Thursday, July 30, 2009

July 30th, 2009:

Today marked a major turn in my life: I announced that I'd be leaving the workplace. My first jobs where I did something defined and was paid for it started when I was 10 years old. I mowed lawns for neighbors, and then graduated to splitting cords of firewood and heavy-lifting yard work. In high school and college, I worked in a bakery where they made what we'd now call artesian french breads--no preservatives, wonderfully fresh--primarily for restaurants. Initially, I cleaned bread pans and swept the floors (flour everywhere, aughhh!), and I graduated to the packaging department and eventually becoming a baker while in college. Since that time, I have never baked a single loaf of bread. I still enjoy the aromas and variety of flavors in bread. But I was done with baking at a young age.

The occasion for this announcement was that my job administrator at PG&E where I consult asked when I would finish my current project and when I would be ready for my next assignment. I said that I'd be finishing up my current task shortly after Labor Day, and no, I would not be looking for more work. Typing those words: "no more assignments," raised some fear. After working all my life, employment has become a big part of my identity over time. Now, I'm setting aside that identity. I sat looking at my computer screen, thinking for a few moments: maybe I ought to consider this for a day or two. Then, I hit the button. My mind isn't going to change in the next few days.

This is a particularly fine time to leave. I will have completed my greatest and most accomplished effort. I will have written the book, as they say. So, what's the book? In this case, it's the "How To Guide" for Project Managers at PG&E. When I started consulting this time at PG&E, they were just recovering from bankruptcy and related confusion. They had agreed to play by industry rules of software development. They had adaped a new methodology of how to develop software. Also, they'd customized software for managing individual projects. The new development process and new management software had been dovetailed so that if a part of the project had not been completed, you couldn't move forward. This meant that each project became responsible for actually completing the many required tasks. I wrote the book that explained how to set up a project, assemble the team, use the project plan software to manage the effort and move forward through the life cycle into installation. Except. Except the financial management portion could not be written because it hadn't been clarified. Hard to manage a project without tight financial guidelines. Nevertheless, I finished the work I could do and went off into other regions for over a year.

Happily, a few months ago, I suddenly had a lot of time at work so I contacted my old boss on the Project Manager's Handbook and asked him if there was any work that could be done. He immediately replied that he had just been given the green light to finish the financial section, and if I was available.... So now I am writing up this rather complicated capitalization and expense arcana. It will go into the very center of the Handbook and the entire effort will be complete from pre-project speculation to post implementation maintenance.

During almost 30 years in data processing, a huge piece of work for me was to overcome my fear of being stupid, not smart enough, less useful than others. Especially in the beginning, much of information processing focused on coding. Programming. And that's something that I have never learned how to do. I have sat for hundreds of hours in meetings trying to understand what people are talking about. Of course, I learned much over time. I came to appreciate my role in a very complex dance of talent. I contributed clearly written prose. I translated from technical-ese into English. Whether I was tech writing, developing training, testing, or doing business analysis, my tasks involved writing. And I love to write. So I've had many years of doing work that I could appreciate, with a growing sense of worth. And a lessening sense of no worth.

In the next few weeks, I'll complete the heart of the "How To" manual for the business I've worked in for three decades. It's a lovely completion, and I am very glad to go out on this high. And then? What will I do with the time that's about to open for me? At this point, I'm not sure. My body willing, there's still the opportunity and time to travel. If I feel as good then as I do now, then a trip to Italy or China is definitely allowable. Right now, tonight, I am also content to not know what I'll do next. I have tomorrow to go to work and enjoy crafting of the last big project in my career. It's nice to have some huge unknowns to face. In my case, it's also very realistic. Stay tuned!

No comments: