No longer here, but there – FGHart.com

I’ve rolled up three blogs into one: FGHart.com.

In the beginning, there was YouGottaWonder at Our Own Oasis, created for sharing updates with my extended family. The focus was generally on random things like landscaping, interior decorating, exercising, etc.

Then came A Mother’s Angst, created for sharing foibles and lessons learned about life and parenting. Especially parenting.

Then came the early FGHart blog, a place to write about career aspirations, both corporate and independent. That’s this blog – i.e. You are here!

Now there’s FGHart.com – this is where it’s all happening now. The other, older blogs (including this one) are dying on the vine.

But it seems that many of the blogs I visit have restricted options for comments, requiring WordPress, Google or Twitter. So I’ve created this post, which will hopefully help point folks back to my blog at FGHart.com. If you’re here in response to a comment I left on your blog, please go to FGHart.com to find me.

Thanks!

Fran

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Bookends

November 2009 and November 2010 sit like bookends on opposite ends of a year, bounding another transitional period of my life. Most of the world lives a cycle that starts in January and ends in December but I, perhaps because it is the month of my birth, seem to define my years starting and ending with November.

On November 1, 2008 I began a new life. From that date through 2009 I effectively ran the US-based engineering operations for my Taiwanese employer, a supplier for my former employer (MFE), operating out of MFE’s building, working with most of the same people I’d always worked with at MFE, just paid for from a different coffer. My boss was a new element, though. He had no real experience with MFE and was a lame duck in the immediate situation. I spent most of ’09 doing his job and my job. As the year drew to a close, I’d had enough. I was ready to quit.

I spent November ’08 blogging every day as part of NaBloPoMo. In the year spanning Novembers between ’08 and ’09 I wrote over 300 blog posts (between A Mother’s Angst and Our Own Oasis). I began to imagine a different life. A life as a Writer. An Author. And with that in mind I spent November ’09 writing a novel as part of NaNoWriMo. Immediately after finishing (68k words) I headed to China on business. I’d barely recovered from jetlag when a twist of fate (karma, the almighty justice of God) eliminated the era of my old boss and put me in charge of the US-based operations.

In January, 2009 I became the Acting Division Director of an engineering organization. So, I did what any aspiring author would do. I started a 3rd blog. This one. One intended to chronicle my experiences as a leader. A site where I could share the wisdom gained through painful experience. Or something like that.

That’s not exactly what happened. I’ve posted about a dozen times on this site. Ironically my first post was a list of all of the books I wanted to read this year. I’ve read 2 of the books on that list. I’ve read other books, mind you…but it’s a sad reflection of my ability to be intentional.

In total, counting all three blogs, it seems I’ve posted a grand total of somewhere around 50 times in the last year. Compared with the over 300 the year before. Sure, I’ve been busy. Sure. Yes. I’ve been busy. Unh-hunh…yeah.

To my credit, before this year I’d never run in a 5k and this year I ran in 3. I spent the better part of the year absorbed in a battle with physical fitness. On top of that, my husband & I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary with a ceremony/reception. We went to Hawaii. And I started playing the piano again (referring to my efforts to diligently practice). On the work front, I’ve made 2 trips to Taiwan. I manage Payroll and Benefits and IRS {shudder} things I don’t want to talk (or think) about. I publish bi-weekly operations reports. I’ve hired some, fired some, laid off one and lost (through attrition) other key members of a relatively small team. It’s been quite a year.

And then came this November. After my August post about my workaholic ways I’ve been diligent in my efforts to push away from the office and my compulsion to log into e-mail afterhours, etc. And somehow life filled the void. That’s not a bad thing, but it’s not…intentional. There’s no discipline in busyness. And so, in mid November, I cracked down and finished my second novel.

Which brings me to the point: this year I intend to be intentional. I’ve recently developed some marvelous habits. My inbox is under control (Alleluia!). I am taking time every day to peruse news of the industry. I am training myself to act like a Director (more on this later).

My theme for the next 12 months is “Boundaries & Balance”. I’ve got to say “no” to some things so I can say “yes” to others. I plan to use this space for mentoring myself and holding myself accountable. I hope you get something out of it.

Do you have a natural rhythm? Is your year bounded by the calendar or your birthday or something else altogether?

