Tag Archive for 'career'

Life is Messy and the Timing of It

When I first heard the phrase “life is messy,” it didn’t sit well with me. Being a planner who tries to keep things structured and organized, the entire point of creating structure is to mitigate the mess, but I later learned that’s not the point of this phrase. As a leader, it’s also about how well and how quickly one can adjust course to the make the most of any given situation. A monkey can learn routine, but it takes higher intelligence to re-prioritize on the fly. It’s a real art of when to dive head down to execute a task list or when to come up to adjust a plan, and it takes real strength when the entire plan needs to be scrapped and a new one must be created just in time for the next transaction. Should a new plan be needed, keep in mind that no one else really knows how incomplete your plan may be, so your next transaction may look flawless while you can continue building your plan in preparation for the following step.

This perspective surrounds the ability of seizing windows of opportunity. Any good analyst can eventually finish his or her complete investigation of all of the variables and with some experience and a good imagination even make a tree of all possible outcomes, and that is probably the best way to do it. The problem is that takes time. Meanwhile the environment changes, and the windows of opportunity close or change to where a new analysis would have to be started.

So my point is that to make changes of this kind—the kind where you make things happen instead of letting things happen to you—you’ll never feel ready because it’s impossible to feel ready. Although luck favors the prepared, it usually requires a scramble to take off, and you will probably be landing in a storm, not even on an airstrip but somewhere in a cornfield or atop a mesa. You may break a few things, but you probably won’t die. Nevertheless, it’s anything but comfortable. Sure, you can mitigate risk like a novice scuba diver first trains in a tank before diving in the sea, but there’s still a first time for everything. Sometimes, for windows of opportunity as mentioned here, it will also the last time.

When you do that, there will be many naysayers, mostly because they don’t understand your priorities (which who cares because you should only share your priorities with the people you trust) but also because they’re jealous of the strength you exhume during those events, or that they have missed the window for themselves. On the other hand, mass in motion acquires more mass as it travels, so it gains gravity. When you move forward like that, you will attract. These particles may be part of other humans in your life. It’s ok if you kill a few of these particles because you’re not killing the whole human, and it’s ok as long as you don’t enjoy the killing.

The point is to know what you want, and when the opportunity presents itself as a window to pass through towards the goal, not necessarily access to the goal in a single step, then take the window because those windows don’t come around very often. A good planner isn’t someone who can plan every step but is someone who knows how to adapt his or her plan based on the stability of the previous step. Imagine stepping on some stepping stones over a brook. The rocks look sturdy but still require focus and balance; however, one of the stones may wobble and may require a quick change of course to ultimately reach the other side without falling into the water. Think of ninjas or the main character in the video game Prince of Persia and how these characters interact with the environments, and it’s that quick skill to adapt that is their strength that is valid of envy.

This concept of timing I first learned from a leader in the workplace with whom I no longer work. His goal was essentially to talk me out of thinking that skill in details leads to overall success, which I naturally thought that probably due to my Polish upbringing. He described how imperfect his attempt appeared, but I observed the outcome of his stories and the massive cultural changes in the workplace that were created as a result of such forceful and critical starts. Being able to alter culture in a group has always intrigued me ever since I would try to reconcile why a body of people may not follow a process when the details clearly exemplify that following that process was to their benefit. I realized this leader was correct because the results in the end spoke for themselves. That is how “life is messy” ties into “timing.”

Compete for People

Over the past year, I’ve been working with Frank Wantland and his website Compete for People, www.competeforpeople.com. The website educates the public about how organizations can keep top talent and how individuals can find a good career fit.

I really just helped get the site up and running for him, and Wantland does all of the blogging. I think it’s a very good site, and I’d recommend his services to anyone, especially those looking for work. I certainly believe that plenty of organizations could benefit from his knowledge to close the chasm between top management and top talent that is sometimes in the trenches of an organization.

TED Talk: Larry Smith on why we fail to have a great career

This is a great 15 minute speech from TEDxUW by Larry Smith, a professor of Economics at the University of Waterloo in Canada, who calls out the absurd excuses people invent when they fail to pursue their passions. Larry Smith coaches his students to find the careers that they will truly love.

