Some time with the wife

One of my favorite things that has happened this year is that I’ve gotten to spend a lot more time running with my wife. Part way through the year I decided to spend some of my training run time with her, despite the fact that her pace is quite a bit slower than mine. This has had a couple of really positive effects. The first is that I’ve stayed much healthier this year, with almost no injuries or “niggles” to speak of. Secondly, it means we’ve gotten to spend a lot more time together.

One of the benefits of this is that we have some really great conversations. Sometimes we hash out difficult issues that we need to work through. Sometimes we talk of nothing of substance. Then there are nights like tonight where we work through big mental hurdles that are causing one of us issues. For me, tonight, this was about my job and career (duh, of course it was).

I had already had a conversation with my friend Michael over lunch, and it spawned into a much deeper dive with my wife on our run. We really dug in to some of the core issues that I’m feeling about what I’m doing day in and day out. What really triggered an epiphany for me was realizing that I need to come home from work feeling like I actually did something. When you’re a manager, often your day is filled with keeping the team on task, putting out fires, acting as an intermediary, and so on. I’m not getting to scratch my itch to actually accomplish something, and feel like I’ve done something fulfilling in my day.

In practical terms, what this means is that I need to stop thinking that the typical career path of climbing the organizational ladder is where I should be headed. Part of the reason that I got out of the Enterprise Architecture business was because I thought I needed to move into higher level roles, and I was told quite directly that I needed to show more people leading experience on my resume. That spurred me to move in to management, and as much as I like developing people, I really want to be a leader more than a manager. I want to get back to getting my hands a little bit dirtier than they get now, and end my day feeling like I accomplished something worthwhile.

Therefore, my new focus is going to be to start looking for something that’s more hands-on, and has more of a creative and deliverable outcome to it. It might be back in the architecture world, or it might be something different. However, it’s incredibly freeing to have a direction to point towards.

I’m glad I ran with my wife tonight.

Some things never change

Today on Facebook it kindly reminded me of memories from years gone by (as it does every day). Sometimes I’ll click past the first one it shows me and scroll down the page to see what else happened.

fbmemory

That’s right. I’ve been in career/job/life angst for 10 solid years now. It’s a bit of a slap in the face to realize that I’ve been struggling with this for a solid decade. You’d think that, by now, I’d have something figured out. Granted this specific post was more about money than career angst (I don’t think I was that disenchanted quite yet), but it was probably the start.

As I’ve thought more on my history, my happiest times were actually back just before this post. It was around this time that I moved into higher level roles, and started taking my hands off the keyboard a lot more. Since 2011 I haven’t done any real hands-on engineering work for my career. Part of the reason for that was that I was getting older and not keeping up with all the newest and greatest tech out there. I’m sure the fact that I spent so much of the time between 2002-2008 going to Seminary to train to be a pastor, didn’t help either.

Anyway, that’s an aside. The point of this post is that it’s been 10 years of trying to figure myself out. Knowing that fact makes me even more determined to make something positive happen now. Still not sure what it will be, but the motivation is getting stronger to end the cycle, while at the same time accepting of what may be the final answer, even if it’s not the dream I had thought of.

More musings on life and career

Regular readers of my blog are no stranger to my semi-regular musings about my vocation and purpose in life. It’s a pretty regular theme, but as the years have gone by, I feel like I’m getting closer and closer to more clarity around what I’m all about. It’s time for another brain-dump of thoughts, so if you’re not interested in someone doing self-reflection, I’ll post something more entertaining in a few days…

This recent episode of angst come courtesy of my current job. I’m not going to go into many details, but I had some unpleasantness last week that put me in the position of not feeling like I can trust those around me, including my direct supervisor. It has me questioning again what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. However, it’s allowed me another time of reflection. I’ve started to piece together more of what it is that drives me, and why I’ve made some of the choices that I have.

As I’ve contemplated things, I’ve broken it down in to three key areas: Leadership, Community, and Experience.

Leadership

One of the things that I figured out a few years ago is that I like to lead. It’s not because I have a burning desire to always be in charge, but because I like seeing a vision take shape. I also really love guiding people and helping them reach their goals. As a manager I’ve had the opportunity to help salvage a few different careers and bring them back from mediocrity to something that gives the person a sense of accomplishment and value. My favorite moments as being a manager is when I can help someone better themselves, and discover more about their skills and talents. My leadership style encompasses Transformational Leadership and Servant-Oriented Leadership which are all about building up others. These two paradigms are what drives me to want to help bring things to life.

Community

I’ve discovered that I love bringing a community together. As the president of the board for Upper Midwest Trail Runners, I love seeing our small community come together around one another. We’ve even managed to (mostly) keep politics out of our community, keeping ourselves focused on our shared love of the outdoors. Just this past weekend we had our annual banquet and it was so much fun to look back at what we’ve done and share time with people who love this as much as I do.

