Thursday, June 30, 2011

Living under (ground) cover

This time of year finds me knee deep in my garden admiring my handiwork. Scratch that. Admiring Nature’s handiwork. I’m a lazy gardener that relies heavily on perennials that come back every year bigger and better. It’s true. Almost every year my garden looks better, with little interference from me.

People think I’m pretty damn good at gardening. Oh sure, from far away and if you squint, it looks lush, but a closer inspection reveals that some plants have taken over, causing others to disappear, and then it just looks out of whack.

So I decided that maybe I would intervene and clean it up a bit. You know, do some actual gardening. One of the major culprits is some of the ground cover I put in. In the early spring it looks great because it fills in the open spaces and provides an instant garden. The problem is that at this time of the year, it just doesn’t know when to stop, and looks somewhat out of control.

So I slowly started pulling it back and realized there’s a whole freakin’ garden hidden under it. Slow be damned, I started yanking it out like a madwoman. And within a few short hours, I had a new garden; complete with plants that I forgot had existed. Once again symmetry and harmony existed in my world.

It took me by surprise that I was so hesitant to reduce the amount of ground cover – I felt almost guilty because it’s not like it’s a weed, so it seemed sacrilegious to get rid of a “real” plant. But truthfully, it was acting like a weed. I had to remind myself that I’m the gardener – the one in control – and not the plants. Seriously, until they start walking and taking over the world à la Day of the Triffids, I should be the one calling the shots.

The truth is that ground covers do have a purpose in my garden – they are fillers, they are the plants that allow my garden to “fake it until it makes it”. But the problem is that it was too easy to become lazy and let them do all the work for me.

I often read about people giving others the career advice to “fake it” until they actually know what they are doing in a new role. I think there is some validity to this – sometimes you can smile and nod at the right time and get up to speed without others realizing that you weren’t really who they thought you were. By the time you are in full swing, no one is the wiser.

Often though, people forget to remove the cover – the fakeness. They get so used to just winging it that there’s little substance to who they are. They are continually deferring decisions, they can’t commit to an answer, and they frequently parrot others, because they just haven’t put in the roots to establish actual competence. They have lost sight of the real reason that they needed to go under “cover”, which was a temporary blanket until they established a real base.

So I my advice to those giving out advice – you need to add a caveat: Fake it until you make it, but you need to be aware of when you should stop faking it.

At some point someone’s going to mistake you for a weed and yank your ass out of the garden.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Why sometimes it's just not worth pointing out the obvious

Okay, so I've decided to put my high horse in the stable and get back down to talking about the meat and potatoes of my world - stupid shit people do at work.

We have a temporary administrative assistant who I think is quite quirky and nice. She's fast, she's efficient, and gets bored at an impossible to respond rate. She is an educated mid-20 something, who doesn't know what to do with her life. She considers herself spontaneous, but I would counter with erratic.

We often share stories of family woes - she lives with and deals with her younger 20-something sister and I have a teenage daughter. Oddly enough, we share very similar stories.

The other day, after I listened to her vent about how irresponsible, immature, and totally dependant her sister is. She can't make a decision to save her life. I listened & nodded a lot. She went on and on about how she was more mature, how she was being held back in life, how she is challenged with trying to live her life independently and sometimes against the culture of her parents. Still I listened & nodded.

After lunch the admin jumped on me. She had received a text from her sister and had been waiting for me all lunch before responding - "She wants to meet for coffee after work...what should I do? Tell me what to do? Seriously, tell me what I should do."

Apparently it's a family trait.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Detached reality

What a weird breed of people we are brewing.

It use to be that a kid who managed to get himself cut bad enough to require stitches would be hurt, a bit upset, and none too pleased about the idea of having a doctor use a fishing lure to do needlepoint on the cut.

And I'm thinking that mine would have reacted this way too, if he hadn't been viewing it through a screen. Rather than suffer, my kid decides to capture this event on video (ipod).

Watching it later (and yes, I did watch it as I wasn't with him for the live procedure), I was amazed at my son's calm questions to the doctor about the procedure. It was like he didn't realize it was his leg that was being worked on (except for that last stitch, where there wasn't as much freezing).

And I think that's the key. Watching it the way he did created a detachment that is usually reserved for television shows and video games. It's all too easy to forgot that this is really happening, that it involves a real person, with feelings and emotions. Only when it hit a sore spot (literally) was he reminded of this.

I have to admit, my first thought was that maybe he'll be a surgeon. My next thought, a sociopath. Seriously, to me the fundamental difference is the level of detachment...can you relate and empathize with the person you are cutting up?

I'm no worry-wort, but it disturbs me when people can completely detach themselves from what's going on when they see it on the screen. Even if it's someone they know. Even if it's them. It may seem likes it's just a video, or a picture**, but it's of a real person.

(** This doesn't refer to the jackasses who do stupid things and post them on youtube or the ignorants of the world who take naked pictures and text them around...I'm talking about the people who were captured in their less than finest moments and made a public mockery).

Friday, June 10, 2011

For the best

I was eating lunch at a local coffee shop the other day with a colleague when a woman standing beside our table suddenly leaned down and hugged me. I had not really noticed who was standing there, but quickly recognized her as a woman I used to work with at a previous employer, where neither of us are anymore.

In HR, meeting former employees can be pleasant, but it's mainly awkward. Whether there was a good work relationship or not, I know more about the employee than former colleagues do. And if it wasn't the greatest working relationship - then I really know more than others.

I would classify this lunch time meeting in the very awkward category. I knew about the poor work relationship, I knew too much about her personal life because she had no privacy boundaries, and I knew about the circumstances leading up to her termination (through former managers)...that occurred after I left the company.

This woman was in the wrong job for her skill set. I knew it, her supervisor knew, and eventually she came to know it, but management wasn't ready to admit defeat. So, instead of flexibility we end up with a break in the employee. She went off on leave - tried to deal with her problems (few of which were work related) and postponed coming back a few times. When she finally did come back, management finally saw what the rest of us had seen earlier on. So they terminated her.

When I saw this woman the other day, she asked me if I had heard what happened to her and I replied vaguely that I heard she was no longer there. Her response was a blunt - they fired me because I had depression. Based on the sequence of events and the way things played out, this is what she was left to believe.

She has found a replacement job that pays the bills while she goes back to school to pursue her "dream", but she's not grateful for the experience nor is she praising it as being "the best thing for her".

Please remember this when you are terminating someone. Maybe it is the kick in the pants they need. Maybe it will motivate them to do something they are more suited to. But please don't act like (or even say that) you are doing them a favour by terminating them.

It's humiliating, it's demoralizing, and when you screw it up, you contribute to the development of one bitter person.