Look for the Positives of Your Job (and Life)
I’ve now worked for my company for 2 full years this month, and in that time I’ve spent about 3.5 months on “the bench” (aka overhead) where I just sat at home and billed to an overhead code. The rest of the time, I’ve worked on 2 contracts. The first one ran for about 18 months, but ended abruptly in December when the client ran out of money. I enjoyed my role there as the main (and almost the only) analyst and the go-to person for almost every question. I was the subject matter expert without really trying, but I also enjoyed being close to the product development team.
Now that I’ve been on my new contract for about 3 months, I’ve had to face some hard truths. Mainly, not all work is exciting or glamorous. I can rattle off a list of negatives about my current client, their processes, or just the boring nature of the work since I categorize myself as a pessimist. However, I’ve also learned something else in my past engagements:
Negativity breeds more negativity
For some reason, many of my fellow coworkers often regard me as a leader, although I’ve never been a manager. I’m not necessarily opinionated or tell people what do to. Instead, I’m the “roamer” and tend to accumulate knowledge. I get my hands in many things, mainly because I can’t seem to ever focus on one task, and I begin to be the guy who “knows the know”.
Therefore, I’ve also learned that regardless of your coworkers’ complainings, you have to take the high road. In the last contract, we were understaffed and overworked. The developers began complaining about the workload, the requirements, the client and seemingly everything else. I jumped right in and complained along with them, but then I realized that they were feeding off of my negativity. Because they saw me as the leader, I had an even larger affect on their attitude about the job, and anything I said echoed right back to me through them. I had to learn a different approach.
Find the positives and keep reiterating them
So in the last contract, I began to pick out the good things about the client. They were well-intentioned, but just didn’t have the courage to make decisions. They haven’t done new development, much less a project this large, in decades and they were really looking to us for guidance.
I also began to speak about the good lessons, methods and techniques I’ve been learning on the contract, such as dealing with a difficult client and vague requirements, as well as new things about the technology I didn’t already know. I made sure to mention these things to the development team until I began to hear them repeat it. Things began to calm down and work began to progress a little more quickly and efficiently once the complaining (mostly) ceased.
Continuing the positive thinking
Once I began my new contract in January, I found out that the entire analyst team was turning over. Everyone that had been here between 1-5 years were leaving the company (by their choice) and I was now the second-most senior analyst (by a whole 3 weeks). Plus, the project manager only came in 5 months prior to me and took over a 6 year contract from her predecessor. We lost all prior undocumented knowledge in a matter of 2 months.
Unfortunately, I didn’t really have anyone to warn me about the client’s, uh, nuances, and I was thrown to the wolves. I mostly kept to myself during the learning period, but after about 2 months I began to feel negativity brewing in me. I knew from the last contract that pessimism will only eat away your soul, so I tried to think of a positive spin on the job.
When I was rejected for a new job a month ago, I could have gotten down on myself, but instead I turned that experience into a marketing tool for myself with my current employer. I proposed a knowledge sharing/educational series where I would kick off our weekly meeting with a short presentation of business analysis basics, and then we would discuss past experiences and how we can improve our own processes (as much as the client would allow). My boss loved the idea and we’ll begin these sessions shortly.
But in the last few weeks, my coworkers have begun to vocalize more ill-feelings towards the client, the product, and the project in general. Again, I began to fall into a rut, but then pulled myself out quickly and highlighted what I’ve been learning since starting the job. Most of my coworkers are senior to me by at least 4-5 years, if not more, but I can still see my personality has a significant effect on them.
Again, I’ve learned how to deal with a difficult client, and also I’ve gained experience working with a completely custom-developed product. My past 6.5 years of experience was with COTS systems (Commercial Off-the-Shelf, packaged products), so working with developers who have full control over the platform was new to me.
Changing your attitude and habits
Although I still consider myself a negative person, I’ve been surprised at my ability to rise above the overriding feelings of despair on my jobs and find and focus on the positives. I’ve learned that otherwise you’ll just become a grumpy, nasty old coot like the guy 2 doors down (oops, I let that one slip).
It’s not easy to change your attitude, and it takes hard work to replace bad habits with good ones. For me, I can’t ever see being an optimist because I’ve been in a depressed rut for decades, but I can’t rule it out either. So if you’re finding it hard to deal with your job, your marriage, your friendships, your finances, or anything else in life, try to find the good things.
Everything is a learning opportunity, you just have to have the patience and desire to realize it when it’s right in your face.