Skip to main content

“Know Thyself”, in good times. (Part 2)

Welcome back to my continued discussion with my friend Tracy!

In part 1 of this article “Know Thyself”, in good times. (Part 1), I had lunch with my friend Tracy, who was giving us a lot of examples about how one aspect of emotional intelligence is shown in difficult moments.  She demonstrated the ability to understand her own feelings, act differently than she felt, and avoid “acting out” in ways that wouldn’t help her in the big picture.

Now, here in Part 2, I’m happy to tell you what happened after that.  As last time, note my comments about how she demonstrated emotional intelligence are in italics.  


I had the guardedly happy experience of seeing Tracy again about a month later.  Same place.  

This time, she was there first – and she had the sunniest, happiest expression on her face!

I passed our server on the way in: “Hi Ryland!  Tracy already ordered.  You want your usual?”

“Yep! Thank you, I’ve been looking forward to it all week!”  (They make the best BBQ  burger there.  Yum.)

I sat down, gestured to Tracy’s expression, and said “You seem happy!  Do I need to check for a missing persons report about James?”

“No, you big jerk!”  We laughed.

“No,” she continued, “I actually couldn’t care less about what James does.  He’s just doing his job, and it is what leadership wants.  It really isn’t personal or about me.  I figured something out, and really, I just don’t care about that any more.  Well, not the same way as I did, anyway.”  She had a wistful, vaguely awkward tone in her voice.

>>Tracy is acknowledging a change in her feeling regarding James, and the situation which involved him.  She acknowledges that the feelings are inside her, and that James is not the “creator of her feelings”.  She is not fixated on how things were, or her perceptions and feelings in the past.  She is instead focused on how they are now, in the present.  

Now, she had my full attention.  I was looking really closely at her.  Matching her sudden calmness, I quietly asked her, “What happened?” and set down to wait until she was ready.  I knew she’d need a moment or two.

“It took me another two weeks from when we talked last time,” she said, waving a hand gently at the restaurant.  “I finally got out of my funk from my feelings of anger and loss, and I was still just turning the crank of my job. You know, getting things done, but I really didn’t care about my job, it was just a job now, not something I was passionate about any more.”  

We nodded together in mutual understanding.  I’ve been there once or twice as well.  Sometimes you just have to wait for things to change again.

“Well,” she continued, “a while after that I noticed I had somehow gotten lively about my work again.  I was engaged, doing a lot of problem solving, calling my colleagues, ticking off tasks…you know, like you said when we worked together: kickin’ butt, takin’ names, getting’ stuff done, dammit! ”  

>>Tracy had observed how her feelings had changed for the better.  She was glad to see it, and found it surprising, as she did not immediately understand why she felt differently.  

I laughed, she smiled.  Tracy in “project mode” can be a well-intentioned force of nature.  It used to be more of a blunt instrument…she has learned with time and practice when to use this strength as a chainsaw, and when to use it more as a scalpel.

“I get it.  It sounds like a big change.  I’m happy for you!  So, enough with the buildup! What happened, already?”

“Okay, okay.  Also, here’s your burger,” alerting me to a plate arriving over my shoulder, just as hers landed as well.

Good, I was getting hungry.  A hungry Ryland is not a patient Ryland, either.

She continued, “I realized that I had mis-identified my passion about the COE, and some of the other stuff.  Yes, I’m angry, and I had a lot of feelings of loss, and like I said about being hurt, and I’d built all that and I definitely didn’t like having to stop that.  Not fun at all.“Ryland, I have to say this carefully.  It’s hard to explain.”

She paused to think, and chewed a few bites of her salad.  I knew enough to stay quiet.


She continued: “I’ve discovered that I started loving my work again…because I am performing an act of service in the course of my work.”

>>By applying continued attention Tracy was able to identify the reason for her restored happy feelings about work.  She is able to identify that the COE was a means to an end, and not an end in itself.  It was the vehicle through which she worked on her passion, and there are other ways in which to do that.

I remained quiet.  She took another bite, chewed, and continued.

“This team needs me.  They’re tremendous technical professionals in their fields.  Rockstar performers, workhorses, all of them.  Developers, QA, BA, architects, net-ops, just great, every one of them.

“They are, however, drowning in additional, unplanned, not always-needed extra work and nobody is helping them keep focus and be successful at the actual work that the project needs accomplished.  That’s where I come in, and what I’ve been doing.”

