Type-B on Sunday, and Type-A on Monday?
January 9, 2011 6:55 PM   Subscribe

My job is turning me into a control freak outside of work.

Assume that my job consists of being, on a daily basis, Warren Buffet's analyst, Bill Gates' go-to IT person, and Oprah Winfrey's personal assistant. That's a bit of an exaggeration, but not by very much, as it's very close in terms of the responsibilities I have and the caliber of the people I report to. If you worked with me, you'd laugh and agree with the description.

My job requires me to continually forecast needs and choose paths for those I work with that are technically feasible, efficient, hassle-free and easily explained. It means that when something that couldn't reasonably have been forecasted happens, I need to be able to come up with a corrective approach and lead a team to a resolution very quickly. It all ultimately boils down to making difficult tasks seem effortless and hassle-free to those I work with.

Now, that description makes me sound like some sort of Type-A, corporate-minded asshole. I guess I'm writing this because I feel like I'm turning into one, and it's become aggravating to everyone in my life: my spouse, my kids, my friends. I didn't use to be this way.

The issue is that I can't turn the analytic part of my brain off. Regardless of the situation, I still try and predict the smoothest path between the desires around me and the attainment of those desires. In work, I'm expected to provide guidance or coordinate those sorts of tasks, but at night, on the weekend, on vacation, or even engaging in hobbies or talking with people online, I feel like I'm banging my head against the wall.

I'm continually fighting the desire to advise or correct people. Routes, pricing, scheduling, organizational strategies, timing. I'm continually figuring out faster, more efficient ways of doing things. If I "hold in" my recommendations, I have to go along with a plan that's aggravating to me in its lack of efficiency: "but this would go so much better/faster/more cheaply if we just did it this way." If I offer suggestions, I know how quickly it can become annoying to any companion who is just trying to enjoy themselves.

I can't stop spending brain cycles predicting what might happen if certain paths are followed, or how to make things better in any given situation. This isn't emotional anxiety, but more an inability to truly relax and just let things happen. I can't surrender control to those around me in casual situations. A lot of people seem to try and turn this off with alcohol or drugs, but I stay "this way" even when engaging in chemical relaxation.

I feel like I don't have room to complain about things. I can't engage in bitch sessions with friends anymore, as fear of unprofessional decorum might jeopardize my job. I can discuss workplace concerns with some co-workers, but we're all in the same place on this. It's gotten to the point where I feel resentful listening to others' complaints, and squelching the urge to counsel as well as squelching my own complaints makes many conversations painful.

I'm just plain beginning to become deeply resentful of how inconsiderate people are in day to day life. I try to make things easier for everyone, whether at my work or at the grocery store, and while I deeply appreciate when I notice people doing the same for me, it feels like a rarity.

As you can probably tell, I'm not a whole lot of fun anymore.

My job pays well and is generally satisfying in and of itself -- so I don't really want to leave it. That being said, I'm worried that if I don't, I'll become completely insufferable, intolerable and intolerant in my outside life.

As some background, I do have a wonderfully supportive family, have discussed this issue with my spouse and my doctor, I do my best to stick to a healthy diet and exercise regimen, and I don't have any substantial physical ailments that might be related.

Is there a way I can stop my brain from all of the work and planning on the weekends, and just slow down and enjoy life with other people, while still being at my best on the job on weekdays?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (20 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Just remember that spending time with your friends and family doesn't need to be efficient. So what if grandma took a wrong turn: you're hanging out with grandma, and that's the point.
posted by gjc at 7:02 PM on January 9, 2011 [4 favorites]

Sounds like you need to speak with someone who is confidential, non-judgmental and able to offer you some solutions. Someone like a therapist.
posted by griphus at 7:04 PM on January 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

solutions paths
posted by griphus at 7:05 PM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Just remember that spending time with your friends and family doesn't need to be efficient. So what if grandma took a wrong turn: you're hanging out with grandma, and that's the point.

