Sunday, September 11, 2011

Work: A Midlife Perspective

I've just returned from a week long series of meetings hosted by the parent organization of the college I work for.  Most of these meetings were held in windowless rooms, with an ever changing group of people that I have come to know in only the most superficial capacity. 
Not that I haven't tried to build up those relationships but the truth is, when you don't see someone day in and day out, it is really hard to hold on to the dynamic reality of change and personality.
People are not static stories. Life moves through all of us - shaping and stretching our humanity in continual new patterns.  Brief visits are like dipping a toe into a raging river.  If I could travel down once a month and spend a week with these folks - that river would be much calmer, less fraught with submerged rocks and course changes.
As it is, working at a distance from some of the most important operational processes that govern the work that I do is not easy.  Anyone who works for a company that has multiple locations and a headquarters that is not right around the corner will probably concur with me. Communication is key and yet, unless you have the time and resources to make that the highest priority - it is not going to be an easy relationship.
One of the best things I can do is to remain aware of how easy it is to make assumptions. I remind myself to be wary of building in my own head a story about Why. Why someone forgot to return an email; why my changes to a document were not included; why voicemail doesn't seem to work. Why a particular employee shared that nasty piece of gossip.
Here is where that midlife perspective comes in handy - I've been around enough to know that I don't know what is going on in other people's heads.  The other side of that perspective is also getting clearer: I don't really care what is going on in their heads.  The question on the work table is whether or not we can make the space to collaborate and listen to the different positions.  I've learned that curiosity is a much more powerful tool then trying to second guess someone's intentions. 
In some ways I find myself somewhat saddened by the fact that these folks who I work with from such a far distance will always remain rather two-dimensional. These brief moments in time where we actually sit and look at each other, read body language and hear brief snippets about each other's lives are enjoyable.  In many ways, regardless of those tidbits, those moments remind us that we are all simply human beings slogging through the work as best we can. We don't know each other - really - but we recognize our humanity in each other.
I recognize the humanity - and it is sometimes frail, often tenacious and always promising.

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