Progress in practice (invisible version)

A couple of days ago, Tim wrote about progress in practice. About how we can’t see some of the subtler progress, like a stilling of the mind. Unless, of course, we blog about it.

I was thinking about the same thing last night on my way home from work. It was a long day. There’d been some turmoil on the team regarding timelines and people’s standards of perfection. I manage a design team, so this is not your usual kind of deal, where the manager is telling people to improve their standards of perfection. No, I’m always trying to get my crazy OCD designers to lay off the compulsive search for absolute perfection in everything they do.

A lead designer is now managing the day-to-day affairs of the team. Which puts me at a further distance from the design team. It also means I have a new job: coaching the lead designer. She’s going to be a good manager, I think. But as I experienced myself, it is one thing to be a designer, and another to manage people. Here’s the number one issue: People are crazy! 😉

We had a contentious design team meeting on Thursday, and the lead designer and I had a follow-up meeting on Friday with a designer who was most out of sorts at the Thursday meeting. The lead designer and the out-of-sorts designer are, not terribly surprisingly, very alike in some ways and very different in others. Alike in terms of drive and smarts, and unalike in terms of emotional intelligence.

So at the end of the day yesterday, the lead designer and I did a debrief. She was surprised and exhausted by the emotional stuff of the past couple of days. I told her that that was normal, told her about how astounded I was the first time I had someone sit in a conference room with me and yell and cry hysterically, etc. I also told her that it is a shift in awareness, to go from being an individual contributor to being the hub of a group, where the emotional realities of all of the players are always on your radar. I also mentioned that much like a family, there is almost never a time when someone in the group doesn’t need something, or isn’t going through something. New drama is always around the corner.

I told her to be disciplined and make sure she put all of this away over the course of her weekend. As I walked out to my car, I thought to myself, “I don’t know HOW people get through this without a practice.” Note to self: Have this discussion with the lead designer on Monday. She needs to have at least an hour a day where she puts down her work stuff (and ideally, ALL stuff). Whether it’s an hour on a treadmill or meditation or whatever. Just something where “everyday issues” are put aside for a bit. That kind of discipline helps you to remember that all of the pressing issues are not YOU, are not the heart of reality, are just vritti to be experienced.

If you get caught up, if you think a drama is “real,” if you start being tormented by a person or a situation, then you are “caught” in the net. The lead designer said, “in our meeting, you were so calm.” I told her that I feel like my job is to help the team, and that when I see someone in front of me who is acting angry or upset or frustrated or prickly, I try not to let my emotions get swept up. I try to remember that when someone is acting like that, what I am seeing is suffering. And that my job is to try to help that person resolve their suffering. From a business perspective, I need to help them resolve their suffering so they can work happily and productively. From a zen perspective, I want to help because “When someone is hungry, give them food; when someone is thirsty, give them a drink.” But just telling someone their suffering is vritti doesn’t work, and trying to solve the surface of the problem doesn’t work. Usually listening and being open is the best bet. And being patient. And resolving not to give up on a person. And practicing, so I don’t get confused and swept up.

It really is a remarkable sort of practice. One that exhausts me sometimes. There are days when I just want to go sit at my own desk and design and forget about all these crazy things that people do and feel. I’m sure the lead designer is getting her first taste of this. So now it’s a case of waiting to see if she finds any satisfaction in trying to solve these very complex human design issues.


2 Responses

  1. That’s a really interesting post (and not just because it mentions me) about business and management. I’m going to think about this.

  2. How high is the addiction rate and how many people turn into ashtangis? Fascinating questions. Our Ashtanga director once gave an interview to a local alternative newspaper in which she said that, of 100 people taking the 10 week beginner classes at our studio, only one developed into a committed ashtangi. A rate of 1%. Since I’m one of the 1%, I wonder why. The Type A personality thing, I suppose. What are your experiences?

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