1. Non-final decisions. Should I ever find myself deified and empowered to pass judgement from high atop Olympus, the cardinal sin that would earn my condemnation would be indecisiveness. If you’ve got the charter to lead, then by God, lead. Make a decision. Do something. Or just keep deferring any kind of actual decision until the diminishing number of hours available in which to act precludes all but one possible course of action.
2. Partisan politics. When Party A goes to the wall screaming about what Party B is doing, I mostly tune it out. I know my mind and no amount of rending of Congressional garments for the cameras will change that. When Party A spends the day screaming about something that Party B is doing and it’s exactly the kind of procedural jackassery Party A did when they were in the majority, well lord, I don’t know why anyone would ever think we could have a functioning legislative branch. I’m sick to death of politicians and people in general who only find something objectionable when it’s done by someone else, but perfectly fine when they do it.
3. Lack of marketable skills. My particular skill set is pretty closely tailored to work on the inside. There just is’t a lot of call for someone who can slam together a 150 slide powerpoint briefing, plan a party for 55 of your closest friends without breaking federal law, or estimate how much ice or water you might need after a hurricane (and know how to order and ship it). I’ve been on the inside so long now I wouldn’t even know how to apply for a gig outside. Of course there’s too much now tied up in retirement and benefits to really consider a wholesale change – especially when the jobs that sound even remotely interesting would lead directly from professional bliss to personal bankruptcy. I’m feeling just a little bit trapped and that makes me fantastically edgy.
My organization historically loves to send out surveys. They can be focused information grabs or more broad scoped “climate surveys” that try to suss out everything that happens to be on an employee’s mind. If you manage to get more than 10% of the people to send back anything at all your response rate is excellent. Getting those people to actually tell you anything you want to know, though, is another thing altogether.
Even under the veil of promised anonymity, most people I’ve run into have a difficult time of it when it comes time to tell truth to power. People like to fit in. They don’t want to make waves. Some don’t want to risk drawing undue attention to themselves for any reason. Those are all fine and valid reasons for keeping your mouth shut if you’re intent is simply to ride it out and avoid all conflict.
Now I’m a peace-loving kind of guy and you generally won’t find me spoiling for a fight – especially with those elite who sit six or seven steps above me on the org chart. I might not have started the day looking for a fight, but when someone gives me a free and clear opportunity to tell them what sucks and why, you can best believe I’ll avail myself of it with both vim and vigor. I’ll do it professionally and using my best grammar and punctuation, but I’ll definitely participate in the airing of the grievances.
I’d never be able to live with myself if I were given an official avenue to bitch and complain and I failed to take full advantage. That’s just the kind of guy I am.
I’d guess that on average three weekdays out of every five could be fairly described as being “less than full.” Now I don’t mean to imply in any way that I don’t strive to give our Uncle his money’s worth every time, but there are simple laws of the bureaucracy that say it’s impossible to be busy every moment of the day. This isn’t McDonald’s and there isn’t always stainless that needs wiped down. Usually our days have an ebb and flow that ranges somewhere between comfortable and mind-numbing. It’s that one day in five that’s the wildcard. When it comes along it’s like being stuck with a whole room full of one armed paper hangers. No matter how fast you work, it’s just not going to be fast enough to account for everything coming over the side. In my experience, that’s the nature of the beast.
The real trouble with those rogue days is that they’re absolutely unpredictable. Days that for all outward appearances should be busy won’t be. Days that by rights should be dead slow will open their gaping maw and eat you alive. It would be nice, I think, if those wide-mouthed days would at least give you a fair warning. It feels like the very least the universe could do if it’s bound and determined to spend the rest of the day kicking your ass all over the room.
One of the undeniable perks of working from home once a week is getting outside with the dogs at lunch time. Usually it’s about as close to a mid-day moment of zen as you’re ever likely to find around my place. Today, though, the only way I can describe it is that the whole outside felt unsettled.
It’s not that there was anything wrong with me, or the dogs, or the house but it felt very much like this little patch of woods was holding its breath – and waiting for something. There were no birds chirping and no small fuzzy creatures – or even large fuzzy ones for that matter. Aside from the steady wind in the upper reaches of the oaks, it was unnaturally quiet. I can’t say it made me nervous, but it definitely had the feeling of being something other than normal.
