Earlier this week, I posted the results of a timetracking exercise I did as part of a "life reorg" I'm undertaking. I'm using some of the ideas from Laura Vanderkam's book 168 Hours. (Full disclosure: she sent me her book to read for free- but with no strings attached. I certainly didn't promise to do a series of posts on it, because at the time I accepted the book I wasn't yet aware that I was going to be doing a life reorg and all the bellybutton gazing that goes with that.)
My timetracking exercise showed me that I don't spend much time on hobbies. I'm trying to fix that- there has to be a way to get the amount of time I spend on chores down without breaking our budget or causing me too much environmentalist guilt. (For instance, we tried ordering our groceries online and getting them delivered- but the number of plastic bags that we received from that exercise was appalling. We made ourselves feel better by taking a bunch in to day care, to replace the ones that Pumpkin's wet clothes keep coming home in, but still... we're not sure that this is something we can live with as part of our usual routine.)
However, even if I reduce the amount of time I spend on chores, I doubt I'm going to have the time for a truly "big", rewarding hobby anytime soon. I have always considered my work time as part of my "me" time- I usually like what I do, and find it intellectually challenging and rewarding. Therefore, a big part of my reorg needs to be figuring out what has gone wrong with work.
One of the other exercises suggested in the book helped me understand part of the problem. This was an exercise to help you identify your "core competencies", which is a term borrowed from management-speak that just means "the things you do better than anyone else". One of the suggestions for how to identify your core competencies is to think about what you used to do as play as a kid, and think about whether any of those things correspond to things in your work life. This gave me quite an "a ha!" moment. When I was a kid, I would get really, really interested in things- like, for instance, early Irish history, which soon expanded into the early history of Britain, Scotland, and Wales, too. I read lots of history books, and I took copious notes. If that isn't geeky enough, I then organized my notes into timelines and family trees and things like that.
This story highlights two things: (1) I have always been a bit of a geek, and (2) organizing information is a core competency. Once I realized this, it made perfect sense. I used to study for my exams in college by organizing the information from my lecture notes, textbook, and problem sets into detailed outlines. (By my fourth year, other students were requesting my study outlines to help them study, too, but it never occurred to me until much, much later that I probably could have sold them.) In graduate school, I started work on a protein engineering project, and found myself designing a web-based system to organize my notes on the family of proteins I was studying. I got really interested in databases, and my first job after graduate school involved designing databases to store scientific information. And so on and so on.
I am happiest at work when I get to spend at least some of my time organizing information. I don't spend much time on this at all right now. This is probably contributing to my current unhappiness at work. I think that I can fix this, at least to some extent, but the job as it is currently defined is never going to involve as much of this as I'd really like.
Luckily, I have a second core competency: getting stuff done. I don't have any geeky stories for childhood to support this one (but maybe my parents can dredge something up....) but I think it is still a core competency. Both at work and at home, I like to pick apart a problem and try to figure out how to make it go away so that what ever needs to get done can just get done, already. So at home, I created a chores schedule to try to ensure that both Hubby and I got some downtime. At work, I am known for systematically removing the roadblocks and/or excuses that stand in the way of a project, even if it means that I do some boring scut work myself because no one else will do it. This is great- to a point. I'm human, and I eventually get annoyed with the amount of B.S. I'm wading through just to get stuff done, and then I end up unhappy. This is probably also contributing to my unhappiness at work right now, and unfortunately, I have no idea if I can fix this. I think that in general, I have a pretty high B.S. tolerance and can deal with it as long as I see forward progress on the projects I'm working on. So maybe this problem will resolve itself on its own.
However, even if I can tweak my current job enough to make it more fun, there is a more fundamental issue: in the career path I'm on, I'm rarely, if ever, going to get to spend large amounts of time on organizing information, the core competency that actually makes me happiest at work. So the real question is: do I need to change my career path? I've been thinking a lot about this, in context of some career coaching I did a few years ago and with the next exercise from the book, which is to write a list of 100 dreams. I'll probably write a post about that at some point, too. In the meantime, I'm going to implement some tweaks at my current job, and see what that does to my happiness level.