Friday, August 29, 2008

One Month Mark

Well, I just finished my first month at the new job. It has been an adventure, to say the least. There are things I love about it. There are things that make me gnash my teeth. But, overall, I really do believe it is a good fit.

I'm earning several thousand dollars less than my previous position. I also have sacrificed some cushy benefits and time off. But I have no regrets. While I miss some of the specific people I was close to at the college, I have not missed the job a bit. I was pretty weary of the bureaucracy, the politics, the contention.

One of the biggest challenges at the new job is simply that it is NEW. I have to very mindfully think about every single thing I do. Nothing is automatic yet. Also, I don't have the slick tech toys I was accustomed to, and that has been frustrating. Tasks that would be lickety split with my old computer with loads of RAM and double flat screens are ever so tedious with developmentally delayed monster I have now. But that's the life of a non-profit. We live on the kindness of strangers, so make due with what gets donated.

Still, I'm enjoying getting to know the clients & volunteers and reconnecting with folks in the community that I have not seen in a few years. I've been doing a complete audit from top to bottom of my entire agency and will be revising some things - changing how we document services, developing new procedures, making up new forms, etc. It will be an uphill climb for some time. But I am quite satisfied that I am finding my stride. My leadership style will be quite different from that of my two predecessors. But it really does seem that the skill sets I have are exactly what is needful for this place at this time. Sure, I'm bound to make some mistakes as I go. Still, I feel confident that I'm right where I belong, and that is a positive thing indeed.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Diverging Roads, Paths & Trails

I was talking with a friend of mine the other day about pathways in our lives.
We were discussing how every new direction we take UNchooses all the alternate paths we might have taken. The flip side of the saying about how whenever a door closes somewhere else a window opens is that every time I OPEN a door to step through it ten others slam shut.

No matter how much I try, I cannot see around the bend. It is impossible for me to know which road will have a positive outcome and which will lead to catastrophe. For that matter, even when I am in the thick of things I can't always tell, with my finite mortal perspective, what roads are ultimately in my best interest and what ones are utter folly.

For recent work shifts are a prime example. I had a research & program development job at a college for a couple years. I liked it and was pretty good at it. Then I was asked to step up to a director position over a department that spanned several counties and had many complexities. I knew there was a lot of contention and angst in that department, so initially I said I did not want that job. The second time I was asked I STILL said I did not want that job. Eventually, however, when there was no one else readily available to take it over, I accepted the position on an interim basis with the understanding I would do it until they could find someone else to take it long term.

While I learned a lot and benefited in many ways from the six months I spent in that position, overall it was a hair-on-fire nightmare job. On some levels it seemed like I might have made a terrible mistake stepping into that role. HOWEVER...being in that job positioned me as supervisor over a particular individual who later told me about and then recommended me for the job I now have - which so far seems to be a really good fit. So, if I had not taken the WRONG path I never would have found the RIGHT path.

Tonight I went to a gathering of people and listened to a couple men speak about a ministry program in a local prison. They spoke of men who have come to Christ through the experiences they have had in being incarcerated. Clearly, the crimes they did that got them into prison were WRONG and should not have happened. Still, even in an extreme case like that, if they truly do come to terms with their choices and turn their lives around, find faith...something good can come of it.

Things that look like and feel like MISTAKES are often key lessons dressed up in the cloak of adversity.

I'm not suggesting I should jump willy nilly into irresponsible or destructive behavior just because I could learn something. But I am recognizing more all the time that I can't always see what the full outcome of my choices will be. Maybe the best I can ask for is that I use my best judgment, acknowledge I don't have the full picture, and try to stay awake to the promptings of the spirit as I go along. I want to let go of my longstanding pattern of agonizing over whether I'm headed on the "right" or the "wrong" road. Afterall, who is to say?

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Wheat Harvest

I had a bit of an adventure this morning. I've been out riding in a John Deer 7700 combine harvesting wheat. Our one neighbor here at the farm was out cutting some fields and said I could go for a ride to see how it is done. DUSTY & NOISY to be sure, but now I can say I've been on a wheat combine. Not sure that's any grand accomplishment, but it was different.

