In my coaching session yesterday (Is there an emoji that encapsulates the feeling of being excited to do something while simultaneously mourning your bank account?) my coach said something very interesting.
Me: “I have been having trouble engaging fully at work because I’m not sure if I will be there in a couple months, due to the unethical thing they might be doing soon. I don’t know if I’ll have to leave”
Coach: “So you’re paying uncertainty, and what you get is poor performance. Sounds like a bad deal.”
I can’t remember exactly what he said after that, or what I said, but even now I am somewhat confused by this.
I know that I’m paying uncertainty, but how exactly is the uncertainty something that I’m creating?
I suppose I could say “I will work here no matter what they decide to do” or “I will quit no matter what they decide to do”, but if I say “I want to work here so long as they don’t go in the direction I think is not okay”, I have uncertainty about what will be next.
To what extent is this experience of uncertainty my choice?
Please excuse me if you already see the answer. It is much easier to see through someone else’s self-inflicted suffering than your own. Because you see… “I see facts and reality, and all these other people are laboring under their delusions”.
And no matter how many times we intellectually acknowledge that we do not in fact see facts (heh) but rather we experience situations through a lens and from a vantage point, we still will think that we have somehow eliminated moooost of our biases and more or less are much more objective than anyone else.
I’m not saying we logically think this. Iin your bones you think you know what’s happening and have a grip on things.
So here I am wondering… how is it true that I am the author of my uncertainty?
Could I, keeping the same basic moral posture and position, experience something else?
What would that be like? What do I _want_ it to be like? What am I committed to creating here, while I am here, no matter how long I am here?
What I want is to go into work with a clear idea of what we want to accomplish in the next 6 months, and what that future will look like when we manage to accomplish it. I want a compelling future result.
What I would really love is to deliver at my current job what I want to deliver in my consulting. Massively productive software teams that deliver the right thing, on time, and love going to work.
The problem I have is that the only thing that makes me feel “productive” currently is writing code. When I’m building documents, or helping users on the forums, or developing processes and ideas, it feels like “wasting time”. It feels like a chore I have to do so I can get to the real work.
What is the “real work”? Why do I consider the tangible results the only thing that actually counts? And even if it is that, could I deliver more value by catalyzing and accelerating those results?
“You’re not worth anything if you’re not contributing” “You have to have something you can point to” “How can you measure the effect you have on someone else’s work? Best to make sure you’re moving tickets around” “If you’re not valuable you’ll be fired” “Value needs to be created directly by you to keep you safe”
I know these things aren’t really true. But they pop up in the back of my head when I’m considering doing something else, and they distract me from doing the work I would be interested in doing that might actually make a big impact.
“What do I have to say about this anyway? I can’t back this up. It’s too much work to research it all to the point they’d believe me. It’s not going to make a difference.”
Again, all self-defeating. These lies are meant to keep us from moving forward. And we get something out of them too.
What I am getting out of all this: I can self-righteously complain that nobody else understands the right way to do things, and if only I had some time or permission to change things I could do it right.
I don’t have to confront my fears of confronting people or asking for what I want.
And ultimately, these silly thoughts are keeping me from actually doing what it takes to make the future what I want it to be.
So I settle for mediocre experience and mediocre performance.
And I don’t bother putting together a vision that would be interesting to me, because what difference does it make anyway?
A Better Vision of Work
What could I do at work, if I was committed to being there for 6 more months at least?
I could build a system of measurements for our team’s productivity. I could combine subjective and objective measures, both internal and external. I could track these things week over week, and see how they are all correlating with the team’s sense of both project health and productivity. Are our bugs actually going away? Are we solving problems? Are we making big strides in our vision?
I could inspire my whole team to take these questions seriously, to see that if we were to measure our output and impact, we could radically make our lives better. We could actually make a case to attack the things we want to attack, because they’re all experiments to find out how to ship code faster, to improve the state of the art on our platform for other developers. To develop best practices.
What if, at the end of that time, I could tell a compelling story about the changes we made on our team, how we measured our success, and what the outcomes were, and make recommendations for other teams, and work towards pushing those changes out into the broader world through my consulting?
What if I could also become an expert at Rust through all the experimentation I would be doing with our architecture to reduce cycle times and make features easier to deliver?
There’s more work to do but this is maybe a start.