Hi, my name is Fran and I’m a workaholic

There are two types of addictions in this world. Some addictions, like cigarettes and alcohol, when you quit, you quit. I believe* that social smokers and social drinkers are not really addicted. Other addictions, like food and work, are far harder to control. You can’t quit work or quit eating the same way you quit alcohol or cigarettes. Or rather, you can…but the consequences are remarkably unpleasant.

*I would love to hear from social smokers/drinkers who believe they are addicted. My claim is based on personal experience.

In my last post, I quipped about the need for a 12-step program for workaholics. Shortly after posting my commitment to work less, I committed to a 10pm conference call with my Taiwan-based boss. Because…well…I’ve got a problem. And the first step to recovery is admitting that I have a problem. So, I’m confessing it here and now. Cue: Those who know and love me can suck in their fake gasps and raise their eyebrows for effect.

I’ve struggled with this addiction for years. It’s classic behavior for the goal-oriented overachiever. No biggy. Except it’s time to move on and I can’t seem to let go.

Why do I work so many hours? I could bore you with my theories. I’m addicted to the glory? I seek affirming praise? I’m filling a void in my heart & soul? Most addictions seem to stem from our desire to fill a missing element of our being that is best filled by our Creator.

These days I seem to be clinging to the comfortable discomfort of the known versus the frightening unknown. The time has come for me to walk in faith. Just as I’m exercising and trying to have discipline in my diet, I must have discipline in how I’m spending my time. I must devote myself to developing new skills. I must say “no” to some work demands in order to say “yes” to the new habits that will bring me to a new place.

I’m not ready to quit my job, although it sucks me in like an addiction. I am confident that I can change some habits and break free from the addiction’s stronghold.

What are some effective ways to break free from this type of addiction? What’s worked for you?

Work can be an idol

Have you ever said something out loud (or hit “publish” on a post) then realized the implications of what you articulated? Last week I lost sight of my priorities. More accurately, this weekend I realized I’d lost sight of my priorities. The dimming of my vision happened gradually over time; it wasn’t an event that occurred last week. My last post helped me realize my spiritual vision was muddied by the scales covering my eyes.

I was struggling with the dilemma created by my need to recommend pay increases for myself and my team based on a limited budget. In these times of rampant unemployment and folks living from paycheck to paycheck, I suppose it’s not a bad problem to have. Unfortunately, I’m frustrated by my workload. I feel taken advantage of. I’m doing the work of 2.5 people for the same pay I was making 2-3 years ago.

What I forgot is … I’m not that into my career these days. The best thing that could happen to me is for me to turn away from my current devotion. I have to confess, I have an unhealthy and inappropriate devotion to my job. It happens occasionally. My work consumes me. Endless conference calls at the start and close of each day, working through weekends, needing to be in the office during the “normal” business hours. My responsibilities seem to be growing like a virus. The weight of my little organization is causing my shoulders to droop and my head to bow. My thoughts, my time, my spirit are filled with work, work, work.

I pray for relief. I pray for intervention. “God, Please guide me!”

Finally, with the realization I’m inflicting these demands on myself I’ve decided to cut back on the hours I’m devoting to work and allow myself the time I need to devote to other things, like writing. Maybe, just maybe, I don’t need to be doing the work of 2.5 people. It’ll be a blessing to redirect my devotion. Work should not be an idol.

Now it’s just a matter of changing my compulsive bad habits and forming new, healthy habits. Is there a 12-step program for workaholics?

What other idols capture our souls?

My piece of the pie

I am faced with a dilemma this week: a conundrum of sorts. It seems that my little organization in Texas will be graced with a “pay adjustment”. The budget is a small percent of our total salary base. That’s the pie. Adjustments are expected to be performance-based. I was a manager at MFE for years and I’m familiar with their guidelines. I’m not familiar with my current employer’s guidelines. In fact, I’m mystified by my conversation with my Taiwan-based manager on this subject.

One surprise? I need to recommend my own pay increase. I’m a candidate for promotion but the promotion will not come with a pay increase.

The challenge? As the Line Director (responsible for delivering product) I was the highest paid employee in the organization last year. This means small changes in a proposed “percent increase” for me can largely reduce the remainder of the pie.