I've always enjoyed trying out rides on different conveyances of one sort or another. When I was 15 and very foolish my girlfriend and I convinced some soldiers at a county fair to take us for a ride in their tank after hours. I've been on trains, all kinds of planes from bi-plane to pontoon to jet, several kinds of boats including sailboat, ferry, glass bottom and hydro. I've ridden on or in trolleys, subways, city buses, taxis, milk trucks, motorcycles, tandem bikes, horse drawn wagons, and any number of different kinds of vans or trucks or cars. The only contraptions still on my list of things I want to experience before I die are a rickshaw and a hot air balloon. I had an appointment for the balloon ride for my last birthday, but it got cancelled due to high winds. Guess I'll have to try that one again sometime soon.

The Rickshaw I am less confident I'll ever experience. When I was younger it was something I was determined I would do one day, mostly because I have a strong desire to travel through Asia. However, ever since reading the book City of Joy by Dominique Lapierre I have questioned the ethics of having another human being pull me around in a cart. Although I might be willing to try out one of the motorized ones that are more common these days.

Of all the different things I have ridden in or on over the years, probably one of my best memories is of a weekend spent pendaling a tandem bike with my beloved as we explored one of the Bass islands off Lake Erie. That was a good trip. With that in mind, it's time for me to turn off this silly computer and go hop on my bike for a spin.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

If we are about to blow up will someone tell me??

I've been on a media fast for the past couple months. We have not had TV since moving and so far we have not managed to arrange for a regular newspaper. I haven't a clue what's going on in the world.

It's feeling a little strange to be so unaware of current events.

On the plus side, however, I have seen zero commercials of Smiling Bob promoting Enzite for "natural male enhancement" and I have not missed those degrading adds for "Girls Gone Wild" videos. I've not been tempted to buy gadgets I don't really need. Best of all, I've listened to more music and read more books. That has been soothing indeed.

My beloved does miss watching House, Grey's Anatomy and CSI. He missing his fishing shows and occasional forays into professional bull riding which I absolutely do not understand his fascination for.

So on Saturday the guy from DISH TV is supposed to come hook us up again. I'm not really looking forward to it. I've come to really appreciate this softer, quieter way of spending our evenings. Having TV available for specific chosen viewing is one thing. I am going to lobby hard that it does not become a default presence of constant yacking and flickering light in our home. Hopefully we can continue as we have, taking lovely walks through the wheat fields after dinner instead of vegging out in from of the stupid box.

I've always maintained that TV is neither good or bad, it's merely a tool that can be applied in useful ways to inform and entertain or used as a brain numbing vampire of thought, depending on the choices we make. I know in the past there have been too many times we've had the dumb thing on just to fill up the quiet with sound. I'm hoping for wiser choices in the future.

Eating an Elephant

I'm winding down my first week at the new job. Tomorrow will be the the outgoing director's last day and then I'm all on my own. Several folks have asked me how it is going. I have a standard response. It's sort of like eating an elephant. If I look at the whole thing that needs to be accomplished it is easy to get overwhelmed. So I am trying to pace myself, just go one bite at a time and do the best I can to chew and swallow. So far so good. I learned my lesson well the last time I was the director of a small nonprofit. I am well aware of the danger of getting overanxious, rushing in headlong trying to accomplish everything all at once. There is an inherent sense of urgency when working with the homeless or other vulnerable populations. Yet I know from experience that if I fall into that trap again, I'll choke. So this time around I'm trying my very best to stay balanced. I want to be passionate about the work, but I also need to know how to turn it off and walk away so I don't burn out.

Overall I think the job will be a good match for me. It's right up my alley in terms of what needs to be done and the established skill sets I have, with room to grow and learn new things. I think once I learn everybody's names, get familiar with the computer system, and know the parameters of what I can and cannot expect in various situations I will blossom with creativity. Right now, however, I am just doing the very best I can each day to cram my brain with as much as I can to stay afloat.

The thing that is GOOD about this organization I've gone to work for is that there are some remarkable people doing phenomenal work. The thing that is not so good is that hardly any of it is documented. There are no official policies or procedures. There are very little records of the services that have taken place. It's all just happening. People show up and they do good stuff. But there is no tracking method. That is most definitely going to have to change. If I am going to be able to raise funds for this fledgling non profit, I am going to have to have accurate statistics regarding who we serve and what we provide.

