Monday, September 22, 2014

The hidden side of disengagement

Employee engagement is said to be a good thing. More than any skill set, degree, certification, employers look for people who will be actively engaged in their work, or, in plainer, crosser terms: really give a shit about their job. It is seemingly good from the worker's perspective too; as we all are too keenly aware, we spend more waking hours at work with the random assortment of people we did not specifically chose to spend our lives with than we do outside of work, with the people we chose, the people we gave birth to, the people in our social circles. So, given that, wouldn't we rather be engaged i.e. actively interested in our job?

I worked for 12 years at a job where engagement didn't begin to describe my feelings towards it. I was engaged, married and actively intimate with my job. I was knee and elbow deep in every way possible with the company where I worked. I loved what I did. I felt recognized, rewarded in almost every way (financially being the exception). My co-workers were great; I could not have been more "engaged". But here is the hidden side to engagement... When something goes wrong (and in software companies something goes wrong all the freaking time) that feeling of engagement and involvement transforms into obsession, worry, sleepless nights wondering, thinking about which line of code is crapping out, why it is working on my machine but not on theirs, tossing and turning, driving into the office at 2 am to try out one potential solution RIGHT NOW. Oh yes, engagement has its downside.

Disengagement in work, on the other hand, means one spends a large chunk of one's life pursuing something without much personal meaning. Being disengaged in my work feels like everything is sort of happening in a bubble somewhere "over there". I hear talk of hugely impacting bugs or massive looming deadlines bugs and my thought is "oh wow, that sounds really bad. Oh look, it's 5 pm - time to go home! What are we having for dinner tonight?" I work hard. I care. I do my best. Between 9 am - 5 pm. All work related thoughts simply evaporate from my head the moment I walk out the door. It's rather liberating but also a little sad. Recently someone asked me what I do as a job and I really struggled to provide a meaningful description.

It's been 6 months now. I no longer fear I will be fired every single day. I no longer fear I will run away screaming every day. I have developed a deeper understanding of how I can be useful and what skills I will have to develop in myself in order to succeed. I am taking a night class to develop my skill set. I am well paid. I don't call in sick when I am not. I get along with people. On the surface everything seems ok. And maybe is just how it into work in a larger company. Maybe what I am describing is the norm, but still I struggle to find any meaning on a day to day basis. Something doesn't fit quite right. It has been six months. It feels like it is taking a long time to break these shoes in!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Chair of Calm

Not surprisingly as Big has started kindergarten I find myself surrounded by friends & offspring who have done the same in the past week. As we all navigate these alien landscapes and compare notes, definitely my favourite facet of kindergarten life is: the Chair of Calm. One of my friend's sons comes home every day and reports to her who was sent to the Chair of Calm. In my mind it is a very high chair, possibly requiring 3 or 4 steps to reach the seat, lined with pillows in navy blue and has a built in massaging function. Personally I would love to be sent to the Chair of Calm. As I led a meeting with 7 extremely pissed off people today (not pissed off at me per sey but perhaps peripherally pissed off at me) And I could feel my hands grow clammy and my heart pound, I thought about how very uncalming my chair was and wishes for a strict but kind kindergarten teacher to appear and order me into the Chair of Calm.

Kindergarten is perplexing to say the least. There are so many confusing rules to follow that I just cannot seem to keep straight in my head. To rattle off a few:
-the lunch bag cannot be in the backpack
-the morning snack must be in the backpack NOT the lunch bag
-the morning snack can consist only of fruit, vegetable or cheese I.e. ONE of those items, no mixing and nothing not included on that last so, for example, crackers and cheese would be twice verboten once for having two different types of food items and twice for the crackers which are not fruit, veg or cheese.

And I understand. Believe me I do. I know and appreciate that each kindergarten teacher is in charge of a pack of 18-20 wild animals with very little back up or assistance, very little funding and they are making do with the very barebones of just about everything so if they want the snack in the backpack then I will cheerfully oblige... Except when I don't out of sheer confusion, fatigue, disorganization.... I really hope that I don't screw the pooch on this kindergarten bureaucracy. I don't want to be the problem parent and also I genuinely do want to amaze life as easy as possible for the woman who will hopefully teaching Big a couple of useful things this year.

