Below is a photo of one of my favorite places — the neighborhood walking path/bike trail I use for morning exercise and evening strolls. Stately palm, decorative pear, and fragrant eucalyptus trees border the path, along with several types of flowering shrubs and drought-tolerant ground cover.
Not long ago this beautiful urban retreat was an ugly, abandoned railroad right-of-way. A narrow, dusty strip of coastal desert, it collected broken-down couches & mattresses, wind-blown plastic bags and other trash. Its transformation into a several-miles-long strip of park is something we’re all grateful for. Not only has it improved the visual landscape of our neighborhood, it’s also encouraged lots of people to walk, bike, jog, or simply get out of the house for an hour or two every day and enjoy the balmy California weather.
Now, I’ve become a bit protective of this area. And while it’s not exactly an untouched wilderness, it still manages to provide enough of Nature’s Green to rejuvenate us city folks. So when I come across candy wrappers or potato chip bags thoughtlessly abandoned, I pick them up and take them to a trash can. This only adds a few seconds to my walk, yet it returns the path to an uncluttered state that helps conceal the fact that hundreds of people use it daily.
But What About the Dog Pooh?
The other morning, just as I was beginning my power walk, I came across a nasty trail of dog pooh. It looked like five or six big dogs and their owners had decided that the walkway was a perfect place to rid themselves of their solid waste. So there it was. A long line of this unsightly stuff lay scattered along 10 or 12 feet of bright green, freshly-mowed grass. Not having a plastic bag or other hand-protecting collection tool, I couldn’t do anything about this smelly mess. And even if I had the tools, I was due back at my desk for an online meeting soon, so I really had to keep moving. I pushed on, swinging my weights and striding faster to reach my cardio-aerobic zone.
“Why, I Oughta…”
Unfortunately, as I continued to walk that dog pooh walked with me. Angry questions started bubbling up. Who did these dog owners think they were? Did they expect everyone to endure their dogs’ waste? How irresponsible can you be? Are the rest of us just supposed to ignore this? What if I confronted one of them or caught one in the act of “pooh and run?” … Maybe I could flag down a police cruiser and tell them what was up!
As I walked, I twice passed someone with a dog and each time found myself staring hard at them, looking for their plastic pick-up bag. “C’mon, you…” I said to myself, my heart pumping with cardio energy and (just a touch, maybe) anger, “… just try to walk away from you dog’s mess and you’ll have to deal with me!” I told myself I had to take a stand! On behalf of everyone else who’ll be walking here I need to put a stop to this!
Suddenly — out of nowhere it seemed — it appeared. I was at my turn-around point. I thought, “Wow… that was fast! What happened to the first half of my walk?” I did an “about face” and began striding toward home.
I soon came upon that old guy with a white beard who always says “Hi.” I dimly remembered walking past him a few minutes ago, but had to admit I didn’t acknowledge him. This time I nodded and smiled and he beamed back that toothy bright smile of his. Up ahead, a squirrel was being chased around a palm trunk by a crow. Both creatures yelled at each other in their own critter-specific voices. Passing a pear tree, I marveled at the pink blossoms and how they seemed to be designer-picked to color coordinate with the dark maroon leaves that framed them.
The morning sun spotlighted a couple of these flowers and they appeared to glow. It occurred to me that there was a lot of great stuff to see out here this morning — and friendly people to greet along the way. A wave of gratitude swept over me and I was truly glad to be here. So why hadn’t I seen all this on the first half of my walk?
By Pooh Obsessed
The answer, of course, was the dog pooh! I had allowed that stuff to pollute my entire outbound walk. It had effectively blinded me from seeing all the rest of the goodness that was around me. And the sad truth is, the offending droppings were restricted to a 10 – 12 foot long strip of grass. 10 to 12 feet! Now, at my height (6′ 3″ tall) I have a stride of about 3 feet. So in three or four strides, I was past this nasty mess. The rest of my walk involved a mile or two of unspoiled pathway with interesting sights and people to engage. But my ranting brain managed to screen it all out, obsessed by a tiny pile of nasty stuff and a fantasy-war against the phantom dog-owners who might be the source of more nasty.
Well, There’s a Half Hour I’ll Never Get Back!
The lesson here: It’s my choice… my consciousness… my awareness. And I can point this awareness at dog pooh or I can point it at palm trees & pear blossoms & squirrels & flowers & smiling old guys. It’s up to me. Ultimately, I have to decide where I want to live. Do I want to inhabit an angry war zone (“Damn those thoughtless dog owners!”) or a crisp, sunny morning with life and energy all around me?
Finding & Solving Problems: A Way of Life?
So how’s all this relate to project teams and project managers? Here’s the deal: Good project managers inevitably develop a kind of finely-tuned radar that continually seeks out problems to be engaged and eliminated. And if you’re not careful, this radar will keep whirling and beeping and eventually blind you to the quiet successes… the small victories… the beautiful creations that your team achieves. Instead of seeing anything worth celebrating, you can only see defects, large and small.
So ask yourself: Am I sometimes stepping back from all the problems on my project and allowing myself to see the good stuff that’s happening? And when I see the good stuff, do I shine a light on it so the rest of the team can enjoy it or be proud of it?
After all, this is your life that’s going by. And the quality of this life derives from your consciousness… what you are aware of… where you “live” inside that big ol’ problem-solving brain of yours. So take the time to step back, take a break from finding and dealing with all that pooh and see and celebrate the good stuff.