Tag Archives: managers vs. makers

Are Goals Good for You?

empty swingset

empty swingsetLate one night after a recent college reunion, I got to talking with a group of close friends. We’d had a few drinks. And having split our sides laughing over the course of two days about our shared pasts, we began to muse about our individual futures.

One of my friends suggested that we each set a goal we’d like to accomplish by the time we hit our next five-year reunion. He created a make-shift whiteboard out of our cardboard beer carton so we could write our goals down and hold each other accountable.

The reaction around the room was a tell-tale study in contrasts. The guy who proposed the idea said that he’d like to undertake at least one major creative project by the proposed deadline. Someone else – who’d endured a particularly grueling year – said that she couldn’t set long-term goals right now: she was just trying to live day to day. A third friend confessed that he knew exactly what his goal was, but that it was so deeply fraught and personal that he didn’t want to articulate it just then.

A fourth friend looked at us all blankly. “Honestly?” she said. “I can’t think of anything major.” She paused to give it a bit more thought. “Maybe to keep on improving in Crossfit?”

As for me, I piped up with one goal. And then a another. And then a third. I quickly realized that if I didn’t shut up, my personal goal list would completely dominate our whiteboard.

What are goals doing for you?

At first, I felt really smug after this discussion. “Yay, me!” I thought to myself. “I’m so focused and determined! I’m awesome!

I was particularly pleased that my goals extended into all aspects of my life. Not only that, I could name them and own them. I was proud of myself.

But after a couple of weeks passed, I began to question my complacency. Why was it, I asked myself, that I *needed* so many goals? Why couldn’t I be more like my Crossfit friend – who was apparently so satisfied with what she’s achieved thus far in life – that she could afford to focus on something as seemingly trivial as an exercise regime? (No disrespect to all Crossfitters out there. I know it’s grueling…)

And the answer is that goals provide me with an excuse for movement. My worst fear in life is slowing down. When I move forward – even in a frenzied state (which, if I’m honest, often characterizes my movement forward) – I feel alive. I don’t have to succumb – or even catch a glimpse of – that awful feeling I associate with stillness. Which is one of fear and sadness that the game is up and I am only me, warts and all. There is no more chance for self-improvement.

How dreams help

Not long after my reunion, I had a dream that I was back in college with that same group of friends. In the dream, I discovered that I had failed to write a term paper that was due in two weeks’ time. I’d had an entire semester to prepare for this paper, and yet somehow, I’d let it slide.

Panicking, I rushed to the library to do all the necessary research. But as I ran towards the card catalogue (yes, I went to college back in the day when we still had card catalogues…along with the horse and buggy), I noticed a bunch of people off to one side of the room. They were swinging on a swing set…in the library.

I’ve written before about the window my dreams afford into my psyche. On one level, of course, this dream is merely an apt representation of the person I was in college: someone who, as the phrase has it, worked hard and partied hard. (Hence, the dueling images of the library and the swingset.)

But I don’t think that’s really what this dream was about. I think it was about my current mid-life quest to integrate two halves of myself: to allow the manager and the maker to co-exist together, rather than one half dominating the other. That’s why the swing set is inside the library. The dream isn’t offering these images as stark alternatives. It is encouraging me to bring those two selves together.

In search of peace

Which brings us back to goals. What that dream told me is that I need to stop continually setting new goals for myself. Instead, I need to replace all of my micro-goals with one, over-arching macro-goal: that of achieving peace within.

If I can do that, then I won’t need the constant churn of goal-setting and goal-replacement. I will just be.

And maybe that can be my own form of Crossfit.

Image: Empty swingset by wsilver via Flickr

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My Midlife Search for Authenticity and Integrity

integrity

integrityI had coffee with a friend of mine in London recently. We talked about our joint desire to make our second half of life both meaningful and productive.

He’s in his early 60’s, and he told me that he had decided to organize the rest of his life around the principle of “integrity.” By integrity, he did not mean moral probity. He was referring instead to the less frequently used definition of integrity – unity, wholeness, coherence and cohesion.

I knew exactly what he meant. I, too, had recently come to the same conclusion.

Indulging One Side of One’s Self

For the last several years, my own personal “watchword” has been authenticity. Particularly in the professional realm, I felt that I had drifted too far in the direction of being a “manager” in recent years, and had lost touch with my “maker” self.

And so, when I found myself lucky enough to get laid off from my job last summer – with a generous severance package,I went 180 degrees in the opposite direction: I wrote a book, I took acting classes, I started swimming every day. I immersed myself in a creative life.

