Previously, I looked at my progress for the year and said it sucked canal water. Lots of things in there where my home life squeezed out other activities. What wasn’t really on my list at the start of the year was much about my career. I mentioned in the previous post that it’s hard to nuance it for context and perspective.
At the start of the year, life was normal-ish. I had accepted a new job starting in mid-January that was slated to run for six months. It would be an opportunity to fully assess if I wanted to be a Director while doing a job I had done most of before and while working on other files that I was ideally suited to lead. In short, it was almost the perfect foundation for a successful stint. While I didn’t and don’t have a burning desire to be an Executive, I did want THIS job. So I fully intended to do everything in my power to make it a success and to qualify in a pool somewhere so that they would have options to potentially appoint me when the opportunity was officially over. That was my plan.
Three weeks in, we got the news that Andrea would start chemo. And I realized that not only would I not have the time to really devote to qualify in a pool, but I also wouldn’t have the mental energy to complete applications, write exams, prepare for interviews, etc. My priorities shifted with no regret at all. I’ve tried explaining this before, and people see it as, “it’s unfortunate this health thing happened while you were doing that acting”.
Except, that isn’t how I see it. It’s not the right nuance. I feel more like the health events were fixed; this is when they happened. If anything, it’s mildly unfortunate that my acting assignment came up when it did. The acting preceded my wife’s chemo, but the only timing part is that the work opportunity came up when I needed to be committed to my family instead. There was no “choice” here.
If the events had happened in reverse order, I wouldn’t even have thought about applying. I would have known that I couldn’t do it full justice while supporting her, and I would have stayed in my previous job. No question, hands-down that would have been the choice. And I would have had no regret about passing on the opportunity.
My only real “regret”, if it can even be called that since I don’t believe in them, is that it would have been good to know up front that her chemo was going to be scheduled, so I could pass on the assignment and give someone else a chance to do it.
Don’t get me wrong. I did my job, and I did it well. But I did it with about 80% of my brain. I had three huge advantages. First, the team was relatively stable and knew their files. Second, I was working from home, and it was easier to adjust schedules to play chauffeur for appointments, run errands, etc.; if I was trying to do all that while going to the office five days a week? I would have had to end the acting early, there’s no way I could have handled it. And third, I had a huge advantage going in that I knew most of the files inside and out, so my learning curve was low.
It was a good assignment; I’m glad I had the experience; I only wish it was next year or two years ago, not this past year. It pulled me away more than I would have liked. I don’t care about not having flipped it into an EX position. I could still do all that if it was what I wanted. But I knew where I needed to be instead, and there were no regrets about that choice; it wasn’t a choice.
When the acting position ended, I had a choice of going back to my old directorate or looking for a new job. The easy solution would have been to go back, but I had been there for several years, so I looked around. Andrea had finished chemo, and life was easing off a bit on the home front. Or so I thought. I had a few job offers, but one stood out. I knew the types of files and how they worked, although not the specifics, and I believed it was a good job. The immediate boss was one that I knew informally from around the branch for a few years, I got along with her well enough for the limited direct interactions I have had with her, and she had a good rep. And her DG had an equally solid rep, although I didn’t know her as well personally. I didn’t know the team at all. So good files + good boss = worth a look, obviously. And my director and I clicked in the first two meetings.
Once I’m over the first hump of even considering a job, I frequently look for three things when I’m interviewing my boss. Yep, it’s an interview on my side too. I don’t have to work anywhere specific. It’s all about the best fit for me. First and foremost, I like transparency in how my boss approaches files. It makes life easier if I know WHY my boss is leaning one way or another, and transparency in management issues is pretty key. She was very open about the current situation, what she’d experienced over the last few years, and what she was looking for in the future. Second, I like openness in approaches. Some people mistake that for simple transparency, but it isn’t. They often go hand in hand, sure, but many people are transparent about files as long as you do it their way. The discussions showed we weren’t locked into a set approach. There were some pieces fixed, but there was also room to manoeuvre within that box. Third, and this is equally critical for me, I can’t work for an intentional squirrel. We can all get squirrelly from time to time, it goes with our jobs. And if there’s pressure on, ANY job can make someone squirrelly as a boss. But what I don’t want is someone who intentionally embraces their squirreldom. I want calm in the face of the storm, not a tempest brewing during calm seas. She’s not a squirrel, so all good.
