Unhitch

Yesterday I was thinking a great deal about an old yet ever-present eagerness to go, wherever that might be, and the thought came up again today while on a swing in a nearby park with the boy. However, rather than seek to leap beyond the confines of our planet's atmosphere, the thought expanded "go" to "let go" before quickly broadening to examine the anxiety that has been a near-constant problem over the last couple of years.

Looking at the issue rationally, a case could be made that the anxiety started to manifest to its current levels about three years ago when it seemed that the LMS project that I was developing at the day job came under almost daily attack by certain high-ranking people in the organisation. The effort needed to be constantly validated by proving time and again that the idea was sound, the software was sound, and that the accusations were completely manufactured. This meant that every update had to be completely flawless to reduce any chance that the unfounded accusations of "amateur code" and "lost hours of productivity" gained mindshare elsewhere in the company. The most effective way to do this was to have an almost iron grip on how everything was presented in the LMS.

Control of the back-end was already mine, given that I had 100% control of the design, development, and initial testing. However, what people saw on the screen was just as important as what the code was doing invisibly in the background. This meant taking up the challenge of ensuring that any information provided by people using the software had to be cleaned up and presented in a consistent fashion, lest a quick copy/paste job from someone else be used as justification for cancelling my efforts1. So I took up the task of cleaning up the data. All of it. Textbook names, ISBN codes, formatted objects, notes, notification messages, system-wide message broadcasts, even the system that collects student feedback. All of it came under my purview as all of it had to be as perfect as possible to reduce the believability of the endless lies and assumptions that came from a small pocket of angry people.

This was probably not the best way to solve the problems created by office politics and blind jealousy2. The immediate consequence was the amount of work that needed to be completed on a daily basis. How can one person do the job of twenty without being so overwhelmed that they collapse?

Looking at the number of posts I've written about burn out in the last three years, the answer is obvious. One person cannot always do the work of many for any length of time.

Every morning when I sit at my desk the first thing that attracts attention is the To Do list followed by all the half-started bits of the textbook project. Hundreds of books are in various states of conversion and few are ready to be used in the classroom, yet they're all required immediately. Other high-priority projects also sit in wait for attention and new tasks hit the inbox at a steady rate to ensure that there's plenty of work to get through. Being in demand is a good thing, but I am loathe to leave work unfinished for too long. What I need to do, for the good of everyone, is to unhitch myself to the expectation of whatever version of perfection it is that I'm going for and to trust that others will take the appropriate level of ownership over their own realms -- even if the output is not where I would like to see it. When it's my turn to die, I do not want to think about all the things I didn't do at work. I do not want to think about all the things I didn't do in my personal life because I was working, either. Instead, there needs to be a balance. I can do the best that I can do while also making it possible for others to help by doing their best. This is the logical way forward to share responsibility, encourage colleagues, and reduce my self-flagellating levels of stress and tension.

With anxiety under control and a healthier balance of work and life, I might just live to see my 50th birthday. But I must let go to make this happen.


  1. As asinine as this sounds, it was actually used by a "manager" as an example of why my system sucked. Using this logic, one could blame a poorly-formatted Word or PowerPoint file on Microsoft.

  2. Jealousy because I was working on something new with a group of people who did not include the angry managers. They'd been inited to join in the project during the early stages but, when they tried to wrest control from the project leader and replace me with their own people, well … fiefdoms flourished.