Truth. Power. Speaking.

I have been thinking a lot about my last work experience, mostly I am thinking about how I explain it to others when they ask me why I left.  One of the most unfortunate consequences of the way we live is the pace.  We have come to expect everything in sound bites; easy short ways to answer how are you doing? Or what are you doing?  If we are honest we ask these as social lubricants and are not necessarily interested in the answer.  We know this because sometimes people unfamiliar  with these social conventions will actually tell us the answer.  It is hard to know who is at fault here: us, for asking a very personal question we have no interest in hearing the answer to, or to the person who misreads our feigned interest; but this is a subject for another blog. 

The reality is that as flat as the world has allegedly become our individual worlds have become very small, our attention spans and distance vision a lot shorter.  So, although you did not ask, here is the reason I decided to leave. Consider it an exercise that will spare you the awkwardness of asking the next time we meet.  Feel free to draw short pithy conclusions from it. 

 My departure started for me in July.  I was beginning to suffer anxiety that interrupted my sleep, gave me headaches and such severe reflux I was unable to eat. I was so exhausted mentally I was unable to keep track of the most basic of work tasks.   This had nothing to do with the people I work with.    To the best of my recollection it boiled down to the following things; technical knowledge of the system; my inability to get up to speed quickly on it and my obsession with not making a mistake.  Whether the result of facing the fact that I was quickly sinking or something much deeper I don’t know, but it rendered me functionally useless. I thought it might be a good time to do something…

When the pressure reached beyond my control limits I “blurted” a note to the president telling him of the situation I was in and that it was up to me to solve it.  As an indication of my disorientation I failed to copy my own boss.  Once the note circulated, I had lunch with my boss who asked me to come back with a plan.  After I presented a plan and we discussed it, I knew I needed to leave.  Although there was a chance I could boot strap my way to technical competence, I knew viscerally, there was very little chance of this being successful. 

Let me be clear, there are no hard feelings from my perspective.  I knew going in that I would need to be playing a variety of roles, something I expected in a company this size. I knew it was not right to draw this out on the hope that it might work out.  There was already some doubt about my suitability and I know enough about myself to know better than to expect anyone to change their mind about the likelihood of my success once in doubt.  If I get a choice, I would prefer the bone saw to be sharp, for all concerned.

It was an unusual situation and I am not sure everyone knew what to think of the whole affair.  Yet, I am grateful for the opportunity.   Everyone there was a pleasure to work with.  They were intelligent, easy-going and seemed to have the right priorities.  No narcissists or pointy haired bosses.  In fact, this would have been easier (and no doubt shorter) to explain if the people in the company were hard to work with.  That is simply not the case and it is what forced me to confront the reality of my situation. 

On the communal bookshelf of their office is a book entitled “Failing Forward”.  Despite its simplistic formula (yep I read it) it is nevertheless correct in asserting that failure is a necessary part of work and life.  I found it kind of funny how easy this is to understand as an abstraction.  Not so easy when it seems to be sitting across from you and looking you right in the eye.  I have heard a lot of people talk of the need to speak truth to power.  I came to understand this phrase in a fundamentally different way when I knew I had to do go.  The temptation to avoid the reality, to try to limp along, draw a paycheck in the vain hope that it would somehow work out were all very powerful forces indeed.  I don’t know how to measure the courage (if that is what it was)it takes to speak truth to that power; I just know it was absolutely necessary.

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Dan Clark

Dan Clark

Principal of Bowline Consulting, process designer/fixer, wireless telecom veteran, addicted pick up soccer player, fly fisher, backpacker, beer brewer, guitar player, choir singer, recovering bag piper

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