April 30, 2013

Counting Down

The end of the year could not come fast enough. I know I know, I shouldn't wish the time away. Ithaca is finally in its "gorges" phase, elegant flowering trees with sunshine and good smells around. But quite frankly, I am ready to go home. If I could spend my days wandering campus, taking pictures of flowers and laying in the grass looking at the sky, I'd do it in a heartbeat. But unfortunately, that's not quite what my last few weeks promise. My days are planned nearly to the minute from 6 AM until midnight or 1 AM and it still manages to feel rushed.

I have found, that while sometime I complain about the long walks across campus taking up value time, my "commutes" are my best "me" time. I love walking across campus during springtime. I get to think, draft blogs, call home... If my plan pans out as I have it now, I will be spending next summer here, and with a prelude like this, I am actually quite excited.

What is making me so excited to go home is the people here. Don't get me wrong, there are some wonderful people and friends who I get to interact with regularly. But there are also the people I could seriously use a break from. Even people I don't know who email rude things to the Service Desk where I work. Tangential PSA: when you email for help, it goes to a real person. Email etiquette baffles me sometimes: people who don't sign their name, say hello, and are painfully abrupt or curt with their message. But that's beside the point. I am so ready to be home, with my family, in the slow-moving, routine splendor of summertime.

Countdown to May 17...

April 24, 2013

Those Silly Little Metaphors That Make the Big Differences

I'm a sucker for clichés and metaphors and "symbolic moments." Some people find them silly; they roll their eyes because they don't see the beauty and find their joy and hope in other ways. But for me, finding little things coincides with moments when I feel closest to God. I feel like it's His pat on my back, a quick shoulder squeeze, an acknowledgement that we've made it through whatever "trench" I found myself swimming through.

Right now, sitting in Libe café after an incredibly taxing 48+ hours, I am feeling at peace, if for only for the moment. And the window facing The Slope is covered in raindrops and the setting sun is streaming in. It's beautiful. It feels like a nod and a deep breath and a helping hand all at once. And Florence just came on my iPod: "It's hard to dance with the devil on your back, so shake him off! It's always darkest before the dawn." The finishing touch.

I'm never going to have all the answers. I am always going to fall short and am always going to be wrestling with something. But these moments - the sun streaming through the raindrops - bring hope.

Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.

April 20, 2013

Story Time

No, I'm not about to tell you a story, as misleading as my title may be. This will actually be relatively brief, as a follow up to my recent post about idolatry.

I have started following Stephanie May's "Lipstick Gospel" and she is one of the people that, though I have never and may never meet, I have found myself looking up to in way that hovers on the border of healthy readership and obsession. This girl just gets me. I am beyond grateful to have stumbled on her blog.

One of her most recent posts hit home, especially after writing my most recent blog post. Her post was about stories: their impact on other people and how we use stories to navigate our own lives. Her original post can be found here and is just a beautiful reminder that it is ok to look up to people, to look to them for understanding and guidance, that every story counts and you never know how God is using you in someone else's life. You should never be afraid to live and to tell your stories, no matter how messy they may be.

April 18, 2013

Idols & Role Models

I have a problem idolizing people. Not in the worshippy, follow-you-around, learn-all-your-favorite-foods, obsessive sort of way, but in the way that sometimes I find people who think have all the answers. This is a step beyond healthy respect, and it is something that frightens me. I catch myself doing it and scold myself. I have to remind myself that - in the cliché words of a Pinterest quote - “I am comparing my backstage to their highlight reel.”

It’s different than simply learning from people and their successes and good habits. If it was that, I’d be golden. I am painfully introspective so I am constantly looking for ways to improve, answers to my flaws. But I am also incredibly emotional and I feel everything. It complicates the question, “How are you?”, but that is an entirely different post topic for another day. What it means in this context is that when I find someone who is able to word my feelings, who can solidify some experience or worry I’ve had, I feel inextricably tied to them. This applies even to people I have never met but have simply read.
Now I am not saying there is something wrong with the fact that I relate to people. The real issue is how seriously I cling to their words and how I seek their wisdom and solutions. I am all for using resources and friends and your network and their experiences, but there is a serious danger in putting someone on a pedestal. You probably think you know where I am going with this: “... and these people will inevitably let you down.” Actually, that’s not what I am saying at all. Most of these people never will. They are polished and thoughtful and live life very intentionally. These people end up as my idols for a reason, after all. My problem is the hope, even desperation at times, to believe that they have everything figured out and know black and white solutions. My problem is letting myself think that these people know the absolute truth... They don’t. Only God knows that.

To me it feels like a really eccentric way of pursuing earthly satisfaction. The satisfaction that most people seek in alcohol, provocativeness, or money. I am so plan-oriented and knowledge-seeking. I am not good at trust, even though I really do have faith in God. So I look for answers in all the wrong places, rather than trusting God and paying attention when he tries to tell me the plan. I look to these idols - typically Christians, actually - in hopes that they can tell me the answers to the questions I am wrestling with. I want straight-forward answers and action plans.