I love being a part of a community, and I think that everyone’s life is richer because of the communities that they’re a part of. Some of the most amazing things that can happen in life, can only happen as a part of a community. I’ve written extensively about how powerful our trail community is, and the effect that it has on me. Being able to play a part in making this community better is incredibly important to me, and it’s something that I believe drives me in who I want to be in life.

Experience

Something I’ve had the honor of doing recently is creating events that bring people together. I’ve put on multiple fat-ass (fun) runs in our trail community, and I’m starting to get in to the race directing world. Just this past weekend, at our UMTR banquet, we had an incredible night, and everyone walked away feeling happy.  Next week I’m putting in my annual fall fat-ass and I’m excited to get everyone together for a few hours of fun. Making memories is something that brings me joy.

As I look back at this list, and the things that drive me, it really sheds a light as to why I wanted to be a pastor. All three of these things are key to the experience of being a leader in a church. Even though that career isn’t really in the cards for me anymore, it’s nice to be able to put some words and thoughts around what drives me, and why that career was so compelling to me.

The struggle now is trying to figure out how to take these insights and apply them to the second half of my life and what I do with my time. My friend Michael and I had breakfast this morning and in our conversation we talked a little about all of this. I contemplated if I could ever just find a mindless job and then focus my passions on things outside of work. Michael, who has known me for nearly 25 years, observed that this probably wouldn’t work for me. I think it’s because I’m just too prone to diving in completely to the things that I do.

So, as usual, I’ve got a lot of thoughts and questions, without a ton of answers. As I think about what might lie ahead, at least I have something more solid to hang my hat on than just vague feelings. I feel like I might be able to start putting some pieces together to build something. I joke with my wife that if I had my druthers, I’d have a career of writing/blogging, podcasting, photography, event directing, and non-profit management, all while traveling around doing #vanlife part of the year.

The more reasonable side of me realizes that this is probably silly, as making a living doing that is sketchy and difficult at best. I’m a highly skilled and experienced, strategic-thinking oriented, organizational leader, which means I understand the big picture of how things go work, and when things are difficult or easy. It’s just harder to see when it’s closer to home.

That leaves me thinking about more practical things around what I could do for an organization that has a meaning and mission I can get behind, that builds community, and creates meaningful experiences for people. I’ve contemplated getting into some type of executive directorship of non-profits, but I don’t have much of an “in” to that community, so that might need to be something I work on as a goal in the near term.

In the meantime I’ll keep posting brain-dumps here, listening to those around me and their thoughts, and building up a wider tapestry of understanding of myself and the legacy that I want to leave behind.

What I learned this week

This week I attended a conference for work. Even though I just do IT work, it’s nice to spend time with the people I’m working for and learn more about what they do. Even though a lot of the conference wasn’t relevant for my job, I feel like I learned something very important this week… the system to support people stuck in the justice system sucks.

At our conference we got to hear from some key people in the judicial system, including one of our state’s supreme court justices. I also got to attend sessions by some justices who work with sex trafficking, as well as a former inmate, turned artist. All of these people told a story of a system that in many cases is failing to protect some of the most vulnerable in our society. This is no fault of the many hard working people within the judicial system who are trying to follow a myriad of laws that have been handed down to them by politicians who may or may not understand the issues that are plaguing the system.

A few facts and figures

  • 80% of the people in prison have a history with Family Court. This means that they’ve had a childhood that has already been touched by the justice system. Perhaps they were removed from their parents, or they’ve spent time in foster care. No matter the issue, it’s obvious that many problems start young.

  • 65-85% of all girls in sex trafficking were formerly in the foster care system. Sex traffickers pray on the lonely and those with low self-esteem. Growing up in a system that makes you feel like you’re not worth more than the paycheck your foster family is getting for you, speaks volumes to these young people’s psyche’s.

  • Prisons aren’t doing enough (if anything at all) to prepare convicts for a new life after they’ve paid their debt to society. Many prison programs are in place to simply give inmates something to do, and keep them out of trouble. Sometimes felons can learn a trade in prison, but they don’t learn the practical skills of how to survive in a society that doesn’t trust them. Persons on parole have to behave perfectly. Imagine if jaywalking or getting in trouble at work because you left 5 minutes early meant that you spent 6 more months in jail.

These are just a few of the things that I learned this week. My role with the judicial branch doesn’t affect any of these areas, but as a citizen of society, I weep for what is happening to many of these lives. These are individuals who, many times, have had to start life at a disadvantage. They haven’t had the family support that they’ve needed to become productive members of society. This leaves them susceptible to making very bad choices with their lives, and then entering a spiral that they can never escape.

