Friday, March 19, 2010

Scarier than Server Migrations

Tomorrow I have to go to Waltham and interview people for the major project that my Organizational Design group is doing. And I am terrified. I knew that getting a degree in managing people was going to involve dealing with actual people (something I'm not very good at) but I had no idea how quickly it was going to push me out of my comfort zone.

The giant project that all of the teams for this class have to do is to find a local organization that has made some change, go interview people about the change and write a 30 page paper about what you observed. We have all term to complete the project and it represents a decent chunk of our grade. So far, we've written up a project plan (that part was actually a lot of fun) started doing some research, gotten into an argument, written up interview questions for all the interested parties and categorized and prioritized these questions. Tomorrow we get to go out to Waltham and ask them and as I said, this prospect terrifies me.

In some ways, the way I feel now is a bit like the way I felt right before the Server Migration Project a few months ago. But I am much more plain old anxious now than I was then, because while at the time I was concerned that we succeed in moving everything over to the knew environment, I was working with two guys I had known for years and we'd already played a round or two of "what could possibly go wrong" with the project (we'd done a dress rehearsal in a test environment-turns out that didn't make everything work smoothly, but we did the best we could.) Now, I'm working with two relative strangers who I'm afraid of letting down doing something for which I have no background. Reinstalling all of our applications in a new environment is daunting, but not unfamiliar. Interviewing strangers about their place of business is so far out of my comfort zone that I can't even see it with binoculars.

I'm an anxious kind of person and this is a big deal, so I can understand a few "pre-game" jitters, but I've already had an anxiety attack or two about this. A good friend of mine has encouraged me to embrace my anxious and obsessive side. "It probably makes you better at your job" he said. While that's true, that doesn't help when I'm standing at Park Street waiting for the green line and telling myself not to panic.

One of my team-mates had suggested that someone take all of our interview questions and put them in separate packets so that we could give different interviewees copies of their questions without letting them see what we were asking other people and so that we could have sheets with questions printed on them and room for notes. I volunteered to do this. Since I was feeling kind of anxious, I thought it might make me feel better. I also thought it would make me feel better to have a binder in which to put the packets of questions with dividers to separate out different packages.

Perhaps it's the time I spent as an administrative assistant, or perhaps it's the work I've done on our document management system, but I was sure that putting together several separately stapled groups of printed questions would calm me down and that having them to work from would be helpful and calming on the day of the interviews. So I went to Staples to buy myself a three ring binder (I could have stolen one from work, but the only ones we had were maroon or gigantic and I wanted a slim, black binder with no reference to FPA or NAPFA or Fidelity printed on it) and some nice dividers.

I took the T to Park Street to visit the Staples there, only to discover it wasn't a Staples anymore-it was a CVS and they didn't have a nice black binder. But it was a nice day, so I walked to the Staples at Government Center and bought my binder there. somehow, when I got back on the T at Park Street I started losing it. My team mates were going to think I was a freak for bringing so much printed material, I thought. How were my paper-goods going to help me when I sat down to interview a tough subject and he or she just shrugged at me and sucked his or her teeth? I would still shrivel up into a pile of fail and I would get no good data from my interviews. I don't even remember what else I thought, but pretty soon I was standing there on the Green Line platform clutching my bag of office supplies and trying not to look like I was having a heart attack.

That was anxiety attack number one. The problem with this sort of thing is that it feeds on itself. "Look at you!" I found myself thinking on the way to the commuter rail the next morning "You're not ready for business school-what you really need is treatment for anxiety-you should be in therapy, not grad school. Maybe you're not cut out to get an MBA-maybe you should just keep hiding in your server room" and many other self-affirming and helpful thoughts.

Today I printed out my interview question packets, I checked the commuter rail time table-for both heading out to Waltham and heading back to North Station (I'm awfully glad I did-we're due to interview people until 6:30 and after the 6:40 PM commuter rail the next train back to Boston doesn't leave until after the last train to Beverly leaves North Station-maybe that obsessiveness comes in handy after all) I bought a new shirt and new shoes (which I'm not sure I'll wear) and I've packed my bag for tomorrow with all of my interview packets, two packs of gum, 2 Odwalla bars and Advil. Hopefully that will be enough.

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