Category Archives: People

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.

training, gym, weight lifting, burpies

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.

 

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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To Truly Dance

Dear Mom,
You died on Saturday, April 1, 2017. It was a surprise. I was skiing in Whistler, British Columbia, as likely of a place as I was to be as anywhere.  I’m grateful there weren’t many things I still needed to say to you. In the time since, I’ve told our story so many times: after dad died- I grew up close to you, close to the church. We grew apart, bitterly on my behalf, when I left the church and moved west.  I found my own truth and we pieced it back together slowly, like the beautiful blankets you made for Soren and I. The last few years of your life held some of our most honest and loving conversations. The most recent lesson: that feeling the same faith is less important than feeling each others humanity.

A few more favorites:

The air smelled thick of cut grass and the quiet, high-ceilinged church- I was 9, and stood up for the first time to give a testimony in Wednesday night church. I was just back from summer church camp full of newfound confidence. The cicadas chirped outside in the sticky midwestern summer. I shared a short truth about overcoming my fears at summer camp, you beamed. My faith is different now, but no less strong- you made faith cool.

I was 13 when you were finally able to tell me about my half-brother in Australia- he was half a world away, wondering who I was. I was so mad at you- his existence seemed to refute the moralist foundation you raised me with. Ultimately, welcoming him openly into our family inspired us all to a greater sense of compassion and honesty. I can only hope to learn so much from my own indignities.

At 17 you let me drive your new car and two friends 1500 miles to spend two weeks on our own in the Wind River mountains. When we got out, you flew to Jackson to shuttle us back to the car, feed us, and send us off on the drive home. You experienced the mountains differently than I do, but loved them no less. You refused to let the fears of the world darken the light of your experience, or mine. It’s a lesson we need badly these days.

We were eating at Lulu’s Noodles during the spring of my freshman year at Northwestern. I was terrified, because I had met you for lunch to tell you I was dropping out of music school. To my surprise, you took it in stride and cheered for me to enjoy a more relaxed version of college. That’s when I learned your dreams for me were nothing less than exactly my own.

I skipped my graduation from Northwestern to go on a NOLS course in Alaska. Instead, you sent 5 dozen cookies up to our team because my college team had won our senior design competition. it seemed out of place at the time, but I realize now it was the sweetest way that you could say you were proud of me. You always knew how to celebrate the important things.

Last Christmas we went out for deep dish, the whole family of us. Over the years I had always ducked the opportunity to pick up the check at a family dinner but in 2016 I was glad not to skip the chance. You always lived with the assumption of having enough to do the right thing- whether you had a lot or not. There was always enough.

And that is the point- we had less time than we all hoped, but it was enough. I’m still learning how much you cared for us, how great of a mom you were. I think you’re proud of me- I hope you know how proud we are of you.

“Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing.
And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb.
And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.”   (Kahlil Gibran)

Climb on, mom.

You can enjoy some of my mom’s ideas through her lecturing and writing work for the Church of Christ, Scientist- her most recent piece is particularly excellent. Our family is deeply grateful for your compassion, however there will be no service. You can honor Lois most meaningfully through a donation to her church or to Mountain Home Montana

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Blossoms

My mom loves cherry blossoms. Last night I went for a leisurely run from my house down to University of Washington and just took a few pictures on the way. Yes, it was crappy light, so I touched up the light and color on a few of them. Regardless it’s a good season in Seattle. This one is for my mom.

“Allow. That’s most of what we have to do, is just allow it. We may not understand now, or ever, but we will feel it, we will feel our lives.” (Andrew Given)

Sunshine

Seattle is not as grey as some people might want you to believe. However- it is grey enough that when Drew and Lindzey invited me and Abigail to join them in Mexico, it was easy to think ahead and say “yes.”

Sayulita used to be “off the beaten path” but these days, it is distinctly a gringo heaven – vibrant, yet deliciously relaxed. Yoga, internet, and an easy surf break draws Americans and more than a few Mexicans. We had a choice of vacation rentals, most people spoke (enough) english, and the weather was perfect. Unlike our last “vacation”, Abigail was thrilled to get her workout swimming and surfing instead of lugging a pack through the rain.

Highlights included: sleeping in, eating, getting sand deep in between the toes, and a couple great surf sessions. We took a day long boat tour to the Marieta Islands, one of only two places to see Blue Footed Boobies, and swum ashore into a hidden beach:

Drew was one of my first ice climbing partners. We’ve enjoyed some wonderful adventures over the years. It is even more fun to realize that our friendship is equally adept at lounging on an beach with two amazing ladies as it is pushing our mental and physical limits. I suspect we’ll probably be back up to our usual shenanigans in no time, but this was more than a nice change of pace.

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Thank you for a great idea, and a great time.

 

The blog has been quieter than I would hope- I’ve missed writing. I’ve been crunching numbers instead- I have finally been approved to take my licensing exam this spring. It is the last step in becoming a Professional Engineer, and I even hit the books while I was on the beach. It’s a goal I’ve had my eye for most of the last 8 years, and studying up has helped me appreciate how much I have actually learned across the spectrum of my career.

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Pacific, Pacifico, partial vapor pressure?

There have been a few adventures in the background, but major plans are on hold until after April. Stay tuned.