Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Consequence of Setting Goals

Sticking to the goals is something that my boss taught me. He is a teacher, after all. Well, not taught me, exactly. I've done the 7 Habits, I know about setting goals. I've just never been really good at sticking to it. I get distracted. I make too many goals, or start off in a different direction. It's hard for me to stay constant on one path.

But every week when I meet with my boss, our top five agenda items are the goals he set for himself this year (oops, I guess I should be doing that with my staff too. But that would mean actually writing out the goals that we set at our retreat, which is one of my goals, so it comes full circle).

One day a couple months back, I was taking a long walk, and was reflecting on my workday. I had a great day - I was working on stuff that was totally not important for "work." I was designing plexi-glass panels for the laser-cutter, and I realized that when I do that - when I focus on what I like to do, even when it's not "important" - it tends to have a positive impact and, usually, I get rewarded for it.

That's one of the things I love about being carless. I walk. When I walk, I think. When I actually have the time and space to think, I realize things.

What I realized, is that maybe the "other" stuff that I do, when I'm supposed to be working, is what I'm actually supposed to be doing for work. Stick with me a moment. I'm supposed to do the accounting and financial tracking for my work. But, I'm also in charge of branding and space and design, even though they're not really part of my job (but my boss knows I'm capable and wants that for the department, so he asks me for it too.)

When I'm doing that work (that's not really necessarily "necessary"), I'm energized, and it rubs off on the rest of the team. When we're energized, we have more ideas. When we have more ideas, things develop. It might not have been what was on our, "to do list," but our excitement and passion and talent makes it successful and so it is then appreciated.

What am I talking about, you ask? A room. A silly room. It's not important to the grand scheme of things. One day, while walking around with the boss, we decided to take a space that was being occupied by cubicles and break down the walls and make it into a lounge space instead.

For some reason, facilities was more on top of things than usual and was ready to paint. We had to decide on a color. I saw great colors in another building on campus so the whole staff got up, closed up the office, and headed over to the other side of campus to check out Lincoln Hall to see the "orange" I was talking about.

We stopped at the facilities office along the way and discovered that although orange used to be one of the choices, it was no longer an option because it was too associated with another school (that have Beavers as a mascot). But, our student worker, Adrian, saw a deep red they had in Lincoln Hall and thought that would be good for the room. So we went with that.

I wanted to use the "whiteboard wallpaper" that we had bought and wrap the walls. It would tone down the red and make the space interesting. One of the researchers donated furniture. The new staff guy mentioned having little tables mounted to the wall. One of the other staffers then picked up little doors from IKEA to use as tables, but we had to put in something where the recesses in were so that it was smooth. The carpenter (who put up the whiteboard wallpaper) scored us some "extra" plexiglass from the shop and cut it to shape for us. Our lab manager dubbed it "20Lounge," like, "30-rock" he said, and he, being a real-true engineer, could use the nifty laser-cutter we have to carve drawings I make into the plexi-glass.

During our staff meetings, we would meet in the evolving "20Lounge" and came to realize it was becoming an awesome space. We all contributed ideas, we all went with our instincts even if they didn't seem practical (red walls, doors as tables, wallpaper for whiteboard), and it turned out great.

It made me realize that's what I want to do for work. I don't know what "that" is exactly. But, it's creative, it's inspired, it's being goofy and instinctual and going with it, and inspiring the rest of the team to do likewise. I'm good at that - whatever "that" is. Now I just have to figure out what kind of job that actually is.

As I walked and reflected on the day, I realized I would no longer disregard "that" as unimportant. I was going to make "that" a priority. The closest I could come to naming it was "art and writing." From now on, my focus would be in art and writing (with creativity and humor). Even if I had skills and interests and was being drawn into other areas (my distractions) I would keep focus. In the same way my boss would evaluate how to spend his time and check to see if they were part of his "goals." I would check what I was focusing on at work and see if it met "art and writing."

That didn't mean I wouldn't do the "real" parts of my job. Those are necessary and unavoidable. But, when given a choice, when given time, I would choose to focus on creativity.

What this ended up resulting in, is me quitting my job. Not my real job, but my extra job. I wrote about it in my other blog, "ReunionEyes" because I discovered that I actually followed through with it. I made writing a priority. So, unwittingly, the example my boss set in goal-setting resulted in me stopping my work with him. At least on that project.

I wonder where the goals will lead next.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The expense of time

My husband, Dane can't imagine taking public transportation downtown to his martial arts class twice a week. The cost would be about the same - $4 parking, figure another dollar or two for gas (it's only five miles or so). Trimet is $2.40 each way. But, it turns out the time is the difference.