I had one meeting with her for about 15 minutes and a second meeting for about 25 minutes the next day. And we realized we were both sold. I didn’t even pursue the other jobs in comparison. A solid job, a solid atmosphere, a solid boss. Sounds perfect, right?
I missed something
I did all the usual things I would do in planning a move, and like all job changes, I took my leap of faith only after mitigating whatever I could and deciding which were “dealbreakers” and which were mere “details”.
But as I did all that planning, I made a huge assumption that served me well for 30 years of my career without checking to see if my assumption still held. I assumed I was at full capacity. Or that even if I wasn’t, I would be able to function near full capacity without too much trouble.
That grandiose view of my own abilities is located somewhere between arrogance, hubris and simple self-confidence. I’ve been able to do just about everything that I’ve ever been assigned and to do it well unless there were specific reasons why it was doubtful anyone could make it work. And sometimes, even then, I succeeded. I have a lot of experience in different types of jobs, I can draw upon lots of different processes and work procedures to get things moving, and even though I was coming into a new job, I had a director who was in her job for at least a year, so I would have guidance.
But I miscalculated my ability to hit the ground running. Yes, I was feeling better after my wife had finished her chemo, and I had completed the previous big project in my old job with some flourish and success. Things were returning to “normal” and I was looking forward to the change in job. Yet I wasn’t at full capacity. As I mentioned above, I ran the previous shop at 80% of my brain power, and that was enough with a good team and lots of corporate knowledge to guide me in my actions.
For the new job? I thought I would go back up to 100% right away as Andrea’s treatments ended, but I didn’t, and 80% was NOT a good starting point. First and foremost, it’s a totally different type of job. I’ve done policy, planning, and operations before, but I’ve mostly done planning and horizontal jobs over the last few years. Most of my operational jobs are in the distant past. In some cases, 20+ years. But it’s not a pure Ops job. Or so I thought. To put it bluntly, I completely underestimated how much “ops” there was and, thus, how big a change it would be for me from my last job. I am normally able to adjust to new rhythms in about 4 weeks, or perhaps 6w at the outside. The new job took me closer to 12, and I’m not totally sure I’ve got the right handle on it.
My new team has fluctuated in size, hovering around the 8-person mark. It went as high as 11, down to 7 at the moment, but hovering around that 7-9 range. I’m used to that size of a team, but of the 7 currently, 4 of them are new to the team since I joined, and 2 more are only veterans by a month or two over me. I’m the third longest-serving member of the team. Which means very little corporate memory exists on a bunch of things. I tried using previous team members to cross-fertilize their knowledge as we onboarded the new people, but it didn’t take as well as I had hoped.
As a result, I came to a conclusion on Dec 1st or so that I needed to put in place a brand new training regime for the whole team to get us up to the same speed and on the same page, so to speak. Instead of the team working at capacity by January 1st, a bunch of the training will happen in January and February. I hope to be at full working capacity by April. But my training all of them is a bit crazy when you think about it. I’ve been in the job 3 months, and now I’m developing a whole new training regime to get them all doing their job the way that I want, and based on having figured their job out myself on the side of my own desk while I was doing my new job. In addition, of the new team, 3 are relatively new to the government. They’re all excellent, but some are a bit greener than others, and all are green to the area. I have a positive outlook on where we’ll be in another three months, but it will take a fair amount of work to get there.
The end result is I’m logging some overtime to compensate for my being new to the files, and everything takes a bit longer than I think it should, the first time through, anyway.
It’s better than it was. I put in some control structures I needed, rearranged a few agendas to work better for me, got some people working on things I could take off my own plate, etc. Yet I haven’t felt like I was really on top of my files for the last 13 weeks or so. I’m also trying to integrate back into the office 2 days a week, which has been an extra adjustment. I’m close to where I want to be, and I’m closer than I was, but it’s taken way longer than I expected.
