Before I had even walked through the office doors this morning, I already outlined tonight’s post decrying one of the workplace policies that I find most obnoxious. Due to a confluence of events that, if you told me about second hand, I would never believe, the entire thread of that post was briefly overcome by events this afternoon. Although this age old nemesis wasn’t defeated in detail, it was delivered enough of a punch that I can’t possibly rail against it as I intended.
There was no alternative post in the queue for tonight, so sadly all you get is this small statement of contrition… and my amazed admission that every now and then the asshattery can flow a little slower and a little less deep. It’s a wonder of wonder, but I can indeed still very occasionally be pleasantly surprised by the great fumbling behemoth of the bureaucracy.
This was the first Monday I had to actually go into the office in months. Something about staffing and coverage and blah blah blah. I’ll still get my telework day this week, just not as the day that eases me back into the weekday routine of angst, bother, and death PowerPoint.
I know it was a Monday today mostly because when I got to the office and wanted to buy a bagel, I discovered that my wallet, watch, and other small items I carry every day were not where I expected them to be (i.e. in my pockets). Instead, they were exactly where I left them the last time I had returned home from being out in the world of people. Which is exactly where they are deposited the hundreds of times a year I come home from being somewhere else, so it’s not as if they’d been secreted off to a new undisclosed location and chaos ensued.
I can only assume this was my subconscious rejecting the idea of a Monday that strayed so far from the standard. This lack of early morning cerebral engagement means I started off the day doubly disappointed – first, I was destined to spend the day tethered to my desk in the concrete bowels of the building without fresh air or daylight and secondly, I was required to do it without benefit of starting the day with a toasty warm bagel.
I think that nicely encapsulates exactly what kind of day it has been. In fact, I’m going to start a petition to officially change the name of Monday to Double Disappointment. It feels altogether more fitting.
Some Telework Monday’s are an opportunity to engage, do some deep thinking, and apply some rigor to a project or task. Others, by contrast, are every bit as much a shit show as you would ever expect to find in the office.
I’ll just let your imagination decide what kind of Telework Monday today was.
I could try to tell the story by changing names to protect the innocent, but that would imply in some way that everyone involved wasn’t in some way guilty, if even just by association.
As it turns out Mondays are just going to be themselves no matter where you find yourself sitting.
The language of bureaucracy is full of many ways to admit that you have no idea what’s going on in interesting and completely non-committal ways. This afternoon I was in a meeting where I’m pretty sure I used all of them. It’s an awkward feeling, though not in any way surprising or unusual.
You see, I find myself in the not unfamiliar position of being told that I’m “in charge” of something without being given the corresponding authority to make any actual decisions. This means I’ll spend more time running back to higher echelons and asking “mother may I” and waiting for mother’s response than I will doing anything that might accidentally resemble planning.
Sure, I’ll perch out on a limb from time to time and make a decision that’s time sensitive. There’s a cost associated with doing that – a limited pool of good will that occasionally lets you execute an end run around the powers that be. It usually ends up with either being required to beg forgiveness or listening to one of the Olympians opine on how it had been their idea all along.
Mercifully the last thing on earth I want is credit. All I really want is to do a job quietly, professionally, and then head myself towards the barn at the first available opportunity. Frankly I’d prefer than my name stay out of the record as much as possible – because public recognition has a funny way of only serving to attracting more work and I’m not looking to expand into new markets here.
Today was the first of many meetings where most of my responses will inevitably be some variation of “I don’t know.” This is the time of year when I approach peak bureaucrat-ing. It’s a close run contest to decide whether I’ll respond “don’t know” or “that depends” more often over the the next few months.
Yesterday marked the 16th anniversary of my life in sworn service to our mad uncle. People say that time flies when you’re having fun, but in my experience having fun is entirely optional. Time just flies. Well, more specifically, the years seem to fly. Individual days feel like they might well last for weeks on end. It’s when they get rolled up into their individual 365-count bundles that they race away from you.