I’m not a fancy big city scientist, but if I had lay down a guess, it would have something to do with rapid changes in barometric pressure and “big weather” moving in. If it can make the old timer’s arthritis act up, I don’t see any reason not to believe the other creatures of the forest can sense the same thing since they’re the ones really living out in that mess. At least that’s my meager effort to explain today’s brush with the strange and unusual.
In any case, I’ll be happier when it all feels normal again. Like that’s a surprise.
This place has a strange dichotomy. Every employee has a laptop. Every cube has at least two monitors. We’re networked to systems that keep us tied in to activities around the world on channels monitored 24/7/365.25. It’s the definition of a knowledge management organization. At the same time, we’re drowning under the sheer weight of printed documentation that people here seems obsessed with keeping on hand “just in case.” Everyone walks around with day planners and folio pads and meetings look just like they would have in 1981.
Look, I’m the new guy here so I have no interest in bucking any trends or trying to disturb the status quo, but at the same time, I’m not going to run to Office Max and pick up a Covey Planner when I’ve got at least three electronic devices within arm’s reach that will all do exactly the same thing and manage it better than paper copy ever could. I haven’t maintained a paper calendar since 1998 and I’m not planning to roll back the hands of time on that one. I just can’t fathom why in the waning days of 2011 we can’t manage to have this kind of daily minutia automated. I get twitchy already when there seems like there’s too much paper cluttering my desk. Adding more to the pile just seems irresponsible. Sadly, until I figure out the work around, I’m reduced to making notes and recording appointments on a legal pad and transferring them to electrons after the fact.
It’s an inelegant solution to say the least, but it’s what I’m stuck with until someone with more horsepower than me figures out that technology is supposed to make your life easier. Until then we’ll stand firmly with one foot in 2011 and the other somewhere in the Kennedy Administration.
Editorial Note: This part of a continuing series of posts previously available on a now defunct website. They are appearing on http://www.jeffreytharp.com for the first time. This post has been time stamped to correspond to its original publication date.
1. Not hungry. It’s a rare accomplishment but I’ve slid through the last two days being so annoyed that I’m not even hungry. Bowl of cereal for dinner. A cookie and a giant iced tea for lunch. Copious amounts of coffee at all other points on the clock. I’m assuming that’s not one of those healthy diets people keep posting on Facebook but it is what it is.
2. Unity of command. It’s another one of those exciting weeks where I’m not entirely sure which of six people I actually work for. I know who signs my time sheet and who approves my leave requests, those being the most important functions of supervision. Identifying who exactly is supposed to assign and prioritize my work, though, remains a vague bit of prognosticating. If only we had an organizational chart that spelled out clearly who does what to whom.
3. The challenge of being topless. When you climb onto a Jeep with its top and doors removed you leave yourself open to whatever elements come. You also leave yourself exposed to the other people on the road. Cigarettes flicked out of the window of the car in front of you suddenly have a much more present danger than they did when you were buckled up in a sealed, climate controlled machine. It’s also important that the people near you can actually both see every gesture you make and hear whatever it is you’re saying (or singing along with). That’s a helpful bit to remember if you’re prone to criticizing the skills of your fellow motorists in colorful terms… although the guy stopped next to me on the bridge yesterday seemed to particularly enjoy my repeated pleas for the police to just push the mangled vehicles over the side, let the asshats responsible figure out how to fish them out of the Susquehanna, and get traffic moving again.
Standing in the pre-dawn darkness, the first words I muttered after rolling out of bed this morning were, “Oh Christ on a crutch… it’s only Wednesday.”
That should have given me every indication of the kind of day it was going to be. But no, I opted not to listen to that small nagging voice that had already tried to warn me off. I press on with the morning routine – shower, coffee, feeding the menagerie, and trundling off to the office. I even had the audacity to enjoy the drive in, the humid air feeling brisk and refreshing once you got above a certain speed.
The wheels didn’t really come fully off the day until I’d already been at my desk for 45 minutes. I won’t get into specifics, but be assured it was all sideways and down hill from there. It was a day wholly given over to the anti-Midas touch – a skill that appears unbidden in my quiver from time to time and enables everything I touch to turn directly to shit.
Tomorrow has got to be better if just because there are only a few ways in which it could be worse. Steer into the slide. Regain control. Navigate away from danger. That’s the plan. Either that or sitting at my desk sobbing quietly. Really, either one feels like a possibility.