Saturday, April 02, 2005

Executing Change (A Miniseries: 1/2)

The Return of the Peach
As I alluded to in a comment I made yesterday, I’m going to take a quick break right here from my current post series to talk about a couple of things that have happened with the past 24 hours. Okay, okay…a two-part story isn’t exactly quick, but you know me.

Firstly, as many of you in Blogland were aware, our favorite travelin’ blogger, Inanna, paid me a brief visit Friday evening on her way back from a weeklong roadtrip adventure. She traveled from her home in West Virginia, first to New Orleans to visit her cousin and fellow-blogger, Seven. Then on to Houston to see her sister and meet yet another group of fellow bloggers, including, Tiny Hands, Zelda & Jethro, and the irrepressible Brighton.

Michelle and I met her for dinner at our favorite Mexican Restaurant here in town, which I have always characterized as our local version of “Cheers” because everybody there seems to know your name. We rarely walk into the place without seeing someone we either know or at least recognize. Inanna arrived at the restaurant before we did and said she witnessed that very phenomenon as she watched the bustling Friday night crowd file in. She said she saw a lot of faces light up as they saw and greeted their friends.

I love that place. The food is great and the atmosphere couldn’t be friendlier.

As we sat and visited, Inanna excitedly recounted her time with her extended blogger family. We received some great insights on the real-life personalities behind the wonderful wordsmiths we all enjoy so much. Jealous as I was to have not been able to meet all of those great folks, I felt I experienced the next best thing via Inanna’s description.

As the conversation turned toward our family and specifically our kids, the often-uncanny interaction between Blogland and the real world reared its surreal head once again.

You may recall my writing that in our first face-to-face encounter a month ago, Inanna caught me off-guard by calling me “AJ” in person, which is something that absolutely no one does. It’s a name that I expect to see on the computer screen; perhaps something I expect to hear on the phone in, conversation with certain people. However no one in real-life knows or calls me by that name, so it was indeed a little weird when it happened last month — but not nearly as weird as when Inanna referred to my son as Shawn, even though that’s what I’ve always called him in my blog.

Admittedly, I have been remiss in not writing about my boy more often. I’ve talked much more about my daughter, whom I refer to as Amy although that is not her name either. Inanna and I have talked in e-mails about my daughter quite a bit more, most notably because of the fact that she made Amy a beaded necklace and earrings set as a gift last Christmas (thank you again Nanner!). Inanna has pretty much referred to Amy by her real name in all our conversations since.

So while we were talking about some matter involving the kids’ college activities (I believe the subject was ‘coming home for Spring Break’), Inanna inquired, “And what about Shawn…?” Michelle and I paused and briefly looked at each other. I said, “You know his name is ‘(x),’ right…?” Nanner’s face got as red as the warm-up jacket she was wearing as we simultaneously busted up laughing.

Change myself
We plan and we scheme
’til there’s nothing left of our little dream
But half of the time I can’t decide and
half of the time I’m petrified

I want to change the world
I want to make it well
How can I change the world
When I can’t change myself
Try again tomorrow
I’d love to change your mind
Capture your citadel
How could I change your mind
If I can’t change myself
Try again tomorrow

From: Change Myself
by Todd Rundgren (2nd Wind), 1991

After all the talk about bloggers, road-rage, and pine pollen subsided, the conversation turned a bit more serious. Inanna spoke about her life and the changes she was in the course of making, all of which seem to have coincided with her discovery of blogging nearly a year ago.

I don’t believe I’m betraying any confidences to say this because she has more than a few times alluded to it in her own writings. Inanna is what I would consider the Will Hunting of her real-life peer group. Well, maybe that’s a little bit of a stretch (she’s actually better-looking than Matt Damon), but as she said in perhaps my favorite of all her blog stories:

Between the time I returned from Germany and started college, my friends from back home in the coalfields sat me down at the kitchen table with a bottle of vodka, a gallon of orange juice, and told me I didn't belong there. They were older than me. Gayle and Mike were probably 25, Dean was probably 30 or so with three kids. I was 19. It was tough to hear the friends I looked up to and felt a part of tell me I wasn't a part of them anymore, or as Dean said, "If you ever were." They saw a greatness in me, a destiny, I couldn't see in myself.

Inspiration • Sunday, February 20, 2005
She is a fighter; a woman on a mission to be all she can be. It is a fight, but one that she’s confident she can win. We talked briefly about the obstacles to her leaving her current situation back home and moving on to another locale in which she and Nate could thrive. I don’t know how comfortable she would be in my commenting much further about this, but I just have to say how proud I am of her, both for her accomplishments so far and her determination to continue making positive changes for her life and for her son.

After our wonderful dinner (Nanner had the chimichunga, Michelle, a chicken taco, and me, the wonderful tacos carne asada) Michelle excused herself to return home while Inanna and I walked across the street to Starbuck’s for a couple ‘a mochas and even más conversación.

