Saturday, October 9, 2010

Salmon Glacier

This is the Salmon Glacier. It is located in Northwestern Canada, at the border of British Columbia and the southern tip of the Alaska panhandle. I believe that it is the largest glacier in North America that is accessible by road. I was there this summer and took this photograph.

This week I had a horrible week at work. Nothing bad actually happened except that we were short-staffed, which meant that I was not able to progress much on some big projects that have looming deadlines. However, it suddenly became clear this week that a problem that has been developing for a long time is about to become acute in the next week or two, and it is likely to have very negative implications for the whole workplace.

I am the boss, and for me the week was horrible because I wasn't able to think of a solution to the problem. Yet I could clearly visualize what an impact this problem is going to have on all my colleagues and staff in the workplace. It is a realistic concern as we experienced a similar problem a few years ago, and the result was anger, inefficiency, despair, burnout, and resignations. Also, I worked so hard that time to try to hold things together, get us through the problem, and find solutions that I almost lost my health. I don't want to go through all that again.

I worried myself sick about this problem all week. I could hardly sleep. I talked the problem over separately with two of my closest friends, both of whom are managers of similar organizations. I vented, and they vented to me about their workplace problems, but we didn't really come up with constructive suggestions for each other. I also discussed it with my boss, who listened sympathetically, and we discussed temporary fixes that might help us through the worst of the crisis. But he couldn't come up with any long term solutions either that would address the source of the problem. It is systemic and pervades the whole larger institution.

I played out all kinds of scenarios, and outlined action plans. In my adrenalin fueled exhaustion and anxiety, I was on an emotional roller coaster -- sometimes jolly and encouraging, sometimes grumpy and despairing, and sometimes accusatory towards administrators who should have been helping but seemed to be doing nothing. By Friday afternoon, I had worked myself into such a state that I spoke shrilly to my boss, and critically to one of the other administrators who is usually quite helpful.

I might have alienated them. That certainly hasn't helped solve the problem. By working myself into such a state of worry and responding so emotionally, I have become part of the problem.

Looking at the photos that I took during my travels this summer has helped me step back from the problem a little. Look at the Salmon Glacier, so huge and spectacular. My tiny little problem in a tiny little organization in a tiny little city is only temporary. It is small compared to the Salmon Glacier. If I can see nothing but my small temporary problem, I won't see the Salmon Glacier. And you know what -- it isn't even my problem. Someone else is responsible for the decisions that have led to it. All I can do is identify the problem to my superiors, and do the best that I can to mitigate its effects on my staff. After that, I need to walk away from it, and go home and enjoy my family. And, I need to take time to lift up my eyes and see the Salmon Glacier.

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