The One Thing

My wife’s employer gave her a book for Christmas, written by the owner of the company, Gary Keller. It’s called The One Thing, and since my wife had already read it, I decided to give it a go. It’s a quick read, and despite only being a few chapters in, I’ve already gotten a good sense of the message.

That message, simply put, is that if we want to be successful, we need to stop trying to do everything in life, and instead focus on one thing. He rails against the mindset that we need to be involved and doing as many different things as possible, and that by doing so, we’re not doing anything well. All of this becomes complicated by amazing technology that allows us to be connected constantly to dozens of different things that can fill our time. 

As I said, I’m only a few chapters in, but I feel like the core of the message is already starting to hit me. It cuts to the core of what I’ve been struggling with for a decade now, and that is I don’t know what my “one thing” is anymore. It used to be religion, and for a while it kind of was technology. But now, it’s vague. It all goes back to that struggle with identity that I’ve written about before. 

I’ve had some good meetings lately with folks about potential career changes, but I feel like I need to figure out this piece first. In a recent meeting with one individual, he asked me point blank, “What is it that you want to spend your time doing?” That’s the key question that I really need to get figured out. What do I want the day-to-day to look like?

I’ve also been listening to some humanist podcasts that have been meaningful for my wife, and talking with a friend who has gotten into Stoicism. A key component of this thinking is understanding that eternal significance is a pipe dream. Two hundred years from now, no one is going to know or care about me, no matter what I do. There are so few people in history that are remembered beyond their life, that trying to focus on “leaving a legacy” becomes a fool’s errand. 

The key is to focus on the here and now. What kind of impact can to have today? What kind of person can you be to those in your life now, not just as a memory after you’re gone? Those are the questions that bring me back to the question of what is my “one thing”. 

This is once again a blog post without answers, but I feel that by writing down the questions, and the musings, it helps me process and think. I feel like I’m closer and closer to the cusp of figuring myself out. Being on the edge is exciting and frustrating, and I appreciate my readers being willing to ride along while I continue to explore. 

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).