The dilemma? As the Acting Division Director, I’ve successfully led the team through an evolving business model and driven several initiatives that have more than paid for a year’s salary for my entire organization. My success in this role means the operation is running without the ineffective leader (my ex-boss) who made significantly more than I’m currently making. In the absence of an Administrator/Office Manager (also cut from the organization) I’ve picked up all responsibility for Human Resources, Payroll, Bookkeeping, etc.

What do I deserve? I searched Scripture and found in Proverbs (3:27) “Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act.” Surely this applies to my team members and to myself, but it’s an uncomfortable position for me to be in. This is one of the few times in my life that my assessment of what I deserve is in competition with my assessment of what my team deserves.

What would you do? If you give yourself what you think you deserve, there’s less available for the team. If you don’t, would you feel resentment?

Separation Anxiety

These days it’s a common sight to spy 2 engineers with their heads together, like a pair of conspirators. It’s would be surprising because designing notebooks isn’t a particularly covert operation. I know it when I see it, though. It’s the rumors of layoffs bringing people together this way, with furtive looks cast over shoulders. The halls are relatively quiet. Everyone’s laying low.

The rumors have been rampant for weeks. Productivity is down. Morale is down. Job searches are up. Many are just hoping against hope they can collect a severance package to tide them over until they land on safer ground.

I desperately want to soothe fears, calm nerves and help create focus on the immediate needs of the organization. I firmly believe there is no benefit in worrying. Yet we are human. There are bills to pay, families to feed. Worry is our nature.

There doesn’t seem to be enough work to do. While some are seeking to flee, others are fighting to stay. They scrabble and scramble, making their presence and their contribution front and center so they are noticed and credited. Their behavior is no more healthy than the fretting.

And where is management? In the last 2 weeks, no fewer than 3 layers of management have shifted or disappeared completely. I’ve never seen such a vast change in organizational leadership. The expectation seems to be that the soldiers will sort things out themselves. Or maybe it’s a game of survival of the fittest.

But the rules of the game have changed. The demands are different. And the rumors prevail. Yet…another week has passed without a Reduction In Force. (But it’s only Thursday, you say. Yes, but everyone knows…no RIF happens on a Friday.)

“What’s to be made of that?” I ask.

“Next week,” they say with a nod. “Next week.”

And that’s life in the halls of My Former Employer.

Sometimes it’s okay to be a quitter

I’m transitioning into my new role. I can’t possibly manage to do three jobs at once and be effective. I’ve hired an Office Manager (Alleluia!) who seems to be adjusting to her new role. I don’t have a lot of time to train her so I must graciously allow for the inevitable mistakes. I’d rather have someone who accepts general direction, tries and fails than have someone who sits passively waiting for detailed instructions from me.

Meanwhile, I’m still swamped. Every day is a juggling act with too many balls in the air, too many plates spinning, too many sharp objects in flight. Rapid decision-making and a willingness to let some things hit the ground are my new operating model. My inbox exploded last month. I’m copied on all sorts of e-mails, both relevant and irrelevant. There’s no need for me to read everything but I appreciate having the awareness of all of the activity underway to launch our latest product family. I’m developing the ability to quickly scan, assess and act.

I’m must spend (read “waste precious”) cycles cleaning up messes left behind by my company’s former administration. I have faith that things will settle down soon but meanwhile I’m learning some important lessons. One lesson is that sometimes it’s okay to walk away from things. Discretion is required to determine how much effort to put into a given situation. I have to ask myself, “how much should I invest in this given all that is competing for my attention?”

I recently found myself struggling to get through a book I’m reading for leisure with the intent to write a review. It never occurred to me to walk away with the remaining pages unturned. It took me weeks to read the first ~50 pages. Then this book sat (for more weeks) on the top of my stack of books to read. All progress stopped. After reading Michael Hyatt’s article on reading non-fiction I decided to write the review, including the disclosure “I never made it past the first 50 pages.” In the end, I decided I could devote enough time to scan through the rest of the book, looking for jewels buried in the unread text. I spent exactly 1 hour reading the next 200 pages and indeed, I found a few note-worthy jewels. I wrote a review and now I’m ready to move on to the next book. I feel good. I didn’t quit reading the book but I quit reading the book as if it were a Physics textbook.

This is the foundation of compromise: revisiting goals and assessing what’s required to satisfy those goals. It’s self-defeating to try to be an overachiever in every aspect of life. Trade-offs are necessary.

Have you ever had to reassess and adjust your goals in order to be successful?