Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Adjustment Mosaic

I'm still in the adjustment period of the new job. At least that's what I'm telling myself. Pretty much everyone I've talked to about being a Program Reviewer has told me that it takes up to a year before you really feel like you know what's going on.


For someone who doesn't like not knowing what's going on, having the sand shift under her feet with every step, and hates feeling stupid, that sounds like *forever!!*

There have been missteps: kinda embarrassing when the Deputy had to show me how to submit an e-chit for leave authorization (yes, I've already taken my first day of leave...today in fact. I had to be home to receive the shipment of Mom's stuff. And let me say, today has been *ree-*dic*ulously* productive. Got the furniture, cleaned the house, had the plumber come to unstop the tub from draining slowly and fix the toilet so it's not wobbly anymore, *installed the kitchen cabinet hardware!!,* baked pumpkin bread (and mmm, it's good), fixed a piece of furniture that didn't quite make it through the move whole, paid some bills, and (finally) wrote a blog post. I'm thinking one week-day off a month is going to be a necessity from now on.). And I hadn't paid close enough attention to the process for reviewing Qs (informal questions submitted by outside interests), so a response went out that wasn't exactly what was approved, and then because I still didn't understand the process, one went out about three days later than it needed to...after the Deputy sent an email saying that we needed to make sure our Programs submitted their responses in a timely manner in order to meet the deadlines, especially in this critical time of congressional review of our budget. Whoops.

I'm trying to just take it all in. I've had some modest insights so far...and they are randomly offered here as my adjustment mosaic:
--there is no right way to be a Reviewer. There are definitely traits that encourage success, like knowledge (process, political structure, technical...), critical thinking, assertiveness, good time management, written and spoken communication skills, and general nosiness. But how those qualities all mix up and are expressed is not writ in stone. So just because my cell-...I mean, office-mate is gregarious and quick-witted, doesn't mean that I will not be a good Reviewer just because I am definitely *not* either of those things. I must play to my own strengths and not try to be something I'm not.

--What I don't want to be is cynical. Yet what I likely am is naive, somewhat sanctimonious, and idealistic. But I *chose* to go to 821...sure, I had to be accepted there, but I asked for it. Kinda been working my way towards it since my CO put it on my OER back in 2007. The intervening years only made it make more sense in my head that this was where I wanted to be. Is it going to be hard work and long hours (including numerous and stupidly boring meetings)? Of course. And I don't mind, because it's also going to be an opportunity to influence the future of the organization. But I don't want to be cynical about the pathological dedication that a lot of people in the building have to working exactly and only business hours, or that the place turns into a ghost town at 4:01 pm. I don't want to be cynical that, right or wrong, people may blame me personally for the fact that their budget isn't as robust as they would like. I don't want to be cynical about the malaise that seems to infect so many issues at Headquarters so that simple processes turn into absurdly time-consuming slogs through endless backs-and-forths because no one wants to commit to a decision. And I don't want to be cynical that manuals make it through high levels of review but still contain numerous and egregious typos when they hit my desk for review. Sadly, just from my descriptions, it seems like I'm losing the battle. I must not forget why I'm there.

--Weird to have two references to said CO in the same post (didn't really care to work for him, and going through the process of him getting fired pretty much sucked...however I have to acknowledge what I learned from him) and I'm not sure how it really relates to the new job, but he always said, "you don't know what you don't know." For some reason that statement reminds me of Kathryn Schulz's TED talk about being wrong. I keep coming back to this talk, and watching again...*def* recommend it. One of her first points is that being wrong feels just like being right, until you know you're wrong...like Wiley E. Coyote when he runs of the cliff chasing the Roadrunner. He's fine until he realizes he's in mid-air. Then she says, [culturally, we think] "people who get stuff wrong are lazy, irresponsible dimwits...and the way to succeed in life is to never make any mistakes." Followed by, "This attachment to our own rightness keeps us from preventing mistakes when we absolutely need to and causes us to treat each other terribly." Maybe it's just something that I need to keep in mind throughout my discussions (especially the contentious ones) with people. I don't know everything, neither do they, but somehow we've got to come up with the best resolution. And the best way to do that might just be to realize that I'm not always right.

--"Trust but verify." I don't remember where I first heard this phrase, but it has since become a constant theme throughout my career. In this job, however, it's taking on a slightly different flavor. It's more just "Verify!" Or "Question Everything:" where did that data come from? how was it collected? what are its biases? is it complete? who collected it? why was it collected? is there a better source of information? is it an average? what was left out? Maybe that's why I've been thinking about the stuff from that last paragraph lately...I don't always know what to ask...I don't know what I don't know, and I'm having to work through asking *everything* just to figure out what I need to ask.

Huh, I guess that's why I like writing this blog...it helps me to make sense of the white noise in my head, realize connections that I didn't recognize were there.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The First Week

I think I survived the first week. At least I didn't run screaming from the building, or end up hiding under my desk twitching...so I'll call that a good week. It was kinda touch and go there on the first day for a little bit, but then I ate dinner, and realized that the sky really *wasn't* falling down all around me.

