PM Update

So. As of today, I’ve been a project manager for one month. Just wow. I still can’t quite get my head around it. Here’s what I’ve learned:

I can work anywhere. I have a beautiful cubicle in Bldg. C, with a view of a small pond. But I’m rarely there. Who needs a cubicle?

Meetings. The backbone of PM work, it seems.

Getting the work done matters; counting hours doesn’t.

There are no shortcuts. Sigh.

Every project has unseen layers or wrinkles. Stay alert to changes.

You might have to report out to the department director or the Board of County Commissioners. Eek!

It’s okay to not know everything. Ask questions. Learn.

PM work is 90% people, aka relationships, and 10% technical.

I don’t take notes for meetings. This, folks, has me completely flummoxed. This was like 99% of my old position for all kinds of meetings. My boss, the second nicest man in the world, does it for me. What in the world?! I almost cried when he offered to do it. Such a servant heart.

“You can’t concentrate and ask questions if you’re trying to write down what people are saying,” he said.

He’s right. Though I still jot stuff down, because I’m me.

The work ebbs and flows. It’s okay to do other stuff while you wait for it to work its way back toward you. Other staff need to do their part. Patience, grasshopper. I think maybe that’s part of what I was learning at my last job when I had no work to do for months on end. What do you do with eternity?!

Meanwhile, less than 3 weeks of school remains. June 19 is the last day. Yippee! I’ve got a draft of the huge page for the public policy theory class, posted for peer review and feedback. Once I get that, I can post the final paper in the week 10 space. But that review post is for week 9, and the classes are in week 8. It’s a waiting game for people to post so I can respond. Which means more patience. And I have one more assignment to do for the PM class. I have 2 discussion posts to create and put up for week 10, plus responses for others’ posts. Then I’m freeeee! I’m thisclose to being completely done with the master’s degree. Can’t hardly wait.

The days are starting to trend nicer, maybe not completely sunny each day, but at least partly. Also, dry. This means more running and more walking. It means more daylight and lots of flowers, hillsides spangled with daisies and California poppies. It means slowing down to breathe and watch the clouds crawl, scuttle or soar, depending on their mood.

It’s almost the end of a very long day. The shadows lengthen and the birds are singing evening songs. The sun is starting to set on this schooling season. I wonder what will come next?

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:6-7

Day 1,094

Sunrise over sea

This photo is where I’d *like* to be…but Covid. Sigh.

Today, I got paid for the first time as a project manager.

Three years ago tomorrow, my then-supervisor put me on administrative leave, pending a pre-disciplinary hearing. The timing is not lost on me. He said my job performance was bad. He put me on leave midmorning, and that night I came back and cleaned out my cubicle. I knew I couldn’t stay, as whatever “improvement plan” he would devise would be torture. So I quit at the hearing. I wrote a letter of resignation, and turned it in with the building key. With the union president (!), we negotiated 3 months’ severance. It held us over until I got another job two months later. 

Now, the backstory. He and I disagreed about how much one person could actually do, with him trying to add permit tracking to the already full load of crafting ordinances, briefings, resolutions, meeting scheduling, handling projects and purchasing, contracts and records management for the department. He laid off my immediate supervisor and kept me, something I advised against, as she had years of contract experience and had been the admin side of the house (ordinances, etc.). That’s where it all turned: when I said no.

I met with him 3 times to show him how much time I actually spent on work. He finally backed down, but that’s when he stopped showing up for our one-on-one meetings where I really needed answers. He started walking out of  those meetings to meet with other, more important people. He verbally abused me, both publicly and privately. He was, and is, a narcissist. Granted, he was nervous in his new directorship position. But any mistake I made reflected poorly on him, he felt, and he accused me of trying to undermine him. He gaslighted me (gaslit?). He belittled me and ridiculed me to co-workers. He asked me to take on other one-off tasks I’d never done before, assigned them to others as well, and then lambasted my effort. Keep in mind I picked up some all new duties and nobody trained me. The process kept shifting, unbeknownst to me, and so I failed regularly. It was the most humiliating time ever, professionally.

I am far enough beyond this season to be able to talk and write about it rationally. I felt gutted for a long time. Narcissists can do that to you, I learned. They poke at your strengths. They second-guess you, inciting you to do the same. The start off treating you like the best thing since sliced bread, then all of a sudden, you’re human asbestos. Bad. Toxic. Trash. You try to figure out what went wrong. If you’re an empathetic sort, like me, you try to fix it. You apologize, you joke, you offer affirmation and kindness.  Instead, you get more and more discouraged, spiraling down into anxiety, depression and feeling worthless.

