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Thursday
Apr292010

Working Hard or Hardly Working?

Location: Berkeley, CA

Back in the late 90s, when no one really knew what to do with this whole inter-tubes thingymagig, I was a consultant who made a living running large e-business strategy projects. The project usually started with us explaining what e-business was, and why it was different from a web strategy (you actually wanted to make money) versus a traditional business strategy (you weren't necessarily going to actually make money).

The next step was to spend several weeks wandering in the desert. Throwing away old assumptions. Listening to stakeholders. Researching. Generally being frustrated that the answer wasn't obvious, and we actually had to work and think hard to figure it out. Every project was different, and though we reused some general models (my Gartner roots showed every time I pulled out a 2x2 matrix... which was every project), a new model was always required somewhere along the way, a new way of looking at the world, and that was a big part of the discovery process.

And then suddenly the answer would be obvious. It would jump out from the middle of all that research and pondering. You'd be standing in the shower, or waiting for a flight, or staring out the window in a cab... and out of seemingly nowhere, in that instant, it would appear. And in your gut you knew it to be true. 

But along the way... you had to get really comfortable with being uncomfortable. You also had to start recognizing that activity didn't necessarily equate to progress. It's rarely a straight line. Your research might take you in completely unexpected directions, and that was the point, to let it take you there, and most importantly, not try to force it. The more time you spent researching didn't necessarily equate to the quality of the answer (though there is often a correlation). The important thing was to give yourself space in between the research and the thinking to process, and absorb, and let the connections occur organically.

I'm writing this mostly as a reminder to myself. The past few weeks since we've been back, and especially the past week since I left Gap, I've been impatient (I know, shocker, right?). I get frustrated wondering whether we're making any progress, and asking when we're going to have this whole life path thing figured out. Asking myself whether I'm spending my days working toward a goal, and wether I've accomplished anything. 

I'm now remembering to apply my business lessons to my own life. I'm remembering what it's like to be in the desert. I always hated the meandering, the wandering, the mind-numbing research. For some people, it's their favorite part because they are dealing with tangible facts/findings instead of having to make the leap to conclusions. For me, I love the leap. I love the moment when you know you've found the right answer and you can get on with executing it. Even when you still need to spend time justifying the answer, or explaining it to others, you already know in your heart that you're right. And you know you couldn't have gotten to the answer any other way, or any faster.

So here it is 5:30, and my day went something like this: fed the dog, slept a little more, ate breakfast, did some errands in preparation for my cousin's wedding in Dallas this weekend (a little shopping, mani/pedi, eyebrow wax). Took Apollo to Point Isobel and enjoyed a leisurely walk on a beautiful day, talking to random people along the way. Watched Gossip Girl while I ate a late lunch. Finally sat down to do some writing around 4pm.

To the casual observer, it might appear that I haven't accomplished much today. (Well, to most men anyway - most women would look at my beautiful red nails and new silver shoes and know it was time well spent).  In reality, I know that I've moved one step closer to The Answer. I don't know for sure what it is yet, and that's still making me slightly crazy. But in the meantime, I've consciously remembered what it's like to not know the answer, and reminded myself that that's OK. 

Last night we went out in the city to a happy hour of Renaissance Weekend friends, and I was reminded yet again that we know some really interesting, intelligent, thoughtful, accomplished people. Though I was sad that someone, i.e. me, had to drive home and therefore had to exercise a rare modicum of restraint, it was still an enjoyable evening. I thought it would again be difficult not having an answer to the So-Now-What, but it would seem that I'm getting better at explaining that we're in process. 

Most importantly, Apollo has stopped having projectile diarrhea, and that is something to be celebrated. Turns out he had Giardia. It's a nasty little parasite that he probably picked up from eating his favorite delicacy: cat poop. Unfortunately it's also contagious to humans, so I'm really, really, *really* hoping I'm not bringing an uninvited plus one with me to Dallas this weekend... 

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