Tag Archives: work

Learning to Control my Emotions

My job brings me many great benefits. In includes lots of free travel, free training, encouragement to get certifications on their dime and their time, and the endless hotel/air/credit card points. But damnit, do I get sick of putting up with all the bullshit, and there is plenty of it to go around.

But then I think to myself, “When have I ever had a job that didn’t force me to endure a lot of bullshit either one way or the other.” There is no perfect scenario. Something is always going to suck. What needs to change is actually me.

I need to start focusing on harnessing my emotions. I need to learn to become more Zen about my job.

The strange thing is, I’ve pretty well accomplished this in my personal life. I’ve dealt with crap family and in-laws for so long, I’ve just got over it and accepted it. It rarely upsets me anymore as I’ve come to expect the negative parts of my personal life.

Yet, ironically I can’t seem to get over this hump in my professional life, and I’ve been at this career thing for some time now- going on 10 years.

I think I’m going to start a new exercise. Each morning, the first thing I’m going to do when I walk in the office is write down my personal goals for myself that day, but they’re not going to be work goals, they’re going to be emotional goals.

I’m going to repeat it every single damn day until this becomes second nature to me, and I’m going to write it all in this spiffy orange notebook below. Every time I slip up, I’m going to break away and re-write it.

Every… single… day…. Until I become a master of my emotions. The goal isn’t to be emotionless, just in charge of them, to keep them in check at all times. This is my next big challenge in life.

My daily goals for Zen Mastery of my Emotions:

  1. Today, I will not become visibly annoyed.
  2. Today, I will not protest or react over emotionally to any news- good or bad.
  3. Today, I will keep negative remarks and feelings to myself
  4. Today, I will keep calm and cool like a beachside breeze…

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-Holden

Micro-manage the Micro-manager

I have a manager on my current project who micromanages our team to death. Every decision, every detail, he wants to have direct input and control over. It drives us insane.

We are technology consultants. Companies hire us because we are highly specialized in specific fields that it isn’t efficient for companies to be highly specialized in, since they only periodically need the services and skillsets we provide.

Yet, this manager assumes he knows best. His micro-managing destroys not only team morale, but efficiency, productivity and our ability to get the job done RIGHT.

On my current project, I am in charge of managing a ton of data from various data sources. It’s a sticky job, made worse by a manager who insists on being part of the entire process of doing the job, even insisting at times we use the wrong technology or techniques to manage the data.

Finally, I got fed up with the micromanagement and decided to give him what he wanted- in-depth, mega hands on decision making powers to my entire work process.

I started emailing him every query and every database extract and insisting persistently that he sign off on all decisions.

Work ground to a halt as a result. Updates stopped being made. I continued coding and querying at a frenzied pace, filling all requests and doing my job, but the end results weren’t there. I shelved them by sending the endless snippets of code and data extracts in emails, demanding the manager’s seal of approval before moving forward.

This morning, he delegating this role to a junior person in his company. I think I broke him. Now someone less experienced and unfamiliar with our project will be approving all decisions going forward, which essentially means we get our autonomy back (I hope).

In being snarky, I think I may have just happened upon an amazing technique- ‘Micro-managing the Micro-manager to get them off your back!”

Happy Friday.

-Holden

How will we teach our children about the hard knocks of life?

Sadly, my time with Atticus has become more and more scarce as of late. We’re both progressing steadily in our careers, our lives more complicated with children and moody wives and a ton of other responsibilities in between.

At the same time though, I feel more excited about our friendship than ever. We’ve become dedicated pen pals, speaking to each other primarily by web chat, text messages, and curiously, blog posts as opposed to by word.

In Atty’s last post, Lessons in Fatherhood: Part 3, he wrote about yet another whimsical, simultaneously sad but hilarious tale of his father, a man who has scratched, jiggered and hacked his way through life one step at a time. And in doing so, this man has bizarrely instilled these strong core values in his son, all completely by accident!

