Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A Daunting Task

The second semester of my masters in Information Security and Assurance at Western Governors University is now officially underway. I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed at the moment as I try to balance my migraines, family time, and launching myself into my first objective of the new semester: studying for and passing the Certified Ethical Hacker exam. It's easy to start feeling a bit lost between all of this, and at times I start feeling like I might not have much time for writing throughout the next six months. On top of this, I have started to wonder about my professional goals and when it would be appropriate to think about leaving my current team in pursuit of an Information Security position rather than the day to day server administration that I've been doing for the last 10 months - a deviation from my planned career path that allowed me to join the civil service. These thoughts make me feel like I might be betraying my current team by putting my needs before the collective good.

There are a few truths that I can recognize from boiling down the contents of the previous paragraph, which basically equates to advice I might give someone else in a similar situation.

First, one thing at a time. The beginning of a new semester is when you get all your planned courses loaded for the next six months. It's easy to take that new course load out of context, focusing on the forest rather than the trees. I may have more credit hours assigned this semester, but none of those need to be concurrent. I can avoid feeling so overwhelmed by keeping my focus on the task at hand.

Second, I'm writing right now. As a small an accomplishment as this seems, it's still something. If I can try to appreciate even the small chunks of time I might have scattered throughout the day, I'm sure I'll be surprised at how it can add up. That's a far better solution than throwing my hands up in the air in surrender and wasting time lamenting over lost opportunities. My professional career may come first at this point in time, but only because it secures my ability to care for my family while pursuing my own personal dreams. I work to live, I don't live to work. I need to keep reminding myself of this fact.

Third, I am not irreplaceable, professionally speaking. I need to consider my own needs with higher priority. I don't fill some vital niche that someone else can't readily back-fill. The show always goes on, even if you are no longer on the stage. Furthermore, I suppose it's a bit unfair of me to assume that my team would rather me feel stagnated than pursue my long term professional goals. Another guy is leaving the team for the same reasons right now and no one has given him a hard time about it. In fact, though we'll all miss him and the knowledge he brings to the table, we are happy that he got a job back at headquarters after trying for several months. It's nice to see people progress in their careers, it gives you hope for your own.

As a writer I try to understand personal conflict and motivations. Perhaps sometimes I even tend over-think things. Yeah, that's a fair statement. This can result in a feeling of being on the outside looking in on my own circumstances, a surreal sort of perspective that is both logical and emotional. Although I may understand the situation on a higher lever, I'm still the man on the ground. I have emotions. I have feelings. The logical side of me weighs motivations, outcomes, and deduces the most reasonable approach. The human part of me makes mistakes even though I realize it's not a good idea at the time. Knowledge can't always pull you out of the foxholes of your own inner turmoil.

This understanding exposes another truth that I should probably be quicker to realize. I've got a wonderful wife who supports me and four great kids who look up to me. I don't need to feel like I'm traveling this road alone.

Stories are generally the same. You usually have a main perspective the story is told from, a main character (who may tell the story as a first-person account - much in the way this blog post is my account of things) and there are generally supporting characters who, if the story is any good, help the main character grow in some meaningful way. Stories that include only the main character can work quite well if done properly, but we do generally enjoy seeing characters interact with other personalities. It makes the story interesting on a social level and adds many more layers.

So, you're here because this is a writing blog... is all of this so much of a stretch from the truth of writing? Most of the people who read this blog have never actually met me, so in many ways I am a bit of a character. On one hand, I enjoy writing and telling stories. On the other hand I like having a wife and kids. I realize that I must work in order to facilitate my hobbies while providing for the family that I enjoy. My story is about balancing professional progress with hobby fulfillment. This seems like a good sounding board for my thoughts on the matter. Hopefully you get something out of it as well... after all, your life is your own personal story, and I'd be happy to take a supporting role.


Jim Murdoch said...

I wrote a poem a few years ago about this very problem:


        So many faces

        the daughter
        the sister
        the wife
        the mother
        the secretary
        the friend
        the lover

        and on the inside
        the nothing

        19 March, 1997

Change the gender, the job title and that could be any one of us. When you look in the mirror who do you see? Oh, yes, the writer-Brady is in there, buried somewhere a few rows down, but he’s there. Only you know the order these layers take. These days writer-Jimmy is my top layer but it’s taken a while for him to drag himself up there and all the time the others are trying to pull him back down. Husband-Jimmy is the strongest and sometimes he wins out but he’s got his work cut out for him. The real question is: When you get rid of all the roles you play, who’s left at your very core? Is it ‘nothing’ or is it the real-Brady? For a long time that’s all I found when I was on my own: there was nothing left, everyone had had their slice of me and there was nothing left for me.

It’s a daunting task, to use your expression, sitting down and working out the pecking order of the roles in your life. None of them are you, not in isolation. You need them all but in the right proportions.

Unknown said...

We bought a few of those Russian dolls when we were living up in Alaska. What's interesting is that the larger doll capsules always had the best hand painted detail. The smaller you took the inner dolls, the less detailed they became.

Sometimes I do feel like that inner doll, small and insignificant, undetailed and hidden beneath layer after layer. Your analogy strikes home. There's a certain perception to it that I think I can use to help divide up my time. I might just have to get one of those dolls out of the bin and set it out across my desk under my monitors. :)