Do you mind if I share some of my current struggles and tribulations? Growing up, one of my dreams was to attend a liberal arts university, walk to class in my Birkenstock sandals with my canvas messenger bag, and study the great physicists and philosophers who walked the Earth before me. Instead I attended a military academy and became a project manager floating from one cubicle to the next. I am proud of my service in the military and I have enjoyed working for some amazing clients but there is a part of me that still wonders what would have happen if I had traded in my uniform for shorts and sandals.
Besides dreaming about the grass beneath the trees on the Oxford campus, my long-term professional goal has always been to become a teacher. On the surface a project manager is not usually described as a teacher but when you sit back and think about it, teachers and project managers have a lot in common. What drew me to the career was the simple idea of getting the job done. Both my parents were teachers and the joy I saw in their faces when they shared a story about one of their students connecting the dots and taking a huge step forward was the same joy I feel when I help a colleague or client experience that breakthrough moment and deliver a solution they are proud of.
Nowadays though, a project manager can be synonymous with producers, product managers, designers, and developers. More and more jobs require the skills of a project manager to be successful. So just studying the PMBoK is not going to guarantee success. We also must understand the language of every industry and market we work in which of course is why PMI is asking their members to categorize our professional development into the buckets of leadership, strategic business, and technical project management. PMI is asking project managers to stretch ourselves and go beyond conventional thinking.
At the moment my interests are philosophy, literature, design, and computer programming. I feel in order to succeed and grow, I have to become what I am describing as a “full stack project manager.” Just like a computer programmer, if I can understand the entire landscape from the backend database to the front end user experience, I will be better for it. Building upon a base of project management, I also must possess a technical trade like computer programming coupled with a more artistic thought process based in design principles. All of these are expanded throughout the philosophy and literature I am trying to read which I hope will help build my confidence and cultural awareness.
I believe it was Friday when I came across a Wall Street Journal (WSJ) article, The College of Chinese Wisdom, written by Michael Puett and Christine Gross-Loh. In it they try to apply the teachings of Confucius and other Chinese thinkers who lived over 2,000 years ago to the modern struggles of college students struggling with their own self-discovery. Some of the quotes I thought applied quite well to my struggles and perhaps others of us who are on their own learning journey. Here are a few to give you an idea of what I am talking about.
“Concrete, defined plans for life are abstract because they are made for a self who is abstract: a future self that you imagine based on a snapshot of yourself now. You are confined to what is in the best interests of the person you happen to be right now—not of the person you will become.”
“Train your mind to be open”
“Zhuangzi embraced “trained spontaneity.” When you train yourself to play the piano or learn tennis, trying to reach a joyful place where you can play a Mozart sonata or gracefully arc a lob, you are following his advice. You are putting effort into reaching a moment when your mind does not get in the way. You are training yourself not to fall into the trap of seeing yourself through one fixed perspective. You are training yourself to spot the shifts that make for an expansive life.”
“Xunzi argues that we should not think of the self as something to be accepted—gifts, flaws and all. He would argue instead that we should think of the self as a project. Through experiences, we can train ourselves to construct a self utterly different from—and better than—whatever self we thought we were.”
“The only thing you really need to be good at is the ability to train yourself to get better.”
“…the goal is simply to break from what they think they know about themselves.”
“So if you want not only to be successful but also to live a good life, consider these subversive lessons of Chinese philosophy: Don’t try to discover your authentic self; don’t be confined by what you are good at or what you love. And do a lot of pretending. We could all benefit from a little more insincerity.”
I read through this article while flying back home from a long week of working with my client and a calmness started to comfort me. The concept of application and measurement of my learning constantly occupies my thinking but last week I wrote about embracing the process and not worrying about the outcome, so perhaps I should borrow some of that advice.
Please read through this WSJ article and let me know what you think. Too often, I believe we as project managers become consumed with the outcome and how to measure the results that we don’t even try out new ideas because we train ourselves to be scared of risks and new ideas. I like the quote where it is recommended to think of ourselves as a project and through experiences we train ourselves to train a new self that yields new possibilities.
So taking a step back, instead of being frustrated by the struggles and tribulations I am going through with my own learning, perhaps I should focus on the excitement and joy brought on by a new MOOC I try out or a new book I read. Perhaps the application of learning is measured in the intangibles created from a new idea or concept.
Isn’t a wonderful feeling when you complete a new book or when you crack the code on why math tells you one thing but your instincts expected a different outcome? Perhaps at this stage, my struggles are a sign I am on the right track and I need to find a place to rest, warm up a pot of tea, enjoy the sunset, and look forward to another day of discovery and wonder.
Thank you for helping me and sharing another moment.