Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Devil in the Details

For years I've thought I had a fear of failure...
or maybe a fear of success; I'm not sure I know the difference. I think in both instances, what the person is really afraid of is being found out to be a fraud. And yeah, I do have a pretty good amount of that. I mean, I work in a department full of people with multiple advanced degrees. Even some of the janitorial staff were scientist and doctors in their home countries. I do feel like, in some ways, I'm an impostor with my high school diploma, terrible inability to spell accurately, and ridiculously poor math skills. But, I'm really good at my job and I think I'm absolutely up to all the work I'm performing. I know that I am doing well and have contributed very positively to our department (how's that for "work speak"?!).

Up to now, I've really enjoyed my job. I've spent the last two months designing and creating a training program for the new people our department has and will be hiring. Monday, I did the final four hour group instruction. This final class was my baby. The rest of the group instruction was at least somewhat informed by departmental and project protocol requirements. Monday's class, though, was based entirely on research I did into phone interviewing. I studied many research papers and studies that have been done on research study techniques and what works most effectively. I wrote the text, designed the Power Point presentation, wrote example dialog, developed practice scenarios and made a Power Point Jeopardy! game. With the exception of making the mistake of handing out paperwork at the beginning of class that needed to be turned in at the end of class and not having the full attention of the trainees the first few minutes, it went really well. The class was engaged and involved. Lots of good questions were asked. I'm proud of myself. (I won't ever know how much impact that particular module has on the interviewers, though, because we don't have a control group of interviewers who didn't do the training. I'd really be interested, in future, to be able to divide a group of new hires into one set who do this training and the other who doesn't and look at their call outcome rates.)

Anyway, up to now, I've really enjoyed my job. But the supervisors begin working live cases next week and the new hires begin the following week and I've found my mind wandering to "hmmm, I could see myself working (fill in the blank)." Next week, I will be spending at least half my work time making one phone call after another for hours on end. Yes, I will be doing scheduling and other supervisory duties but I will no longer be doing innovative work. And, for this project, we will be following a 90,000 person cohort attempting to get them to participate in a 15 minute survey over the phone: There will be no relationship built, no following individuals and getting to know them--just one phone call after another.

What I've just learned about myself is not that I have a fear of success or failure but that I have an intense fear of boredom. I really do not do well with routine. Somewhere between 10% and 25% of my time spent on administrative duties is about perfect; I am forced to be organized without being boxed in. I LOVED my last two jobs. About a decade ago, I worked for a year and a half as a volunteer coordinator for a non-profit. I did public speaking and recruiting, organizingand supervising volunteer staff. I also wrote for the newsletter and helped organize fundraisers. I got to help with the children's program and got to know the adults in our programs. I did a lot of admin stuff but that was tempered by the wide variety of other duties. And the last seven years I worked as a field interviewer were equally enjoyable because of the diversity of my tasks.

On the one hand, I'm really proud to be in the position I'm in. I desire to do well and grow in the department. I am feeling some amount of ambition. I want to be a success.
On the other hand, I'm starting to panic at the thought of the (to me) mind-numbing routine. This is where the fear of failure comes into play: I am not good about attention to day-to-day detail. When I am bored, I find it impossible to make myself pay attention to detail and I make mistakes. And, of course, the more mistakes I make, the more likely it is that I will be found lacking by my superiors (being found out to be a fraud).

I'm really not sure what to do about this. I've committed to this job. My boss is really relying on me. I know my place and I am intrinsically important. I mean, I know that I'm not indispensable, but I also know that it would be a major pain to have to replace me.

I'm not one to jump on the "better living through pharmaceuticals" bandwagon but I wonder if ADHD meds might help me focus better on the things my brain doesn't see or do well, like details. But then I really think about it and know it would be crazy to medicate in order to fit a particular job.

What I've come to know about myself from this job and looking back over the past decade is that I love doing presentations and trainings. I love speaking to individuals and groups of people. I enjoy motivating people. I'm good at networking and making connections between people and between people and resources. I love organizing people and creating community. I need a small amount of structure but I need to be able to schedule it in my own way. I need to think creatively and innovate and find ways to improve the old or develop the new. I like to teach, but not the same thing over and over.

What kind of work can someone without any college do with those skills and needs? That would be reliable and provide a livable wage, that is.

I'm praying for guidance. And maybe the way opening is for me to stay put and learn the lessons I can learn where I am. I will continue to do the best I am able where I am. I will try to focus and follow-through on the routine stuff to the best of my ability. I will try to find "that of God" in myself and ignore the devil in the details (ha!). I am also very open to suggestions.