2011 08 18

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Contents

Feature Cast for 2011-08-18

(00:00:17.406) Intro

(00:03:49.066) Listener Feedback

(00:09:29.920) Hacker Word of the Week: flood

(00:10:17.530) Inner Chapter: Adjustment

  • When I shared an earlier Inner Chapter on work life balance over four years ago
    • My thoughts were pretty general, assuming a relatively set fulcrum for the teeter-totter
      • Between career and personal pursuits
    • http://thecommandline.net/2007/02/07/the-command-line-2007-02-07-comment-line-360-252-7284/
    • Since that time I've gone through two job changes
    • For each, I actively adjusted my work-life balance, taking steps in response
      • To specific experiences and their impact on me emotionally
    • In the one case this was a more conscious process
      • But in the other I almost didn't realize what was going on
    • Once I did, I thought it would make for an interesting topic to examine
    • Put simply, we all have jobs we've enjoyed more or less than others
    • That reaction informs how much we put in one pan of the scales
      • Versus the other, whether we really think about it or not
    • I am sure that some of you have had jobs that you felt were little more
      • Than ways to collect a pay check, to support yourself, your family and outside interests
    • Conversely, I'd bet there are just as many that have felt at one time or another
      • That a particular opportunity is far more than a job
    • Maybe it was a vision or product in which you believed particularly strongly
      • Or maybe like me it was a place where the work you did
      • Effected more than a market, supporting broader or deeper goals
        • Than ones usually associated with a purely professional career
    • I think there is a bit of a pendulum swing, a certain tempo
    • At different times, probably as a result of pushing too hard to one end or the other
      • I've found myself much more noticeably pushing back in the opposite direction
    • My most recent couple of gigs really bring this home to me
      • Book ended a neat single cycle of that periodic ebb and flow
    • In sitting down to gather my thoughts for this discussion, looking further back
      • I realized that there have been multiple points in my career
        • Where how I approach new turns has been strongly informed by the outcome of the last
  • There is a lesser phenomenon at work here though perhaps initially more obvious
    • With my current day job that I only started back in March
      • I had a striking moment just the other week of realizing pretty much
        • The very moment when I had gone from the newness of the environment
        • To any easy accustomed feeling
    • One of the things I enjoy a great deal, maybe a little perversely
      • About traveling, especially for work which more often sends me to very new places
      • Is the feeling of dislocation that occurs
    • Much more than with vacation travel I am talking about the occasional sense
      • That I am way out of my element, the horizons are foreign as are ever little thing around me
    • I think part of the appeal is seeing how I react and adapt to the differences
      • Reassuring myself that I am able to adapt and thrive
    • I realize that new employment offers that same sort of experience but perhaps spread out a bit more
    • It was certainly new to me to have this realization and to make that transition
      • From feeling like a bit of an outsider, a newby, to feeling like I belonged
        • Like my new surroundings were comfortable and familiar
    • If we are fortunate, we spend far more time feeling like a part of any given workplace
      • Than that initial fraction of time where everything is new and strange
    • This leads us to mostly taking this sort of transition for granted
    • Even in this smaller window of experience there is potentially an interesting insight
    • I had the opportunity to attend an event at my new employer before I started there
      • And afterwards to join many of my soon to be coworkers for a lunch out
    • I was struck at the time of how comfortable I was around them all
      • How easily I immediately got along
    • Outside of very carefully crafted and often more in-depth and rigorous interview processes
      • We rarely get this sort of insight, a chance to see how joining an existing team
        • May affect the dynamic and inform the sorts of adjustments we might make
    • Those first few weeks at a new job, if paid enough attention, might act as a good gut check
      • On the hopefully much larger balance of time we hope to spend on each new venture
  • BREAK
  • In the first case I mentioned at the outset, I found myself increasing my detachment
    • And with a very conscious motivation, for emotional protection
    • Deep personal investment in a job risks being bruised pretty badly
    • The job before my last job was just such an instance
      • Where I had helped this small company rebuild their development team almost from scratch
    • I worked through several new product launches