I had a similar situation with my father as a child, not the part where my dad was a bit of a con-artist but the part where my dad was one of these guys always seemingly down on his luck as well and both unknowingly instilled a bunch of great values in us completely by accident,.

My dad instead taught me great lessons through back breaking labor. It wasn’t that he was a hard ass, or unfair. It was more that, our family wasn’t making ends meet, so on the weekends, or the mornings after he had just spent an entire night working the 3rd shift, we’d go to work doing all sorts of stuff.

I’ll never forget all the time spent riding around in my dad’s old rickety mid-70s model Chevy pickup truck. The floor board was rotted out in it, revealing the asphalt of the road below, it was prone to catching fire if we stalled at red lights too long and when we drove down the road, the smell of exhaust filled our nostrils! But it served our family well.

We used to cut and sell firewood, clean out old garages full of garbage for people, clean up construction sites, do landscaping and even built a fence once.  I never got paid, I just got to help keep the lights on and my belly fat and happy, and that was okay.

How the hell will guys like Atty and I repay the favor to our children? I’m afraid we might not have the chance, and it saddens me because those hot as hell summer and frigidly cold winter days spent working my ass off as a kid are what made me who I am today.

Regardless, it’ll be fun to figure it out with Atty, even if just by online chats, text messages and the occasional blog post. One way or another, I think we’ll succeed.

-Holden

We are drones. Good slaves. Obedient.

A co-worker, Angie, and I had dinner tonight. A meal and a drink.  She chose a fine glass of wine I had never heard of. I was immediately drawn to the dark beer they had on draft, locally brewed, of course.

Angie grew up in a well established suburb of north Atlanta – her neighbors included a few famous Braves baseball players from the mid-90’s you’ve probably heard of and she went to a top private school. Her father is the proud owner of a PHD in religion from Yale. He even did a short stint on a conservative late night radio show some years back.

Angie spent a few months in Europe and was a member of a popular sorority. She and her father are both recent converts to Catholicism. Her mother refuses to call herself anything but Southern Baptist.

To be honest most guys would probably enjoy the company of Angie, but to me she is almost as uninteresting a person I can imagine.

She’s traveled around Europe, but had almost nothing to say about really being there. She spoke fondly of Catholicism, but wrinkled her forehead in disapproval at the mention of Islam.  Privilege and opportunity without an ounce of character or depth.

Angie is an A+ student. Money, fashion, cars, diplomas, education, job titles, religion, and an SUV all mixed together in a carefully blended milkshake of American-made mental incarceration. Life is blurred by lens of perspective that can almost certainly never be undone.  It’s a phenomena I can barely explain.

Angie is a person, but not one.  She’s there, but I can’t have a conversation with her. It doesn’t work – there’s a part missing. The spark that makes us human – the part that allows us to have the basic interaction that proves to one human to another that you are alive – that you are thinking – is missing.

That thing that used to make us human – thought, love, discussion, disagreement, depth. That connection you can only sense from instinct that draws you to an individual, and says, we’re on the same team, we get each other, we’re both human!  It has been replaced with smart screens and anti-social networks. We are drones. Good slaves. Obedient.

I finished my dark beer. A milky head, slightly sweet.

Why Women Earn Less than Men

Do men really earn more than women? Is that because of discrimination? I don’t think so – at least not in the way we think.

For example, my wife is an art teacher and recently accepted a part time job because we are having our first child. In contrast, I was just promoted and have a full time business consultant job. I don’t think this is marketplace discrimination, but rather expectations of gender roles we have accepted.

So is their discrimination in the workplace? I don’t think so. Perhaps it is the gender roles some people are unhappy about.

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Is there a silver lining to government regulation and bureaucracy?

Today I was doing some housework mulling over the US market system and our economy as a whole. Yeah, yeah… I know, sounds boring. I was thinking about conversations my co-blogger Atty and I have had in the past about our general belief that if the market doesn’t call for it, it probably shouldn’t exist.