Typically, this is where I realize that I am idolizing. When my issue doesn’t seem that big to them, they’ve never thought about it, or they give me an unsatisfactory answer. This can be in the way a blog post wraps up, in the verse they direct me to, or the logic they use to respond. The worst is when the answer is something I don’t want to hear, or something that contradicts the weak, shaky logic I’ve built during my own reflections. None of the answers are wrong or bad, but they are never fully complete or satisfying. I get frustrated.
And then I remember. I remember that no one knows everything! Only God knows everything! And the empty, curious part of me will remain insatiably desirous of the truth until I am with God and He can explain it all to me. Other people can offer wisdom, comfort, and partial answers, but I will never find complete satisfaction and peace through the answers of those I idolize. I have to learn to reel it in to a level of respect. I can learn from them, admire them, and model certain aspects of my life after them, but they will never be able to solve my deepest conflicts and questions. God put these people in my life for a reason, but I can’t allow myself to overemphasize their importance.

I am grateful that I have role models in my life. I am blessed to mentored and challenged even by some of my closest friends. But I have to remember that I have an individual relationship with God, too. I don’t need to assume that they have a direct line up to the big guy and I have to get the answers second-and. And He has a unique plan just for me.

April 17, 2013

The Redefinition of Management

One of my classes this semester, Communications for Engineering Managers, requires us to analyze an engineering event - typically an accident. The challenge is getting engineering students to look past the technical details and consider the communicative events and their efficacy. Seeing as I am not your typical engineer (#shouldacouldawoulda), I am enjoying the presentations and what they are teaching us about to create working environments that encourage effective communication which in turn facilitates innovation, progress, and engagement.

What interested me in today's presentation - all about the Bay Area Rapid Transit System - was something that applies in a very widespread way: the negative implications of the word "management." Ultimately, I think the word is used to describe difficult to work with people, people who don't understand what is going on, people who are trying to make your life hard, people who hold your employment fate in their hands, people who make uninformed decisions, people you can't talk to... The list continues. And while I concede that many of these misconceptions are not unfounded, I don't think that the universal "management" should be a negative thing.

Management is absolutely necessary. Merriam-Webster defines management as follows:
1: the act or art of managing : the conducting or supervising of something (as a business)
2: judicious use of means to accomplish an end
3: the collective body of those who manage or direct an enterprise
None of these imply negativity or incompetency. Management is about the bigger picture, the grander goal, the long-term vision. It's about knowing people's skills, strengths, and interests to best use them to achieve something bigger. Management should tie in closely with leadership. A good manager doesn't need constantly be reprimanding, nor should he/she be constantly micromanaging. This is the crux of the "redefinition."
It ultimately comes down to the fact that little can be achieved without a leader. This leader can take on many forms, but it is nearly impossible to do anything productive without one individual who can make a final decision. If we make every decision by vote nothing would get done because actions would end up contradicting each other or worse, harming each other. You need someone who is going to look at the end goal and figure out what matters, who can contribute and how, what timeline is appropriate, and how to motivate people. Management can be so powerful if handled correctly - it need not be a negative synonym for bureaucracy, inefficiency, or incompetence.
Part of the problem is pride. Managers want to believe that they know best (this is true of leaders too). But, you see, management is meant to know the resources (be it people, objects, spaces, whatever) and find the best use of them. This includes contacting people and gathering opinions. A good leader and manager needs an innovative mind and a solid intuition, but there is nothing that says a manager needs to know all the answers. This mindset plagues management and prevents progress.
Another misconception (fully perpetuated, mind you) about management is that it is a universal skill that can be applied in the same manner to most/all industries. Um, no. Not at all. In a technical setting, a manager with little or no technical background comes off as naïve, undereducated, and, frankly, incompetent. This is exacerbated by managers in these situations who try to "cover up" their knowledge gap and make decisions without consulting anyone or by making assumptions (which are actually so detrimental). A manager from a different industry or background can be wildly successful in a different field as long as they are open to learn and defer to those more experienced for the finer grain details of an operation or project.
Management is a powerful and necessary tool in making a group function productively. It becomes increasingly important as that group grows in size, because no one person can know all aspects of what is happening, let alone make informed decisions about them. This growth step can be when management gets muddled or ineffective, but when they are most needed in order to keep the company moving along.
On a somewhat tangential note, the promotion progression should not necessarily be to management! I think this is one of the biggest flaws of work environments all over the place. Some people are simply not meant to be managers. They don't have the people skills, the vision, the time, or sometimes the desire to be in charge of others. Promoting someone out of a job they excel at does not ensure their success as a manager of those same people. It makes sense if you think of it this way: someone may be the best darn hammerer on the entire construction site, but if they are myopic and technically-oriented and antisocial or abrasive, promoting them to be the Hammer Team Manager will not do anyone any good. More fitting would be a training role or a consultant role that allows him to tap into his expertise and passions without making him uncomfortable with responsibility. This is so much better for everyone.
As some one who loves administrative and managerial tasks, I don't want the idea of "management" to continue to be a bad one. I am still in college and already find myself in multiple leadership/management roles, so I can see the flaws plainly. Their are misconceptions, lack of motivation, as well as a whole slew of other problems with traditional hierarchical attitudes and hiring practices. I hope that some progress can be made (maybe we need managers of the managers?) in making the managerial positions of most workplaces productive and helpful rather than bureaucratic and frustrating.