      • As well as working very hard to understand existing code considered legacy by most
      • And working very hard to stabilize it, addressing many of the support headaches
        • That plagued the support and development folks when I started there
    • It was a good shop, with a team I felt proud to lead, to have put together in the first place
    • The technology mix was comfortable with just enough opportunity to try new things
    • I felt for most of the time that I was there that I'd be there a very long time
    • Towards the end, that all soured in very short order
    • The team dynamic, more the inter team dynamic, became intensely political
    • My apparent promotion to better represent my direction of a larger team
      • Was taken by a rival as a power grab
    • Since he was more senior by a couple of years but professionally incredibly immature
      • He pushed back very hard, effectively making it impossible for me to stay
    • Needless to say, I was smarting pretty hard when I started the job after that
    • I didn't want to be vulnerable to that sort of reversal again
    • Going into that last gig before my current one, I very much cultivated a detachment
    • As much as my deeply ingrained sense of professionalism would allow
      • I tried to treat it as much more of a pay check than the experience before it
    • In some ways, I channeled Harvey Pekar who I heard talking about his day job
      • In an interview with Douglas Rushkoff before Pekar passed and Rushkoff stopped podcasting
    • The pair talked about the pursuit of slack
      • Which is not anywhere near as lazy or irresponsible as it sounds
    • Having previously cultivated an intense work ethic, even while trying to maintain
      • A reasonable work-life balance, thinking about slack was a bit surreal at times
    • The idea is that your personal projects are undoubtedly going to be far more interesting
    • These, as a group, can be lumped under that slack, the things you do because you want
      • Versus the other things you have to do in order to support that slack
    • My podcast, for one, has outlived three jobs over the past six plus years
    • This is probably as much to do with the nature of working in technology as anything
      • But all the same it is still a strong indication of how important it is to me
    • Adopting this fresh perspective, I took as many steps as I could to maintain a distance
      • So much so that a manager at my six month review clearly noticed
    • This didn't change my attitude towards that particular span of work
    • I avoid as many work related social gatherings as I could get away with
      • And only spent time during the day with a single coworker with whom I had an outside friendship
    • In thinking about this example, I recognized that after the bubble burst at the end of the nineties
      • I went through a very similar withdrawing from the social aspects of the workplace
      • Though not in as conscious a manner as at my last job
    • What is needed to sustain reasonable mental health shifts over time
      • Sometimes such that we need to be more defensive, erect more barriers between vocation
        • And the rest of life, like family, friendship, and personal enthusiasms
  • I noticed something that I might have overlooked had I not built up this distance
    • Many employers in technology in the last decade have undertaken a very concerted effort
      • To try to convince employees that work should be both their second and third place
    • The third place was a public space that Ray Oldenburg suggested in his writings
      • Was critical for communal and civic engagement
    • It is contrasted with the first place, our home, and the second place, our work
    • The implication is that the informal public gathering places like coffee shops and libraries
      • Are as essential to our well being as our intimate family roots
      • And the more tangible satisfaction and rewards we derive from our professions
    • I haven't yet read The Great Good Places but the idea as I understand it
      • From others who've discussed it has a certain appeal
        • As it explains our need for not just a work-home balance
        • But a multidimensional set of needs that include our outwardly social and civic selves
    • I've had the opportunity to see from the inside the single best example
      • Of the coopting of the urge towards a non-work, non-home third place
        • By an employer interested in capturing
        • Every last ounce of productive effort from its workforce
    • Google clearly crafts their environments to try to convince employees they have little reason
      • To need a distinct third place apart from whatever campuses at which they work
    • There is food always on offer of a quality that may be more appealing than at home
      • And certainly designed for a worker's family to enjoy visiting to partake
    • The main venues where free food is on offer tend to draw in a crowd more diverse
      • Than any given employee's immediate project collaborators
    • Scattered all throughout the larger offices are comfortable nooks
      • Crafted with the intent not just to foster hallway conversations
