New direction – old faithful direction

Reaching out to others is what brings us back to ourselves
Reaching out to others is what brings us back to ourselves

I’ve been excited about different new career directions, over the past years. The only thing is, I found out I wasn’t fully qualified to go in those directions, and I’ve been increasingly “outclassed” by folks with pretty heavy-duty qualifications who have the certifications needed to make it all happen. This system I’m learning really ties together my experience in technology, past experience I’ve had, and it keeps me going in the direction I need to go. It’s a certain way of working with teams, and a certain way of getting projects done, and it really fits me to a “T”.

It’s a system that was invented by people like me, for people like me — and it’s the darling of all those C-level executives who want to tell the world they use this methodology.

So, that’s good. And I really feel as though I’m set with this. My retirement savings all went away after my TBI in 2004, and I’ve been really struggling financially for quite some time. There’s been a huge amount of uncertainty in my financial life, and a big part of that was around job uncertainty. I haven’t been totally clear on the direction I need to go, in part because I haven’t been totally clear about the kind of work I can/should do, and the types of people I can/should work with.

As it turns out, after doing a fair amount of thinking and reading online, I’ve realized that high-high tech is really my “tribe” — and that’s in large part because of the neurodiversity. I’ve always worked with people who could be called “Aspies” — folks on the “high-functioning” end of the autistic spectrum, whose ways of communicating and thinking are quite different from the norm. I’ve got my own set of communication and thinking differences, and there’s something really soothing about working with folks who not only know what it’s like to be out of synch with the rest of the world, but also have a thinking and communication style that’s got pauses and different sorts of pacing all tied together.

Back in the day, when I first worked in high tech, I was surrounded by very strange and wonderful people who were very, very different from the rest of the world. I joined them not long after I’d had a car accident, and my thinking and coordination were pretty screwed up. I wasn’t particularly good at making small talk and following conversations with people, and I kept to myself. They left me alone, and they let me do my programming work, and I did it extremely well. They never pressured me to be super-social, and even when I committed some major social faux-pas because I was overwhelmed and couldn’t handle myself socially, they didn’t hold it against me.

And after about 6 months of working with them, all of a sudden, I got my sense of humor back, I was able to handle the pacing of conversations — and with more than one person — and I became an important part of their little tribe.

They gave me the room to heal and work my way back from the effects of that car accident. I never discussed the accident with anyone — and didn’t even realize was affecting me — all I knew was, I didn’t want to deal with anyone, didn’t want to talk to anyone, wasn’t comfortable navigating the social sphere, and all I wanted to do was sit in front of my computer and code. But after a while of being left to my own devices and gradually and slowly brought into their midst, I healed. I was able to chat again, talk again, interact again, in a much more fluid way than I had, when I first started.

And a lot of those folks could easily be labelled as “Aspies” or on the autistic spectrum. They were an odd crowd, for sure — in the best way possible.

I’ve been struggling in my work situation for a number of years, primarily (now I realize) because I’ve been surrounded by so-called “neurotypical” folks who have been extroverted and really interactive, with average sorts of thinking and communication styles. And that’s been a huge struggle.  It’s been years since I’ve worked with a hard-core gang of Aspie folks in a really high-performance work environment, and I realize now that the problem hasn’t been with me — it’s been with me being in the wrong kind of environment. I need to work with a close-knit group of neurodiverse folks, in a situation that makes the most of everyone’s abilities.

That works for me. It makes the most of my abilities, which include motivating and including people who may feel marginalized and pushed aside. I’ve had some great success doing that, in the past years, at various jobs. But my current situation doesn’t really allow me to do that. I’m too isolated. I’m too blocked off from a real team. And because we’re all battling the same lack of resources,

And the beauty part is, this new system I’m learning will give me the skills and the cred to “slot” right into that sort of role.

So, yeah – it’s becoming a lot clearer to me. I need to work with hard-core technical folks, and I need to do it in a capacity where I can add value. I used to be a damn’ good programmer, but after my accident in 2004, I haven’t been able to work reliably. I’m good for maybe a few weeks, then I crash and can’t function. On the other hand, I’m an excellent team leader and I know how to include and motivate people and bring together disparate types of folks to achieve a common goal.

And that’s worth a lot in this high tech world. It’s not about your plan and vision – it’s about execution and delivery. And that’s where I excel – helping a team to execute and deliver. To be their best. To really rise above and beyond and do amazing things.

