Author Archives: sticker1

Welcome to the Workplace

Stop thinking you are going to be a “leader” when you walk in the door.

I’ve enjoyed serving as a mentor for the Washington State Opportunity Scholars program over the past few years. I drafted this post a while back, but sitting on some recent interviews and recruiting events prompted me to finish some reflections on what I’ve learned from the really awesome team of young employees I work with.

The typical narrative for emerging professionals is “be a leader!” Every university magazine touts the institution’s ability to train leaders. LinkedIn articles and business magazines buzz with advice about “entrepreneurship” and “innovation.

It makes me want to gag.

The most impressive and effective young professionals I work with encompass a description I learned on a NOLS course: “active followership”. They have found a leader whom they trust, and figured out how to support them really well. Their job hasn’t been leadership.  My department head is the leader- leading is their job, and the best way to support them is being a person that will reliably get stuff done. Sometimes it means leading other employees, but most of the time, it means getting stuff done.  This is active followership.  Here is what I see them doing (and what I enjoy learning to do better):

  • Ask great questions, and don’t be shy about it.
  • Clarify the commitments and expectations being asked of you. Be certain of what you are trying to do, before you go try to do it.
  • Be as knowledgable and focused about the outcome of your assignment as your boss is.
  • Figure out how to run tasks to ground- so that you leave nothing un-done.
  • Make your work as concise, thorough, and on message as it can possibly be.
  • Solicit the opinions of other people in your office (and outside your project team) to provide feedback and input (something your boss might not have time to do).
  • They pay attention to their peers, and actively look to learn from them. They also share what they know without hesitation.
  • They have engineering “moxie”- a willingness, and interest in doing a great job.

This is not traditional leadership. As an entry level employee- or anyone working as an individual contributor, the job is only mildly about delegation, or brainstorming, or innovating. It’s about making things happen.  As I slowly move into a position of delegating more, these lessons remain just as important to set others up for success.

 

Postscript:

A note on “moxie”- it’s the thing that really sets people apart, and deserves more explanation.
>Find something you are passionate about and think that you want to become an expert in. Realize that your time in entry level positions is the bread and butter of your experience- the foundation of your expertise. Get as gritty about it as you can- learn every part. For me in HVAC, that was drafting and installing, not just ideation and calculation. The earliest investments pay the biggest dividends- but they only pay if you stick with it for a long time. If you are trying out different things, do them as fully and deeply as you can- if they aren’t for you, the process will still benefit you when you finally find the thing you are supposed to do. I started my career in this field, but it took me the first 8 years to really feel passionate and invested in it. Had I been more intentional in thinking about the field as a craft and trade, and then more intentional about investing deeply, I would have done much better,  much more quickly.

The City

Fall has burst onto the city like a trap, summer is suddenly overshadowed by color in the trees and the crisp air of an early sunset. After an amazing wedding and lovely honeymoon, the professional responsibilities we happily shirked have surged out of the closet with fervor.

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Tuesday nights, trading one set of work for another.

I met Michael during my interview in 2015 and I hoped we would become friends regardless of what job I worked. I am grateful to be right, and our early friendship has since been nourished by miles of trail and late nights at the office. No surprise either that he also loves to suffer in the gym, and has been a reliable motivator to work on our weaknesses together.  A few weeks ago, both of us were headed for a late night at the office but managed to shift towards a different plan, well honed over the past years. We dropped into the company gym around 630pm and got dinner at a local joint around 8pm.  There is nothing like an old school ass-kicking to shed the weight of an overly full workday.  Conversation, when possible, ranges from business to art to the delicate balance of living in the city.

I haven’t written as much as he deserves, but our friendship has been one of the distinct highlights of my experience in the city. Seriously intelligent, both deeply passionate and empathetic, and always a pleasure to spend time with. Michael has supported me (and Abigail) in many great ways since we arrived here. Tonight I stopped by his desk around 6pm and encouraged him to get out of the office- and to ride together for the short common section of our commute home. He obliged and insisted on riding far out of his way, just for the joy of picking our way through Seattle traffic and catching up on life a bit. For a commute that I have regularly begrudged, I appreciated every moment.

Thanks for jumping at the chance, buddy. To many more.

 

Josie

How do you say goodbye to a hunk of metal?  Quickly, as it turns out. It marks the end of an era though- my beloved VW Jetta is no longer mine. Getting married demands releasing old, embracing new. My stepdad let go of his collection of custom guitars, my brother gave up his closet-full of random electronic parts. Weddings aside, it was time and when a good dude off Craigslist made a reasonable offer, I needed to rip the bandaid off.  When you consider that she has been one of my most reliable adventure partners and an icon of my personal style- it hurts quite a bit to say goodbye to an old friend.

A few thoughts and images from our years together:

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2011, Bishop, California. The acoustic skid plate got mangled approaching a trailhead with Jordan Siemens. We pulled it off in the campground so it would stop rattling.