This is what’s on my mind from this week, and I felt like it was something that I needed to share. Maybe the next time you see or hear about someone in your circle who’s had to come in contact with the judicial system, cut them a little slack. They’ve possibly been struggling with life for a long time, and the best that we can do is try and support them in trying to rebuild what they’ve lost (or never had).

Some peaceful camping

This past weekend I had the opportunity to take the camper out by myself. My wife was attending a choir retreat in Decorah, IA, and so I decided to pack up and go camping in southern Minnesota. I could then pick her up on Sunday after her retreat and we’d ride home together.

My intention for the weekend was to relax. It’s often hard for me to unwind and stop doing things. Often times I’ll chill out for a bit, and then antsy and decide to go do something, or go somewhere. It sometimes drives the people in my family crazy with how I can’t just stay in one place forever. Yet, this weekend would turn out to be a bit different.

First, I’m stuck here for two nights. I don’t have many places to go, as Lake Louise Park is kinda in the middle of nowhere. Second, I ended up coming down with a head cold, and being sick is one thing that will get me to sit still for a while. Finally, it also rained most of Saturday evening and night. That meant that I had to sit in my little camper and spend time doing relaxing things like reading a book.

I did manage to get some exercise though. Despite feeling a bit out of it, I headed out for a run first thing Saturday morning. I started meandering through the various trails, and just wasn’t really feeling it. I could tell I was starting to get sick. and I just wasn’t in to it. Then a couple miles in to my run, another runner comes down the trail towards me. I immediately knew that I had seen him before, and he knew me on sight. It was Chris D., one of the 50 mile runners from Zumbro who ran much of the race with my buddy Mike B.,.

img_2941It turns out that he lives down here, and he was more than happy to show me around the park. As we chatted, what started as a miserable run that I probably would have quit after three miles, instead turned into a great 10K around the park. Most of the trails are horse trails, which means uneven footing, but with someone else to chat with, I was able to just shift in to auto-pilot mode and get it done. We had a great time, and I felt rejuvenated when we got back to the campground. He headed out for more miles, and I decided to switch to the bike.

The Shooting Star State Trail goes through Lake Louise State Park, and so I hopped on that for a while. It’s a mostly flat, paved, trail that goes through farm fields, and a few random woods. I made it to the town of Taopi, about 8 miles out, before deciding to turn around and head back to get cleaned up. It was a really nice casual bike ride that makes me glad I brought it with. This is despite having to come up with a different way to haul my bike while towing the trailer. More about that product in a different blog.

img_2948After I got cleaned up I decided to head over to Mystery Cave/Forestville State Park, about 25 minutes away. Lake Louise doesn’t have a staffed park office, so if I wanted to get the traditional patch and pin, I had to head over there. I stopped in to the historic village briefly, and then my body was telling me it was nap time. I got back to the camper, had some lunch, and took a very hot nap. The temps have been in the 90s (or higher) for the past few days, and today was no exception. I managed to get in a bit of sweaty sleep, despite the uncomfortableness.

Thankfully, with the evening rain came cooler temps. I spent Saturday night just curled up with a book in the trailer, resting my body, and trying to kick this head cold. Because it was pouring rain, I couldn’t do much of anything else, and that was OK. It was good to force me to slow down a bit, and take it easy.

Unfortunately, my night of sleep was interrupted by horrible sinus pain that apparently had me clenching my teeth, causing my entire left side of my jaw to scream in agony. I reached for the ibuprofen and found that the bottle was empty. Thankfully, the gas station in town was open until 11pm, and I was able to get some more to try and get some sleep. The rest of the evening was uneventful, and I was lulled to sleep by the sound of rain hitting the roof all night long.

img_2938Sunday morning brought more of the same, with gentle rain and cooler temps. I spent the morning finishing a book, and doing a whole lot of nothing. Eventually the rain subsided and I decided to start packing up. I had a date with a couple of taprooms in Decorah, IA, and I figured it would be best to start getting ready to go before more storms blew through.

The rest of the day was nice and easy with lunch at a Chinese buffet, a couple taprooms, and the concert that my wife was participating in. It was a peaceful afternoon, on a rural college campus, that brought back all kinds of ‘feels’ for both of us. Once the concert was concluded we got some ice cream and began the journey home.

Overall, it was a good weekend of rest. I’m still suffering from this head cold, hoping it will pass soon, but it still didn’t detract too much from my enjoyment. Spending time away from home, in a little camper in the woods, is good for the soul. I was able to just read, relax, and decompress. My wife wants to go back to the choir retreat next year, so I’m already thinking ahead about returning to Lake Louise for another weekend of simple pleasures.