I had a meeting with my boss today about goals – initiated by me. The thing I like least about my job is setting those stupid bloody goals. I usually delay making goals until as late as possible. And then just toss something intelligent sounding but not really stretchy because I know something will show up sooner or later that I can use for the betterment of my team, department, and company.
I am paid to write The Things. When we have a particularly crunchy project, I like to take them because even if I don’t know how to complete the project, I know I will figure it out. I like the troubleshooting that comes up out of need – organically, rather than trying to find an issue so that we can justify a “solution” (read: goal) we want to implement. Our People and Culture (HR) peers post micro-learning video log posts that I listen to in good faith, attempting to use their tips to become more effective as an individual contributor. But I know the goal is to help identify spaces into which we can grow our career. I know how to do 5Why and I’m OK You’re OK quadrant exercises. I don’t see any giant gaps that I want to address. I don’t look at a colleague and say, “I need to do *that* better”.
But I’m also square in the middle of my career. 21 years in, 19 years to go. When I look online for mid-career skills, they’re always about transitioning to management. Yeah, no thanks. Not even a little bit. Half way through a career certainly shouldn’t mean half way through my skills development, though, so what’s a girl to do?
Turns out, the solution was to buy some pants.
I work in high tech, and my work space isn’t customer-facing, so there’s no need to do better than jeans and industry conference swag t-shirts. If you’re too dressed up, people wonder if you’re headed to an interview somewhere. Or a funeral, depending on your seasonal colour choices. Still, in my heart of hearts, I subscribe to the idea that you dress for the job you want, not the one you have. Thing is, though, I like the job I have, and I don’t want a different one. My grandmother also had been known to say “comb your hair and put on some lipstick” when you were having a pity party. I get the value of your appearance on peoples’ perception of you, for better or worse.
So, unrelated to my goal-setting meeting that I booked, I bought 3 pairs of pants last weekend. One pair – the pair I went to the store to get – were generic yoga pants. The other two are skinny kinda-yoga pants (but not tights) disguised as dress pants. They are, respectively camel/black hound’s-tooth, and camel/black/red tweed patterns. These pants, paired with boots and tunic-length sweaters, look more polished than tights, but really, they’re not much different. But I carry myself differently, with more confidence.
When I went into my meeting with bossman wearing my new pants, and said “I truly hate this part, and I don’t see any giant gaps, but I still want to be able to grow in my career. Surely there is something I can wrestle to the ground, right?” And bossman had some really great ideas. Things that aren’t just make-work bullshit things so that I can say that I did the exercise and made up some goals. Real growth, real benefit, really real career development, without having to deke around “skills for people who want to be people leaders”. And, AND, it’s a project that requires not just my skills (and the skills I’ll be learning), but my personality to be successful. I can’t remember the last time I was excited for year planning.
I’m not saying that this opportunity happened because that day’s wardrobe included a great outfit with new pants, but I’m also a believer in sports superstitions. If my kid thought that peanut butter cups before a game made him a better player, there was a supply of Reese’s for his pre-game repast. If your game success depends on how you tape your stick, then best re-tape your stick every game. If your favourite team’s success depends on you wearing their jersey and where you sit on the couch, suit up, bitches.
In The Order of the Phoenix, Harry Potter won a draught of Felix Felicis/Liquid Luck potion, and convinced Ron that he’d spiked Ron’s pre-game OJ. That was the game that resulted in the Gryffindor version of Weasley is our King. Ron had the ability in him, but he needed the idea of the Felix Felicis booster to give him the confidence.
Ron’s not-dosed juice had the same net effect on his quidditch game as my pants had to my goal planning meeting, but it seems to me, we both needed something tangible to hang on to.
So who knew? The solution to effective goal-setting is pants. Your mileage may vary.