Life, Configured

Bringing the world that we experience into order is akin to configuring software applications.  Some repository of a conceptual foundation, experience, motivation and skill are required.  The trouble is that we often run into trouble that we don’t know how to deal with or resolve and so wind up leaving the scene of our own life.  Sometimes, this escape is accomplished through a change of context.  Our prior environment, whether personal or professional, wasn’t suited to what we wanted, needed or envisioned.  A change of context can provide an enhanced likelihood of a better outcome. 

New jobs can bring bosses who are more balanced in their criticism, engaged in their capacity as developers or mentors of their team or who are simply more skilled in delegating projects with clarity and direction that is notched in just the right place.  Better benefits, pay, perks and schedules can also bring large incentives to seek new jobs or to swap outright.  Sometimes, we hear through the eponymous grapevine of Professional Patter that the employee that replaced us finds the role a great fit, the boss a wonderful match and the working conditions super!  What made the difference?  Quite simply- a different felt experience. 

Whether we’re talking about personality, temperament, styles of work or the fact that some middle manager is regretting the degree of turnover in his or her department, there’s been a change.  And the truth is, we may never know exactly why one person found a positive vibe and another one a negative one in any setting.  It’s good, though, to ponder whether there are skills that could have been deployed, whether relational, subject matter based or technical that might have made a difference in outcomes.  Because when we leave a job or a relationship or any key scene in our own lives, it DOES make a difference why we are leaving and what we are leaving for.

There’s a need to diagnose, to the best of our ability, what is playing out in the space and the causes of the dynamics that are in operation.  When it comes to work, dealing with deficits in the tools of the trade is often less painful than dealing with the deficits in skills that are relational.  Toxic environments abound, unfortunately and there are tales to be told about deadlines that were missed because peers failed to perform their part or because bosses failed to pass on key dates, information, administrative permissions or resources.  Racism, sexism and ageism take their outsized toll on workplace morale, as do breaches of professional standards whether it’s lying on an expense report, skewing a performance evaluation or ignoring OSHA standards. 

There are tales whose tragedy is less intense, such as the ubiquitous office Kitchen Wars over who needs to clean up, clear out leftovers and quit stealing food.  There are Parking Space Skirmishes, Good Project Grabs, Work Wardrobe Fashion Police and a host of other irritants around interruptions, noise levels and air quality/ odor/ temperature.  There are petty, yet persistent patterns with meetings whose attendees arrive late, grab the wrong seats for their role, overshare and push into conversations not within their purview.  With time and some combination of all of these stressors, their felt impact can be severe.  Few of us would leave over a few passive aggressive remarks or an unreliable peer that we have to deal with.  But given enough collective dysfunction and consequent impacts to our own work flow or work quality, we update resumes and begin accepting interviews.

When we move on to a new, hopefully more pleasant and higher paying, employment opportunity, we leave behind the intransigent irritants and the more severe difficulties of our old roles, sure.  But we take ourselves with us!  Often, we’re both resolved to never experience the same problems again and still experiencing the impacts of the distress from the prior role.  We may feel depressed, distracted or even fearful in the new role because we haven’t yet fully resolved the consequences of old episodes on our felt experience.  Those critical bosses and difficult peers left an impression on us, an existential echo that can seem like some sort of a haunting. 

Even with access to a new context and with the prospect of better outcomes, we are still faced with the necessity of processing the residual stress and negativity from our old job.  It’s an almost universal irony that most of us that escape a difficult professional situation or even a difficult personal situation have to allocate a considerable number of resources to the work of recovery.  Since that’s the case, efforts deployed toward prevention make more sense than later efforts deployed toward recovery.  This is where we have to exercise some patience and skill in order to configure our lives in all spheres.  It’s worth it to invest more than is comfortable, commonplace or even convenient to build our awareness and exercise of our own agency in any context. 

Building that awareness is accomplished more organically and more profitably when we are aware, engaged, intentional and strategic in how we carry out our work in any sphere.  Merely living is work, with all of its delights and disappointments.  All of us face the prospect of living in the present situation or of improving it in some fashion.  In coaching, this is sometimes referred to as choosing between the pain of the current status or the pain of change.  There is an emotional, energetic and existential cost to any of the choices that we make or any combination of factors that we manage.  Managing the self consciously and shifting the focus or concentration of our efforts by setting our intentions and carrying them out with clarity, consistency, courage and skill is the key to getting the most out of the work that we do. 

We’ve all run into situations where trying to configure some software was beyond our current willingness to expend energy, focus or time.  We’ve let the thirty day “free trial” expire.  Or, as I did yesterday with an unexpectedly complex scheduling app with a labyrinthian set of utilities and options, we “noped” our way out of an undesired context.  It’s just important to remember that many relationships, roles and situations that we leave have some degree of workability.  And that every new role, relationship or situation has some inherent “bugginess” that we’ll need to figure out how to, well, configure… Absent the basic necessity of safety, it’s not inherently bad or good to move on.  It’s just important to do so with clarity about not only the space that we are leaving but about the self that we are taking with us. 

I’ve been a serial leaver.  Shopping carts, classes that I’ve signed up for and projects that I’ve left unfinished are a testament to my somewhat fragmented and often overextended energies.  Sometimes I’m a serial stayer.  Big relationships with people, institutions and even key concepts have spanned decades.  In these areas, I’m engaged and I’m definitely in it for the long haul.  Engaged energy that’s mediated through the conscious evaluation of circumstances and the setting of intentions with regard to actions makes up all of the areas of our lives that are prosperous, optimal and actualized.  Who we are, the choices we make and the outcomes that we experience are individual.  Myriad possibilities and potential are inherent in every one of us.  What will you do to gain clarity and awaken yourself to your own powerful agency?

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