But then I got to thinking, how many of us have jobs that exist solely because of government regulation, bureaucracy and red tape? If it weren’t for legislation like Sarbanes Oxley and Dodd-Frank, the entire industry Atty works in would largely not exist, and it might seriously hurt my industry (IT consulting) as well. If organizations weren’t required to meet certain standards in accounting, you might argue they’d be able to spend much less money on their IT systems that support their Accounting and Finance regulatory needs.

Then I started connecting the dots between even more industries and government dealings. In the Atlanta area, Lockheed Martin is a major employer. In fact, most of the upper-middle class families in the area probably have at least one engineer, lawyer, or some other white collar professional who is employed by Lockheed.

And what about all the lawyers, accountants, HR professionals, inspectors, environmental engineers and scientists, biologists, etc. that are employed in positions that exist solely to help companies stay compliant with various government regulations? Once upon a time I worked for an environmental consulting organization who saw easily 3/4ths of its revenue come from environmental remediation projects, brought to action be the various Environmental Protection Agencies.

The reality is manufacturing, factories and farming have all become increasingly efficient to the point that they work more and more independently of human intervention all the time. This requires fewer and fewer people to be employed, resulting in just a few specialists and support staff the keep the gears of the machine turning! This has resulted in an evolution in our economy as it has morphed from one where we produce things to one where we toil about as thought workers and service providers.

If we were suddenly free of our endless, mummy-like bandages of government red tape, would it seriously deflate our middle class as so many of these higher paying service jobs disappeared? Would the economy come up with new forms of demands and jobs on its own, given companies had so much more money to retain in the absence of government regulation? Or would all that extra cash simply stay in the corporate coffers?

Food for thought.

-Holden

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Straddling the Fence between Tech Geek and Master Strategist!

Last week I interviewed for two projects within my organization. I’m an IT consultant for a living, and before I am ever assigned to a project I usually have to be interviewed by the senior management on the project and perhaps even the client.

A lot of people balk at this idea, and I’ve seen others appear outright petrified. I guess interviewing is kind of like public speaking to most people. It truly instills deep fear and regret into their hearts! I somewhat like it though. It keeps you sharp and on your ‘A’ game.

One of the positions I interviewed for was a coordinator position that would have a six month commitment and be totally work from home. I’ve been traveling for the last eight months strait with only about four solid weeks home over that entire period, so this job sounded ideal. But to be honest, the job itself scares me to death.

IT people have the privilege of tackling the majority of tasks very scientifically. Yes, some decisions still involve a certain element of politics and other human interferences, but for the most part, IT professionals tend to be faced with a specific task, have a set of available resources and tools at their disposal, and the freedom to go find a solution from there.

This new position would be much more strategic in nature. To date, I’ve only had real world experience of the analytical/scientific type. In fact, I once had a job where my title was staff scientist. So to be given an opportunity to take on a position where my job is very open ended and abstract is actually… well… terrifying.

I started thinking back about all the strategy books I had to read, and all the strategy type instruction I received when I was working on an MBA a while back and for possibly the first time ever, my graduate education applied directly to my job. It was kind of exciting, until I started to feel like I was in over my head.

For a moment I started to freak out a little bit inside. I asked myself, “What the hell am I gonna do man! What if I royally screw this up? What if I fail to meet expectations?”

Then I chilled out a bit and started doing what all good IT geeks and consultants do. I broke it down analytically.

One part Visionary, One part Scientist

I think the key to working well in a coordinator/director/strategic management type position is to apply vision to your overall strategic plan. When I think back on all the cool classes I took as a graduate business student, the one class that really made the greatest impact on the way I thought was the Strategic Management class. Sure, I lapped up the finance and econ classes like a thirsty kitty over a bowl of warm milk, but the strategic management stuff might just have the most real world value.