But God. I’m a project manager now. In a couple of weeks, I’ll complete a master’s in public administration. I work for a different agency now, and my boss is amazing – kind, patient and a believer. I want to encourage you today. Maybe you’re in a similar season. Or maybe the season is just mundane, a “life is so daily” kind of thing. Hold on. The dreams you have matter. Pray. Seek God’s face for wisdom and grace. Serve. Love. It isn’t over yet. God is faithful and He’s with you till the end. He plays for keeps. Don’t give up. When the time is right, you will soar.

Those who live in the shelter of the Most High
    will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
This I declare about the Lord:
He alone is my refuge, my place of safety;
    he is my God, and I trust him. – Psalm 91:1-2

The Mug

Mom mug

Mom’s best friend sent me a package.

“Hello, Susan,” she wrote. “Enclosed is a mug your mother received when she directed the Navy WAVES chorus. She flew to Hawaii aboard Air Force One and received this mug. I thought you should have it.” She couldn’t remember what president Mom travelled with.  President Kennedy died in November 1963. Could have been President Johnson, as Mom entered the Navy in August 1962 and exited in July 1965. Mom gave her the mug before she moved to “Sheldon”. Still not sure where that is, but must be close by.

The mug is about 10% smaller than regular-sized mugs of 2020. Perhaps people in the 60s needed less coffee than we do now. The other side of the mug has a gold outline of an anchor, the Navy symbol. It’s not fancy, but Mom did love blue.

I miss her today. I would have told her the new job is going well, though I’m floundering a bit to figure out all the processes and players. I do understand a lot of the basic project management flow. I’ve spent a lot of time on the Public Works shared drive. I’ve looked at contracts and capital facilities plans and potential projects. Solid waste has about 30 projects to do. Gulp. I’ve teleworked quite a bit, as my boss isn’t in the office anyway. Not sure I’m very good at it, especially when the sun is shining. It’s a skill I need to work on. But definitely easier when the weather is cold and dark. So, next week looks good.

I would have told Mom that it’s lonely at Public Works. I don’t know anyone yet, not really. I have a great temporary desk right now. It overlooks the small pond on site and the parking lot. I keep dropping the mouse on the floor because it sits on a ridiculous saucer-shaped extrusion that tilts whenever I put pressure on it. I did *not* find good quality dark chocolate in my desk, unlike at the ECC. Somebody should be put on notice.

The last quarter of grad school ends June 19. Dr. C is pretty great in the Integrative Policy Theory class. I’m loving considering a public policy problem and coming up with a solution. It’s a different way to think other than regurgitating the textbook. However, the PM class about risk management is on my last nerve and it’s week 5. Seriously. It’s a whole other vocabulary. The Crawford slip (not pink). Bubble diagram. PERT tree diagram. Monte Carlo simulation (gambling optional). I feel like I’m back in music theory again, talking about retrograde inversion or leitmotivs. Supertriplets, anyone? Shifting time signatures?

Here’s a bubble diagram. Pretty, right?

bubble diagram

(source)

I have no idea what kind of risk is being tracked here, but I’ll take the pearls.

Happy Mother’s Day in heaven, Mom. Love you. Can’t wait to see you again.

But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed!  It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. – I Corinthians 15:51-52

 

Last Days

end of work

(source)

This actually happened about 30 minutes ago. Sigh. 

It’s not the end of the world, just the end of my season with ECC.  As of 5 p.m., I’m done with FEMA contracts and correspondence and keeping hard copies and electronic copies for files in the hopes of federal reimbursement.

But this group is awesome. Earlier today, we were joking about social distancing, which is easy to do in this huge airplane-hanger sized space, except around doorways.

“So no square dancing?” I asked. I had 3 years of it in PE classes, back in the day. I could muster up an allemande left in a pinch.

He laughed.

“No,” he said.

He paused.

“Can’t you stay longer?” he asked. “You fit right in here. We’re going to miss you.”

“I’m going to miss your voice around here,” a gal said. “You have such a soothing voice. You could work with children.”

I’ll pass, but very kind to say. Working with children can be rewarding but doesn’t happen to be a personal strength. I struggled to work with my own. However, I guess I could always find side work as a hypnotist.

It was so nice to hear these things. I didn’t expect to be accepted by the cool kids. I mean, I’ve been here a month now on a temporary re-assignment. And I’m gone tomorrow. The ECC folks are rather splendid.

Today also marks my last day working as an admin. Tomorrow I’ll be at my old space in Central Services, cleaning up project files, packing up my cubicle, saying goodbye to anyone who happens to be within earshot. Technically still admin, but not doing any real work, I suspect.

It’s bittersweet. After tomorrow, I will not be farmed out to take meeting minutes for random meetings or projects. In fact, I’ll take notes at my own meetings as project manager. I’ll be captain and skipper of solid waste projects; no support staff assigned. I won’t be reassigned anywhere, either. Solid waste will be my work focus for up to the next 5 years. No more “have laptop, will travel”. No trips to the jail, or courthouse campus, or even the ECC. Just hanging at Public Works and the associated solid waste sites scattered throughout the county when site visits are needed.

