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Losing the Map

As the end of the year draws closer, I find it hard to resist the urge to plot out goals for 2018. I’m a planner and find goals highly motivating. In years past I’ve taken time to carefully plan annual objectives and break them down into the quarterly, monthly, or daily activities required to reach each goal. While I don’t always achieve everything I set out to, I’ve done quite well with this approach (as long as you don’t ask me about my meditation habit).

2017 was not a bad year for goals. I set out to improve my writing by committing to publish a blog post every week this year, and unless something catastrophic happens, I will achieve that goal (as well as having reached my 100th post on Talent Vanguard). I diligently kept up my weightlifting training, and hit PRs on all three major lifts. And I overcame a significant fear to do some public speaking (I didn’t die, but it’s still terrifying).

And yet, 2017 adamantly resisted many of my plans. It felt like the world generally had been turned upside down, and I was not exempt. A year ago I had just given notice at a great HR job in the public sector to join an awesome start-up. I was scared and anxious, and it felt like a huge risk given my propensity to deliberately plan each step of my professional life.

This is not a post about how those fears turned out to be unfounded. It’s been a good year, but it was also a rollercoaster (I should probably mention that I’m not really a rollercoaster fan…). There’s been ups and downs and tons of unexpected twists in life and at work. My role has changed, and along the way I’ve taken on some side projects and consulting, which has also been a totally new frontier.

Publishing a blog post every week or following a weight lifting training program isn’t exactly easy, but it’s clear. Straight-forward. I did it or I didn’t, and that was totally within my control. I suppose I found refuge in those goals this year, while elsewhere it felt as though things were shifting underfoot as I tried to find traction to make some progress.

Control and Chaos

Let me be clear: I have not one shred of regret about making the career move I did. I love working alongside my wonderful Actionable colleagues, I’ve learned so much in 2017, and 2018 looks very promising for us as a team. Just as important has been the personal realization that the unconscious demands I was making of the universe (that it must provide a predictable environment or I would surely fall apart) were unnecessary. That is, I had a very low opinion of my ability to tolerate uncertainty because I hadn’t ever willingly put myself in a situation in which uncertainty was a regular feature.

More broadly, the conditions that I imagined were prerequisites for a career and life have been called into question. I started out wondering if my family, friends, and former colleagues would consider what I was doing a “real job” if I worked remotely at home in leggings every day. More recently I’m wondering who decides what a “real job” is anyway? Does thinking of our work as ‘projects’ instead of ‘jobs’ have its advantages?

When I spent months contemplating the binary theme of control and chaos in organizations earlier this year, I didn’t see that this dichotomy was also playing out in my own life. The control that I’ve felt I had over my career in the past was largely a comforting illusion. And that’s fine, actually. 2017 has shown that everything need not go perfectly to plan for me to be fine, and when it doesn’t I’m very fortunate to have a husband, family, friends, colleagues, and a generous network that have shown they’re eager to encourage me.

Deliberate and Emergent

As I look ahead to 2018, I’m actively resisting my usual goal setting practice. I have hopes and plans, but it feels more honest to admit to myself that I don’t know exactly what 2018 holds. I’m looking forward to an incredibly exciting year for Actionable, and I’m trying to be more careful with how I allocate my time to side projects and collaborations I care about.

But investing my time and energy into creating a detailed 12 month map won’t serve me, and is more likely to end with me thinking myself into a corner, looking for certainty that doesn’t exist. Better to trust myself to know what to do next, and adjust course as events unfold.

I’m not the first person to realize this, and my current mindset has been influenced by my colleague Alyssa Burkus’ thoughts on ‘ungoaling’, Gary Basin’s recent post on granularizing, and the application of contrasting approaches to strategy (deliberate and emergent) to one’s personal endeavors:

Your life is always a balance of deliberate and emergent — what you plan, and what pops up through serendipity. So how do you know when to stick to the plan and when to change course with what comes along? If your deliberate plan is paying your bills and you find it fulfilling, stay on the path. Pay less attention to the little things that pop up and double down on present course. What’s rarely required is just more thinking. It’s testing and experimenting that leads to real opportunities.” Eric Barker

Next Week: I’ll be shifting my usual Sunday night publication schedule to December 26th due to the Christmas holiday, and because I do NOT want you to miss my post “What the People I Learned From in 2017 Learned in 2017”. I asked a slew of people that I learned from this year what they learned this year, and I can’t believe the incredible responses I got! It’s going to be the best thing I’ve ever published. Don’t miss it.

Read This Week:

The Fundamental Difference Between Thriving and Dying Organizations – Sam Spurlin – The Ready

You should read this. Insightful post from Sam Spurlin of The Ready on the incredible power of tension, and why so many organizations fail to turn it into something useful.

“Tensions are signals from the environment that organizational changes need to be made. Most organizations need to pretend they don’t hear those signals because they have no way to metabolize the message into a change in the way they’re structured or operate. In fact, traditional organizations are getting hit from two sides — on the one hand they aren’t able to use the information they’re getting from the environment and on the other hand the tensions themselves are draining and distracting.”

Finish – Jon Acuff

As usual I’m the last person to the party on something – this time it’s audio books. This is the very first audio book I’ve listened to, because up until now I thought it was like reading, but for people who couldn’t bother to turn pages for themselves. But now I get it.  I listened to it on the subway, when I unloaded the dishwasher, while I was on the train, while I was cooking. It was great. Plus, this was a good book. I am not usually one for the ‘personal productivity/self-help’ genre, but there were moments when I felt like this book was written for me.

This Moment Isn’t (Just) About Sex. It’s Really About Work – Rebecca Traister – The Cut

Another bracing, challenging read from Rebecca Traister on the sexual harassment scandals and our public discourse about them. Her clarity is impressive

“But in the midst of our great national calculus, in which we are determining what punishments fit which sexual crimes, it’s possible that we’re missing the bigger picture altogether: that this is not, at its heart, about sex at all — or at least not wholly. What it’s really about is work, and women’s equality in the workplace, and more broadly, about the rot at the core of our power structures that makes it harder for women to do work because the whole thing is tipped toward men.”

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash




One Comment Post a comment
  1. Miriam #

    Another great post Jane!!

    December 18, 2017

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