I never thought I could do that before, because it didn’t feel like I was being effective. I would be so wiped out after the intense work, I was sure I’d failed. And I didn’t understand my communication and thinking challenges. I didn’t realize that I had problems, and I had to do something about them.

Once I realized that I did have issues with slowed processing, and I realized I could actually do something about those things — and I got the chance to work with people who had communication issues, themselves (as in, the international folks I used to work with) — that really turned things around for me. Thanks to my old neuropsych, I got my head around that, and voila! Magic happened.

Now I need to make more magic happen.

And so I shall.

Onward.

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Putting it all to good use

So, things have been very tense at work. The people who are running my group are actually running it into the ground, with their scorched earth approach to achieving their goals. They really don’t care whom they hurt, in the process of getting where they’re going, and it shows.

They’ve hurt a bunch of people, thus far, and the ripples are being felt all across the company, which spans several continents on the other sides of several oceans.

It’s a little difficult to watch – first, because I genuinely care about people and how this all affects them. I feel for the people who are in charge, who feel that they “have to do what they have to do” and are putting profit margins ahead of everything else.

I feel for the middle management people who report to them who also seem to think that they are helpless in the face of institutional structures, and that they’re lucky to get anything done at all.

And of course, I feel for the folks at my level, who are being given a sh*t-ton of work to do, without a whole lot of support or resources, let alone direction and leadership.

It’s ironic – at every step, people seem to feel helpless in the face of overwhelming odds, and at the mercy of circumstances beyond their control. And yet, each and every one of us has the power of choice. We each have the option to do what we feel is the right thing, and to stick by it. The only problem is, there tend to be consequences for making unpopular decisions, and the decisions which challenge the dominant paradigm of helplessness and victimization… and take responsibility for outcomes (which may not always turn out the way we hope they will)… well, those kinds of decisions can make your boss(es) pretty nervous. And if they’re not on board and not on the same wavelength and they’re not willing to take the same risks as you, it can end up turning into a bit of a sh*tstorm.

Which is where I’m at right now.

Right now, I’m in charge of designing and rolling out a program which is not terribly popular in every corner of the company. It’s for the best, and it introduces changes that should have been made years ago, but a lot of people are very wedded to old, unworkable ideas about how things should be done.

Nobody likes change… and yet here I am, in the midst of it, instigating it and moving it forward.

Which means that people complain. About me. About my program. About the change. And my bosses, who are intensely concerned with how they are perceived and how popular they are, are getting fidgety. There’s a real lack of character that’s coming out — and ironically, the people who are the most concerned with how people see them are the ones who have the worst reputation and can’t seem to get anything done.

So, that’s all very well and good. And it’s very instructive. But I can’t let it throw me off, as it has been. I’ve gotten too caught up in worrying about my bosses’ worries, running interference for them and helping them justify their position, which is untenable, because they’re driven by other people’s perceptions and their own selfish gains, rather than substance and character.

Which is not how I want to live my life. I do want to do my part in the team, and I do want to do work that is meaningful and has impact. But I certainly do not want to do it the way I see it done. And the people who are giving me orders and telling me how to behave, should really check themselves. It’s just a little bit disgraceful.

So, it’s all very instructive, and I get a front-row seat to how I do NOT want my next job to be. Substance, not just form, is important. Form matters, but only if there is substance to back it up. And I’ve been on this earth long enough to realize that jobs and promotions and raises and popularity contests come and go, but I will still have to live with myself through it all, no matter what the circumstances of my present situation. I am still dealing with the personal fallout from poor choices I made in the past, and I am still dealing daily with the residual troubles that all those traumatic brain injuries brought into my life over the years.

So, I know just how important and precious it is, to have a moral compass, to know who you are, and to make decisions in the now that will support you in the future — rather than trading in my dignity and self-respect for an expedient favor from someone else that may quickly go forgotten… except in my mind, and the shadow of it on my soul.

It sounds heavy… and it is. This one life is all any of us has, and it is over all too soon. So many things can go wrong, just by chance, so the choices we consciously make are all the more important. I’m using this god-awful experience at work as a learning experience and a proving ground, for me to get in the habit of standing up for what I believe and holding to my own vision for what can and will happen in my world.

People may not like what I am doing and saying. They may not much care for the changes I’m bringing to their lives.

But if I stick to my guns and stay true to myself, in the end, I have a feeling they’re going to respect me.

And even more importantly, so will I.

The day is waiting. Onward.