I remembered a few exercises from class that seemed almost like busy work. One was where we read Cetron and Davies 52 Trends Shaping Tomorrow’s World then critiqued EACH AND EVERY ONE of their assessments and came up with our own future scenarios, all over a single week.  It must have taken me a solid 10 hours to complete that assignment. I still remember being hunched down at work quietly and feverishly sludging through the endless busy work- only now it’s starting to make sense why I had to do that busy work.

Dust off that Imagination!

I watch my daughters pretend to be half a dozen animals on any given day. They’re awesome at it! And in addition to pretending to be little cats, or dogs or chipmunks, my older daughter (she’s four) likes to make up these elaborate stories to go along with whatever type of animal her and her two year old sister are pretending to be.

I started realizing; maybe this is what I need to be doing, only on an adult level. I need to get creative. I need to recapture my imagination. This is what my Strategic Management professor was trying to make up do. Think outside the box, think outside ourselves. Develop creative, alternative end games to your problem. Learn to be a visionary and futurist!

My biggest criticism of IT geeks and extremely technically minded people is that they typically think and work only within a self created perimeter.  Steve Wozniak was an amazing engineer and quite a creative guy when it came to engineering, but he’d have been nothing in the grand scheme of things without the other Steve!

I have the advantage of naturally being a very analytical person, but understanding and realizing the value of thinking big, being imaginative and being a visionary. I just have to put it to work.

Think of what you can do today to dust off your imagination and step out of the box a bit. Where might it take you?

-Holden

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How shit situations build character.

Not too long ago, I was a douchebag. Alright, I’m still a douchebag, but now I am self-aware of my douchiness, which changes everything. When I first got out of college, I went to work for a rural local government. I was one of the only people around who had a college degree and pretty much the best in all the land at what I was hired to do.

I used to think I was irreplaceable and I acted like it. I also had a terrible sense of humor. I used to speak at least thrice as much as I listened. I used to be quick to judge and over opinionated. Oh, and I was a major lard ass.

One day the economy turned south and everything in this rural county went to hell. It was the great recession. Budgets were slashed and heads had to roll. I watched one by one as everyone in my department got fired… but me. Now I really believed my shit didn’t stink. But instead of being thankful I got to keep my job, I quit a few months later because a man of my caliper deserved a hefty raise.

I went on to become a consultant. Even in a down economy, I had no issue hopping gigs. Why? Because I was amazing. At first things were great, but then my sparkling charm came back to bite me. Everyone at the new job hated me. Everyone.

Over the next year and a half, I would go on to be bullied, shafted, passed over for raises, reprimanded and wrote up regularly and basically kicked in the balls on nearly a daily basis. To be fair, my boss and his toady weren’t much better than I was in terms of whom thought their excrement bore a fragrance most similar to lilacs or roses.

Still, I never seemed to get fired. I was just too damn good at what I did. We had clients that only I could work for because no one else had the same skill set. And so, the fathead continued to soar too close to the sun. Then finally, they got fed up and kicked me to the curb. I took my termination with a pompous, over confident smile.

I flew too close to the sun, and my Krispy Kreme head melted! Boo!

About this time in my life I was a little ways into a graduate degree surrounded by other fat heads like myself. We all thought we were so evolved, so important, and so smart. I just knew I’d land an even better job in no time at all.

Then one interview went by… and another… and another. No jobs in sight. Wow. But I was so talented, I didn’t get it. And at school, I was struggling in some classes! How could this be! Time and time again I’d be shown up, out thought, out witted, just plain old out schooled.

Eventually I found another job, but it was just an hourly contractor gig with no benefits, and at my new gig I was no longer a top dog. I was surrounded by all kinds of people much smarter than I who probably also made a lot more money. And as for school, well it wasn’t exactly opening the doors I had hoped it would.

That one day when you realize, “Wow, I’m one disgusting puddle of puke.”