At my last job at the college I used to get SOOOO frustrated with all the layers of bureaucracy. There were rules for every contingency. People would call a meeting to discuss the implications every time the wind changed directions. I often felt like I was wading through molasses trying to get anything done in an environment where everything had to be passed through committees and discussed to death before you could take any action. Here at the new job the opposite extreme is true. People just jump in and do stuff, sometimes without thinking it through or talking it out or checking perceptions of what the broader impact may be. My task is going to be to search for a sort of happy medium; I want to establish some benchmarks and guidelines, but leave room for personal judgment and discretion for those involved.

I like that there are not broken systems to fix. There simply are MISSING systems that need to be in place to run an effective agency. The place has very good bones. And the board of directors has given me tons of autonomy to make whatever changes I may think are necessary. Sometimes that feels like they have given me just enough rope to hang myself. But overall, I'm excited about the challenge. Now if I can just get through the next 30-60 days of learning curve taking enough risks to get some good work accomplished without doing anything truly stupid I'll be just fine.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Suprise Packages

Recently I've been reading the novel "Surprise Packages." It is the last one in the "Company of Good Women" trilogy, by LDS authors Nancy Anderson, Lael Littke and Carroll Morris. Although it's the last in the series, it's the first of their work I have read, and that has been a bit of a struggle for me. Although I'm well over half way done with the book I've never yet determined a specific plot. It sort of unfolds like life, with event following event, some of them quite dramatic, but none of it seeming to necessarily be leading me to any specific destination. There are some deliciously interesting scenes. But I don't seem to grasp the big picture. My greatest frustration has been there seem to be too many peripheral characters being mentioned all throughout each section that never get fully developed. There are passing references to things that have happened which are never entirely explained, which feels abbreviated or rushed to me.

Then it dawned on me: perhaps these seemingly undeveloped characters are people who played more prominent roles in the earlier books in the series. I suspect they keep cropping up in the shadows to give the trilogy some cohesiveness as a set rather than each being a stand alone? I'm not sure. I feel like I'm at a real disadvantage for not having read the earlier works, and that makes me petulant.
It's like walking into a conversation midstream and feeling out of the loop.

To try to get some insight, I went to check out the blog the writers share: Crusty Old Broads.
Like the three characters in the book, these three women each live in different parts of the country, each with her own unique background and challenges.
As I read more about them they all seemed like women I would genuinely like to know.

I am intrigued by the idea of how these ladies each write their own stories and then weave them together into a single tale. It reminded me a bit of the way Jean Auel alternated between Ayla and Jondalar in Valley of the Horses. But then, I got impatient with that one too...reading the chapters out of order to give me longer segments with each character.

This book (and I suspect the whole series) is definitely aimed at the LDS women niche market, with all the references throughout to things unique to that culture. I've read some books about a particular subculture that seemed to invite others in to experience a taste of this other way of living/thinking/being...I did not get that sense from this book. Instead, it seemed like an insider's view of things for those who already understood what to expect. On the one hand, there are bits and pieces that as an LDS woman I can TOTALLY relate to. (Yes, during the summer my church building is so cold from air conditioning in one part of the building that the ladies do keep a stack of crocheted afghans to wrap around their shoulders during RS.) But on the other hand, I was concerned that non LDS people would be put off by the steady references to things like patriarchal blessings and temple covenants that set it apart from a wider audience. I could think of a couple different women friends I'd like to pass the book on to next, but wasn't sure they would care for it for that reason, even if they might really enjoy the characters and the main story.

Still trying to figure the book out I read some interviews the authors had done to promote it. For me, the key piece came with this:

What were the biggest challenges you faced as co-authors?
1. Merging files and making corrections. On the first book, Lael was the manuscript master. For the last two, Carroll took on that job.
2. Literary liposuction. The story of each character—told completely—would have filled its own book. So cutting the text without gutting the story was a challenge.
3. Writing the third book of the series. We knew where we were going in the first two books, but none of us had written ahead in book three. We had only general ideas about where it would go.
4. Making the series add up to something. We wanted our readers to finish the series feeling that they’d been changed by the time spent with Deenie, Juneau and Erin. We hope they will periodically read the series over, like visiting old friends.

Maybe that's the key. Maybe I'm not meant to "get it" all the first time through. Perhaps when I have more time I'll go back and read the earlier two books in the series: Almost Sisters and Three Tickets to Peoria. Perhaps then I'll get a better feel for who these three women (the main characters) are. That much I can do. However, the real disappointment is that I won't get to meet the ladies creating them. THOSE are the ones I'm really curious about.

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