Friday, I start at Public Works. My badge will be changed over to the Tilley campus as of 5:15 on Thursday. I will be shut out of the courthouse campus at the same time. My hours will shift along with location. It’s all new and I’m not sure what to expect.

First off, I do know Jesus will be with me. I do know I have trained for this through the master’s program and years of project work. I do know there’s a steep learning curve and the best thing to do is grab it and hold on tight. Hope I have crampons along with the work cell phone. I’ll have a great mentor and he will allow me to learn as I go. Whew! So much to be grateful for.

So long for now, admin life. I don’t plan on going back, but if I need to, you’re a familiar friend.

 

Blooming Season

camellia blooming 2020

It finally bloomed!

I strolled through the neighborhood, social distancing, of course. The swallows and chickadees flitted from tree to tree. Apple and dogwood trees in full bloom resembled cotton candy. Tulips sprung up from the ground in yellow, red, purple and pink like living lollipops. And I pondered all the good things of late:

  • Still working at the ECC doing FEMA contract stuff every day. One day last week, I put together 12 (twelve) contract folders. Yeah. Feast or famine, baby.
  • Every day the ECC buys lunch as everyone assigned there is on emergency status. I love not thinking about lunch every day. It should be noted that 7 people work in that ginormous building year-round. Right now, it’s up to maybe 20. All those other people are from other agencies or other departments within the County.  And they rotate. Last week started the 3rd shift for most groups.
  • ECC staff and others have meetings ALL DAY. We have an 8:00 briefing every weekday. There’s another at 11:30 and another at 12:30. Not everyone is in every meeting, of course. But everyone attends the 12:00 meeting on Fridays, when County brass comes by to hear the report-outs and encourage the group. Dr. Yu, interim Thurston County Public Health Officer, gives updates. Last week, she said antibody testing is worthless for the County. Our ratio of Covid cases is 1/3000, which incidentally, is about the same as Mason County. Not enough herd immunity for antibody tests to matter; also, no one knows if you can get it again. She thinks we’re about halfway through the need for social distancing and all the other protocols. Sigh. I love having the latest information, though.
  • This group, these ECC-ers, are amazing. They work 12-hour days without complaint. They even meet on Saturdays. They stay on top of all the latest state and federal regulations with laughter and lots of coffee. I am impressed.

But other good things are happening as well. On April 13, I started my 6th and final quarter with Capella. Two classes again, one PM class on risk management and the other is Integrative Policy Theory, which is essentially a master’s thesis class. I need to examine an existing policy within local government and propose alterations, a cost benefit analysis, and generally solve a problem trained, experienced administrators have not been able to solve. Gulp. Prayers appreciated.

I’ve saved the very best for last. I’ve been offered a temporary full-time position as a capital project manager with the solid waste department for Thurston County Public Works. It’s backfilling the position the jail expansion PM used to have, moving him to Central Services. Both of our positions are temporary and run concurrently for 5 years. Of course, if  that PM wants to come back to it, that bumps me back to the project support position I had in Central Services. But that is a very slim possibility.  In the meantime it’s a 55% raise. Hallelujah! I never thought I’d get a PM position until after I graduated, and  because I don’t have actual experience managing a capital project (yet!), it would take mentoring and time to get one. Even better news: I’ll have a mentor, and a great one. God is so good!

All of this makes me so grateful, and the time of year doesn’t hurt. Spring seems especially lovely this year as the sunny weather wins out more and more. Today marks 15 weeks since Mom died. I miss her every day. It has been so hard to wait for life seasons and natural seasons to change; it can feel like God is running late, yet He is faithful. What good things are going on in your life these days? I’d love to hear them.

See the source image

ECC Good Friday

good-friday-clipart-free-17

I’ve been working at the ECC (Emergency Coordination Center) for a week now. Here’s what I know.

Upon entering the building, you are greeted by a female guard in a mask. You sign in, with your department, purpose, date and time. I write something different every time, because I know I’m doing contracts, but department throws me. The department who pays me? Department I’m going to?

The guard stands up. Then the questions start.

“Do you have a fever or chills or body aches?”

No.

“Any uncontrollable nasal secretions not due to seasonal allergies?”

Um, no.

“Do you have a cough?”

Nope.

“Do you have diarrhea in conjunction with an acute illness?”

Wow. No, but thanks for asking. How about we include yeast infections and STDs while we’re at it?

Lastly, she takes my temperature, which is always 97.3 degrees. At least I’m consistent.

