Firming boundaries, trading elusive value

Day 6 of 21 Days core challenge and repurposing efforts.

A glance at the time made me cringe. I’d be cutting it close, but I just wasn’t ready to pack up. Convinced that last change would do the trick, the return error code suggested otherwise. It wasn’t just the hour on the clock, but also the date on the calendar.

This time, in this role with a big title, I had once again failed to maintain any manner of life balance. At the turn of the New Year, a vow to change led me to book what was bordering the unthinkable, a course in Paris. The command and control I hoped to achieve was dissipating fast.

Quarterly reporting was 80% automated, my small team of business analysts nearing full staffing, and yet here I was, done in by the unexpected. The hope and faith in the new hire dashed, as I realized his capabilities fell considerably short of the job requirements. Now, an unscheduled critical business review had been added to the calendar while I was scheduled to be overseas. still that didn’t explain why now, I was still at the office struggling against the clock to prepare the data and decks for a review I would be missing.

Yes, I had finally taken a stand, and chosen to put my own interests and desires first. In my refusal to cancel my scheduled time off, and offer to prep my new boss to deliver the insights I was also fooling myself. The long hours I was putting in compromised the quality of my work. It strained both my physical and mental health too.

What had I missed? Why was I still allowing the immediacy of the problem in front of me to blur my sensibilities? This was not the first or likely to be the last time I’d disappoint both myself and others –at least I wasn’t keeping someone waiting and wondering.

My obsession, and frequent head lock on a task, in which I lost sight of time and other commitments needed some attention. Why didn’t I feel more remorse when I displaced my own interests, social engagements and fun dates with friends for the sake of professional obligations?

What value are we after?

Why was performance and work output a quality that outranked other quality of life aspirations?

My mother had a chronic habit of being late, and I was adamant that I had not inherited the same traits. Her behaviors and approach to meals, housework or later her own counseling with clients set very high standards but the impact was mixed. For every beautifully set table, and impeccable balance of taste and nutrition, there was much pain in its production. I later attributed this seesaw to poor planning skills , and the unrealistic match of available resources to impossible high standards and quality commitments. For Mom, it was all or nothing. Had this apple really fallen so close to its tree?

By contrast, my father was far more disciplined, orderly and took greater control to assure and instill the skills necessary to achieve a time managed life. Responsibilities he stressed were always shared. All family members were expected to pitch in always, help out whomever when ever we could. This attitude about work reflected his own communal upbringing which blurred routine family gatherings with working in the various family stores.

Dad delegated, and shared my Mom’s set of high standards. The routine opening and shutting of his stores six days a week fell on his employee’s shoulders. Meetings with suppliers or customers were less controlled; and yet dinner hour waited for Dad’s arrival and we rarely waited long. On nights the store was open late, or in bad weather my Dad wouldn’t hesitate to lighten the burden he placed on his employees. Often he drove out of his way to drop them at their public transit transfer points or directly at their door.

I came to understand with the rest of my siblings that a larger social contract was worth honoring. The structure of work was more than the assignment of hours to a task. Additional value flowed into the mix when everyone shared in the purpose, and takes pride in the outcomes. The notion of satisfying expectations, my Dad explained, came down to perspectives.

Another way of seeing work

Obvious differences were not a reason to deny opportunity, and likewise it was a reason to celebrate and welcome everyone’s contribution. Somewhere the conflict in these messages about standards and contributions went overlooked and deference given to respect for individuals.

I’m not seeing large organizations reward with consistency or equal respect work they’ve standardized. There’s talk of commitments to shared purposes but do they manifest in corresponding joint distributions of benefits?

In hindsight, by doubling down on my commitment to the photo course in Paris that summer long ago, I practiced seeing alternative perspectives that have had a lasting impact. Sure I still fight with my own high standards that focus on delivering quality or not at all. It’s why I took on this writing challenge, and am beginning to refocus on opportunity and impact and prevent elusive quality standards from stopping my efforts.

As the 6th installment of the series I’ve fuzzily been exploring, I feel it should have a name, a handle–Seeking natural levels, framestretching improved. If you’d like to keep up or find it worth sharing with others, do subscribe and you’ll see the updates.


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