Here Today Gone Today

I didn’t know TA well, but she seemed like the kind of co-worker that it would be good to be around – energetic, efficient, fun-loving and appreciative. Yesterday, the news started leaking out through post-it notes from people who had been asked to remove her access from various systems. Now. Rumors started flying, and were quickly confirmed but the only real information was “TA is no longer with the company.”

I don’t know what happened, and there is a sense in which I’d really rather not know. Given the circumstances, the departure hardly seems likely to be a happy story.

Some things seem so stable, so constant that we can take it for granted, and even grumble about “having” to go to work in the morning. But when you see that shift suddenly, and for someone whose work performance (at least to a relative outsider) seemed perfectly adequate, you lose that sense of certainty.

It’s the milder professional version of losing someone unexpectedly, and feeling like more than ever you need to take advantage of the time you have left, and maybe also stop eating quite some many french fries.

For me the professional version of cutting out junk food is sliding into using my work computer and work phone for personal tasks, because, hey, it’s MY computer. But it’s not my computer. It belongs to the company that bought it for me, and it can be gone as quickly as TA.

In fact, this is the second warning I’ve had along these lines.

When my company lost an important contract, and it looked like several employees were going to get let go, the company disabled all of the USB ports, drives, card readers etc. that would allow you to easily pull files off the computer. Of course, you could always DropBox or email it to yourself, but in fact they were monitoring those channels for suspicious activity as well. One person was caught and fired for emailing “company secrets” to herself after this policy was instituted.

Your co-workers are not your family. My VIP reminded me of something he’d read once… “The problem with loving your job is that a job can’t love you back.”

PS. The irony of this post following a post called “I Quit.” is not lost on me. Emotions change quickly.

Advertisements

Quitting

I am on the board of this wonderful organization that promotes local art. It’s not a particularly ambitious organization. We host an annual art exhibit, and somewhere in the background an artists-in-residence program that has great potential that hasn’t been realized.

A few years ago, the board was shifting and there was an immediate need for a Treasurer, so I reluctantly raised my hand. In his interview with Tim Ferriss, Derek Sivers reveals that he doesn’t take on projects that he’s merely willing to do. The answer is either “Hell Yeah! or No.” I wish I’d heard that before I’d made that decision.

Although I can be analytical when I have to be, spreadsheets and numbers have never brought me much joy. Still, the responsibilities were minimal and the organization worthy, so I was determined to do my part.

This year, the board shifted again, and the Treasurer’s responsibilities increased just as I was fighting like mad to get and become efficient at my new job. It was too much. I started resenting every new financial request. When the Executive Director asked for anything, my mind would agree that it was perfectly reasonable and a great idea, but my soul would cringe in pain and scream No No No!

I soldiered on through the toughest parts, but my attitude was increasingly sour. Then I quit.

It would be an exaggeration to say that the skies cleared and the heavens sang, but I did do a little happy dance off in the corner.

And the best part? I’ve managed to quit in time to still be enthusiastic about the organization as a whole. Once free of the burden of office, I immediately rediscovered how much I enjoyed the people and the things they wanted to accomplish.

Two lessons:

  • Quit Early
  • Hell Yeah! or No.

Tempted By Minimalism

The very thought of getting rid of things makes me wince. I need to psych myself up to get rid of anything at all – books I’ve never read (but might one day want to open), bad pictures so blurry and poorly composed that I’m not sure what they are, shoes that hurt my feet. I’m a mess. My VIP resorts to donating items behind my back.

And yet…

I subscribed to a podcast by The Minimalists, Ryan and Josh.

I blame this on my VIP. He was the one to recommend it to me after coming across the idea that although there are several circles of relationship intimacy – close friends and family, friends, acquaintances you have to attend to them all. Although your best investment may ultimately be with those in your most intimate circles, there are times when you do have to focus on those outer circles as well. Just remember to invest in the inner circles when the opportunity presents itself.

I found the first podcast I listened to (Random) a bit rambling, since they just provided answers to random questions from listeners. I did discover a few interesting ideas.

Far from being ascetics, these guys just have a wary relationship to material goods. One of them tried to go for a year without buying any material products (consumables like groceries and soap were OK). One thing he learned was that he had a habit of impulse buying small items. He’d see a mug he liked, and before he knew it, it was in his cart and on the checkout counter. The practice of being mindful of what you bring into your life reduces that. However, six or seven months into the experiment, he spilled a drink on his computer and destroyed it. He said he tried to make it work without a computer. He went to the library etc. But eventually, he decided that having a computer was just something that brought an extraordinary amount of convenience, pleasure and productivity into his life, so he went out and got a new one. Their approach seems to be that you don’t have to wall out all worldly possessions, you just need to consider carefully what you want to let in.

Most of what they said reminded my of my friend MW, who doesn’t seem to read a ton of mindfulness or self-help, but who I’ve found over several conversations practices many of the things the mindfulness gurus recommend. Every morning, he takes a little time to think of all the things he’s grateful for. He spends evenings in hand-written correspondence with friends. He exercises every day and aspires to a clean diet (only occasionally undermined by ice cream or a cheesecake). He even recently quit caffeine. He’s taken a strong stance on work life balance, and is willing to accept the consequences of those choices. And – he has a rule for himself that he has to want something for two weeks before he buys it. No impulse buying! He’s also recently taken stock of what he owns and wants to sell or donate many of the items that he doesn’t use often. He even used a phrase I heard a few times on the podcast. He wants to “release those items back into the world and let other people enjoy them.”

