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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

"Busy" is not an appropriate answer

How are you? Busy. How's it going? Busy. What's up? Busy

Is it me or is this more and more the answer you get when you ask a friend about their day, their life, or... well, anything? Even worse: are you like me and find yourself telling others "busy" when asked pretty much anything lately? 

I react to events immediately. Telling users when they lose connectivity at a site, not the other way around, lights my fire. I strive to be the best at what I do and hate getting caught goofing off! I never want to be seen as anything but the hardest worker on the team; maybe not the smartest, maybe not the most talented, but the most dedicated. I have worked hard to get where I am today and work harder still to be prepared for the next opportunity. I always try to give my 110%...

When is enough enough though? Am I working so hard just to do that: work hard? What's the end game, the outcome, the achievable goal? What matters to me and when will I succeed if I follow the right steps? Where does family come into play and how is my work/life balance? Have I celebrated my successes today, this week, or even this year?! 

"A high performer knows when to turn it up. When their number is called, they give everything they have. They don't buy into the illusion of 110%. They know that 110% is unsustainable. Instead they focus on increasing their capacity so that their 100% is better than the competition's 110%.

A workaholic thinks "turn down for what?" They hustle, grind, and go H.A.M. all of the time. They have difficulty prioritizing what's important, therefore, everything is important in their mind."

See where you stand after reading Julian Gordon's High Performers vs Workaholics.

The Buck Stops Here

I am the boss, though. I need to lead by example. It's my duty to work all night in a school hanging 3 SMARTBoards and then show up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed to a teacher's classroom to smile and nod about how slow the internet is. It's my job. Am I content at the end of the day to go home after attending 3 hours of meetings and endless chats about personal electronics, yet only accomplishing an hour or two of actual work? How many weeks do I put off programming the switch to link the main building with the maintenance garage, all while devoting massive amounts of time to developing strategies to video intramural sports or email others to plan to do so? The problem is that maybe the invitation to meetings and committees, at work or voluntary, is more of a boost to the ego than I'd like to admit. I feel important and, to a certain degree, pompous. As a society we are obsessed with resumes, skills, and self-worth. Achieve, achieve, achieve.

Getting things done in a hurry is often more important than getting them done right! 

We are surrounded by fast food, MVP security lines in the airport, and express lanes in the grocery store. I remember my dad leaving carts full of groceries in line because the line was too long. We'd shop somewhere else, he'd say, and he was right: in the dog-eat-dog world of American capitalism time is money. I was brought up with a strong emphasis on "hustle," diligence in all things, work ethic, and enterprise. These ideas shaped me, molded me, into the man who never dared let a coworker arrive earlier or stay later, produce greater numbers, or deliver a better presentation.

My problem isn't ambition, determination, or dedication, though. The devil is in the details. Making time to do real, meaningful, efficient work is the key. By allowing myself to take on requests from colleagues I build relationships and form bonds. I take and take and take, but fail to delegate. Eventually there is a point where I cannot accomplish what is defined as my job in a given day due to the number of "busy" activities accepted from others. Seconds lead to minutes, minutes to hours, and the next thing I know I am imaging computers at 3:00am instead of snoozing in the library of the local school. Without a trading of duties or delegation, the "yes man" model is unsustainable. As a manager this also means you must take on duties from employees who fail to complete tasks, doubling the workload as you juggle your own assignments, directives, and deadlines.

Diagnosing Real Workaholism

So how do you know if you are really in trouble or just buckling down temporarily? I moved to the Bush from Anchorage and thought I'd just get my nose to the grindstone for a while and focus on work. I devoted my energy, my life, to the job and thought I would see fruits of my labor in no time. I traveled extensively, visited tirelessly with teachers, and concentrated on impacting student learning like never before. When was that again? Oh, right, 4 years ago... The trouble is we don't always realize what is happening around us and to us without taking a step back every once in a while. The following is an excerpt form a favorite blogger of mine who describes a...

...seven-question test called the Bergen Work Addiction Scale (BWAS), modeled on diagnostic tests already used for traditional addictions.
If you have to admit that at least four of these statements sounds like you "often" or "always," the researchers suggest you might want to stop laughing about your overwork and consider intervention.
  1. You think of how you can free up more time to work.
  2. You spend much more time working than initially intended.
  3. You work in order to reduce feelings of guilt, anxiety, helplessness, or depression.
  4. You have been told by others to cut down on work but you don't listen.
  5. You become stressed if you are prohibited from working.
  6. You de-prioritize hobbies, leisure activities, or exercise because of your work.
  7. You work so much that it has negatively affected your health.

**From The 7 Signs of Workaholism, by Jessica Stillman

Hello, my name is Sam and I am a busyness addict.
Step 2 - change. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Wanting what you already have.

I feel strange saying this, really I do, but I don't want more. I don't want more money, though the comforts of it brings could be nice. I don't want more friends, but I welcome them when the come and cherish deeply the ones I have. I don't want fame and prestige. Frankly, I am tired.
I have worked since I was 13 years old, first as a helper setting up job sites, packing tools, and moving sheetrock. Then I was a burger slinger under the Golden Arches, complete with a clip-on tie when I made swing manager at 16. I got a taste for the service industry and ended up working 2 jobs in competing restaurants after I quit school. Tips were great and life was good. I filled my life with things: Walmart kitchen gadgets, accessories for the tricked out '93 mustang convertible, and gold chains to match the gangster getup. I wanted more, every... single... day. I could not be satisfied. The rat race caught up to me of course and by 19 I had hit rock bottom.

