Doing what it takes

Another weekend with some office work in the cards for me. I got slammed with some surprise projects that had to be done ASAP, this week, so the time I had allotted to doing some extended thinking about overdue projects — once again — got pushed off. And that’s not good.

 

At work or at home, you too can experience the joy of excessive paperwork

 

This keeps happening, week after week. I have my time planned out, then my boss declares that the top priority is this other collection of things… or it turns out that one of the other projects I’m trying to nail down hit a snag, and I need to pitch in and help clear the way for folks who need more information. The Must-Do things keep piling up, backing up. Ugh.

I’ve been wracking my brain, trying to figure out what I’m doing wrong. But asking around, other folks in my group are in the same boat — we’re all struggling awfully with meeting our dates. Part of the problem is that the system for estimating delivery dates is broken. Actually, it doesn’t exist. There is no system. Just arbitrary wishes from either business partners or the programming group — or, worst of all, the VP of Marketing, who has a way of striking fear in the hearts of everyone around them with their demands, their yelling, their intimidation. I’m not the only one running from here to there, constantly playing catch-up. People around me are in various states of melt-down over how things are being run.

I am so sick and tired of playing catch-up. I need some dedicated time to do a “deep dive” into my work, so I can better understand it — and get back to enjoying it. Careening from one task to another with no time to think about what I’m doing… that’s no way to live.

So, I did what everybody at work has been telling me not to do — I brought the work home with me. I have a short-list of things I had at the top of my priority list that I need to get done, so I can get on with the rest of my life at work, and so I can get more of my projects rolling in the right directoin.

A lot of people I work with adamantly refuse to do this. They hold out for family time, or personal time. Some of them flatly refuse to spend more than 7 hours at the office, and of that time, I know for a fact not all of it is actually spent working. There are few things more maddening than having to chase people down, day after day, week after week, only to find them checking sports scores or reading personal email during the time when they actually are in their office/cubicle.

Maybe I’m a little overly committed to my work(?) but I’m not the sort of person who can afford to take for granted anything that I know (or think I know) or do (or think I can do). I’ve had to work incredibly hard to get to this point in my life, overcome significant obstacles, and compensate for invisible issues that nobody outside my head has been able to help me with — until about 3 years ago, when I found my current neuropsych. And now that I am in this place in my life, I’ll be damned if I’m going to let it slip away because of time management issues.

On the one hand, part of me thinks it’s my TBI’s acting up and making my life more difficult. Why do I have to work so hard — and so much? It hardly seems fair. Other people I work with are able to come and go and do what they please without a lot of apparent guilt or regret. They seem so happy, and they have no apparent trouble leaving stuff undone for indefinite periods of time.

But on the other hand, maybe it’s also me being intensely motivated and driven to be the best at what I do. Maybe it’s not just compensation for my weaknesses that’s driving this behavior. Maybe it’s the drive to do better, be better, to be the best that I can possibly be. And maybe — just maybe — people who are as driven as I am, just take work home and don’t think twice about it.

Via the WordPress landing page, I found a post about work-life balance that references this post:
Why we decided to offer unlimited vacation at Social Media Group

And it gives me hope. Because there is someone else out there — besides me — who makes the connection between working long, hard hours, and being the best. Social Media Group says:

Our business is extremely fast-paced, and while we are relatively small, we are mighty – working with huge organizations . . . and one of the top three global banks. We’re playing with the “big boys” and our incredible team has to deliver their A+ game – Every. Single. Day. (and sometimes after the day is technically over). . . . we are not interested in the adequate – our team is made up of exceptional, hard-working individuals because that’s what it takes to be the best.

There we have it. Hard work translates into being the best. Now, granted, it does help to work smart, as well as hard, but it’s nice to hear someone extolling the virtues of hard work, these days. Time was, when a lot of people treated hard work like a sign of mental incompetence. If you had to work hard, it meant you didn’t have the smarts to do the job properly. Well, I’ve got news for those folks (who, by the way, went out of business and were forced into Chapter 11 bankruptcy) — hard work is sometimes the only thing that will haul your ass out of the fire.

And my own ass has been setting off the smoke alarm for a few weeks running, now.

So, it’s time to do what it takes and get down to work. I worked over the weekend a few weeks ago, and while I was utterly wiped out by Sunday night, it still felt great to have gotten everything done. I actually really love what I do — and the work I’m doing this weekend is much more autonomous, challenging, and stimulating than the grunt work I did several weeks back — so it’s not a terrible hardship. The main hardship is in the minds of others who don’t particularly like their jobs and don’t see a connection between what they do at work all day and how the rest of their lives are constructed.