But I remain confused and always on the cusp of screwing up. I have about 5,000 questions to ask of the daycare, the teacher, the lunch people, the after school people (note these are all different entities to add to the confusion) but I don't want to overwhelm anyone with my ignorance so I am kind of dolling them out one at a time, slowly filling in the gaping holes in our knowledge. The onus is really on me; we chose French school which means that I am charged with all understanding and communicating. 

Big has taken to school with aplomb. She marches off each morning with out a backwards glance and marches out at the end of the day with her lunch bag empty, backpack full brimming with forms to be filled out and hand-outs to be understood and head completely empty of ANYTHING that transpired during the day enter the conversation I am sure every parent has with their kindergartener:

What did you do?
I don't know.
What was your favourite part?
What did you learn?
Nothing (actually to be fair today she said "helping others")
Who did you play with?
I don't remember.

It's a black box this kindergarten experience. I put her in in the morning and she emerges at the end of the day, fed, tired, hopefully slightly more knowledgeable and perhaps having spent some quality time in the chair of calm.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Learning to swim by barely avoiding drowning

Growing up I was allowed to chose from the normal array of activities that are typically available to the middle class child: various forms of dancing and art and gymnastics and skating and on and on and on. There were only 3 things that were mandatory: learning to speak French, learning to play the piano and learning to swim. None of these were negotiable but the last was particularly not. Without even really thinking about it, I have adopted two of these skills, speaking French and swimming, as mandatory for Big and Little. Rationale being: we live in Quebec and humans breathe oxygen (where those two things are independent of each other) therefore French and swimming required. Coincidentally or not, they are also two of the skills I have not outsourced to other people. As a parent whose children are in daycare and in a myriad of activities, I find myself constantly amazed by what they knows and often dismayed that it was not I who had the opportunity to teach it to them. While it is wonderful to see them acquire this array of knowledge and skills, I have firmly staked out French and swimming as mine to teach them.

So on a semi-regular basis I find myself at the public pool mostly patiently but sometimes not instructing Big in kicking and thrashing and generally not sinking. It both helps and hinders that she is utterly without fear and bursting with over-confidence. She will jump into the deep end, thrash her way towards the side, come within what appears to be inches of drowning when I grab her arm to support her, react with extreme frustration that I am not letting her do it herself. So it is left to me to discern with my professional eye (yes, I spent many years lifeguarding) whether she is drowning or swimming. She does make forward progress though it is by no means efficient, she keeps her nostrils barely above water and usually reaches the wall without my help. It truly is, learning to swim by barely avoiding drowning.

It is an excellent metaphor for how I feel we are living our lives right now as a family. I don't mean to be overdramatic and I recognize that if I screw up one of my many responsibilities the consequences are not going to be dire (just embarrassing, costly, career ending or childhood wrecking depending on which responsibility we are talking about) but no one is going to die, thousands of lives will not be affected so I think I have good perspective on this but nonetheless I do feel now (especially with Big in school instead of daycare and the multiple logistical challenges that entails) that we go about our days swimming by barely avoiding drowning. Getting the report due at work in just on time, running out at 11 pm to the store to get the extra stuff needed for lunch, sliding into home base just before the ball slams into the catcher's glove with the school supplies and the 10,000 forms needed by the school filled out. Getting the child picked up JUsT before the daycare closes. Now to make life more chaotic, we are adding to all of this a night class (mine), skating lessons (Big's), potentially a new job (mine - I'll find out tomorrow if the multiple interviews I did last week on top of everything else bore fruit) and yes, we are treading water while someone hands us brick after brick after brick.

But, and I don't say or think this nearly often enough, I have a really wonderful family to run this crazy obstacle course with. Hang on tight, autumn is here! Chaotic but hopefully fun times ahead.