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How persistence during the pandemic has reminded me of the influence teams have ⚡️
Under a bridge
When the pandemic struck, I was successfully making progress at the gym. I moved from healthy skinny to healthy athletic, gaining 10 kilograms, of which the majority was muscle mass. I’ve worked for this for years, building a habit, dieting, investing in a personal trainer and.. failing frequently. That said, the gym started to be part of my life. Then came the lockdown.
During the initial period, everything was closed (including gyms). I started working out at home but had little equipment, and the training was not one par with the weights I was accustomed to. The equipment online sold out quickly before I managed to order what I needed to sustain what I built. At the time, I felt powerless and angry. As if all the options were slipping away. After a few days, I promised myself I wouldn’t give up and started slowly, week by week, collecting some essential equipment. I also went to train outside (it was still winter) which was permited at the time.
I trained under a bridge on using an outdoor gym two times a week with a trainer and one or two at home by myself. During those days, the temperatures fluctuated from 0 to minus 20 C (real-feel).
I remember the days when the weather was getting close to -20 C when very few people went out for a walk around the boulevard near Vistula river (Warsaw, Poland). That was due to the snowfall and general harsh conditions that were multiplied by strong winds.
My face was freezing, but I felt terrific, in the zone and in control. I could not control neither the weather, nor the pandemic or restrictions yet I felt in control of my life and the way I acted in those adverse conditions. I’ve taken ownership of my situation contrary to giving up. This has taught me resilience, consequence and that there is always a way, and the only question worth asking is: ‘How bad do you want it?’.
It does not work
Fast forward to the professional side of life. Time and again, I hear teams saying ‘this’ or ‘that’ does not work. They speak as if trapped in a limbo, passively waiting for things to change. They keep on focusing on their Product Manager who wants them to do 30% more than they can handle, they are not happy with the company’s management not walking their talk, or are constantly working with legacy code, and feel it’s enough already.
They fall in a trap of being a victim or prosecutor. I’ve been there myself many times. Throughout the years and with some coaching, I managed to change my patterns. We also tend to forget that some changes that we seek are out of our direct line of influence. That means we can try to influence them but the effect is unknown. That does not mean, though, we should continue in despair. We always have direct influence on how we respond (not ‘react’, mind you) to our surroundings. Let’s take the above examples and actions that can be taken:
PM wants 30% more — show the plan for the next few weeks and contrast it with PMs expectations. They might not see what you are seeing and need not have bad intentions. You can always say you won’t do it as it’s not possible to pour more water to a glass that’s already full. This might be a bold statement and lead to a conflict. That said, a well managed conflict can help the team grow. Being agreeable all the time without being courageous can lead to a place where you think you don’t see any other way to act. That can lead to a quick burnout.
Not happy with management not walking their talk — you can always nourish your team’s environment, show the way, lead by example. You can stand up and ask the management that you’re not seeing some of the actions they speak about and you’re concerned about the future of the company and yourself. Not for the sake of proving anyone wrong but from a place of integrity and care. There is also a saying “change a company or change a company”. If you find that nothing works or this is not your place it’s time to move on before you start lamenting.
Always working with legacy code — show what your team is good at, build trust and present a business case based on your knowledge of the end-user. What might be the new product improvement that you’d love to work on? I’ve worked with a team that successfully did just that. They showed a different way and convinced the management to make a shift. If that does not work — join the ‘Great resignation’. Not possible due to mortgage, having a kid and little savings? Take ownership, buckle up and start building that backbone so you’re not part of Morgage-Driven-Development.
One thing that definitely does not work is whining. It makes you powerless and focuses only on being helpless. Maybe it’s time to ask for help (not demand change) so you can have a partner in crime. It does not make you weak — it shows you care and prefer to share the energy devoted to whatever you want to transition to.
In the end, if you don’t want to act, maybe it’s not important enough and you should let go. Decide that you accept and that the situation for what it is. That can bring a great relief.
PS. Using the metaphor from the beginning — even if your environment is scolding hot or freezing cold and you’re on a tightly run ship you always are able to respond to what is happening around you. You are always able to start small if not with your team then with yourself and managing your energy and work during the day.
If it comes to my training. When gyms opened, I was in shape and quickly regained my original strength in two weeks (thank you muscle memory) and started making new progress.
In professional context I see that muscle memory as one’s integrity in adverse conditions and taking ownership. If you continue building it with what you got it will reap benefits when things improve. That habit will make you much stronger when you find or create the environment that suits your needs.
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