It’s awful, but I can handle it

Someone needs to point the way

This week has been really awful. The past few weeks have been awful, in fact. I have so much to do at work, and my natural tendency to want to get it right has been taking a beating. There’s a huge project that was dropped in my lap on Monday that has to be done by tomorrow, and in the meantime, I have other commitments that won’t wait… and I need to eat and sleep…

Probably the worst part of it is that, while I do believe that if I focus in and block everything else out, I can actually get it done, others on my team have doubts… including my bosses. They’re trying to “help” me by interceding on my behalf, but frankly what I really need everyone to do is just go away and leave me alone till this is done. And quit playing stupid friggin’ games, trying to cover their asses, when they’re the ones who created this mess in the first place with dicking around for 8 months till the 11th hour… and then shaving three weeks off the end of the project, ’cause they didn’t didn’t think things through and were asleep at the wheel.

Poor friggin’ planning. What is wrong with people?

Actually, I know what’s wrong — they’re too godawful busy in all the wrong ways. I should know. I get that way too. But I have the “advantage” of knowing that my brain is inclined to get me into trouble, so I take extra pains to plan things out, schedule my life ahead of time, and have a pretty good idea about where I’m going each day, and why.

Before I knew that my brain was re-wired by all those mild TBIs, and I developed some time and energy management skills with my neuropsych, I was a lot like the folks I’m working with — running around like a chicken with its head cut off, bouncing from one exciting project to the next, and generally getting nothing at all done on time.

So, I know what that’s like. I know how it is.

Still, it’s frustrating, and it feels like the folks I’m working with have hung me out to dry by just being careless and not paying attention to things that matter — like making key deadlines along the way. It just feels like disrespect and manipulation… but I’m sure at the root it’s just poor planning.

I can’t believe how frustrating this is. I have so many years of experience working on really huge projects that were so closely managed and monitored, and which managed to get from beginning to end in one piece — and pretty much on time. This project pales in comparison, but it’s 1000 times worse, and it feels completely chaotic, even though it’s pretty straightforward, when you think about it. The difference was that those projects in the past were actively managed. And the difference was that the people involved were dedicated and gave a damn about doing a good job. The folks who are running this show seem to care more about making a good impression with their bosses and looking good to everyone, instead of actually doing the work.

When it comes time to do the work, then that falls to me and a handful of other people who bother to care. What a setup. What a lazy bunch of …

Well, anyway, I suppose I should look on the bright side and focus on the positives — like knowing in my heart that I’ve got it in me to get this done. Like knowing that I’ve been in far worse circumstances, and I’ve prevailed. Like being pretty sure that after the fits I’ve been pitching lately, that this slipshod bogus BS isn’t going to fly the next time. Everyone is pretty clear that I’m pissed off, and I’m pretty sure that I’ve got their attention, and they’re going to take steps to do better next time. That’s what has happened on previous projects where people were doing this kind of crap — I made it clear that this wasn’t going to fly without me taking issue with it. And things changed. It was pretty uncomfortable, but oh well. If people aren’t going to bother to do their jobs, I’m certainly not going to pretend to be fine with it.

I do not suffer alone 😉

Of course, this all gives me pause — I know I could handle myself more diplomatically, and I may do that today. But the whole thing about needing to suck it up and not let on that something is amiss… my coworkers who do that are stooped and wrinkled and have thinning hair… while I’m sailing along looking 10-15 years younger than I am. Sure, I could do the whole stoic thing where I’m “too tough to be troubled” by all this crap. But what would be the point? Seriously. It would just perpetuate these bullsh*t scenarios, and everyone would continue to sail along, not paying attention, not bothering to do better, not thinking things through ahead of time… and nothing would ever change.

I believe in change. Hell, I live change. It’s about the only thing I 100% believe in, apart from the tides and the course of the earth around the sun. And as sure as I feel the stabbing pain in my left hip and the spasms in my lower back and the tightness in my shoulders and the cramping in the joints of my hands and fingers, I do know that all things change… especially if we make the effort to change them.

So, now that I’ve got everyone’s attention at work, I’m going to set us on a course that will take us where we need to go. I will tell people exactly what I need to get this project done by tomorrow, and I will provide the leadership and direction that others have failed refused to provide. There is a massive, gaping leadership gap at work — everyone is horse-trading, trying to be the most popular kid on the block, and it’s infantile. So, that leaves the door open for me to step in and sort things out.

This is really friggin’ awful. I hate it with every fiber of my being. But like just about everything else that falls under the “sucks bilgewater” category in my life right now, I can handle it.

I’ve got to. Or it will handle me.