so we can solve them. So, tomorrow, I’m going to get back into it, not in a panic, but with a renewed sense of purpose.
Since I got back from vacation, I’ve been putting in place some of my plans to re-imagine my job. I’m fortunate I’ve got the latitude to do so. The biggest part of it, pushing off trivial support tasks to other people so I can do the coding I’m responsible for, seems to be working well. Not only that, but the support people are responding positively too. No wonder they are called support people as they are being remarkably supportive. The job is not done yet, as I think I’m still feeling a bit traumatized by how hard it was and don’t trust the change yet. But it is a good sign that I can influence the direction this goes.
Today’s theme was procrastination. It popped up from a couple of my self-help sources within minutes of each other. Ironically, they appeared just as I was in the midst of distracting myself with unimportant diversions. They helped me figure out that I was avoiding an email that arrived last week that carried with it the potential, I was assuming, for a difficult conversation. Fortunately, I can take a hint. So I dealt with the email quickly, gritting my teeth for a challenging reply. In the end, I got positive feedback. Which is good, but even better was that I learned something about the anxiety, and anxiety-driven assumptions, that can fuel my procrastination. It is definitely something to watch for in the future.
Sometimes you just have to be patient. You put some seeds in the ground and, hopefully, with some weeding and some water, something pretty or delicious will come up. Most of the time, that’s how we deal with our jobs and relationships too. We evaluate the circumstances, negotiate challenges, adjust boundaries, change our approach and, in doing so, we can improve our relationships and improve our careers. Sometimes it takes a bit of patience to see what needs to be done, do a bit of pruning and watering, and wait for the rewards to blossom.
I got back from a three week vacation today and spent a good chunk of the morning cleaning up emails and gaining clarity on some issues. One particular issue that came up was interesting in that one of my senior coworkers and our boss seem to have two exactly opposite ideas about how a particular technical problem would be resolved. And yet they thought they were on the same page and that I would be investigating the issue based on their (entirely different) idea of the problem. Fortunately, I have a third possible solution that may avoid sorting out that tangle altogether. It is a good reminder, though, to not make too many assumptions as even in a simple three-way conversation things can get mighty confused.
I need to pay more attention to the little things. As I head back to work after three weeks vacation, the little things are on my mind a lot. There have been loads of little things over vacation that have made me take pause and think about how great life is. Moments of time with fine people, beauty in nature, music, laughter, a child’s smile, a grand sunset, a tiny flower. And yet, I’m also aware that the little things, the daily worries, the small tempting low-hanging fruit in work, can distract me from focusing on the important big jobs. Those big jobs are often technical but the most important is self-care. So I’m going to try to pay attention to the small things; to see the good stuff wherever possible and to be aware when small things are getting in my way.
(It is the little things that can hurt you – the picture here is the tiny flower of deadly nightshade)