With all due respect, I think the OP is entirely aware of this, and is looking for advice on how to adopt that mindset in practice instead of just as an ideal. Sort of like telling someone "oh, you just have to run very fast," when they're asking "how can I learn to win footraces?"

As for the question at hand, this is definitely a great example of why therapy exists, and griphus' description of a therapist's role for you is spot-on.
posted by Tomorrowful at 7:15 PM on January 9, 2011 [5 favorites]

This is pretty idiosyncratic, but spending time with a toddler is a good way for me to slow down and let things happen at their own pace. It takes us half an hour to walk around the block (in the cold, no less), his little legs churning madly while I walk sooooooooo slow. You quickly learn not to get frustrated with a toddler because it's not like they're CAPABLE of efficiency, and their discursive, undirected play and activities are important for development. It's easier for me to relax and let things happen after I've hung out with a toddler and can hold on to that mindset.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:21 PM on January 9, 2011

There's a lot going on here, but how about this: Despite what you describe, you've already got some coping strategies around this issue in so far as there must be times on the job when Warren, Bill, and Oprah choose to ignore your most carefully considered advice. No matter how good you are, in the workplace you're still a subordinate to them, even if you've got the "right" answer, etc., and bosses being people (at least some of the time), they're apt to do whatever the hell they please on occasion, despite what you say, so if you've made it this far career-wise, you must already have some strategies available for coping with the tension you describe.

Needless to say, the exact nature of these coping strategies will differ for each person, but I'm guessing one key move might involve prioritizing; that is, deciding which issues, problems, or deliberations matter most, and hence where/when you're willing to push, as well as conversely, and most importantly, when/where you consciously decide to just let it go. Part of being truly professional, responsible, and a mature adult entails the capacity to prioritize like this, if for no other reason than its absence ends up pissing off everyone else eventually, as you've discovered.

Going along with this strategy, I'd also try to focus as much as possible on what you can control, the quality of the advice you'd give, rather than letting everything hinge on whether someone else (who you don't control) follows through on that advice in practice. If you've done your best to figure things out, you've done what you can. Then decide whether it's really worth offering that advice, and if so, acknowledge that it's someone else's judgment whether to follow through on it, for better or worse.
posted by 5Q7 at 7:31 PM on January 9, 2011

Do you have any hobbies? Pick up something that involves a certain degree of variables you can't control for, like toy-camera photography.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 7:36 PM on January 9, 2011

How about meditation?
posted by rainy at 7:38 PM on January 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

Now, that description makes me sound like some sort of Type-A, corporate-minded asshole. I guess I'm writing this because I feel like I'm turning into one, and it's become aggravating to everyone in my life: my spouse, my kids, my friends. I didn't use to be this way.

I assume that you like your job. You don't actually mention that anywhere. It definitely sounds dynamic, demanding, an anything but boring day-to-day adventure, and no doubt it PAYS WELL. I'd compare it to something like being a production manager in the film biz. Big responsibilities, ALWAYS something crucial on the line.

Jobs like that are rarefied air. They're not for everybody. It sounds like you're definitely up to the task in terms of getting the job done, but what is the job doing to you? Turning you into Type-A, corporate-minded asshole apparently.

Maybe you should do something else. See a therapist obviously. Talk it through. But don't close the door to the notion that maybe this particular job just isn't very good for you; certainly not the "you" that wants to stay married, participate in your kids' lives, have friends outside of your job.

Good luck.
posted by philip-random at 7:44 PM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

When I had a job that consisted of telling people what to do all day, I got into the habit of changing clothes as soon as I got home. I would hang up my Boss Personality with my Boss Clothes. It helped with my psychological transition from work me to home me.
posted by kamikazegopher at 7:52 PM on January 9, 2011 [9 favorites]

There was a point in my life where I made the distinction between a critic and an artist and those two categorical types of behavior. For a while, I was a "critic" and I suppose I thought I was also the "artist" - that is, I thought I was running the show, making things happen, and criticizing or refining at the same time. What I didn't realize was that being a critic is completely different and is only part of the story. Someone has to actually do things, start things, find things, make things happen. I was horrified to realize I was just that annoying extraneous person running a commentary. I was the midwife and not the mother giving birth, so to speak. The backseat driver. Or whatever metaphor works for you.