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2012, northern Nevada. A lucky shot while speeding home to Missoula from a trip to Yosemite. An amazing drive.

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2013, crossing the Columbia River to see friends in Portland. Josie loved driving eastern Oregon.

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2014, Missoula –> Las Vegas. Always the reliable partner, Josie worked all night to take me and Simon to Red Rocks.

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2015, Indian Creek, Utah. Josie always acted taller than she looked. Dodging potholes, or plowing up to an ice climb, she was always game.

 

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2016, headed north from Portland to Seattle. Two reliable partners making it happen together.

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2017, North Cascades National Park, Washington. Gwen and Rich find solace past her dusty exterior. In service to others, always.

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2018, Seattle, Washington. A elegant machine. I’ll miss her badly.

That hunk of metal became much more to a young man searching for his way in the world. A bunk, a traveling companion, a resource, and a welcome relief at the end of a long walk in the woods. A social gathering and medium to experience so many good things. A dashboard confessional, confidant, jury, and judge.  I am deeply grateful for our adventures together Josie. Drive safe.

Stick the Feeling. Now. Forever.

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This one, now, forever.
On October 21, I asked Abigail to marry me and she said yes.

As an engineer, I like to plan, I like to know how things are going to go. I like to understand and reason out the effort. The theme of this blog has always been about getting the feeling of something that I can’t reason with to stick well enough to do something special.

Abigail was committed before I was- and in these matters, she trusts that feeling more than I do. Her certainty in us made asking the big question much easier. A quick review of a feeling worth trusting:

 

 

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From a more recent note to a friend, discussing the corollary of climbing commitment:
“Marriage remains a leap, truly of faith… …That climbing helps me realize this is an obvious corollary- the difference between testing the crux moves, and the moment of full bore irreversible action, while may only appear to involve a slight change in physical position- is dramatically different in mental position. That is the leap. That is the commitment.”

That real love though, the stuff that scares you with it’s durability and it’s repose, that love isn’t going to wait. It isn’t going to let you “slide into it” because it’s convenient. That real love, demands a leap. A lot like climbing, it is worth getting out of your comfort zone for, and you can’t just hang out under the crux forever. I popped the question when I accepted the joyful inevitability of her partnership with me. When I accepted that I was never going to be perfect for this relationship, and that perfection wasn’t necessary for it to be right for us.

Every crux that has demanded my full commitment, has been scary and hard. Every crux has required humility and the right partner.  And every single one, has been worth it. I’ve been climbing with the right partner for a while now, and it is nothing short of glorious to pull through this crux together.

 

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Bergner-Stanley

“Are we in the flow state?”
“Yes.”
“Then we must be doing fine.”

Last Saturday I took a long walk with my friend Webster and climbed the Bergner-Stanley route on Prusik Peak. We discovered that the hyperbole often used to describe that mountain and route was in fact true. Considering my last car-to-car (mis)adventure  and with the chill air of autumn settling in, this trip was the perfect cap to a summer full of adventures.

Webster wanted to push himself, and while I wasn’t sure I had another big summer adventure in the tank, his stoke goaded me to the trailhead- from there, I was all in. We left the car at 4:25am, made it to the base of the climb by 9am, and started climbing at 9:30. We got to the base of the route just as another party was leaving the ground, and caught them again at the top of pitch 2.

I quickly made the acquaintance of Mr. Ben Boldt, and didn’t complain when he started taking photos of us as we followed them up the route. Ben and his partner had tried the route before, but gotten stymied by the challenging squeeze chimney on pitch 5 (or 6 depending how you do it). We waited for a bit while they fought their way thru, and Ben hung out to shoot my own battle. Webster was relieved to follow this one. Check out more of Ben’s photos here, and only use with permission. Thanks again man.

The last pitch is the money pitch, and I was happy for Webster to fire it. Despite some melting snow on the final crux section, he sent with aplomb. Following the pitch, I was surprised to find it steeper and more technical than it appears. Strong work Webster!

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Man going to work, pc me.

We summited at 3pm, made 5 rappels and walked around a snowy north face to collect our packs at 515pm, and started the walk home at 530pm. We stayed focused and positive despite the many miles, and moved well, tagging the car at 9:15pm. We stayed in the flow state for almost the entire day, feeding off each others energy and enjoying every aspect of the experience. Not much time for photos, but we did hike past an amazing hydrologic feature- this drain pipe throws water between lakes:

As usual, the full effort in the mountains cleared my head in a way that nothing else does. It cemented another friendship that has been growing for a long time, and for which I am deeply grateful. It bolstered my self-confidence and increases the gratitude I feel for so many things in life, including my lovely lady (even though she doesn’t necessarily want to do these things with me). This piece by Hayden Kennedy says it better than I can. I love this stuff.

 

Copyright Skander Spies, 2017