Stretching My Brain

The last week or so, I’ve taken on some new roles at CubeSpace. I’m doing more of the budgeting and more of the web development. These are fairly similar functions in that they are both detail oriented, and require use of specialized software. They are also similar in the fact that they are bending my brain.

Working on these projects is good for me, it utilizes a part of my brain I’ve been using less recently: the highly analytical, detail oriented part. But thinking in an unaccustomed way stretches the brain, pushes it, and frankly, kind of hurts. The last week I’ve been coming up for air from working on these projects and felt a touch dazed, wrung out, even.

This is work I used to do with some frequency. I started my career as a market research analyst, and would spend days immersed in data or focus group tapes, analyzing and writing. This is fairly similar. More recently, however, most of my work has been more people focused than detailed focused, and the shift is both challenging and rewarding.

The rewards of this kind of work, for me, are that it has a concreteness that so much of what I do, doesn’t. The questions that can be asked are: does the budget balance? If not, keep working on it. Is the website doing what it is supposed to be? If not, keep working on it.

The challenge of this kind of work is also the concreteness of the questions. It’s the “if not” phrases above. When it’s not right, you can tell and need to keep working on it until you’ve got it in a workable state. This can be frustrating, but the reward of finally figuring it out is enhanced by fighting through the sense of frustration.

Satisfaction in work, by which I mean, feeling like you are fulfilled by your work at the level of your spirit, depends, at least for me, on some combination of working with people and helping them, and feeling challenged by what I’m doing. I’m also more engaged when I’m learning new things and pushing myself to step outside of my comfort zone. All in all, it keeps the work fresh, and keeps me moving in new directions.

Continuing The Yarn

I’ve been working on a fairly large project for a while…a cross between a throw and a bedspread. I’ve let it slumber for the last month or so,  but picked it up again this week, and did some quality knitting on it. It’s about 4 ft across at the moment, and I’m aiming for 6 feet. Unfortunately, it’s round, which means that instead of being 2/3 of the way done, I’m 4/9 of the way done.

On the one hand, this project feels somewhat endless…like I’m not getting anywhere with it…it just keeps eating balls of yarn, and doesn’t seem to grow much bigger. At the same time, I can get through a ball of yarn in not that long…maybe three or four hours of knitting. You would think I would learn to keep an extra ball of yarn with me for when I run out of the ball I’m working on, but I haven’t been. And at the moment being in Salem killing some time before an interfaith service this evening, I don’t have access to the yarn, so will switch projects again. Nonetheless, this time I will try to keep moving on this project once I get home.

I have 4 projects going at the moment, and they are all feeling a touch endless. I sort of want some quick projects that I can just whip out quickly, but feel like I need to finish some of the others before I move onto anything new.

All in all, it’s a quiet afternoon at the Temple, I’ve got a slight headache, and 45 more minutes to kill before heading over to an interfaith service. Then I get to go home and crash.

Talking about People

 Three times in the last week I’ve had the occasion to speak about people. During a wedding, I described the relationship between the couple: what made them special as a couple, and unique as individuals. During a funeral, I gave a eulogy, describing the life of the deceased and what gave meaning to his life. During a bar mitzvah, I described the special gifts of the young men, focusing on how those gifts may serve them and others in the future. In each case, at least one person came up afterwards and informed me that I’d gotten that description just perfect.

When someone tells me I’ve gotten that right, it feels great. I work hard to try to find the heart of the people I’m working with, and sometimes I’m not sure how well I’m succeeding. I see what I think is the important parts, but do others see them as important? Is it even a side of them that they show to people other than the rabbi? Almost always the answer is, “yes,” but I am nervous enough about it that I find it wonderful to be told I got it right.

What I love most about the process is the ability to reflect  back at people a vision of their loved ones. This is a vision which they recognize, but which highlights people’s best, and hopefully, most central qualities. I help all involved see the person or people I’m describing in a way that is both true and meaningful. I’ve captured the essence of the person, and put it into a context which makes that essence good and important. When I get it right, it is a powerful experience for all involved, especially including me.