With me, it’s all connected. The things I learn in the course of doing my job help to  strengthen my brain and refine my coping skills. These aspects of my life can use some help — and I’m sure lots of other people, TBI or no, will say the same thing. I can’t even begin to tell you how much work has rehabilitated me. Socially, cognitively, personally, it’s been a saving grace. I’ve had a lot of missteps through the years, a lot of botched jobs, a lot of needing to move on, but each time I learned a ton, and while I do have plenty of regrets, I am not worse for all those experiences. I am better.

So, now that I’m at this job (which is arguably the best job I’ve ever had at one of the best companies I’ve ever found), I need to put all that experience to work and dig in, do what it takes, and get my ship righted, so I can get on with my work on Monday, not looking over my shoulder about what didn’t get done by Friday.

Excellence doesn’t take time off. Accomplishment doesn’t go on vacation. If I want to improve — and I do want that — I need to work at it, and do what it takes to move forward. So I spend extra time on the weekend squaring away work… that’s time I’m investing in my future and my present skills and abilities. It’s not a waste of time. It’s an investment which is bound to pay off.

So long as I get ample sleep. That’s a hard-and-fast requirement. All this learning takes a ton of energy, and if I’m not rested, it’s that much harder for me to function.

It’s all a balancing act, of course. A constant learning experience. The more I learn, the more my brain develops and heals and becomes the brain I’ve always wanted. The more I push my limits and take time to recover from my slip-ups and shortfalls, the better and more capable I become, all across the board. Taking work home isn’t a terrible thing, when it’s for a good cause. And improving myself, my skills and my abilities, is about the best cause I can think of.

Author: brokenbrilliant

I am a long-term multiple (mild) Traumatic Brain Injury (mTBI or TBI) survivor who experienced assaults, falls, car accidents, sports-related injuries in the 1960s, '70s, '80s, and '90s. My last mild TBI was in 2004, but it was definitely the worst of the lot. I never received medical treatment for my injuries, some of which were sports injuries (and you have to get back in the game!), but I have been living very successfully with cognitive/behavioral (social, emotional, functional) symptoms and complications since I was a young kid. I’ve done it so well, in fact, that virtually nobody knows that I sustained those injuries… and the folks who do know, haven’t fully realized just how it’s impacted my life. It has impacted my life, however. In serious and debilitating ways. I’m coming out from behind the shields I’ve put up, in hopes of successfully addressing my own (invisible) challenges and helping others to see that sustaining a TBI is not the end of the world, and they can, in fact, live happy, fulfilled, productive lives in spite of it all.

5 thoughts on “Doing what it takes”

  1. BB –

    This is an interesting post because it deals with two separate but important issues – TBI and work and employee engagement. And, oddly enough, Lately I have been involved in a series of discussions and writings on employee engagement, resilience and the role of vocation.
    Employee engagement requires two things to happen at the same time: 1) management must value and respect the human capital asset of the firm and 2) employees must value and respect themselves.

    When people have respect for themselves they respect the output of their efforts; they seek quality. Unfortunately we have many cultural factors at work which impact this in particular a disassociation between our work products and our values – and indeed our culture stresses more the attainment of things as a representation of our values rather than any internal definition that makes us want to do good work. Since we do not ask people to reflect on who they are, what they think is right or wrong they just act towards the lowest common denominator – compelled frequently by external constructs (will I get caught, will I get fired, will I be accepted) rather than by doing what they believe to be right.

    But this is a true chicken and egg situation – because employers and management exacerbate the situation. People are treated as interchangeable, what matters to them is not considered important. Money is used to attract people but it often fails to maintain folks in the long run. Abuse of staff, disregard of their personal lives, unrealistic expectations and an environment run by fear (oh lord what the amygdala’s of your staff must look like!) become the norm. Hard for folks to feel committed on a personal value level when the atmosphere is so oppressive and they are treated with indifference at best.

    Have you ever seen someone (or been that person) who dodges in and out of lanes on a busy highway trying to get ahead? And have you ever found out that they were actually going the same place as you and discovering that for all their dangerous and fancy driving they arrive at the same time as you? We have this incredible belief in the corporate marketplace that we have to get it done TODAY and that if we have 9 people pregnant we can have that baby in a month (or 18 in 2 weeks). We do not think about the future, the long run, the bigger picture. In studies I have read about companies that demonstrated resilience after 9/11 it was the ones that had an existing culture of ‘in it for the long haul’ that had the best recoveries. This is also true for brain injury survivors – if we want to get it all back tomorrow we will only frustrate ourselves and accomplish nothing. If we do a little everyday we will get where we want to go. But that is hard.