He's been super-supportive of my somewhat random decision to stop driving and has been helpful in trying to adhere to my self-imposed rules (only one car in use, not driving out of the way to drop me off somewhere, walking if there's time, not driving if it's not necessary). And he allows me the time to do it. It seems crazy to say he allows me the time, but it's a big difference when there are two kids that need dropping off and picking up and so on.

I've been trying to gently ease him into going along with these things with me. We had a surprise date a couple nights ago (my fabulous friend Felim stopped by around dinner time and offered for us to go out while he put the kids to bed). Dane and I walked to the bar rather than driving, which is what he would typically do. And, really, once you start walking, you realize how ridiculous the habit of driving has become. The bar that's our "local" is only seven blocks away. It seems obscene to drive there, even in the worst weather, but you just get in the habit.

The one thing that's been hard for him to break is the twice a week he goes to his martial arts class downtown. While the cost is about the same, the time is at least a half hour extra each way (45 minutes vs. 15). And, at night, vs. rush hours, if you miss your bus, you're waiting awhile. For him the difference of getting home at 9:30pm vs. 10:15pm is the difference between having time to have a snack and watch a show and relax vs. just getting ready for bed.

But for me, it's the difference of 45 minutes that I get to enjoy vs. 15 minutes I really, honestly, don't enjoy at all. I'm okay with getting home late if I'm enjoying my time getting home. I don't see it as "commuting" time, like I did when I was driving. To me that was time wasted out of my life, taken away, spent doing something I hated (being stuck in traffic). Now, instead, it's like getting gifted with 45 minutes of free time. I can read, write, work, knit. No possible demands during that time (I won't talk on the phone except quick conversations to make plans), no one competing for my time.

Maybe that's part of what's gotten me into making bread lately. I like it specifically because it takes so much time. I like having to work at it for fifteen minutes, and then let it rest for a couple hours. Work it for another five minutes and lest it rest again. Come back and let it have it's final rise. There's something satisfying in it taking so long, as long as 24 hours if you really want it to be the best it can be.

And, really, that's the difference in time isn't it? You can do something quick, but it won't be as good, or you won't enjoy it, and then what's the point? Somehow doing things that are taking me longer time feels like I'm getting more time, instead of losing it. So, for all it's worth, I'll take the time.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Change of perspective

The weather was beautiful all week, and I was stuck with a cold. A perfect week to ride my bike or just walk, and any effort that was more than slugging up a block was too draining. Still, it was an easy adjustment - all bussing rather than walking. But, when it came to the weekend and we were due at my friend, Katie's house who lives less than a mile from us (probably only 15 blocks max), I had to ride bikes with my 5 year old.

He was awesome. Though he hasn't ridden in a while during these winter months, he still rides perfectly after just having learned to ride without training wheels this last summer. He handled the hills that I had feared without issue. It's one of my favorite activities to do with him. Though I have to say, now that he's getting older, there are so many activities I love doing with him - drawing, hiking, playing chess, reading Harry Potter. And, I'm able to write how much I love him because I am also able to go out to the wine bar to write for the night!

What struck me about the bike ride, was that I had never realized how close I really live to Katie. And I realized my perspective of distance is totally different as an adult vs. as it was when I was a kid and rode my bike everywhere, and it was the opposite of what I expected.

As a kid, a bike is one of the first significant freedoms after being allowed / old enough to cross the street by yourself. Suddenly, you're able to go wherever you want, some trips just take longer. So distance was not really an issue. Just about everyone I knew in the world was in biking distance (and a lot were in walking distance). As my circle of friends grew, my riding distance grew without much notice.

Also, things that I consider significant issues now - steep hills, busy intersections, were nothing to me then. I rode at the bottom of a really steep hill, so wherever I went, it meant riding uphill before I got anywhere. But, since I wanted to get places, it wasn't an issue. It was just a hill.
Riding my bike to my friend’s house and seeing just how close it really is by bike, made me feel really silly that I ever drive there. I looked back on all the  I drove to by default, because they seemed just far enough to be able to justify driving. Now they seem silly.

It made me realize how much of life is defined by how we travel it. We have created rules to  how much we drive - having groceries, having your gym bag, needing to pick up the kids, not knowing where you'll be meeting someone. Even something that's so engrained in my psyche like, "women can't walk late at night" seems like an utterly silly rule after doing it for a while (after all, the neighborhoods I'm walking in aren't like the ones I grew up in in Jersey - though then I rode my bike past the Projects and hooting men without a second thought).

And I realized, I like life a lot better when I feel so a part of my surroundings. I have a sense of belonging that leaves us when we take to a car and suddenly can drive wherever we want. The same freedom that gives me such a feeling of belonging on a bike leaves me feeling detached and alone in a car - I can just drive around and be totally isolated the whole time. Walking or riding a bike is the opposite - you're a part of your surroundings, and that changes your perspective.