Over that couple of years I had literally gone from a hero to zero in my eyes. I remember hitting rock bottom when looking at some pictures of myself in NOLA with Atty on New Year’s Eve three years ago. There I was painfully overweight (tipping the scales at an impressive 250 lbs.) wearing some retarded graphic tee and thinking I was a badass. Suddenly it hit me:

“Everyone fucking hates you Holden. Everyone thinks you’re a cheeseburger munching ego maniac.”

Suddenly it occurred to me why it was that everyone at my job gave me such a hard time. It wasn’t them, it was ME!  It donned on me why I had always had trouble getting girlfriends, or why my personal relationships always seemed to end up in shambles. And I finally began to understand what I could do to correct myself and make my life substantially more fulfilling and successful.

I felt like a Mr. Potato Head who had been pieced together by a kid doped up on too many A.D.D. meds. I was all mixed up and I needed to pluck out all my pieces so I could put them back together in a much less deformed manner.

De-douching yourself- do you prefer Island Splash, Fresh Scent, Sweet Romance, or odorless?

For a while now I’ve been trying to de-douche myself. It took quick a while for me to figure out just how much I sucked at being a person.  I’ve really only hit the highlights in the post. There was actually a lot more to it than what I’ve shared here. It took getting knocked down over and over to finally jar myself awake.

I have worked painstakingly to adopt a few new personality traits to help keep myself as undouchy as possible:

  1. Listen at least twice as much as you speak.Think deeply, speak softly.
  2. Don’t give advice unless asked for it. When you give advice, tread lightly
  3. Put yourself in other’s shoes. See the world through other’s eyes. Assume nothing.
  4. Adopt an iron clad policy of honesty and integrity. Never steal. Try not to lie, embellish or gossip.
  5. Be good to your wife and compliment her often, even when she looks like hell—especially when she looks like hell.

-Holden

Being a stay at home mom isn’t all fun and games…

Back when my wife and I first got married, we were like most any young couple. Money was tight and we struggled a bit to make it at times. I was fresh out of college with a degree that only merited a $27k a year salary and my wife was still in school and waiting tables.

Then she eventually got out of school and things leveled off a bit. We climbed up the financial ladder a little more and had our first child. Life was okay, and for most people this was the time where you settle in and live your mediocre version of the “American Dream” with two cars parked out front and watching the kids grow up as the years pass by.

It didn’t take long for that white picket fence American dream to lose its luster and I started working for more. Over time I grew my personal business more and went to grad school to get another degree that would help me get what I so desired- a change.

Somewhere along the way my wife got left behind. All she’s ever known or comprehended is the typical American life and I don’t think she quite understood what it was I was battling for. Did I want a bigger house? No. Did I want a new car? Hardly… I wanted opportunity. Opportunity to do whatever it is I felt like doing.

Then baby #2 came along, a pleasant but shocking surprise. Suddenly I feared that I would have to settle in and give up on this idea I had of chasing after these grand ideas fancied up while daydreaming in my cubicle or on long commutes to and from work. But instead, I just told my wife to quit her job…

Virtually all of our friends and family saw this as a noble gesture. I was creating the true American dream for my family. My wife barefoot and pregnant at home while I went off to bang on the door of corporate America and make a healthy, honest living for my family and someday send my two kids off to a fancy college. I quietly let them think that and let my wife think the world of me for giving her something very few other moms we knew had the opportunity to do- be at home with the kids.

The pitfalls of being a stay at home mom

Initially my wife was elated to be a stay at home mom. She never cared for her job or the field she worked in and was more than happy to call it quits. But then the tides slowly began to turn. Over the last year we have become more and more distant as our lives continue to diverge.

At first she would simply be upset that while she was home all day with the kids, changing diapers, dealing with the crying, cleaning up messes, I was out having nice meals with the guys over lunch break. Eventually even studying for school or dealing with personal clients became an issue. The pressure of dealing with the kids just kept building up more and more. And sadly, I was all but oblivious.