Link to TEDxUW page:
http://www.ted.com/talks/larry_smith_why_you_will_fail_to_have_a_great_career.html

The Job Interview which landed my job

It was sometime around the last week of February 2012. My recruiter gives me a call about “putting me forward”, or to request permission to submit my resume to Project Management Office at Tenet. I hesitated because I thought that I could ideally hit the ground running at a new job, and the job description sounded intimidating to me considering the high profiles with whom I would supposedly be dealing. It turned out I don’t deal with that many high profile people, but they are always close by. I gave the go ahead to submit my resume. I got a call back a few days later that I am invited to an interview.

During this while, I have been working with my friend Frank Wantland to help him set up his website Compete for People where he offers great personal career building and coaching. I highly recommend him. So, I shared with him the news that I got my job interview, so he actually offered to give me a mock interview, which is why I can recommend him. I think the preparation with him really helped because the interview was nothing like what anyone imagined it would be.

I left for Dallas after work on March 6, 2012. It was a very windy day. It was so windy that there were power outages throughout the city. One outage was at work, where for whatever reason, the backup generators failed to supply backup power, and I became stuck in parking garage at work because the simply boom barriers operated only on electricity and would not let the cars through. I had to wait in a growing line of cars. Fortunately, it was not rush hour yet. There was a doctor in a Corvette who really wanted to leave, so I helped hold up the boom barrier as much as we could given that there was some play in the mechanism, and his low Corvette managed to drive under undamaged. The rest of us had to wait for a maintenance personnel literally to dissemble the boom with a socket wrench.

Once I made it home, I think I actually had one more work call, and then I hit the road. I stopped by my favorite gas station fill up for the trek, but the pumps were not working. So, I drove across the street to another station where the pumps could take my card. By that time, the wind was so bad that I had difficulty operating my trunk lid to do some final checks before I got on the high way. If I believed in divine intervention, I would have surely thought that all signs were pointing for me not to go. Later it would turn out that at best, these were proverbial signs of the storm yet to come once I got the job.

I arrived safely in Dallas a little later than I wanted to. I took some wrong turns as I was trying to avoid constructions, which of course is not marked on my GPS. My plan was to drive down High way 75 through downtown and back up through I-35, but being from the small town of Tulsa, seeing all of these tall buildings down the 75 corridor, I thought I already was downtown; mind you it was nigh time by now. So, I took Loop 12 to shoot across to I-35. It ended up taking about the same of time that the original plan would have.

My interview was at noon, so I took my time to relax in the morning. Did some yoga stretches, got dressed, ate, and drove downtown. Parked my car in an open lot outside of the Fountain Building, and it started raining, and parking cost $5, which is quite a bit for a Tulsan who virtually never pays for parking.

The Fountain Building is beautiful, so I immediately saw myself working there thinking how awesome it would be to work in such an awesome skyscraper. I met my recruiter in the lobby who gave introduced himself and then walked me up to the corporate lobby, which to me looked like something out of a movie when the protagonist steps into the big-bad pharmaceutical corporate lobby. The view was spectacular where I could see a little the DART tram below and the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge in the distance.

My boss to be was running late but came and got me and took me to another floor to a small conference room for an interview. My other boss to be was on the phone. Wearing my new suite and not being used to wearing suites, I got hot, so I mentioned that I felt warm. The response was to take off my jacket, and this was in a somewhat condescending tone as if I should know when it is appropriate to remove my jacket.

The interview basically consisted of me answering to one request: “Tell me what you have done.” I was already thrown off because I was really only equipped to respond to a different open-ended request of “Tell me about yourself”, to which I prepared a 2 minute summary of my life that lead to project management. Immediately looking back after the meeting, I should have answered it like a politician answer questions by answering question he wished he was asked, not exactly what he actually was asked. This started becoming evident to me once I realized that there were no more questions. I essentially had to fill up the entire hour of just talking about myself. Fortunately, I was warned about this, otherwise, like any normal person, I would have been sweating thinking something is going terribly wrong.

They were impressed that I drove this far for the interview, and I made it clear that I would move for this position. So, at the beginning of the interview they asked whether I was prepared to enter the consulting industry considering that I would be leaving full-time employment to take this. I answered in my typically cautious manner, “I believe so,” to which they replied, “That is not a very confident answer.” So, I corrected myself with, “Yes, I am prepared.”