You need to either run the show, or be quiet. In the situations where you're itching to say something, you can remedy that by actually taking complete initiative making the plans. Ask other people for feedback and put them in the role of the critic. Or, treat your wife/kids whoever as the boss, with all the authority that grants, and if they don't want you to comment, then you're off the job. But don't do both at once.
posted by Nixy at 8:59 PM on January 9, 2011

I realize that you are very good at your job. However, have you considered that you may not always be as right about the efficiency as you think you are--at least in your off-time? No, I know. You're really good at what you do. I get it. I swear. I have a close family member (okay, several in a similar line of work) who is extremely efficient and professionally competent with important responsibilities* and takes your mindset, but with much less self-insight off-the-clock. (And good for you for seeing this.)

They are so accustomed to being right and to knowing the most efficient way to accomplish the task at hand, and it being crucial to make those tasks run as efficiently as possible that this confidence bleeds over to tasks they really don't know much about--or where they've mistaken the underlying purpose of the task. Sometimes their authoritative advice is flat-out wrong. Even when it looks superficially like a task they do at work. And they do it with the best and most generous of intentions, believe me.

It took me 30 years to realize that just because they sounded confident didn't mean they really understood what I was trying to do. Sometimes they are not correct. I don't argue with them over it--see below.

*Pediatric organ transplantation requires coordination of administrative and medical resources on a large scale over an incredibly short timeframe, and involves a lot of very sensitive medical issues. In fact, why don't you try looking at your off-duty life in comparison to that, because when I notice that I'm channeling the family opinion on efficiency and streamlining, I ask myself this question: 'Does this somehow relate to acquiring and transporting a kidney from a young donor who died prematurely and transplanting it into a matched pediatric recipient who desperately needs it?' One hundred percent of the time, the answer for me has been 'no.'

When I remember to look at the label on the internal yardstick I've absorbed, suddenly the possibly-lesser option doesn't matter as much. If my social life does not include transplanting a kidney, then what the hell am I trying to control and why? It cannot possibly be so important that things run the way I think they should. Ironically, it helps me let the potential for family conflict over control go. If someone needs to make dinner X way, because they're convinced it's more efficient, what does it matter? It's just dinner.

Also, cultivating gratitude has helped. Because of my relative's work, and for other reasons, I'm all too aware that someday I may be the person releasing a family member's organs to the transplant team on my 'off-work' time, or that someone else could be signing to release my organs. But instead of doing that, I've been wherever I was, feeling irked that things are not running just the way I would do them, biting my tongue when I could tweak the plans or the format or something and make this better. I'm so very lucky to feel annoyed or constrained right then, honestly. So...my friends can take whatever route they'd like to the restaurant. And if it doesn't go perfectly, oh well.
posted by Uniformitarianism Now! at 9:52 PM on January 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

Do you enjoy what you do on weekends? You sound hassled and stressed. (I actually use "how much do people in the grocery store annoy me?" as a barometer of my own stress level.) When stressed, dealing with inefficiencies and extra costs is tougher. Pick relaxing activities, and find an outlook for talking about stress, perhaps.