My initial impression is that it's gonna be hard to write about the new job here. Lots of pre-decisional and internal messaging discussions that really have no business being broadcast outside the confines of the palace (that's the puzzle palace, aka Headquarters, for you non CG-types). Once a decision has been made by the big guy at the top (which may be, I don't know, the President, the Secretary, or the Commandant, depending on what we're talking about), disagreement is done respectfully in private (not on a silly little blog). And until a decision has been made by the big guy at the top, all the rest is just noise...but it's that noise that I'll be dealing with every day. But, having said that, I think I'll need this forum more than ever to think through and process how I deal with the challenges. The dicey part may be to explain the underlying situation without giving away all the juicy details that would get me in trouble. Hopefully it doesn't turn into an awkward exercise in diplomacy and double-speak.

So this here's my first attempt...

And it kinda just sounds like I'm whining. But I spent some effort refining a briefing sheet (one-page summary, basically, to prep senior leadership for Congressional testimony after the President's budget is released on Monday...not too important, really. Totally just kidding, there...apparently bad humor is how I deal with the political scariness that is my new job.). Routed it through the program. Finally got their concurrence on it (after sending an "updated" version in prep for a face-to-face meeting, but then realizing when I got to the meeting that I had sent an old draft...[head slap]...*great* first impression, Girl!), then ran it back up my chain where what seemed like minor changes were made, but to which the program took exception. It was as close as I came to banging my head against the wall all week.

It was a frustrating roundabout that was a good lesson in what this job is about. The folks I've spoken to about being a Reviewer all seem to agree that we have kind of a split-personality role: first, making sure the programs are in line with overall current policy (which right now, means budget cuts and more budget cuts...which the programs usually don't like) and second, being a staunch advocate for the program, arguing on their behalf to ensure they have the resources they need to meet program requirements. So, regardless of what my own personal feelings may be about a leadership decision, I can only communicate and stand by that down to the program level. The advocacy part comes in, I think (not so sure about this part yet) when putting together communications received by the senior leadership (briefing books, budget recommendations -- in the form of RPs (resource proposals), stuff like that).

Just for the record, I'm not sure if *any* of this is an accurate reflection of my new world of work. It's all still so new to me. I think my biggest accomplishment of the week was to find the easiest, most direct way to get from my car to my cubicle. It reminds me of my first week on BOUTWELL, where getting from my stateroom to the wardroom took me on a different route every time I attempted it. This, though, this isn't like trying to drink from your normal fire hose...it's more like trying to drink from Niagara Falls.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

What It Takes

In all my maundering to my friends about the stress of starting a new job, I've had a few conversations recently about what it takes to be successful. Well, to be a rockstar, actually, since that seems to be the preferred parlance of our service. And I'm not saying I have any intentions of being a rockstar...I'd really rather just be able to walk out at the end of the day with a sense of having made my best effort. And hopefully that's enough that I don't make a complete muck up of my responsibilities.

So what does it take to not make a complete muck up of what I'm doing? One good friend for whom I have complete respect (and is definitely a ROCKSTAR!! of the highest order...*waaay* beyond my league) said that it's a matter of momentum. You get one job that you do well at, so you're given the next bit of responsibility, and you do well at that one and you get another good job and...future success snowballs from past success. I think her exact words at one point were, "Anybody could do these jobs."

Huh, there's a bit of a reality-checking ego bomber. And I think the snowball effect  has more to do with the scope of success over a career, rather than at any one job. I may need to get her to explain her thoughts on the "anybody could do these jobs" statement as it relates to a particular position. Because, I'm not sure I agree with her. She seems to have been born with the political savvy to easily spot the shoal waters of our hierarchical organization and how to navigate around them. Me, not so much.

Tangential aside: Thank god she's my friend and has been so generous with her advice! Though, really?! do I have to wait a whole month before I take in my stability ball to use as my office chair? I mean I can understand waiting a coupla-three months before dropping the f-bomb in front of the CAPT (hopefully this never happens, but a) this is *me* we're talking about and b) my desk is like, 15 feet from his office door, so chances are good that it will eventually occur), but are they really gonna care what I sit on? Tee hee.

Anyway, back to business...

Another good friend, who is also a rockstar in his field, said that it's all about putting in the time and effort. He doesn't feel like he's anything particularly special when it comes to what he does, capability-wise, but he puts in nearly 12-hour days because he enjoys what he's doing and well, doesn't have anything better to do, since his kids aren't close by. So he gets a lot done, and is the go-to-guy in his office.

It actually sounds to me like there's two things contributing to his success: the time he puts in *and* the enthusiasm he has for what he's doing.

This is where I took a break from writing this post and went off to clean the house. As I was on my hands and knees, scrubbing the tub, it occurred to me that I missed a potential critical aspect of this whole discussion. What do I mean by "success?" Or at least, what do I mean by "not failure?" Is it when someone else tells me I've done a good job, or thinks I'm good at what I do, or respects me for my capabilities?