I talked about my knowledge of Cerner, BMDI and Code Upgrade projects I did with them that spanned several facilities in our (St. John’s) health system, yet they still held the position that I worked for a small organization, and that I may not be able to handle a large organization. I explained the health system has over a thousand beds, but that is just one blip on the radar for an organization that has over fifty hospitals across three time zones and is Cerner’s number one client.

Considering I could appreciate from the roots up what an EMR implementation is like for a hospital, I knew there has to be a catch as to how they can manage so many implementations at once without even knowing the application. This position turned out to be very high level.

I had a few questions for them, but I think one thing that I speculate solidified my entrance was when I stated, quoting Jacque Fresco and his Venus Project , that I believed one should arrive at decisions rather than make decisions. I could see that impressed at least one of them, which was later validated as they impressed upon me that they do “fact-based reporting” where if something is not documented, we do not treat it like fact.

I felt I exhausted my material for after 40 minutes, but they said they allocated a full hour for me, so they will give me a full hour. I just had to start improvising.

After the interview, I felt like it did not go well at all and could not pinpoint why, of course. I drove home later that evening feeling a bit exhausted but happy for the memories and experience.

I am writing this 8 months after the fact, and I many times looked back on this very pivotal moment whether I missed any red flags regarding their personalities. I think I only chose to ignore those as my desire to move on in my career was very strong.

Why I started looking for a new job while working at SJ

Up until this time, I have been working at St. John Medical Center for over four years. I was ready for change. I felt I have outgrown my position of Project Specialist, which I sort of considered to be ‘wanna-be project manager’. There certainly was enough work for me to do, but I starting taking on responsibilities for which I either lacked equivalent authority or was untrained in how to leverage my chain of command. Or perhaps if it was the latter, then maybe my chain of command was vague enough to where it was not evident how to escalate issues. Escalating issues is what I would really learn at my next job.

I like to do things right, so obviously that takes on more work, and that was generally the problem there: Like camels, we took on more and more work, “absorb by existing resources”, yet no significant recognition was portrayed. I had the unfortunate luck of having over six bosses in those several years, which made matters worse when the response for my request for a raise was something to the effect “log some goals in the performance measuring tool, and we’ll track against them.” To that I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone. I was basically getting compensated the same way I was when I first started, yet I’ve grown a lot (certainly as much as anyone could reasonably expected to have grown in my position). So, what about all of that progress?

Once I got my last boss, with whom I looked forward to working more than anyone else on my team, I was quickly disappointed by his arrogance and personal agendas. I never really thought St. John’s had stellar management because of “old blood”, slow turnover, but later I would learn to appreciate how kind the employees there were in general, which was something I took somewhat for granted at the time because I thought people were kind like that everywhere.

Aside: Later I learned what managers in large organizations work like, which raised the proverbial bar for my expectation of managers to such heights that now I actually feel a bit sorry for St. John’s and Tulsans who in general follow Tulsa’s leaders. I guess that is the basis of my hypothesis why some communities flourish more than others do.

After a steady stream of disrespectful events, or maybe it was simply my observational selection bias due to my pessimism to where I noticed more unfavorable events, I set out to seek a new career opportunity. I knew I was worth more, but most importantly, I felt I was ready for much more. We also wanted to move out of Tulsa, and Dallas was a feasible and desirable option. I started applying to many jobs. I answered one post on a job board and, to my surprise, later I learned that this post was actually a recruiter, even though the post read more like it was written by the hiring company itself. In short, that started my relationship with TEKsystems.

Little did I know just how much those recruiters want to make their money, so even though I temporarily let go of searching for a new job opportunity shortly after that, the recruiter kept working for me. He found me a string of BMDI technical project management positions; I even had a phone interview on January 26th for which I drove home from work during lunch.

Then, a few weeks later, I got a phone call from my recruiter about a high-level project management position within a Project Management Office at Tenet. The position sounded like more than I could chew at the time, but I thought, “What the hell! It may be good interviewing practice for me. If I can’t handle, surely they wouldn’t hire me.” They did not do phone interviews, so I had to take a day off and drive into Dallas. The rest is history.