From my vantage point here as a solidly mid-career bureaucrat, I won’t pretend there haven’t been some good times. A few of them are probably only good in retrospect and with the benefit of distance from the facts, but that’s probably to be expected. Over the last 16 years I’ve been privileged to meet some of the smartest human beings I’ve ever known. I’ve also met more than a few sniveling, conniving, climbers who I’d happily shank in a dark alley if I ever got the chance – and thought I could get away clean. Not one of that bunch is worth going to prison over, though I hope I’m still around when they inevitably overreach.
About once a year someone on the outside asks if I’d recommend government work. A decade ago I’d have said yes. Government work isn’t going to make you rich, but the pay doesn’t suck, the health and retirement plans are good, and you never have to worry about your employer going out of business. It was a haven for those who value stability – a place of low risk and correspondingly modest rewards. After a decade of living through multiple hiring freezes, multiple pay freezes, and multiple government shutdowns, though, I couldn’t recommend it with a clear conscience these days.
Uncle is no longer a stable employer – pay and benefits are just another political football at risk every year. If you’re going to live with that much uncertainty, you might as well go work in the private sector where you might have a chance at making some real money for assuming the risk that your company or contract won’t be there a year from now. I won’t go so far as saying that both options are equal – but the assessment of whether public service or the private sector is a better place to have a career feels like more of a dice roll now that it has in the last 16 years.
In a few months I’ll climb over the halfway point on the long road to whatever retirement might look like in or about 2035. That feels like a far more important milestone than yesterday’s just passing another year on the job. Who knows, maybe my mood will even improve. Probably not, but it would be a neat trick if it did.
Now that I’ve spent a day at the office, it feels like 2019 is well and truly underway. The meetings, the phone calls, the email, the regular and recurring requests to change “happy” to “glad” on every piece of paper leaving my desk… the calendar may be changed, but the new year feels reliably like the old. It is, if nothing else, the devil I am extremely well acquainted with by the point.
Everyone wants to start off the new year drunk on champagne and optimism – believing in spite of themselves that surely this year will be better than the last. I’ve always thought such optimism was a funny attitude with which to go through life – especially after living through a few decade’s worth of new years and finding that the only thing that ever really changes is the date.
I’m not saying that the new year needs to be welcomed with doom and gloom, just that we collectively heap the time of year with mounds of unreasonable expectations. I try to be a bit more circumspect in acknowledging the arrival of 2019. Taken on average, some things will be marginally better. Other things will be marginally worse. A few things will swing wildly in one direction or the other. Mostly I expect that things will muddle through largely unchanged year over year.
So far my ability to predict the future is remarkably prescient.
Assuming I keep up with it so long, I think I can safely say that this blog will expire on or about the day I retire. It turns out that when I don’t have the job sucking every ounce of fun out of five days each week, I really just don’t have that much to say. That explains the spotty schedule of posting I maintained over the last couple of weeks. Not only didn’t I have much to say, but I had virtually no interest in sitting down and writing up whatever was rattling around in my head. It turns out you don’t need much catharsis when you don’t have something agitating the hell out of you on a regular basis.
The good news, or bad news, depending on your perspective is that the days of not needing to vent my spleen on a regular basis are still far off in the future. Now that we’re back on the normal schedule, I have a feeling that my notebook will soon be refilled with all manner of angst-causing stories just begging to be told.
Look, I’m thankful for the pay check – and glad I’m not one of those poor bastards at State, or Treasury, or Homeland Security either working for nothing or stuck sitting around waiting and wondering when the next direct deposit is going to hit. That shouldn’t put anyone under the delusion that there’s nothing I’d rather being doing than clearing two weeks worth of emails from my inbox while scouring them for the one or two nuggets that might need some actual attention.
We’re back… and that’s probably a good thing in that long march out towards the back half of this career… but don’t think for a minute I’m not missing the long, lazy days when a few critters and a good book was more than enough to fill the passing hours.