Friday, September 2, 2011

work issues

I was cranky about work this week. Not just cranky, but sunk in a bit of a fog, what's left of depression for me after

Anyway. Cranky. I spend a lot of time working on things I don't care about in between the things I do. As useful as I've been, I look back on six months and don't feel like I've been particularly effective. Certainly I haven't been engaging the sorts of system-design skills I'm good at; i was just starting to, when the company stopped new development for six weeks to work on various quality-focused initiatives. Now I'm working for at least a week or two on spewing out some kind of inventory database for all our servers, which is not the least bit interesting to me, though it desperately needs to be done. (And which I've been hacking on over the months, but only implementing the things I need.)

I watch other people of both greater and lesser seniority becoming technical leads. How do you become a technical lead? By having an impact and pushing others to do the same. What am I not doing? Having an impact.

Also, I'm getting married, one old friend is missing my wedding for reasons I'm not entirely clear on or at peace with, another old friend is very extremely ill, and being a stepdad is an ongoing process. Among other things. It's a busy time. I can't recall ever having this much stuff to deal with.

I've been through this cycle before, of course (that's what makes it a cycle). Over a period of a few weeks, I'll wind up tighter and tighter. I get irritable, which is a lightweight form of anger. I feel it in my aikido instincts, where I'm much more likely to want to use force and be combative, even if I don't act on it. During this part of the process, zazen keeps me in touch with what I'm feeling, but doesn't actually help me settle down.

This mental pain is dukkha, that troublesome Buddhist word usually translated as "suffering", but "angst", "stress", "distress", or "discomfort" are usually better. The root of the word means "a wheel out of balance". The Buddha, as was his way, gave everyone a fine definition:
Birth is dukkha; aging is dukkha; illness is dukkha; death is dukkha; grief, lamentation, bodily pain, mental pain and despair are dukkha; having to associate with what is displeasing is dukkha, separation from what is pleasing is dukkha; not getting what one wants, that too is dukkha.
Faced with this dukkha, I become hard, trying to defend myself against it. Trying to defend myself against the world outside myself, as if that's the problem. As if there's some kind of separation between "me" and "everything else". There isn't, though not in any particularly magical mystical "everything is connected" way. It's actually very concrete, though counter-intuitive: every phenomenon's existence depends on every other phenomenon's existence. Thich Nhat Hanh, while I'm allergic to his writing, named his monastic community the "Order of Interbeing", which describes it quite well. Everything in the universe is interdependent to the point where it inter-is. The chain of cause and effect is often so complex that we can't enumerate every link, but it's there. I get hard and angry in response to my conditions at work. My conditions at work arose because I took the job and then started executing on it in a certain way. I interviewed for this job because I'd worked with the recruiter at a previous job, which I'd taken because I was burned out at the job before that...the details are endless. But every decision and every interaction and every response and every happenstance all create what we call the "causes and conditions" of our current state of affairs.

All this is to say that there's no such thing as "Chris" being separate from "the world Chris lives in". I have created that world. That world has created me. We have arisen and developed together. We're not two different things: the world would be very different for a lot of people without me in it. I'm not special in this way. It's true for you, too. It's true for everybody.

At this point in the cycle, I'm getting hard and, in a way, angry about my suffering. This continues for a week or less, when one day I've had enough and I sit down for zazen again, and this time, at some point I change from being hard and angry to being soft, and sad. I let myself feel sad because after all, things are not what I want, and feeling sad about that is okay. I finally accept my dukkha, stop fighting it or protecting myself, and really fully acknowledge it as part of my experience right now. I open up to my immediate experience (which has a lot of unpleasantness). I become quieter and less confrontational, especially at work. In aikido, I lose the impulse for violent, linear motions (like punching people) and my fluidity returns. I give up trying to force my experience of the world to be a certain way. I let go of my desire to control, to stop feeling bad, to shut the world out, and once again I can create flexible, spontaneous responses to the needs of whatever's really happening.

I'm feeling a lot better now. I was in a couple friends' aikido tests on Friday, and that's always fun. I'm still a bit on edge about work, but I've settled considerably, and after venting to my team lead a bit, I've discovered that the current view from the higher-ups is that I should make of my role whatever I want.
("After this current project, I'm going to spend 100% of my time on X. I'm also going to have the team run me through like a new employee, so I'm fixing bugs and knowing the code better."

"Oh, definitely! I'm actually surprised that wasn't happening already."

Has this ever come up before? No. I'm the only software engineer on the Ops team, so there's been no one else trying to do this job that we could use either as a model or for comparison.)
It's good to be on the up-cycle again. There's still a lot of stuff to work through, but I'm definitely settling down, even with some stuff left over from Chile. My one response to everything is "Let Go": people, places, things, ideas, beliefs. Just because you let go of something (or someone) doesn't mean it goes away. It might, but that's better than grabbing onto it and trying to control what happens. Letting go means allowing the world to take its natural shape, accepting The Way Things Are as your starting point and going from there.

If you're feeling hard and angry in any part of your life, consider letting go and becoming soft and sad. You'll be glad you did.

1 comment:

  1. Plus, during the soft-and-sad part, people who love you can hold you and pet your head. I like that.