I really hope not, because I've been trying hard lately to not give a rat's ass what other people think. It may stem from yoga classes - trying to focus on myself as I am that day, in that posture, in that moment, and not comparing how I'm doing to how I did the time before or to anyone else in the class. But, ya know what...not caring what other people think is damn hard. Contrary Goddess (I love her wisdom! And though I've never met her in person, I think of her as a wonderfully grounded mentor. There have been many times when she has said *exactly* what I need to hear.) got me thinking about this a while back in her post, which is not really about what other people think, but is about a lack of self-doubt.
People who need assurance, who are always in need of support, their egos are out of control and controlling them.  But people who can stand whether it be in the calm or in the storm, well, the only way it is possible to do that is to be ego-less... Non-attachment is ego-less-ness; it is the hand opening and not grasping, not controlling, not blaming.  There is nothing that makes you happy or unhappy outside of you.
For all my life, I've been in the former category, but see the tremendous value in tending towards the later, if for no other reason than my own sanity. However, in my profession, if I'm going to try to be ego-less, I need to examine whether my values of what it means to do a good job align with what my organization values. Because if not, I will always, *always* be fighting a depressing battle, with the very real possibility of losing myself in the melee.

I value: the ability to see and appreciate the importance of multiple sides of the same story (compassion, empathy, respect?), passion (dedication?), curiosity (intelligence?), communications (thoughtful analysis?) and my own special brand of integrity (making your best effort, willingness to accept consequences, being (at the *very* least) honest with yourself?). My organization values: honor, respect and devotion to duty...or at least those are the core values. I suspect their  actual application can be interpreted differently, depending on who is doing the evaluation. But close enough. I think there's enough common ground that I'm not doomed to continual strife over misaligned values... though the devil always *is* in the details.

Funny how this post started out as one thing, but became about something quite different, but way more important to me. Screw "what it takes." I'm much better off spending my time, energy, effort living up to my own values.

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Final Countdown

I start work on Monday. My family and friends are sick of hearing me worry and fret and stress and ponder and otherwise over-analyze this new adventure. Or maybe it's that I'm sick of hearing myself do all those things. Six weeks of leave might have been too much time off, though I have to admit I've gotten *a lot* done.

So here's a little of what I've been doing before I go on whining about Monday.

--My kitchen is finally, well, not done, but a lot closer. It still needs to be painted. And cabinet handles and drawer knobs put on. But, BUT, there are no more gaping, floor to ceiling holes in the wall and the ceiling is not dropping little bits of plaster into my food and dishes anymore. It looks *amazing!* So for paint, I'm thinking a nice jewel-tone blue-violet? I might try green to match the curtains, but somehow that doesn't feel right. And, these pictures really don't do it justice.

--The windows in the house are (almost) all refurbished. Now they (almost) all have storm windows and screens and all the weights work so the windows stay up by themselves. I say almost because the guys weren't able to finish the last two in the master bedroom. They've got to come back. Drat!

--The crawl space waterproofing crew is scheduled to come out later in the month, after the termite treatment is done. Josh, from My Organic Garden, is coming out for an assessment next weekend. I'm hoping he'll sign on to help me with the garden this summer, figuring I'm not going to have an abundance of time to do it myself...never mind that I've got something of a brown thumb.

--And hopefully by the end of the day, the house will be clean, too. I'm waiting until the weatherproofing crew is done with some left over punch list items before I start on cleanups. Or is that just my excuse to be lazy and sit on the couch for a little longer? Kinda hard to tell.

---I went into Headquarters and took care of some initial admin stuff: getting my ID badge and parking pass, and getting my computer account transfer started. Hopefully that will make things go a little more smoothly on Monday.

And so I find myself back to talking about Monday. Anticipation is a bitch sometimes. I mean, sometimes it's fun...like looking forward to a first date with a cool guy or getting on an airplane to Hawaii for a month or breakfast after the 4-8s. Those are all nice anticipations. This one, however, has slightly more trepidation mixed in. 

I'm nervous. There, I said it, out loud, to god knows who. All of my friends I've said it to have been very kind and reassuring, that I'll do fine, that I'll settle in and end up kicking ass. Sure, that's how I'm hoping it comes out. But the not knowing what it's going to be like leaves so much room for my imagination to dream up all *kinds* of ways that I'm going to screw up...uniform malfunctions, etiquette and honors blunders, communication missteps, judgment errors (probably the scariest of all), social awkwardness, protocol ignorance, lack of basic knowledge...or even lack of the right knowledge at the right time...god, the list is endless.

I think I've finally convinced myself of my basic philosophy of treating everyone with respect, not being blinded and intimidated by a profusion of gold bands or bars and not passing personal judgment in a professional setting. I was going to add, "thinking before I speak," but I know that's probably (definitely) my stretch goal. It's something to strive for though, for certain :)

So that's what I'll spend my weekend pondering...trying to set those guidelines firmly in my head. And not tweaking too badly on all the rest.

GO GIANTS! But only because I don't want the Pats to win. I actually am still holding a grudge against Eli Manning for dissing San Diego in the draft. But anyone's better than seeing New England as the champions (see Frank...I'm overly predictable too).