Monday, August 17, 2009


I led my first meeting today. We have a special place we go for retreats - it's about 30 minutes from campus and has large meeting rooms with windows so you can see the sun. There are snacks refreshed constantly throughout the day and sodas and water, coffee and juices are always available. It's a lovely place - very pretty and elegant - and though I know it's painfully expensive, I always enjoy the focused work sessions that tend to happen there.

Having booked a day free of distractions, I arrived early in the morning, wandering around the room and figuring out how to make the screen descend from it's home in the ceiling and realizing the controls for the window shades were nearby. I attached the cable to my laptop, beaming proudly when the slides I spent all weekend preparing appeared across the screen. I hurried to my bag and withdrew neatly-labeled folders full of notes and printed pages, setting them carefully at designated places where my group would sit.

I folded one leg underneath me when I took my seat in the corner chair, tapping my fingers on the table for a moment before flipping through my slides. I went to get coffee. I returned to the lobby for coffee cake and a banana. After I tossed the peel in the trash, having finished my fruit, I depressed the button on the side of my cell phone, frowning when I realized people were late. I looked around at the room I'd prepared - papers stacked neatly, slides showing brightly and chairs ready to hold my colleagues.

Some eight hours later, the room looked quite different. Candy wrappers joined random piles of Gummi Bears on tiny plates from our afternoon snacks. Coffee had long since given way to soda and, tired of drinking glass after glass, we'd taken turns going fetching water from the cooler outside our room. Trays from lunch were piled inside the door and papers were strewn across the surface of the table, most of them bearing scrawled remarks or arrows or xs where something was meant to go away.

"OK," I said again. "So we need to recalculate two sets of numbers and re-do this graph. We need to check our individual reports and send the final versions to me so I can handle the final summary." As we defined action items and owners - something we do a lot - I looked around and sighed. Sibling cocked her head at me and I smiled.

"We're not done, which is disappointing," I told her. I've worked on this particular project for about 6 months now and while it normally gets only bits and pieces of my attention, I'm ready to wrap it up. "But we're making progress and I'm really happy with how this is turning out, so that's lovely."

"So you're sad and happy," she decided.

"More tired than anything," I corrected her, prompting Adam to say that we were done for the day. Everyone thanked me and I grinned at each of them, expressing my gratitude that they came to my meeting. I plodded past the lobby, deciding I was too full for one more cookie, and feeling my thoughts slow and drift rather than race and solve problems. I made my way outside some 10 hours after I'd arrived that morning - much as I felt yesterday when I left the office after putting in a similar amount of time during a quiet Sunday - and tossed my bag in the passenger seat.

I'm learning so much. About priorities and strategy, analysis and communication. I am not as effective as I'd like. But it's an excellent training exercise and I'm growing increasingly confident that I'm slowly improving on my defined growth areas. So despite recognizing I need to shove back and regain some balance between life and work, I'm productive. Thoughts of people needing me and actually wanting to do my job tug me out of bed in the morning rather than allowing me to curl up and wait until I feel better. I count that as a really good quality to have in a career.

Yet it'd be nice to be able to sleep a bit more.

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