December 22, 2006

Dazed & Confused

I’m so confused. Things have been falling apart at work all week and I’m been racking my brain for some way to figure things out. I ask myself “What would the Buddha do?” but that doesn’t really help me because the Buddha wouldn’t have ended up in this situation in the first place and I don’t know what he’d do anyway. I try to apply the teachings I’ve learned about ego and attachment and deep listening. When I’m starting to get too upset I remind myself nirvana is now and it really can’t be all that bad. I’m just too attached. I sit and I breath and I simmer. I haven’t been this stirred up in a long, long time and I need to find my calm. Before being Buddhist I would have retreated, escaped, ignored the problem until it went away. First of all, I’m pretty sure that won’t work, and second, that doesn’t seem in keeping with the dharma.

My boss got a new job, a great job, and we were all simultaneously happy for her and panicking for ourselves. She wanted to stay on in some capacity on our project, but her last day came without an answer from her own boss and there was a time of limbo. We didn’t know if she’d ever be back, but we all hoped.

In the meantime, her boss starts chatting me up. My boss had spoken very highly of me to her and now she wants to know “Where do I want to take the project?” No amount of caveats about my own lack of knowledge or experience and no references to my boss, who designed the project, could put her off. Truth be told, I always have my own opinions and rarely see any harm in voicing them. I’m prepared to be wrong. Unfortunately, I didn’t count on others being prepared to know I am frequently wrong.

So, I tell her where I want to take the project. Off the cuff and with no real forethought or preparation or research. There really was only one answer given my limited and single-sided experience and education, but she loved it. We were right in sync, which was a little disconcerting, but it is always nice to be appreciated.

Time passes. My boss is still out there in limbo, in touch, but out of the day to day operations and maybe never coming back. The semester comes to an ear-shattering, unsatisfactory close. I go on vacation for a week. The last day of work before I leave, my boss’s boss wanted to have another discussion. “How do I see the project being run?” I am assuming this is in the absence or only minimal involvement of my former boss. I know no one could replace her depth of knowledge and experience. So I propose two graduate assistants to co-lead the project, each with a certain area of expertise and each with overlapping responsibilities to make up for the fact that neither would be available full time. Good, wonderful, she nods and nods.

The first day back at work, I’m late. I mistimed the bus schedules. I’m flustered and still suffering from a little surreal culture-shock between my vacation spot and my ‘real world.’ Immediately I have a meeting with my boss, who’s somehow back on board, though the details are still fuzzy, and my team. She “puts her foot down.”

I’m trying to change her project, take it in a direction it should NOT go, morph it into something totally different – which I honestly never had in mind. I just wanted to expand the follow up on the back end. Though I started in May, through circumstances beyond anyone’s control and with no blame anywhere, I never got a thorough briefing on all the theories, models, and goals behind the design and intent of the project. I finally get that lecture. I am grateful for it, and the knowledge was interesting and important, just what I was trying to learn on my own all this time. But the longer and longer it went on, the more and more I realized I didn’t really know what I was doing. The more incompetent I became. All the stresses and anxieties and competency issues which had run rampant all semester came crashing down and here I was crying all over the middle of our strategy meeting. Which is silly because I was still glad to have it all explained to me and could have listened to my boss talk for another three hours and still been interested.

But now I’m stuck. I’ve laid down this direction in which my boss’s boss wants me to go, and truthfully, I would like to go there myself. But I don’t know how and I know I’m not qualified. In the meantime, if I want to go there, my boss wants to be totally divorced from the project. I don’t see it as a whole separate project, but she does, and I can understand her logic. Which means, if I go with it, I’m off her team and out on my own totally unsupported trying to run a mythical project which will go exactly nowhere without the cooperation of her project feeding into it.

So, I keep working, under her supervision and scared to death that I’ll open my big mouth and chop off the limb I’ve found myself on. But at the same time, I’m hoping she’ll come around. I truly don’t understand why she seem to think this project, my project as it has become, is so dangerous. Why is she so threatened? I could just chalk it up to ego and attachment and all those other pesky human vices, but I really don’t think that is it. Of course, as often happens in any disagreement, I just think if she understood what I was trying to do, she’d see it’s not that big of a deal. It seems to me like a logical extension, one which just hasn’t gotten the attention it needed in the past two years when they were trying to get the initial, more important parts of the project working. So I keep sawing away at the limb, hoping she’ll ‘get it.’ All the time knowing that if one of us doesn’t ‘get it,’ it’s a hundred times more likely to be me. Maybe even if she doesn’t get it she’ll at least come up with a better way to explain it so I get it.

No, I’m not to mention it any more. I just makes her angry and the one thing I can’t stand is for people to be angry with me. She’s the only sounding board I’ve got, so now I’m really stuck. Her boss is no real help, even though she’s the one who got me into this mess, in cahoots with my big mouth. What the hell am I supposed to do? I’m so afraid I’ve destroyed all the good opinions she ever had about me and created all kinds of problems with just two simple little brainstorming conversations I never really thought could do much harm. I honestly, never even thought there’d be another ‘project’ since I’m more used to things not working out more than I am to finding a receptive audience. I dream big and I know it and I’m okay when those dreams stay dreams. Now someone has actually asked me to make one real and I have no idea how to do that and the one person I was counting on to help is mad at me.

Deep breath.

I’m taking council of my fears. Never a wise move. What I have is an opportunity. I can learn and grow. My boss is still there for me, still my friend, but there are limits to every friendship. No one has infinite time and energy to give, including me. We’ve all been stretching ourselves thin lately. I know deep down I’ll be okay. I’ll manage somehow; I always do. I’ve gained greater insights into myself, my relationships with other people, my connections to the world around me. If anything, this is a lesson in emptiness and non-self, those two most difficult of Buddhist concepts. I do not exist independently and cannot act in a vacuum.

I just have to be brave enough to grab these opportunities with both hands and I can’t do that when I am clinging to someone else with one of them.

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