I doubt you'll be able to entirely change. Can you apply your task-optimization toward the goals of relaxation and live-and-let-live on the weekend? ("Jane's travel planning will infuriate me. Therefore, I have to arrive after it's done.")
posted by slidell at 11:48 PM on January 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

Seconding meditation - to get to the stage where you can "watch your thoughts" instead of "thinking" them (I realize this is a gross oversimplification), so that you can relax and have fun while your "efficiencies" take care of themselves in the background.
posted by birdsquared at 12:36 AM on January 10, 2011

I sympathise with you - that sounds hard. My job isn't quite as bad as yours is, but it's very full-on mentally and there is a lot of responsibility involved (I'm a university professor). It requires thinking about problems by distilling them down to their abstract bases, analysing things objectively and unemotionally, figuring out how to formalise issues, and giving people advice -- which isn't always good to do outside of work. As a result, making the distinction between a "work me" and a "home me" is something I've spent a lot of effort trying to learn to do. I'm still not great at it, but here are a few tips that I've found helpful:

1. Do whatever you can to create a psychological distance between the you at work and the you at home, as soon as you get home. kamikazegopher's suggestion of changing clothes is a great one. I have also done things like set aside one room of my house in which I do work (since I work from home sometimes - it's better to just not work at home at all, but some jobs don't let you do that). Then I know when I'm not in that room, I'm not in the work mindset. Other things that I find helpful are immediately going on a walk through my leafy neighbourhood, watering the garden, play with the kittens, or in general doing anything that knocks me out of that mental space. Once I've done that it's far easier for the rest of the day to turn off the part of my brain that approaches everything as a scientific problem to be solved or a piece of material to be taught. This is basic conditioning: the more you do this, the easier it gets.

2. Give yourself some outlet for that part of your brain. If you tend to automatically try to optimise tasks and your solution is clamouring in your mind until you let it come out, bring along a notepad where you can scribble your thoughts. That might be enough so you don't feel the need to say them out loud (and if people notice then you can say "I thought of something that might work, but only if you're interested..." or whatever). Alternatively, what I do is save my analytic/scientific/formalising comments up to tell my partner or a close friend later. Knowing I can tell it all to them makes it easier for me to put up with the inefficiency or obtuseness of other people.

3. When you catch yourself thinking in your "work way", force yourself to imagine how the other people in the interaction are thinking about it. For instance, if somebody is taking a very inefficient route home, instead of dwelling on the better route you know they could be taking instead, invent a story for yourself about what they could be thinking about. (Maybe they're looking at the flowers along the side of the road. Maybe they're daydreaming about what they're going to do when they get home. Maybe they are thinking about an article they read on Metafilter. etc). The point is not to be in any way accurate, or even to imagine it well -- just to force yourself out of the well-trod paths once you start treading on them for the thousandth time.

Anyway, best of luck. I have to admit that I only implement these suggestions sometimes (mainly because I'm lazy and/or often forget), but when I do I find them really helpful.
posted by forza at 1:10 AM on January 10, 2011

Isn't that the kind of question a management coach could help you with? I imagine you are not the only person who has trouble switching off the work-think at home, and this would be straight in coaching territory.

Maybe it would help to consider your priorities. At the moment, efficiency seems to be your top priority (when it comes to day to day actions. I realise your family is very important to you in general, or you would not ask these questions.)
Maybe if you made "let family members make their own decisions" your top priority, and rank efficiency much later, maybe at place three, you would be able to recalibrate your actions to suit your priority pyramid.
Another higher ranking priority could be "learn to let go of anger at other people's ineptitude by breathing deeply". This way, the bumbling cashier at the supermarket would provide you with a welcome teaching moment, rather than a frustrating waste of time.

The thing is, you have seen at your job that you are capable of moving tremendous amounts of obstacles, of changing more than you probably ever knew you were capable of before. But this has made you think you could and should be able to change the entire world to be a more efficient place, if only... With this expectation, you are constantly frustrated. Because the world is too big for you. You're tilting at windmills. The world will not change. Only you can change.

Alter your goals. Your job in life is not to make life more efficient, but to make YOU more efficient in dealing with its adversities. Efficient means not merely faster and more effective, it also means happier, with less expenditure of bad feelings.
posted by Omnomnom at 1:53 AM on January 10, 2011

I think I'm a bit like you, but I see the problem in the reverse: it is my type-A personality that makes me very good at my job, not my job that has given me this personality. For a while I told people "I didn't used to be a bitch..." but when I really sat down to think about it, I realized I was -- I was just in a different social situation that made it less obvious. I have always been competitive, I have always been a compulsive planner and organizer, I have always hated when people take forever to make a decision, and don't get me started on managing the "where should we have dinner?" question for a large group. But when I was friends with a bunch of people who were like me, things got done the way I wanted them to be done. Now it's not always that way and it leads to a lot of frustration for me, and has had consequences in more than one relationship.