I asked her, “Tracy, am I missing something?  Isn’t that just what a PM does?  Isn’t that just the crank-turning you were talking about last time?”

“Yes and no.  Yes, it’s a core skill of mine, right?”  I nodded yes, of course it is, she’s great at keeping teams focused and on track.  Old hat for her, no big deal, does it all the time, barely an inconvenience.

“Sure, it’s a simple thing for me, right?  I actually just got drawn into it because it’s like breathing,” she shrugged, “it was obvious, so I did it.  Without thinking, really.  No big deal, it’s just PM stuff, it’s what we PM’s do.”   

Another moment for salad and chewing, then she continued, still looking at the greens on her plate.

“They acted like it was manna from heaven. Nobody had been running interference for them before.  Nobody on the team knew how to do it.”

She looked back up and across to me, putting her fork down and raising her gently closed hand.

“I’m finding I’m happy because,” one finger went up, “I am making a contribution that I know is valuable to the team”.

Next finger, “I am getting to build the skills of others, which you know is something I like and find very rewarding.” 

“Lastly,” her third finger went up, “…and I think this is the most important thing…I genuinely feel that I am performing an act of genuine service to the people on the team.”

>>Tracy always knew that helping people is important to her, but through this experience has learned new depth about her own motivations. Helping, teaching, coaching…these are all aspects of a bigger and more powerful thing for her: performing a valuable and meaningful act of service to others.

As I had a mouthful of BBQ, I invited her to continue with a raised eyebrow.

“Sure the work is getting done…but the team is happier, the work is smoother, and we are really making progress on the work.  And, I’m making sure that I’m not just doing this stuff, I’m showing them how to do it!  I’m helping them grow as professionals, on a frequent basis.  I’m challenging them to improve and grow.

“It’s the kind of thing I did with the COE…but I didn’t realize that the COE was a vehicle for the thing I really love, which is performing what I see as acts of service to assist people with professional growth.”  She stopped, sheepishly smiling.  “I’m glad about it, and it has let me let go of the COE stuff completely.  That’s not my problem.  Oh, I don’t want to see my work wasted there – that was a lot of work!  But, you know, leadership does what it does…  Right now, I have something really important that I didn’t know was so critical to my ability to function: I know what act of service I am performing, who I’m helping, right now, and I can be OK with that.  It’s why I’m loving my work again!”

“Tracy, I am so happy for you!  Not only about work – I’m glad you don’t hate it and aren’t feeling bored any more – but discovering something new about what is important to you!  That’s such a big deal!”

“Yes.  After I’ve got stuff ironed out with the team and working really well, I’m going to start thinking about what this means for future positions.”

>>Tracy is taking this new insight and new understanding about what makes her happy and revisiting her career goals and options.  How might this insight about the importance of “acts of service” change the jobs she applies for, roles she wants to have, or how she approaches her work?

What did we learn from Tracy about using emotional intelligence for happiness?

After a period of adjustment, Tracy had found herself surprised at becoming so reengaged at work.  She spent some time figuring that out.  It led her to a new level of understanding about her own motivations and interests, and opened other doors for her about professional happiness and interests.  

Now that she has identified “service” as something personally meaningful to her, how might this change her views of different positions?  Here are some potentials in that area:

  • It is possible she might look for jobs where she understands the difference she makes to people.  
  • She might turn down positions that have no significant “service” aspect to them, as she herself defines “service”.
  • She may look for positions that emphasize the service aspect of leadership or mentoring.  
  • She might ask potential employers about their views of growth and development of teams and abilities.  This could let her assess the alignment of her values with values of a prospective employer.
  • She may cast a broader net – far outside I.T. and project management! – where she can have new and interesting experiences with regards to serving others.  Nonprofit and government sectors might be more interesting to her now.

Applying this aspect to your own life

As in part 1 of this article, permit me to ask you to consider these questions for yourself, and suggest that you discuss your answers with a trusted mentor or friend.

  • What motivates you?  What is the highest, best, and most valuable thing you can do when you act from that motivation?
  • When do you feel most strong, happy, and engaged in your professional life? 
  • What possible “bigger motivations” or “evolution” of your earlier answers might be possible for you?   
  • What experiences could foster growth and development for you around your most important interests?
  • How could you gain more knowledge about what you find engaging and important to you?