Cuz I overestimated “me” in the equation. I have high standards for myself, sure, but I have seen myself dropping from 80% in September to probably 65-70% heading into the Christmas break. I haven’t been able to regenerate or regroup.
The fall has not been as easy as I had hoped on the home front. We have had a lot of appointments for Andrea and Jacob, which affected my schedule during the day. I time-shifted to accommodate them, but it can sometimes be a struggle if I have to go go go all day and then add an extra hour or two at night just to catch up because I’m slow or to time-shift breaks from earlier in the day. There have been a few nights where I’ve logged on after 10 or 11 and worked until 2 or 3 in the morning. On the positive side, there aren’t any interruptions then, but it’s not sustainable.
Yet, if I’m honest, work is going “fine”. My bosses are happy, and I’ve started to feel more comfortable with my role and decisions. I’m starting to take on more things that should be with me and off my boss’ shoulders. I’m fulfilling more of the complete manager’s role than I have been. A couple of files have gone off the rails, but as my executive coach says, cut myself some slack. If my bosses think I’m doing fine, and the only one questioning my performance is me, then perhaps I should sit down, take a break, and STFU.
The last two weeks have been hard, too, even though it’s the Christmas break. I have a file that we’re trying to get back on track, and we have a way forward, but it’s a bit “crunched” for time. We’ll get it done, not quite as well as I had hoped at the beginning, but good enough. But at home, I’ve been super stressed about Andrea. Yet nothing about cancer. This was something new and unexpected.
Most of our close friends know that Andrea has limitations in her eyesight. I don’t talk about it much as it is not my story to tell. If she chooses to share it, that is up to her. The challenge right now is that she has something going on that is causing the deterioration of her sight. It is likely temporary, a normal part of life, just something that can happen to all of us, but she is at higher risk, and it is happening earlier for her than most people. But if it’s not? There is a risk of a serious decrease in her sight. With the incumbent effects on her life, and thus the knock-on effects for Jacob and me as well.
She’s already faced some of those question marks this year. We thought her cancer would likely be relatively straightforward to treat; it’s not curable but highly treatable, but it could drop into remission for 10 years, all good. Instead, the treatments were highly debilitating for at least six months, she’s off work for most of a year, there are many side effects, and the remission period may be as low as 3 years. So instead of six months out of ten years dealing with treatment, she could, in theory, be looking at one year out of four. That is a different view of the rest of our lives, affecting all forms of retirement planning and even current living situations.
Finishing the year
As I said in the heading, the year sucked canal water. We started with dashed hopes, and our whole life shifted for the year. Ultimately, we have good outcomes. On a more superficial level, we have good jobs, strong medical coverage and support. We’re better off than 90% of the planet. But the year still felt like it sucked.
Some part of me feels like I’m whining. Most of what happened this year happened to Andrea. For Jacob and me, it is just knock-on effects. Andrea and I both worry about the impact on Jacob, but we’ve been pleasantly surprised to see his increased maturity for the year, along with decreased anxiety. It seems counter-intuitive, but he’s growing and maturing in real and impressive leaps. We’re hugely proud of him.
Yet this blog is about me. And the issues I’m dealing with throughout the year. Although it was “Andrea’s cancer”, the year affected me too. As does worrying about Jacob, and everything that goes with his medical conditions. On top of my own, and the stress of work.
The other night, I was trying to fall asleep, and I couldn’t stop thinking, “What if..?”. What if Andrea loses her eyesight or experiences a significant reduction? What if the cancer remission is shorter than we hope? What if she can’t go back to work? I couldn’t stop my damn brain from racing from one terrible outcome to another, feeling it was completely unfair. It doesn’t happen often, but I do experience those thoughts from time to time. In a moment like that, it is hard to find perspective.
As we head into 2023, there are more unknowns and uncertainties than I would like to be dealing with right now and I need perspective.
I want to find a different way of looking at things. A different way to view the year. And that will be my next post. Flipping the narrative from one of despair to one of success and hope.