      • But to support all kinds of scene changes and breaks
        • That otherwise would take place outside the work environment
    • I don't think Google is honestly trying to take advantage of its employees
    • Undoubtedly they think the care and investment in these spaces makes them equivalent
      • To outside spaces that nourish their workers' other needs
    • The problem is that luring them away from truly separate, public spaces
      • Stunts the growth those third places are meant to foster
    • Google's campuses strike me as being very much like those of colleges
      • Perhaps intentionally so given the strong academic contingent and the very young workforce
    • The problem with extending the college experience, especially
      • One more similar to the underclassmen years
        • Is that it avoids the opportunity for maturation that even an extended degree seeker
        • Goes through as they approach matriculation and as applicable the receipt of advanced degrees
    • Even setting aside how this particular take by many start ups
      • May interfere with community and civic engagement
      • It certainly impacts how employees think about a healthy balance
        • And evaluation choices about emotional hygiene both towards and away from the focus of work
  • BREAK
  • The new position I started back in March clearly is a swing towards engagement for me
    • I had long been considering making a move towards something like this
      • Where my efforts were directly in support of the public interest
      • Rather than aiding yet another startup with a funky idea bring it to market
    • It isn't surprising that I'd start to pour more of myself back into my work
    • Unlike the very self-aware backing away before this
      • I don't think I was anywhere near as conscious of how this re-engagement was effecting me
    • One very visible clue, one with which I've been putting off coming to terms
      • Is the effect this has had on the podcast
    • I've missed more episodes and blog posts since starting at New America
      • Than I have at any other time outside of travel for events
    • There have been other signs to which I wasn't paying enough attention
    • As I discussed in a couple of recent features
    • Making the move much earlier than I anticipated I think short circuited my adjustment
    • I clearly on half digested the various impacts, especially the new demands on me
    • In retrospect, I should have taken more time to really think through
      • And absorb how I had successfully pursued my wishes much sooner than planned
    • At least I am recognizing the need for this contemplation pretty early on
      • And have the opportunity to take specific steps to better dial in my balance of pursuits
    • Feeling like I would have to remain in the private sector for several more years
      • Also prevented me from fully thinking about the reciprocal movement
        • To the withdrawing I had started to do at my last job
    • I think I was also short sighted, thinking only about the immediate changes
      • That I'd need to make to move from the private sector to a not-for-profit
    • Clearly when figuring out large course changes in your career
      • You need to think about through the ramifications and adjustments
        • At all scales, from the one time to the recurring and the long range
    • The job satisfaction is well worth the new demands, the new balance
      • That haven't as fully engaged in figuring out as I should have
    • I suppose that is the point, that as much as disappointment encourages detachment
      • Strong alignment of beliefs, goals and outcomes
      • Will motivate a move backwards being fully engaged with coworkers
        • Including social extensions of the work and other more holistic aspects
  • The factors effecting balance are as important to re-visit as the balance itself
    • Adjusting priorities both at the workplace and at home
      • Clearly shouldn't assume that the answer at any given time
      • Will remain the same, immutable for all time
    • For one thing, I realize that I perhaps to easily fixate on the negative
      • At least given the points I've discussed in previous segments in this vein
    • Perhaps that is a bias in my experience, that I've been more places
      • That demand what I've felt is more than they are entitled
    • I clearly feel like I've had to be more protective of my time and attention
    • In retrospect, I suspect that was a long, slow signal that I should have made my move
      • Much sooner than I actually did, as much as I feel I did so ahead of a feasible schedule
    • So perhaps the key to adjustment is a lesson I've found useful elsewhere
      • To utilize active listening, to stretch awareness to understand when a shift is need
      • Not just in the directions in ways we assume
        • But try to find a way to see clearly and honestly
        • What is truly called for not just to maintain a healthy balance
        • But to ensure that our work is as fulfilling as it deserves to be

(00:31:13.897) Outro

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