Saturday, February 21, 2015

Coaching, Mentoring and Life Goals

It's been a busy year, lots of thoughts and work at the same time.

I had the opportunity last yearish to be coached at work. The year before I had a more formal mentoring relationship with an assigned mentor (slightly different than my mentoring by my former post-doc advisor). The mentoring and coaching are slightly different in idea and execution. 

In short I would say "mentoring allow a more ‘directive’ attitude and provide specific advice where appropriate, usually from a more experienced person helping the less-experienced person with advice, info and guidance". A coaching situation would be more "focusing on improving performance and skills, and the coach wouldn't offer their own advice or opinion, but rather help the coached individual find their own solutions and grow".

This is to say that I had one meeting a month with someone who was assigned to me and we worked though a few situations and tried to give me tools and techniques to increase my effectivity and work efficiency. A lot of time spent of making me more efficient in interaction with people* in a work setting based on the experience from my mentor and their view on me and my abilities. The coaching was slightly different, being less one-on-one and a little more about reading books and applying techniques to work. Also, more focused on things like "how do you become more efficient at work", "having a work-life balance", "what are your life goals" etc....

Both of these opportunities have been great experiences and I've learned a lot. 

However, it also collided a little with a former goal of mine. When I became a post-doc I was under the impression that I could plan my life. I had a pretty good 5 year plan as a graduate student, and that spilled into my post-doc life and what I had planned for the rest of my life as well. However, life took a turn and my life plan quite significantly derailed and with that a big part of my outlook on life.

I spent quite some time thinking and pondering the whole "what's the point of life", "why does it seem to work for everyone else", "it was supposed to be different than this - I had a Plan" and realized that I had a pretty big chunk of "comparing-lives-with-my-friends-issue". I also realized that my planning and trying to control life was probably never going to work and that maybe I should focus a little more on being happy in the moment and being grateful for what I actually have (and have accomplished) rather than staring into the sky and wishing for the moon.

It didn't occur to me that I had succeeded quite well in the "be happy in the now and worry about future later" until this last fall when I had a little mini-breakdown and a pity-party-invite-of-one feeling that I was failing the life plan. What brought this on?

Two major things I think. (Apart from being a slightly neurotic woman who is secretly stressed about being perfect, happy and successful and worries constantly...)

One was a book that I read in the coaching sessions. The name isn't relevant since I think it's mainly drivel. One of the key points from the author is "you should write down your three life goals on a piece of paper and every so often (during the day/week) you should take that out and ask yourself - is what I am doing now bringing me closer to my goals - and if it isn't, you should stop doing those things".

My main beef with this is that it makes it sound like "you can make everything happen and you should just go for it". Which I would be the first to say that it SOUNDS nice and good, but in realty it isn't really as simple. It also brings a little issue (pet-peeve) of mine that relationships and emotions aren't something you can decide and accomplish on your own, it's a little more complex than that.

Second thing, a lot of people giving motivational talks and science talks at work stressing the "in the end of the road, work doesn't matter it's the family time outside of work that is really important" and "my success is derived of having a supportive family". Although, funny enough - most of these people are quite accomplished in their fields and have families and I have a sneaky feeling that they didn't have a great work-life balance when they started their jobs. 

Ah well, in hindsight it was pretty easy to see that this really messed me up quite a bit in my head. Combination of "the one thing I've failed in with life" (marriage/family concept) and the "need to spend time with family outside of work" made my brain and heart hurt.

On a cognitive (rational) level I understand that most of these people are also accomplished in their work and they add the family concept on top - thus making them super successful - and there are quite a lot of people who are just traipsing by the sheer luck of their lives to have jobs and family, or either or. And that it is quite OK to struggle with work-life balance and also liking the job and science and maybe "work a little more" in periods.

On a more emotional level though, my feelings are that I need to defend why I have ended up where I have, and that I need to overstate how happy I am with my current situation and that I really planned it this way (I didn't). Most of all though, I'm left with pondering what it is I really want with life and how to get it. You know, those questions I started leaving back in my post-doc years.... and those questions didn't really get me any place happy but rather made me question why on earth I didn't just find a man in my early 20ies and settled down with several kids next door to my parents since that seems to have been the best choice in this game of life that everyone is playing....

Or maybe, all of this is just extra stressful since I'm about to go back home and being sized up on "how successful are you" by my old kindergarten friends in a reunion?

*working with people efficiently (different from being a bench scientist)

Sunday, February 01, 2015

being friends with co-workers?

First post of the new year, and it's already been a month... ah well, Lent is about to come by and wit that yet another good opportunity to "change the life and make promises". Right?! :)

I've been contemplating this "work and friends deal" the last couple of months. I've never been great with being "personal and private" with my co-workers. I tend to be a little on the distance side. Why? Because I'm not great with sharing my private and personal dealings (family issues, dreams and emotions) with people that I need to work with and need to work well with. My stance has for a long time been to try and keep it professional since sooner or later there will be people I work with whom I don't agree with on the personal/private side and since I can't stop working with them just "because I don't like them per se" I might as well be in the dark about it.

More importantly though, I'm bright enough to realise that it's mainly that I don't want me coworkers to realize that they really don't like me (the private/personal me, not the scientist and fixer that I am in work life). I'm scared of them rejecting me and the messiness of emotions* entering the work space and therefore I distance myself from it all.

Why is this an issue right now? Because the last year or two I've been immersed in this "leadership" programme and "coaching" thing (in moments of ego I view it as 'grooming for higher role') and a lot of it focuses on "you need to connect with your people", "be personable and private with them", "share private things so they get to know you and you them" etc.... I have a really hard time with it.

And then I have some new co-workers who puts me to the test. The socialize a lot outside of work. They help each other with child care, paint houses, hang out and watch football etc. They are chummy and know things about each other and their feelings. And now they want to include me in this. It's sweet. Don't get me wrong. I'm really happy that they want to do things with me outside of work. My issue? Did you read the second paragraph of this post? Exactly.

I would say one thing though - the cultural difference that is VERY obvious to me - is that back home we would DO things together. Perhaps go ice skating, or swimming or something like that. Not really have dinner at some one's house - unless you really liked and knew people. The culture here though is very tricky as in "there is a personal side that isn't too private but kind of feels private and personal". I don't even know how to explain it. It's like the American Southern culture is very kind and "let's visit together" (code word for hang out, drink some tea/drinks and talk for max 2h) at one's houses and yet at the same time there is no real private discussions or what I would call personal space. It's very interesting, yet extremely stressful for me.

Anyone has any thoughts about this? How do you socialize with your co-workers? Your bosses? Your former bosses?** Do you invite them to your house and hand out? Go to movies together?

* emotions in work space based on "I thought we were friends and why didn't you back me up in the meeting etc"... and similar things

**side note, I socialize very well with my former bosses and coworkers. it's a piece of cake. It's the current ones that give me the head ache in nervousness.