I’ve been thinking a fair bit about minimalism after another friend asked what I was going to do with all of my work clothes. Now that I work remotely, and it’s the quality of my work rather than the stylishness of my clothing that matters, I see a closet full of clothes and uncomfortable shoes collecting dust. Is it time to simplify?

I think I’ll go find MW, and listen to another podcast. Then, I’ll let you know.

Remote Work

My professional world got tipped sideways last June when we heard the announcement that my company had lost a big contract and jobs would almost certainly be on the line. They were. But it took months to figure out the exact ramifications. Who was going to stay and who was going to go? And now, nearly 9 months later, we finally all seem to be settling into our new roles.

For me, that includes the brand new experience of working exclusively from my home. My employers are headquartered on the far side of the continent, but they made an exception for me and have allowed me to stay put, and work remotely.

Mostly, this makes me ecstatic. I have a great job – a promotion over the one that I left behind, and an opportunity to learn new things. My VIP and I can stay in the house we built, in a beautiful location where VIP has a steady job. And the flexibility of the remote work situation has not been lost on me.

Friends pointed out early on that in Europe the “standard work day” would be shifted to the afternoon, leaving mornings open for exploration and adventure while still leaving time for a full work day later on. It’s not a vacation. Honest. I’m just “working remote”.

However, I’m also familiar enough with people who work remote full time to know that it’s not all stars, rainbows and working in your slippers either. Social and professional isolation. Boundary setting. Staying motivated and productive. These are all challenges that I was well-aware of when considering the option.

In preparation, I started researching and tried to anticipate the issues that would present the biggest challenges for me. I changed the guest bedroom into an office, and made that my “working space”. I put intentional effort into getting together with friends – even if it meant a long drive that used to be on my commute, but was now out of my way.

I read articles – many many articles – so many articles, that by the time I finally managed to pick up the book Remote: Office Not Required by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, I was already familiar with most of what they had to say. In fact, I’d already read several of the chapters of the book in article format.

(This seems to be a new style of book that I’ve been coming across more recently. It is really just a collection of articles by the author(s), sort of like a blog, but with the pretension of outside publication. Overall, I prefer actual books, with a consistent flow and the assumption that if you’ve mentioned something at length earlier, you don’t need to cover it all again three chapters later. Maybe I’ll write more about that ¬†later.)

However, I did get one new idea from the book that I’ve been trying to take advantage of as much as possible.

You can work from anywhere! No, no, stay with me. Before I read this book, I had imagined myself holed up in my home office most of the time – like AN office, just not THE office (European not-vacations being the exception). But the beauty of remote work goes beyond that. At 37 Signals (the author’s company) people work in the office part of the day, and then work from home. Or they work one day from a coffee shop and the next day from their living room. They work on airplanes, in hotel rooms, and on the beach if they can get a decent internet connection. It’s obvious. But at the same time, I didn’t really get it until just recently.

Of course, everything new is exciting, and I’ve only been at this ‘remote’ thing for a month. The realist in me is just waiting for The Dip. But for now it’s all so wonderfully exciting.

For more reading on remote working, I just ordered The Year Without Pants by Scott Berkun, about his experiences with remote work at Automattic, Inc., the company behind WordPress.com. I’ll let you know how that goes.

I haven’t even downloaded the book to my phone yet, but it’s already off to a good start. The title alone makes me smile, and I enjoyed the few articles I glanced through from Scott’s blog. The article on his favorite books is definitely one to return to.

The War of Art

I recently finished listening to The War Of Art by Steven Pressfield. It was recommended on one of the Tim Ferriss podcasts that I’ve been enjoying so much lately.

The War Of ArtIt struck me as a Dude’s book. But I loved it for that.

The first section is about taking all the miscellaneous stuff that keeps you from pursuing a creative ambition and giving it a capital letter and a shadowy cloak so that you have something to do battle against. In fact, I don’t know if Pressfield capitalized Resistance, since I listened to it as an audiobook, but it would shock me if he didn’t.

Resistance is subtle and sneaky. It sabotages your creative output by telling you what you can’t do, and giving you a thousand excuses for putting off that project until tomorrow, or the next day/month/year. And the really treacherous part – is that some of those reasons are reasonable and true. The moment your wife goes into labor really ISN’T the time to sit down and begin your next novel. Nor are the sleepless days after when you need to enjoy your new baby. Nor the toddler years when the kids get so active that it’s almost a full time job just to chase them down. Nor the elementary school years…

Pressfield also described his encounters with Resistance surrounding writing The War of Art. Resistance whispered that he was a novelist, not a non-fiction writer. Enjoy success by sticking to what you know. Also, who was he to tell people what to do? As if he had all the answers. This last one struck me particularly hard. Hadn’t I just said that to myself about an idea for an article?

For me, Resistance has a prissy little side-kick too. Perfectionism. I imagine her alternately as a pinch-faced girl with a very long and pointed nose to look down on things, or as a fussy parrot that constantly repeats, “You know, that’s not very good.”

I have a friend, who created something new each day and posted it to a blog. It might have been a single photograph, or a new meal, or a painting, depending on the day and the amount of time available. That was before I met her, but one of the things that I admire about her now is her ability to fearlessly put things out into the world. I want that.

So.

Engarde, Resistance. I’ll take you and your squeaky little parrot too.