Over time it seems to only continually get worse. When I was still in grad school, finding time to study and read became hell on earth. Between fussy babies and a depressed wife, I never wanted something to be over so bad in my life. But I kept pushing ahead with my selfish ambition to go get what I wanted.

Then I got out of school and I took a great paying job, only it required me to travel, something I have always wanted to do. And so I drive a wedge further between my wife and myself.

Things come to a head

This morning I was walking to work and my wife asked me what I did last night. I’m working in Philly right now and I had taken a long walk into South Philly to try the original Philly cheesesteaks at Pat’s King of Steaks and Genos.

She almost immediately started yelling at me. Saying she never has time to do anything for herself. That when I’m home all I do is work, or do projects, or this… or that… It is all 100% true. But the story has another side. I work because that is what I do. I work. Someone has to keep the house fixed up, someone has to mow the grass, and someone has to earn a living. But my wife doesn’t see it that way. She just sees her and two kids that feel like chains around her neck.

So I give up. I told her to find a job and go back to work. I can’t make her happy, only she can. I’m also tired of feeling this deep guilt for simply enjoying the life I earned. Yes, she is at home with the kids night after night while I’m out exploring big cities and having fun. And no, it isn’t fair. But what can I do? Just stop? Go back to some subpar mediocre cubicle hell to make my wife feel better about her life?

Yes, it is selfish. I am selfish. But I earned what I have. I spent eight years in college, I built my own business to pay for college, and I put in all the long hours and hell of studying, reading, writing and researching to get here.

I have decided I can’t talk to my wife about my life anymore. I’ll simply leave the fun parts out and keep conversation during the week strictly family related. It all has to remain secret, only shared in little corners around the internet with strangers, like I am right now.

-Holden

The Courage to Live

This is an email I wrote to my best friend today.  After sending it I realized it might be worth sharing with the world.  

Dearest Holden,

Here I am.  Sitting in this little grey cubical at a client I could live with or without.  I’ve sent a few planning emails to clients for my upcoming weeks of travel.  I am executing yet another items request list for yet another client that I have in a few weeks.  So the process goes.

I imagine about right now you are being orientated (at his new job) in some way.  You probably feel a mix of feelings.  A feeling of “I made it” mixed with some excitement and maybe even a little nervousness.  You probably feel some need to rush on to your first project thinking “I just want to get started”.  Oh, and your ambition – your unlimited ambition to be promoted to the next level all to increase that paycheck and put a little more cushion and security between your family and the evils of poverty.

I’ll tell you what I’m thinking.  I am contemplating dreams.  Dreams of giving tourist sailing lessons and fruity drinks on some majestic Island or lake in the mountains.  Dreams of travel, adventure, and excitement.  Dreams of taking one-of-kind photos, writing stories about life, debating the economic and political future of the world.  Dreams where the monotony ends and the excitement doesn’t.  A life so full, so exhausting, and so lived that when I die I will be ready – without regret.

Ask yourself this Holden.  Is this the best your life can be lived?  For myself, sometimes I wonder.  When I die will I look back and say – I should have don it differently.  Or will I look back and say “Damn, that was awesome.”  I hope the latter is what’s in store for my future dying self – I only hope I have the courage to live that way.  Courage.  Courage to get out there and bust society in the mouth.  

Otherwise we’re beat.  We’re beat with the big stick of status quo.  I grin at my 22 days vacation.  I think that’s awesome.  Then I realize the other 250 work days a year I’m stuck wasting most of my time forgetting what it’s like to live a truly amazing life.

We are stuck behind the idea that we are “supposed to do”, “supposed to have”, “supposed to…”, and we so quickly forget what we need.  What we need to live amazingly.  Maybe all that we do is a means to the end – I just hope we realize it when that end comes.  I hope we make the leap.

So here’s to always remembering to be awesome.  Let’s get to it.