Friday, February 15, 2013

Project X

When I started out as a career criminal, I knew (or believed) that key to my advancement was to be involved in as many projects as I feasibly could. I could use these as references for more project-based work in the future. And by Job, it did. After a couple of successful projects, I got referred, constantly. I was just starting out, so had loads of energy, and enthusiasm and commitment in spades - a 60-hour week to me was light. Then, in my late-twenties, I began to rethink the approach. Not because I was getting tired of it - I particularly enjoyed short-term project engagements - but because I began to question my success in these activities. Why? Because I'm not particularly talented. Because I'm not that intelligent. Because I was prepared to work past my paygrade and not ever question things. 

Gradually, I began to see myself as a gear in an insatiably hungry machine, mission-critically designed for one purpose: realizing massive cost-savings, or adding real value. I didn't really care which - I'd contributed to both - but it just didn't feel right - what was I achieving, personally? 

So I diversified - I became a peripheral component to successful projects by switching skillsets. And became a wallflower. Observed. And what I realized came as an epiphany - that everyone on a project was simply seen as a "resource", someone with a specific (or commoditized) skill set that could be applied to fulfill someone else's goals. I say "someone else's", because very little of the spend on these projects actually justified a real business benefit - rather, someone's ability to convince someone else that the project would, or could, deliver real value; the "business" people had no idea. NowI understood why project managers walked out of meetings visibly relieved they got the funding they desired. They bluffed, and got away with it.

But no one can deny the centrifugal force of being involved in a project environment - timeframes are tight, extreme highs and lows are omnipresent, and people can get very tense. Immensely challenging, but also immensely satisfying if it all goes to plan. It's simply inescapable - once you're in, it's difficult to get out. 

I've learnt this very late in life, but personal projects can also deliver a huge amount of satisfaction: believing in the goals you've set, fully committed and focussed to achieving them, and reaping the benefits you decided was worth pursuing from the outset. I hear people lauding their personal "projects" all the time: re-decorating, renovating, learning a new language, traveling, raising a family, whatever. Look at the smiles on their faces when they tell you these stories, perceive the satisfaction and realize - personal satisfaction is almost always more powerful than the collective outcome.

With that power, that belief, we could all be our own project managers. Or entrepreneurs. 

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