The ECC is next door to the Public Works campus, originally built on farmland. Between the two buildings is an overflow pond.  It’s rather full right now and surrounded by grassy banks, assorted trees and a multitude of birds. Starlings. Quail. Ducks. A pair of geese. Red-winged blackbirds, their haunting song echoing over the pond, join with robins and sparrows, too. I discovered more animals today. Rabbits chase each other among the blackberry brambles. A walking trail winds around the ECC and the pond, ending on the other side of Public Works. I’ve seen a calico cat while walking it, and a garter snake. Not at the same time.

PW pond

When I got this assignment, I was told it was for emergency contracts, which immediately filled me with a certain amount of trepidation. Those contracts consist of 24/7 protection at Providence, a PPE decontamination contract in order to reuse PPE, hotel isolation/quarantine sites, and wraparound services for those sites. So far, I’ve done an amendment to the first one. Still working on all the rest, scoring input from Risk and legal. State and FEMA updates change regularly, making it all very tricky. Emergency and government do not go together in any sort of handy pairing, I reckon.

All that said, it’s a good team here. They are peaceful but focused, knowing the risks and rising to meet them. Leadership often puts in 12-hour days. The entire crew meets every morning at 8:00 a.m. to brief on the current status of Covid-19 within the County. I’ve learned that counties act like big brothers to all the other cities, towns, tribes and special districts. They provide points of distribution for those smaller organizations, as well as guidance and taking point on governor’s directives. I’ve learned that several agencies are using 3-D printers to make up the lack of available PPE. Washington state’s Covid-19 known cases total over 9,000 with 446 deaths, a mortality rate of nearly 5%.  I’ve also learned that social distancing is working, though the state’s infection’s peak is projected to be April 24. Despite this, people are recovering, thank God.

So many things to be grateful for today. I find myself feeling grateful to be here, to be helping in a tangible way. It’s such a beautiful location, too, as the sun has reappeared.  It’s payday today, and a Friday. Woot!

Easter season is upon us as well, though it doesn’t feel like it; most normalcy has been stripped away. Today is Good Friday, when Jesus went to the cross and was crucified to pay for our sins. He suffered in our place (Isaiah 53). I’m grateful for His death and resurrection, which allowed us access to relationship with the Father and eternal life. We won’t be celebrating Easter at church or with extended family, but His sacrifice remains and we will keep the feast, making “good” on his resurrection. Happy Easter, everyone!

So they took Jesus away.  Carrying the cross by himself, he went to the place called Place of the Skull (in Hebrew, Golgotha).  There they nailed him to the cross. – John 19:16-18

 

 

In a Pinch

I hit bottom yesterday. It could have been because after performing in-person work 2 days a week and 3 days of teleworking the past couple of weeks, the schedule changed. My boss called at 4:55 p. m. on Friday to let me know that starting Monday I’d be reporting to the ECC (Emergency Coordination Center) to do some contracts and purchasing work. And that’s all we know about the work at this point. Nothing about the duration or the work itself.

“They’ve been working non-stop since all this started,” my boss informed me. “They need a break.”

Enter the pinch hitter.

I’m learning – again – to be flexible.

I think the magnitude of this pandemic really got to me yesterday; the queen of delayed reactions strikes again. The governor of Washington extended shelter at home until May 4th.  All the Star Wars fans rejoiced.

yoda

Another gal who’s been teleworking will come in to take over invoice processing, a duty I had picked up in this short-staffed season.

I took a walk today. I listened to the red-breasted nuthatches. I watched the robins flit around. I cut over to the library. A homeless person completely covered by a brorwn blanket huddled against the building, asleep. I admired the magnolia trees in full bloom, as well as the beginnings of apple trees. Daffodils showed off their bright finery in the early morning. The town slept on.

I walked down by the bank. A black cat, startled at my approach, ran into the parking lot. His yellow gaze followed me, white patch on his chest visible as he sat, tail twitching in curiosity.  All around us, spring has sprung. The sun peeked above the horizon. The moody sky sparked pink, then gold against the gray clouds.

It’s been hard to find peace lately. Staying positive is a struggle. As a believer, I know God has all of this in His hands. It’s no surprise to Him. But the weight of it all is crushing, the constant terrible news of death and destruction and predictions and possibilities. I find a little distance from media helps. I take long walks as the weather starts to improve. That helps. Coffee helps. Prayer helps. Talks with friends about anything else helps. Remembering to be grateful helps. Focusing on helping others, in any way I can, helps. Letting myself feel discouraged for a time helps. I’m learning to let the feelings come and then surrender them instead of engaging in the usual self-condemnation. Also, remembering Mom died 12 weeks ago today means the grief over current circumstances is most likely interwoven with her passing. I’m learning to give and receive grace.

I can’t fix this. The virus will run its course, no doubt changing many things in its wake. I can trust and listen and move forward.

Why am I discouraged?
    Why is my heart so sad?
I will put my hope in God!
    I will praise him again—
    my Savior and my God! – Psalm 43:5