Eventually I ended up in college, first for chemical engineering (I thought I'd be rich!), then for education (not sure, don't ask). Graduating, landing my first job, and still bar tending on the side, things were looking up, but I wanted something else. I was confused because there were people around me that made 3-4 times my salary and still had more debt than I did. I could see the greed of consumerism in my colleagues and community (Louisiana is famous for fancy cars parked in front of houses that cost less than the auto loan).

The next event in my life was serendipitous, I think. It was one part natural disaster, one part adventure. I packed my things and moved to Bush Alaska. Selling everything you own is entirely underrated! Landing in Togiak with only a few suitcases to my name, spare a few boxes at the parents' house (all forgotten now), I felt so free. My first house was a furnished duplex, complete with 30 years of pet stains (averaging 2 years, the tenants of district housing typically don't take care of things as well as their personal property), a ratty armchair, and greasy couch. The view, though... the view was spectacular. Sunsets on the Togiak Bay are world class and my window framed them nightly. Right on the beach, this community relied on the Bay for fish, sea mammal harvests, and birds for protein. There were herring eggs on kelp, bird eggs, and clams galore, too! I wholeheartedly, though clumsily would be a better adverb, jumped into the subsistence lifestyle. With so much protein to choose from I nearly bored myself with moose, caribou, and rabbit recipes...

I wonder what I will think one day when I have to go to the grocery store and choose from 10 packets of ground chuck made from thousands of different hormone and toxin-laced animals for weekend BBQs. Will I appreciate the flavor of hot baby back ribs more than that of never-been-frozen-thirty-minutes-ago-running-across-the-tundra rabbit fricassee?

I'm not sure if I'll mind, but I want my children to experience this feeling. Life, nature, being part of the ecosystem. I am reading a fantastic book about modern consumerism, waste, and excess right now. It's one of those books that sucks you in with great characters and leaves you with soul-searching questions that rock you to your very core. Jonathan Miles' Want Not is definitely a must read for freegans and dumpster divers, hippies and hipsters, Prius drivers and even environmentalist, but most of all, normal people like you and me. Here is an excerpt from a Thanksgiving conversation between the character who seems to have everything figured out and a new acquaintance:

"Yeah we don't go in for all the isms. Once you're in ism you're political and that's a dead-end. The labels are just another domestication device. Look at environmentalism. Everyone's favorite pet ism, the golden retriever of isms right? I guarantee you that someone right now, maybe even on this block, is replacing an incandescent lightbulb with one of those compact fluorescent ones and feeling all nicy and righteous because they're helping the planet. And at the same time right now someone else is buying a hybrid car because they want to save the planet. And think about that word man buying. You just have to sit back for a second and think about the whole psychology there. They're paying their money they're doing their part. They can go to bed tonight knowing they're like on the side of the Angels. That there the good guys---" ~ "they're meaningless things. They're meaningless tools that the system has devised to make people think that they're doing something and to get them to buy something at the same time. It's like, okay this architect who got this big environmental prize from the president or something, is putting this so-called living roof on a freaking truck factory in Michigan. Planted native grasses and s**t up there called it a songbird habitat. I mean Jesus, just roll that around in your head for a while. Our environmental heroes are the a******* designing truck factories. I mean my fingers can't do those stupid air quotes fast enough." ~ "what I'm saying is that you can't fight the system or even change it if you're part of the system, if you're beholden to it. Because the only weapons the system puts in your hands are different lightbulbs and cars. Chemicals in the same bottle with a green label and flowers on it. The same old s*** with a different label. They comfort you by saying the way out is through non-systemic change. That's the whole Al Gore thing right? That we can all modify the system to quote, unquote, save the planet while maintaining the status quo. But it's b******* man it's beyond b*******. The status quo isn't sustainable. Non-systemic change doesn't help when it's a system that's the problem." ~ "Civilization is like like some drug that we can't get enough of can't resist that were helpless without. But producing that drug requires a systematic destruction of the planet. Every ounce of civilization requires like 100 pounds of soil and air and water, and then generates like 50 pounds of waste that math doesn't work, right? It's simple: at the end of the equation there's nothing but waste."

I have had the 9 years since arriving in Togiak to try to figure out what I want and have the scars to prove it. One year I tried to live off of $500 worth of groceries! I was a monster in the gym that year and lived off of protein. The really profound part of that year, though, was me taking from the land what I needed. Just like the taste of my first tips twenty years earlier, I wanted more. I wished I could live in a cabin off the grid. I wanted to be clean and pure, without chemicals and waste. I was dreaming. I could never do that, and neither can the people who now inhabit Bush Alaska.

I have heard many a crude remark toward "outsiders" and have been the butt of hundreds of racial slurs. We've lived here for thousands of years without "x," is a a common statement, but I fear that way of life is long gone, impossible in a global world. The fact that my cell phone buzzes between trips to another village or while hunting tells you something, doesn't it? The grid cannot be escaped.

So what do you do (I mean besides daydreaming about your zombie apocalypse team)?
What I've learned is simple: Want what you have, don't try to have all that you want.

I want to live a balanced life of minimalism. Keeping up with the neighbors, buying junk for my kids because the Saturday morning cartoon brainwashes them, and digging myself in debt are not my American Dream. I admit it: I cannot fix the environment, but maybe I don't care. I will affect change in my world and maximize happiness for me and mine. I bought a hybrid and biked to work before... maybe I'll do it again. Don't get depressed, just understand your limits and live within them. Admit it and move on. Acceptance is not acquiescence. There is a difference.