It was a corrective of sorts, and I reveled in the rush that came from focusing on the side of me that had been starved for so long. Ideas flowed. Writing Flowed. I felt like I was re-introducing myself – to myself  – and that was exhilarating.

Bringing the Manager Back In

Over time, however, that corrective began to need a corrective. As refreshing as it was to call myself a writer again – and to feel the truth of that identity wash over me every morning as I sat down at my desk – in the back of my mind, I knew that my manager self could not be entirely eliminated from the picture.

At first, I brought her in to accomplish small things, like cooking. Then I realized that I needed a safe way to incorporate my manager self into my journey of career change – not to dominate my maker self – but to co-exist with her on equal footing. And that meant fashioning a professional identity that would not miraculously render me the Director of a Musical Theatre revue (though a non-trivial part of me does pine for that identity.) Nor would it mean making a living simply by leveraging my most marketable skills. Rather, I would need to find a way to enable the writer, blogger and aspiring actress to co-exist with the social scientist, editor and project manager.

That sounds simple and obvious. But it isn’t. For me, anyway. For deeply psychological reasons that are far too complicated to go into here, I’ve always been more comfortable bifurcating myself into two halves. Being a fully integrated manager/maker -right brain/left brain sorta gal has been an incredibly hard thing to realize. My body, soul and mind want me to choose one side or the other, and I am using every fiber of my being right now not to do that.

I am resolved to achieve this however. I know, at the end of the day, that I will only ever feel myself when I enable all of the different voices inside me to surface and co-mingle, messy as that might be. I wasn’t born an engineer. Nor was I born an artist. I’m a bit of both.

In Search of Balance

Accepting that has been one of midlife’s biggest challenges.

But I’m getting there. As a big fan of mindfulness, I was delighted to discover a new series on my Headspace App called “Balance.” It is all about trying to identify those things in your life – not just your job, but what you eat, how you spend your time – that make you feel imbalanced. And once you notice them, you are then empowered to decide whether or not you wish to remedy them.

I no longer do any work on the weekends, for example. (Granted, I have the luxury of being unemployed right now, so it’s quite easy to fob things off until Monday.) But the change I see in myself over the past eight months is that I no longer *want* to work on the weekends anymore. Because that feels imbalanced. Whereas it used to just feel normal.

I don’t think this is the kind of thing that one can appreciate, let alone rectify, until we hit mid-life. When you’re young, you simply act on your impulses. You don’t examine them and try to do better.

How about you? Do you struggle to achieve balance in life and how does that manifest itself? What would an “integral” life look like?

Image: Integrity by Nick Youngson via The Blue Diamond Gallery

 

 

Nourish Your Inner Project Manager Through Cooking

cooking

cooking

I spent a week at my 86 year-old mother’s house recently. I was there to help her to clear out her home in preparation for an imminent move to an independent living facility.

The visit invariably entailed a lot of emotional moments: looking at old photos of my (deceased) father…throwing out 3/4 of her Christmas tree ornaments because she’ll no longer have a full-sized tree…realizing that at her age, the risk of tripping on a Turkish rug far outweighs its aesthetic appeal.

I could go on.

But I was also reminded of a fundamental truth about my nature: I am a born project manager. Whether it was driving to the local, jumbo-sized American liquor store to pick up boxes, sorting through old clothing to donate to the Vietnam Veterans of America, or interviewing potential moving companies for estimates, I was completely in my element.

Best of all, I had a deadline: we had to have the entire house de-cluttered in advance of an open-house scheduled a week after I arrived. So I spent seven days doing nothing but running around making lists, checking items off, and assigning duties to my three siblings for the next six weeks before I return for the actual move.

Manager vs. Maker

I once wrote a blog post with a short quiz to help people figure out if they are fundamentally “managers” or “makers.” (Conceptual hat tip: Paul Graham)

A manager is someone who divides their day into tiny bite-sized chunks and for whom meetings – even spontaneous ones – constitute the essence of their job.

A maker is someone who needs large blocks of time to carry out tasks – i.e. computer programmers, writers, artists – and who find meetings onerous and inefficient because they cut into their productivity.

Most people clearly sort into one or the other category. I, unfortunately, have one foot in both camps: I relish large blocks of time to do any sort of writing or editing. But equally, I feel like I will die if I don’t organize someone or something at least once a day (frequently a member of my family…).

