Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Ambiguous times call for firm measures

"Must be able to deal with ambiguity"....almost all job descriptions at Microsoft have that pre-qualification clause. I've never paid much attention to it - of course, I can deal with ambiguity.... for the right job. I mean, c'mon..what does that even mean?

Once I interviewed for a job where they asked me, "Are you comfortable with change?"
"Well, considering I have never lived in a place longer than 3 years for my entire life, I would say - Yes, I am quite comfortable with change." What I didn't say was, "I'm working on getting more comfortable with non-change." When things stay the same and nothing is changing, THAT is what drives me a little nuts. So maybe, by nature, some of us are more tuned to thriving in chaos..I've always enjoyed the novelty of a new setting and the challenge of creating order out of craziness. I do realize its not everyone's cup of tea..just had a conversation with a friend who was pulling his hair out in the midst of such a situation. Made me think - when things are a mess..stuff is happening and you don't know what to do or how it's all going to play out, what do you do? How do you take things in stride and keep doing your thing? How do you not let stuff drive you crazy? Here are some things that have worked for me in the past

1. Work in the universe I control - there are things you can influence and things you cannot. Staying within the realm of controllable and doing the best you can do there is the first thing to do. Actually, before you can stay in that universe, you identify that space. at work, especially, I have a tendency to get carried away and imagine doomsday scenarios. Everytime I find myself going there, I rein in the thoughts and ask myself - What about this, can I control? Can I do a better job in that sphere?" And then I redouble my efforts in that area, fortify myself against all eventualities and then let life (and upper management) do its thing. Sounds fair - right?

2. GGet all the information - Faced with the prospect of a re-org at work, I'm talking to a lot of people - including up and down my direct chain of command. They don't have all the answers - or perhaps they just want to share just yet, but having done my research - putting my questions, my preferences and my fears out there helps me relax. I'm also looking at other groups and observing what they do. In my spare time, I write out how I could work with X group - what would I be able to add to them, what skills could I apply?

3.Build Lists- I love lists...I plan and dream in lists. So when I am not sure what I am supposed to do next or I have a million things in my head, I write stuff down in a list. We're planning to trip soon - its going to cost a lot of money but there has been a new development in the family which means we might not be able to take the trip. We talked about it everyday and tried to move forward but every time we talked, we left it off somewhere unresolved because there was so much we don't know yet. So at night, before falling asleep, I wrote in my little notebook. What are the all the things I need to do if we are going - Buy tickets, Get Vacation time, Inform the kids Schools, Get work projects done by a certain date, Inform a friend that we would not be able to go their wedding. I marked each item on the list with what was "reversible" - if I informed my boss I needed time off and told him there was a chance I wouldn't go, that would be OK. Same for the kids' school and so on. Nothing really changes but having that written down and having drop dead dates for getting everything done in either case gives me a plan and a plan gives me comfort. I know - I'm a little neurotic that way.

5. Write The Plan - One step up from the list is the plan - the roadmap. Its a work tool that I shamefacedly admit, I have used for home - but I have not yet created a PowerPoint deck for a family presentation. I am,however, creating a powerpoint deck for work. As I expand my scope of work and take on more things to do, it sometimes get distracting to know exactly what I need to focus on and what I am missing. So I'm creating a step by step look at what I do, how I do it , who will help me and what I need to get done in the next month, quarter and so on. Just starting the work on that already helps calm the feeling of not being sure where I am supposed to be next.

6. One step at a time - The day tight compartment thing is the hardest for me to do - I am constantly drifting between wallowing in the past or creating future castles in the air. Not knowing what the future looks like can be a shaky foundation for those castles - and when I can't dream, I am miserable. In such time, I focus myself on building smaller castles. When we moved from New Jersey to Seattle and lived in corporate housing for a while, it was hard not knowing where we would be living, how our lives were going to fall in place. I focused then on small conquests - my goal each day was to do a little research on a town or neighborhood, another day it was to explore the area where we were living, another day I focused on getting something done at work - all small victories that I could check off my list and feel like I was in control

7. Treat myself - After I've used all my mind control to make sense of nonsense, I love to get a cup of coffee or whatever your guilty pleasure is and watch something fun/silly/absorbing on TV. Mad Men makes me forget the chaos of life - works every time - I promise!