Your Life as a Megaproject

I have been wrestling with a decision – should I stay at my current job or find a new one? I’ve had periods before where I was always looking for jobs. I like seeing what’s out there! I have struggled in interviews in the past, and one way to get ready for them is to stay ready for them. A significant career milestone was accepting an offer where I work now. I tried and tried and finally got an interview and accepted a role in 2016. I put down the incessant job hunt, and it was pretty nice not to be on the lookout. I could just focus on doing the job in front of me as well as I could.

That shift in focus was good for me. I’m in my mid-30s, and I don’t want to wander aimlessly through my career. I recognized that passion doesn’t always hit you over the head; sometimes, it comes after you get started. I also accepted that there are pros and cons everywhere. So I decided to focus on learning, professional development, and defining my values on life. 

I was less focused on climbing the ladder. In fact, I wanted to really hang out at some rungs and just see what happened. I didn’t lose motivation, but I decided to stop looking for novelty. Paradoxically, you can find novelty in the nuances of your job. It seems like everything is the same, but it’s not. The closer you look, the more interesting it can become. And I looked close!

But now I’m taking my nose off the grindstone and looking up. And I’m reviewing my experience and expertise and trying to determine what it means. What is my career arc? Some people will say that your work doesn’t need to make sense and that as long as you get paid, you should be happy. You can get all lovey-dovey on your hobbies. But I have a problem accepting that. We spend a lot of time at work, and I think it’s worth finding a job that you are good at but also enjoy doing.

I’m good at my job. I learn a lot. The people are friendly. My boss is great. But I don’t enjoy it. I don’t enjoy it because I have to divide my time between many tasks. Each task has its own career path, and most of them aren’t interesting to me. Maybe this is a season of my life when I just learn and do, and it’s a setup for some massive project in the future. Perhaps I should accept that my quest for job satisfaction is futile because I’ll never get everything I want. So what DO I want?

One friend told me to make sure that I’m running towards something and not away from something. Of course, it’s unclear where I’m “running” towards, but I know I don’t want to sit still. And maybe you don’t have to know exactly where you’re running but can have an idea. In the Nov-Dec 2021 issue of HBR, “Make Megaprojects More Modular,” writer Bent Flyvbjerg calls on research that shows humans can accurately forecast some events for about a year. Still, after that, our accuracy declines rapidly and practically evaporates after 5 years.

What does project management have to do with this? Well, life is a project. The Project Management Institute – of which I am a member and credential holder – sets the standard for Project Management and defines a project as a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result (PMBOK, 6th Ed.). One of the defining characteristics of projects is that they have a defined start and end date, like your life. Your life is a unique project, and while you aren’t responsible for what happens to you, you are responsible for the end result. So, your life is a project. Might be some flawed logic in there, but you get the drift.

I know that project management (PM) is messy. It is not linear, and it can be iterative or incremental. An iterative project provides value as soon as possible. It refines the product or service until it reaches the maximum value. An incremental project doesn’t offer value until it’s done. If our lives are projects, it seems like they should be iterative. Using an iterative approach to PM means that you don’t plan waaaaay out in the future; you figure out what you’re doing for – say, the next three weeks. You plan, do, and then review your progress against the plan. And then you do it again. And again, until the project is over.

I don’t have to plan my next career move. I just have to plan the next couple of weeks.

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