The Problem with Being a Creative

Back when I was working, this problem solved itself. My last job encompassed both halves of my personality, such that I spent about 50% of my time writing and editing and 50% of my time managing projects, budgets and people.

It was, in that very specific sense, a perfect job for me.

But now that I’ve been made redundant, I am really struggling to keep that balance in my life. I now have vast swathes of free time, and although I am prioritizing my book project, there are only so many hours in the day one can write.

While there are any number of books out there offering advice on how to develop your inner artist, you don’t hear all that much about how creative types can nurture their inner swim coach.

Cooking as Project Management

One thing I’ve started doing to feed (no pun intended!) my inner project manager is cooking.

Let me confess that I’ve never been much of a foodie. My husband loves food, many of my friends love food, but, until recently, about the only foodstuff I ever really paid any attention to was beer. My sister loves to quote the time I commented, as an 11 year-old: “It was there. So I ate it.” Food had no allure in and of itself.

Nor did cooking. Cooking has always just something practical I did in order to ensure that my family was healthy. But as an activity unto itself, it was completely joyless.

Lately, however, I find myself really getting into making recipes. There is something deeply soothing about listing all the ingredients, tracking them down – especially the rare ones (Ras El-Hanout, anyone?) – and then carefully orchestrating the production of the meal so that it all comes out on time. There is also, invariably, that dreaded terror when (just as when you’re in the office), you fear that you might actually miss that deadline…and then the utter relief when you don’t.

I’m a huge dessert fan, so cakes loom large in my repertoire. But someone also gave me a Persian cook book for my birthday last year and that has been a great source of inspiration.

Of course, there are other ways to exercize your inner project manager if you’re immersed in something creative – volunteering or joining a board is another way to go.

But for me, cooking seems to work just fine, at least for now.

I guess once my mother moves into her new place, I’ll need to start working on some recipes for her…

Image: Food. Pot. Kitchen. Cooking via Pexels.com

Tips For Adulthood: How To Figure Out If You're A Manager or a Maker

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

I’ve written before about how – on many of the world’s most pressing issues – most people sort neatly into one of two camps: Coke vs. Pepsi. Boxers vs. Briefs. Pet vs. Anti-pet.

In keeping with this concept, the Freakonomics blog linked yesterday to a fascinating post by a guy named Paul Graham about what he calls “managers vs. makers.”

On one side of the divide, you have a group of workers – usually managers – who divided their day into tiny bite-sized chunks and for whom meetings – even spontaneous ones – constitute the essence of their job. On the other side, you have what he calls “makers” – i.e. computer programmers, writers, artists – who need large blocks of time to carry out tasks and who find meetings onerous and inefficient because they cut into their productivity.

While the thrust of Graham’s article is to make each type more sensitive to the style/needs of the other sort of worker, figuring out which sort of worker you are before you embark on a career choice could also save you time and headaches down the road. (Trust me. I myself have a maker’s soul trapped in a manager’s body, which probably explains my own schizophrenic career choices along the way.)

To that end, here are five ways to figure out if you’re a maker or a manager:

1. Do you like working in increments of one hour or three hours? If one, you’re a manager. If three, you’re a maker. I have one friend who claims that she can be productive in 20 minutes. She is definitely a manager.

2. Does the prospect of a meeting fill you with anticipation or dread? My husband – the quintessential maker (he’s an academic) – hates going to meetings. Me? Despite being a writer, I love them. They’re social, they bring focus to the day and, most of all, they provide at least the possibility of getting something out the door (which, if you’re a writer/artist/fill-in-the-blank creative type is often elusive.)

3. Do you always have Outlook calendar open on your computer? And do you actually use it? If yes, you’re a manager. You like to schedule things. If no, you’re a maker.

4. Do you ever forget meetings? As Graham notes, one of the problems with meetings if you’re a maker is that you have to remember them. I don’t think I’ve ever forgotten a meeting in my life. But I know plenty of makers who get so caught up in whatever they are doing (I name no names) that they completely lose track of time.

5. Are you on twitter? All social networking requires that you spend a certain amount of your day away from whatever it is that you do. But Twitter – because it is so fast and furious – is the uber-managerial 2.0 tool. When used religiously, it forces you to constantly interrupt yourself to tweet an update about your life, mention an article, or react to breaking news.

How about you? Where do you fall on the manager/maker scale?

Oops, sorry. Gotta run. I have a meeting to get to…

Image: MYSTlore News and Events in Outlook 2003 by Soren “chucker” Kuklau via Flickr Under a Creative Commons License

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