Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Work/Stress Paradox

I thought I'd take time to write some more about how I finish work while reducing stress.  I believe that working quickly and efficiently doesn't have to cause stress, but it takes a lot of skill to separate the two.  I find that if I don't work quickly and efficiently, it's because I am stressed.  So instead of talking about how to finish that project, or perform your fitness plan properly (you know better than I would), I'll talk about how I work through my list of items and still have more juice for things that just come up.  Because they do.  

Here's a little refresh about what's going on for me this year, for those who have just started to read my blog, to put in context why I have no choice but to work efficiently.  I work as a sales engineer for a SaaS company and much of what I do involves interviewing and presenting to customers, as well as working with account executives to help present technically proper yet do-able solutions.  I might be looking over database diagrams one day, and mapping out customer politics the next.  I love this but it also can be incredibly draining.  The other facet of my life, new for  2012 involves competing for a sponsored rifle team while attending most national level precision rifle matches.  The season is only half over and I'll have logged about 15,000 miles driven and flow, with thousands of rounds fired in practice and competition.  I don't log practice hours, but I practice daily.  This combo in itself is a problem, but fortunately I've gotten a lot of solid help.  One has been an executive coach.  Thousands of dollars later, hundreds of hours I've spent examining what I do, here is my latest thinking which he's encouraged me to freely share.  I've just been very fortunate that he's taken me on as a client, and I don't take it lightly.  I'll be pleased to hear that this was help to anyone.  I don't have much advice to give, I'm still learning myself.

To figure out why we need to improve, we must look at where we're failing.  Here are some assumptions of "how to do things" articles that lead to failure (at least for me):

Assuming that you're fully control of what you're about to do.  I was on a sales call once and a VP of Sales told me that managing all his sales deals was like rolling bowling balls in the sand.  Wow.  The only things you're possibly in control of are your voluntary bodily functions.  Maybe not even.  At best you have some influence over an outcome.  The freedom of realizing this, allows you to be a little more objective about your work, yet have the emotional bandwidth to not appear detached or cold.

Not discussing the importance of following up as a step in itself.  I buy things that don't come overnight, sometimes it takes months.  If I don't have a good way of following up on them, they slip through.  Or even at work, when I ask for documents from customers, and it comes time to present and I'm missing details, whose ass is it?  I don't like to look like a fool, and when I do, there are witnesses.  Follow up needs to be placed in its own category.  It's probably one of the easiest ways to differentiate yourself.

Assuming that one method of handling work items, works for everything.  It's like thinking my pocketknife works well as a screwdriver, up until I get a real screwdriver, or lose a finger. There are lots of articles that say, use this ONE method for doing things.  And I get it, they assume that people can only practice or use one thing.  And that's only true with sight.  You need to collect all your things to do in one place, but there are many ways to work through them.  You don't approach your kitchen remodel the same way you would with going through a stack of paperwork, but you feel like you should.  No you don't have to.  But you need to see that both the remodel and the paperwork are things you need to do.  They both have to be in front of you in some way.  If you don't know what's going on with one of them, that will stress you out.

Thinking that you can work at 100%, or even better yet 110% percent, or even worse at 110% because someone (amateur mathematician) claimed you should do so.  It's been said that the best factories work at around 80%.  Well why can't you work them at 100% and get maximum output?  Because things break, things come up.  Just like you.  You're not a factory, but do not be seduced into thinking you're special either.

Lastly encouraging readers to think they're special.  And relying on hope.  The paradox is that: when one is done thinking of themselves as special, they can actually start doing things that are special (or noteworthy).  As in not being off-putting to members of other than the Millennial generation.  You will need their wisdom, guidance, and personal introductions.  I say this as being a so-called Millennial.

I want to leave it here after developing the problem a bit.  The next article in this series will begin talking about fixes for this.  Noodle on the above, and ask yourself, are there other failures that we need to look at?

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Dark Moments - The 24 Hr. Sniper Adventure Challenge

This past weekend I competed in an adventure race called the 24 Hour Sniper Adventure Challenge.  We were to navigate through the mountains with map and compass over 30 miles, and try to shoot, think, and challenge our way through for points.  These adventure races are a test of equipment, its handling, and your mental plumbing.  While the mental aspect is less sexy than the weaponry and gear I carried, it is with which all capability is produced.  The near perfect score I produced with my rifle after 28 hours of intense movement tested my rifle but also how I thought, although I was doubtful at times.  I will share with you some dark moments of mine during the race on a personal level and how I addressed them.

If you'd like to get some solid lessons learned and a description of the race, I invite you to check out the Vanwuurpen blog.  Below is how I remember the race.

Starting with failure

The first thing we had to do was weigh out 100lbs of rocks and carry it down the road 3 miles.  It wasn't cold outside either, but rather close to 100F.  This was in addition to 50 lbs of gear on my back.  I was well trained for hiking with weight, but not at levels near equal to my bodyweight.  I was experiencing a sharp pain in my hips, unlike general muscle fatigue.  Should I press on and compromise finishing the race, or should I ditch?   At a mile and a half I made the call to ditch the rocks and lose the points.  Brett and I agreed on the decision and I know we were both disappointed.  That was one of my dark moments.  How could I start off like this?  Why was I disappointing everyone?  I even flirted with the idea of quitting, given that was only our first objective.
But it was just that, it was a flirt.  It was a notion.  I left that flirt right there were they stood.  She wanted a drink and I wasn't buying.  I walked off with my friend and moved onto another table so to speak.  As expected, carrying those rocks wasn't even the hardest challenge.  But at least I was getting warmed up, turning down dirty thoughts in a competitors mind.  She would be back though in a few hours.  Dressed hotter than ever. 