What I’ve realized in the last week is that all three of these lifecycle events, wedding, funeral, bar mitzvah, are  fundamentally about love. Wedding is obviously about love of the couple for each other, but it is also about the love of those gathered for the couple. And that is the part of love that is present in all the events. A funeral is largely about the love of the survivors for the deceased (and of the deceased for the survivors). A bar mitzvah is about a family’s love for the young adult. Love tends to be the central aspect of lifecycle events, and part of why they are so much fun, so rewarding and so stressful.

On another topic entirely: Daylight Savings.
I feel like I’m really getting the first morning of daylight savings time experience. I got up this morning at 7 and it was still dark. A beautiful drive down to Salem. Pretty much clear skies, with an occasionally stunning view of Mount Hood in the distance. Very nice sunrise. As I got closer to Salem, there was some scattered low fog (really more like a ground hugging mist), until I was in Salem, and then hit some true fog. A very pretty morning.

I’m getting ready for a full day, teaching Sunday school, teaching adult Hebrew, meeting with some folks about a wedding. I definitely feel like there’s a little less pressure on my schedule now that the Bar Mitzvah is done.

I Did It!

There is a certain sense of satisfaction that I get from solving a problem. It almost doesn’t matter what kind of problem it is: debugging a computer connection, figuring out how to help a customer or figuring out a lace pattern. There is a feeling of “I did it, and I’m proud of it” that results.

I’m feeling pretty good at the moment because I just spent 20 minutes helping someone get hooked up to the wireless network. We have a very robust computer network at CubeSpace, both wireless and Ethernet. It is designed to enable people with a wide variety of computers to have access to the Internet and the networked printers. For the most part, it is very successful in that goal. Occasionally, however, people’s computers are set up in a way which prevents access. Usually it takes me less than 5 minutes to get anyone set up. Today, it took 20 minutes.

Twenty minutes is long enough to develop a good head of frustration. And while frustration is not good in and of itself, as a precursor to solving a problem frustration adds to the sense of satisfaction. If a problem is easily solved, there is little achievement in its solution. Having been frustrated by a problem and solving allows a real sense of accomplishment.

While I don’t suggest taking on frustrating problems on a regular basis, solving them is sort of like scratching an itch: it’s almost worth having been itchy just for the satisfaction of having scratched it.

Running the Hamster Wheel of the Good Life

Today has been a long day. I’ve opened and closed CubeSpace before (which I’m doing today). I’ve opened at CubeSpace and then gone done to Salem (which I did today). I’ve been done to Salem and I’ve closed at CubeSpace before (which I’m doing today). But never before have I opened CubeSpace, gone to Salem, returned from Salem, and been back at CubeSpace for a few more hours before closing. Frankly, I’m thinking this isn’t my favorite way to spend a day.

All of the parts individually have been good, rewarding etc. It’s just that when I went to look at the paper in the breakroom, and found a section, I realized I’d already read it, and it must have been yesterday’s paper. Then I looked more closely, and realized it had today’s date on it. That was the point at which I realized that this morning felt like much too long ago.

Nonetheless, in another hour I get to go home and sleep the sleep of the righteous, or whatever. At least sleep hard. I’m sort of fighting off a bit of a cold, I believe.  Thus, perhaps I have less energy than I sometimes do.

My point, however, and I do have one (which is rare enough in and of itself), is that despite how I feel now physically, I feel good about what I’m doing occupationally. I have two work situations which I find rewarding, in which I do a relatively good job, and in which I am recognized for what I do (admittedly, at CubeSpace, the staff often recognize me for what I don’t do, like not getting in their way…but they are always very positive about it).

At CubeSpace, a part of my self-designated role is court jester. I’m the one who is easily and often made fun of (most often by myself, in fact). Congregationally, I’m the rabbi, if a somewhat casual version of the rabbinate, or at least a rabbi who doesn’t take myself particularly seriously (note: it’s really hard to take yourself seriously if you spend much time teaching kids; between kindergarteners who really aren’t sure what a rabbi is, and adolescents who will throw me a tissue box which may hit me in the nose instead of being caught, it’s just hard to take oneself seriously). In both places, however, I’m one of the people who sets the tone of the organization, so I guess it’s a good thing that I’m fond of both organizations, like both cultures.

So the take away message I’ve been dancing around: even when I’m tired, sick and spent 2.5 hours driving through dense fog today, I love my work.