But accepting that it was *me* who was this way, and that my job was just a way for me to realize it. And eventually I've found a way to deal with it by going ahead and letting myself make all the plans and decisions and optimizations in my head, and think them all the way through, and consider all possible contingencies... and then stop. If I relax enough to let myself make all the plans, then I feel like I'm in control of the situation and that satisfies whatever need I have, even though ultimately I'm not at all in control of the other people involved.

And oddly it also helps to select one thing that I *refuse* to be a control freak about. I have a habit of dating guys who are my polar opposite in personality, and they're used to me always organizing everything, so I make a deal with them that in one certain matter (in my case, selecting dinner plans) is never, ever my problem. I get to not make that decision. I'll do the cooking or the paying or whatever, but I will not make the decision. It is up to them. I have to accept that if it's something I don't really feel like, or it doesn't go off without a hitch, that I didn't want to deal with it anyway. And doing that helps me in my relationships -- if I can accept not being able to "fix" things in that sense, then I can play similar little games with other issues and help myself be less of a bitch to the people I care about.
posted by olinerd at 4:32 AM on January 10, 2011

In my job, I get to traffic cop, referee, manage, and herd cats around time-critical decisions that are usually time-critical because some asshole up the chain didn't think ahead. I have no way of comparing my job to yours, but to me it's complex, or at least complex in the sense that playing 20 Klondike solitaire games with slow 12 year olds simultaneously would be.

My attitude once I leave the office varies depending on my stress level. My wife informs me that when I'm "that way" I can be completely insufferable and find that nothing anyone is doing at the house is correct or in the right order. Assuming she's right, I think it's not so much from a mental habit as much as it is you're projecting your anxieties from the day onto those who might be less able to push back. A mental habit might be:

"I tie very critical knots at work (I'm a longshoreman), so when I tie my shoes I'm more careful than other people might be."

Whereas what I'm doing is not because I'm bringing a special skill to the table; I'm just being a jerk to my family because I can't afford to be a jerk to my boss, customers, etc.

When I'm reasonably non-stressed and thinking clearly, a question I have learned to ask (sometimes) is: "Do they want my help?" or "Is this really my business or my decision to make or help make?" If I can clearly answer that question, I can generally make a good decision (which sometimes is - no decision - let things unfold with no input from me).

As one of the earlier commenters said, and I do think it's helpful to say it to yourself - personal time is not about efficiency. Learning to live in the moment and accept what it offers is really helpful for this, so I do Nth meditation. It might even help on your day job.
posted by randomkeystrike at 8:26 AM on January 10, 2011

just realized that solitaire isn't, by nature, played against 12 year olds or anyone. Carry on then.
posted by randomkeystrike at 10:34 AM on January 10, 2011

Are you my wife? She's in a job that sounds a lot like hers. I'm a stay at home dad with our son. For 5 years now. She has this maddening tendency to second guess, complain, and try and correct how I raise the son, do housework, etc. She was also my boss before we were married, so I know that its her work side mind taking over and she doesn't even realize it.

I let it slide for years, but the other day I finally snapped and told her - "Would you please stop second guessing everything godamn thing I do?! You've got clean towels for tomorrow, the dishes are washed and put away, I've cooked dinner, the son is just fine (as usual) and the freakin house hasn't burned down. I. have. things. under. control."

She (and you most likely) are not a bad person for doing and thinking that you have to be in control all the time. Just remember to step back every once in a while and accept that others can be in control and things will be just fine.
posted by ducktape at 11:58 AM on January 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

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