    People have home lives, they sometimes have to call doctors, schools, etc during the day. They may have to check in on an elderly parent or someone who is sick because this is the only time. People also need a break from a concentrated effort now and then; working 9 hours straight can lead to ‘blindness’ as to progress, direction and quality. Chatting with others, looking up something on line etc for a FEW minutes is reasonably. There are also SOME occasions when a person may need to spend extra time on something – they get put on hold on a critical activity that they must attend to and other party does not move quickly. I cannot tell you how many times I have spent over an hour on the phone trying to resolve a matter. The other party is completely disrespectful of my time but the situation is critical and must be addressed. When possible of course one tries to do this before work or after or at lunch – or one makes up the time by coming in early if one has to take time out of their work hours.

    Obviously however people don’t – in part because they feel no loyalty to their company – the company has unrealistic demands and wants sacrifice but doesn’t recognize that. The employees are self concerned and have no faith that good work will help them keep their jobs, produce raises or gain recognition or respect. A pervasive culture of ‘not my job’ or ‘I don’t have to’ persists. People become disenfranchised from the corporate entity and see it as simply a means to an ends – less a career or even a job but more like a seat on an airplane, a trip with a limited amount of time.
    In turn the company has less interest in seeing staff as valuable, less interest in giving flexibility and allowing self empowered choices (since they know that employees will choose to serve their own needs). And thus the cycle goes round and round and round.

    Then there are those who take work home – and what happens? They get more work and they take more work home. And soon they too suffer from burnout and anger and disassociation – and they leave or they make mistakes or they give up – none of those being good for the firm or the individual.

    The answer to this – I believe – must start with a more enlightened management that can acknowledge that their expectations are not in line. Then they have to examine several issues; how do they demonstrate that they value employees, how to they engage them? Do they use the collateral that means something to staff or do they use fear? What is the real issue with work load – too much work or poor planning or poor people management? Lack of collaboration, lack of incentive, lack of effort, lack of resources? If people are overloaded and not committed you need to ask WHY.

    These aren’t simple fixes, and the economic climate today does not encourage people to think otherwise. It takes vision to look beyond this and most companies do not have that sort of vision.

    Which is also why TBI folks have a hard time in the workplace – they may have minor issues that give them a challenge but which they can work on and address – but to ‘tolerate’ that would require a sense of the long term from management – and management does not want to put the effort in – its not cost effective in their eyes.

    Yet TBI folk probably more than many have had to face themselves and establish personal values – they have had their very sense of self disrupted and rebuilt that consciously – and that means that they may very well be more dedicated, more diligent and more determined that other employees. For the long term thinking organization the effort to work with someone who has some TBI related challenges is a huge payoff in the long run – but you have to be pretty astute to understand that. You have to truly value people.

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  2. I think that it makes sense to do some catch up on the weekend given your situation. In doing so, it may free you up to think creatively on the long term projects. I do not have deadlines or projects on my job. I prefer to do things that are challenging outside of work where there is not the pressure for failure. It is interesting for me to see how the “other half” lives who takes on risks and responsibility.

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  3. I heard an interesting quote recently that I wanted to share….

    If hard work were the only thing it took to be successful the donkey would be the king of the jungle.

    Food for thought. Like you said…it is working smart…not just working hard.

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  4. m –

    I do believe that management needs to take steps to clean up their act(s). It’s my own belief that the rise of “human resources” has contributed to the devaluation of staff. We’re no longer people — we’re resources, which can be swapped out like parts in a machine. Except… we can’t.

    That’s a huge discussion that’s ongoing in many circles, but the complexity that keeps getting added to it just clouds a lot of issues for me. From where I’m sitting, there’s only so much we can expect from employers, especially in challenging economic times. The way I choose to protect myself and my safety and the security of my household is to focus on self-improvement.

    Personally – and this goes for some aspects of injury rehab as well as work life – I am a strong believer in the role of the individual in identifying and meeting their own needs. There’s only so much assistance we can hope to receive from others. Either they don’t understand or they don’t care. In either case, hanging your hopes on them getting their act together (from where I’m sitting) is a recipe for heartbreak — not to mention repeated disappointment … and ultimate disillusionment and disenfranchisement.

    Just my two cents.

    Thanks for writing.

    BB

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  5. I agree with you in principal BB – we have to address our own issues — but the flip side of it is that organizations and management should not be surprised with high turnover and eventual reduction in quality and productivity. These are organizational issues though and you are correct – the individual employee is not empowered to change them – and in economic constrained environments the situation is only exacerbated.

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