Feeling sorry for myself

A few hours later, we ran into some friends of ours Riley and Jayden on the trail, on the way to the same place.  We had raced with them at the Survival Trials a few months back, laying our soul on the pavement during the last 8 miles we lovingly referred to as the "death march."  They remembered the pain and triumph and we realized we should team up and travel together.  We also met up with Bob and Matt.  Bob shoots with me at our home rifle club in Sacramento.  Matt I hadn't met yet, but his tenacity would prove inspirational.  

We hiked together, our band of 6 as it grew dark, to our next objective.  Checkpoint 2, which was on one of the highest points in the course.  It achieved this altitude in a very short distance, a steep slope for sure.  This was enough to put several teams on IV bags at the peak prior to our arrival.  Fortunately that peak was manned by a very capable paramedic.  We also found out that the teams following our group, withdrew from the race after attempting the same route.  As we climbed the mountain, I felt the 50 lbs on my back with every step.  The wind was howling, pulling out my wind meter told me that it was gusting upwards of 30 mph.  My training had not included this hardship.  I asked, why were we taking the steepest route?  Why didn't I work on my compass skills more?  Why now? I was feeling sorry for myself.  These thoughts were like headlines moving through as a ticker tape.  Showing tumbling stock prices.  The flirt had come back dressed in a smoking hot dress, only to tell me that I wasn't up to her standards.  She didn't even want me to buy her a drink. 

My silly bullshit ended when we took a break to eat.  Not because of the break, but because I realized Matt was in a lot of pain.  He had developed a large blister from our aggressive ascent.  I insisted that I look at it, having done blister treatment many times before.  I found a large nickel sized blister on his foot and treated it the best I could.  In contrast to all my temporary doubts as to my preparation, what I did realize was that I did have the foresight to pack significant extra medical supplies is per usual for me.  And this decision would benefit our whole team.  Throughout the race, I had enough material to treat everybody many times.  Matt's blisters grew, but so did his tenacity.  It was coming down a large mountain later and developing blisters, that I realized, I was out of supplies for myself.  But as we had done throughout the race, a teammate reached into his pack and offered me some of his supplies.  I had determined, just like I had in the past, that when serving others, one doesn't have time for their own petty issues.  And I leaned on that for the remainder of the race.  I reached into my pack for some food, and a bumblebee decided to sting my trigger hand.  Bleeding and swollen, I looked on with a casual neglect.  It was like the flirt's meathead friend ran out of beer and came to serve me a beating.  Humiliation.  But what could I do?  She was relentless. The flirt would be back again later with a new angle, free of beatings, but with the seduction of overconfidence.

Equipment by itself is inherently useless.

As with many athletes who rely on equipment, be it shooters, sailors, car racers, you'll work both on your equipment to give you an edge, and on yourself, to deliver that capability.  This might be speed, accuracy, endurance, or agility.  Superior equipment can drive complacency and overconfidence, the attitude of, I'm going to relax a bit, and let my equipment carry me forward.  The best competitors know how to temper this tendency.

Our team had just left the third to last station.  I had just done a quick evaluation on a racer with heat exhaustion/dehydration and passed it to the medics who were there.  Relieved that they were there, I then started my mental preparation to shoot.  The next stage was a shooting station, with points for hits.  I thought about my rifle.  It is a team issued rifle custom to my requirements.  It fires a very efficient bullet, fast enough that wind doesn't affect it much, until further distances. Wind for the record causes missed shots probably more so than any other factor for long range rifle shooters. What I had was a competitive advantage above even other competitors rifles.  And this is what drove my overconfidence.

I had 5 minutes to find and engage 10 steel plates starting from a few hundred yards away to further than a half mile or 10 football fields away.  I was allowed only one shot per target, which meant I couldn't make up missed shots.  I chose a large plate at 500 yards to begin with and my shot connected with it.  It was an easy target.  But in my haste and overconfidence, I neglected to watch where the bullet struck on the target, which would tell me how much the wind had affected the bullet.  I then went for a much smaller target at the same distance, but in the same hasty style, watched as the dirt rather than the target eat the bullet.  I had missed.  This was my event, this is what I do.  How could I miss?  Now the flirt came back for a moment and told me that time was ticking, I should shoot as fast as possible and move to another station.  She also toyed with me, reminding me that I hadn't slept in a long time (40+ hours), and couldn't possibly perform well.  Clever.  Very clever way to tell me I couldn't do something.  Her friends even hinted that perhaps it was my rifle, maybe my rifle was now mis-calibrated due to the rough hike. Now, every sport has its unique teachings, and with shooting, it's mental awareness.  Mid level shooters attempt to suppress devious thoughts.  High level shooters, don't attempt to suppress thoughts, but instead, choose not to participate in them or use the ones that are of benefit or encouragement.  And right there, I realized I needed to pull out one of my well rehearsed moves, that I call "Taking a moment."

"Taking a moment" means to have a moment of silence and just observe, if only for a second.  I do this before I present to customers.  I do this when I don't feel well.  I do this to gain perspective, and disconnect what I do, with what I am.  And the paradox is that by doing so, I own my actions.  I own my actions because they're less driven by my current state of mind but more my previous history of training. Some refer to this as having "no mind." And it was time for no mind.  What "no mind" meant this time, was to replay the previous missed shot in my head.  Remembering how far off the shot was and applying it to my next distance, now seven football fields away.  I backed this with a strong belief that I would make this shot.  And at that point without thinking, I felt the rifle jump back into my shoulder as a second later, the bullet knocked off a spot of white paint on the steel target almost dead center.  I applied this diligence to the rest of the targets.  Tired as all hell, beaten up, but pleased.

And there you go, a few notable moments I had during this last race.  I'll talk more about equipment next time.

Photo Credits - Matthew Sharp, Riley McElroy, Derek McDonald, Competition Dynamics