Inanna’s impending life-changes continued to lead the conversation, but soon we lapsed into other miscellaneous subjects. Terri Shiavo, allegies, humidity (I shared with her my sauna-that-is-Houston story), and other things were topics on the table, along with a few more I’m sure she’ll jog my memory about when she posts.

We closed Starbuck’s down at 11:00 PM, but well before the time the manager came over to give the “last call” announcement I could see the weariness in Nanner’s blue-green eyes. She was fading fast. So we headed back across the street to the parking lot were our cars were, and said our so-longs (she’s supposed to be back here yet again with her cousin in May for the Renaissance Festival). She then headed another 18 miles up the 65 freeway to the motel she had reserved for the night. Apparently she made it home okay this morning because as of this writing she had already made a brief post.

I don’t know if it was merely coincidence or providence that the subject of change dominated my conversation that evening with my friend Inanna. Earlier that afternoon I had received news that my life would be changing as well.

Oh no, it wasn’t anything drastic or foreboding, and certainly not as significant as the changes that Inanna is in the process of executing in her life. My impending changes are much more subtle, but not much less difficult for me to make. They have the potential to either be extremely profitable if I make them or devastating if I don’t.

I had my annual performance and salary review at work Friday afternoon. As with most people, those things always make me a little nervous. But this one had me feeling particularly tight. Not because of anything I had done necessarily, but more because of the climate surrounding the area that I work in and the role of my company’s use of our corporate Web site, which I designed and have maintained over the past seven years.

Sometimes grass grows faster than big companies make decisions. Ours is no different. When I started back in 1997, then working for a marketing contractor with my company as their client, the Web was just beginning to take off and everyone was excited about the possibilities.

But as time went on the disconnect between my role as the guy who made things “look good” and our I.T. department, the ones who implemented my work grew wider and wider. I officially work in the Marketing department, in which we often are nothing more than order-takers in the company’s sales-dominated mentality. Our overly conservative management team was too busy transitioning our customer-related technology from old-style mainframe and frame-relay dial-up to a Web-based solution to really care about including me on any part of the process.

To hopefully spare you of the boring techie details, over the past two years I have seen the relevance of my job-description slowly erode, not so much in the eyes of the company as a whole, but actually more so in the attitude of my boss, who is so fed up with our department’s lack of involvement in the overall Web strategy that she’s ready to remove us from being involved at all. She’s prepared to take her ball and go home — and I’m the ball. And while that’s fine for her, for me…not so good. My desire is and always has been to be a Web designer/developer. I was hired as a Web designer and I have no desire to do anything else.

However if things continue on the course that they appear to be right now, It leaves me with really just two options. One, leave marketing and go work for I.T., or broaden my skill-set to include value that IT cannot provide, but which I can use despite their occasional lack of acknowledgment that our department even exists.

I have for the past three years been trying to convince my boss to allow me to get some advanced software training in Macromedia Flash, beyond the beginning course I took in 2002, with which everyone agrees I’ve done well. But now I need more support to take the next step. The good news is, yesterday I got the green light. They will pony up the $1,300.00 to pay for this training. The bad news is, the strong impression I got was that it could be a “perform-or-die” situation. And if not that drastic, it would still likely mark the end of my involvement with the Web as my primary job-description should I not deliver. If that were to happen I would without hesitation be looking for a new job. I have no intention of going backwards — not now, not ever.

So this is a shaping up to most definitely be a year of change for me as well, and while I can’t speak for Inanna, personally, I hate change. I love routine and thrive on it. When I have to vary my routine, I’m only happy when it happens on my terms. The changes that Inanna is making are both positive and exciting for her, as well as scary. My impending changes are just scary. The positive and exciting will certainly come later, but right now I think I’d opt for a root canal.

However there is one thing that scares me a whole helluvalot more than the changes I’m going to have to make in the coming months, and that’s not making them. Being a guy knocking-on-the-door of fifty years old, the idea of being out of a job is not exactly a pleasant thought. Oh I know I’d land on my feet — I always have. And it’s not like I’ve never been unemployed — I was self-employed for 15 years, for pete’s sake — but that’s a life that I really don’t want to return to. It’s time for me to step up to the plate and deliver. I can’t allow myself to become insignificant. That’s suicide in today’s job market.

One other great by-product of this is the value it will add to me should I ever need to or decide to voluntarily take a job elsewhere. The experience I’ll gain by incorporating these new skills could actually double my value on the open market. And wouldn’t that be nice?

So Nanner, you ain’t the only one who has a few changes coming down the pike. I’ll be there as well. 2005 looks to be a year of growth, that is if I can survive the growing pains.

Next: Just when I thought I’d felt everything…
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