As I’ve said countless times before, I’m not a decision maker.
I can present information. I can counsel. I can advise. In more dire moments I can even warn.
What I am not empowered by policy, regulation, or law to do, however, is make any actual decisions.
After almost 18 years in harness, I feel strongly the right and a duty to express my views on matters of interest. I’ve reached the period of my working life where there’s not much particularly new under the sun. I may not have seen it all before, but laying eyes on a truly unique situation is becoming an increasingly rare event.
Someday, perhaps, there will be those on Olympus who look down upon my pleas and decide that fiddling about for four months before paying any attention may not be the best idea. It turns out, as usual, that today isn’t that day.
Anyway, it turns out I’m almost exactly like the Queen. I can tell the great and the good that they’re about to do something dumb, but there’s not a thing in this great wide world I can really do to stop it happening.
Christmas eve marks the beginning of the point in the year where posting snarky commentary on the internet is more like shouting into a void than any other. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. People are focused on other things – friends, family, avoiding friends and family – whatever may be in their holiday tradition. As for me, I mostly drop into a less rigid schedule and post when and whatever the mood of the moment dictates as we all race towards the end of the year.
I find Christmas Eve not so much the start of relaxation as the last gasp of mayhem and chaos as people sprint to the finish line of their shopping quests or trundle cross country to wherever it is they’ll spend the holiday. Maybe later in the day we can all manage to take a deep breath.
For all the buildup, Christmas will be here and gone again nearly before we realize it. Like any other big production with a life of its own, this thing is going to happen. Sure, we can shape it around the margins, but weighing it down with expectations, instance that it must go “just so,” or the quest for a perfect moment will drive you straight to the nuthouse.
Now if you’ll excuse me, there are still a million things to do and despite everything I might say, I won’t get a moment’s rest until they’re all knocked off the list… as if any of you thought just laying back and relaxing was an idea I was going to get behind.
You’re going to find things in life you have a natural aptitude for. Some of them you’ll enjoy doing. Others will become the bane of your existence. Trust me when I tell you that just because you’re good at something that doesn’t in any way mean you’re going to enjoy spending your time working at it. People are going to come along and do their damnedest to cram you into doing that which you do not want to do because it makes their life easier in some way. Want a pro tip? Don’t do it. Run as far and as fast as you can in the other direction.
Most people are going to spend at least 40 hours or so a week doing something – probably something that you don’t particularly love, because frankly the people who tell you to follow your passion never seem to have any sense of how low the pay scale is for those toiling away on their “passion jobs.” Still, if you value your sanity at all, at least angle yourself towards doing something that doesn’t make you want to split skulls by the end of the day. You’ll thank yourself later.
It’s mostly too late for me. My path for the foreseeable future seems to have been set. I’m to play the role of professional events coordinator – from registration booths to floral centerpieces, I’m a one stop shop. I’ll do it and do it well, because that’s just what I do, but I’m begging you with tears in my eyes, don’t let that happen to you. Yes, I could plan the hell out of your next birthday, wedding, or bar mitzvah but that in no way should lead you to think that I’d in any way enjoy the process.
I’ll conclude tonight by saying loud and clear what I must mutter to myself a dozen times a day: FML. This is so not what I signed up for.
1. Priorities. So here’s a little friendly advice from your kindly Uncle Jeff: When everything is the most important, absolutely nothing is important. All claims of being able to multi-task aside, it’s been my professional experience that when you’re trying to give equal attention to three things at once, all there of them are going to end up being half-assed at best. Want to do a good job on something? Go ahead and focus on that one thing until it’s finished or at least until it’s at a logical place to pause and then go work on something else. Repeat this process as needed until everything is done. Jumping randomly from this to that with no actual planning or thought behind why you’re doing what you’re doing is mostly guaranteed to end badly for everyone involved. In those cases where you can’t take this advice, be prepared to apply a large helping of “I told you so” when things go to hell in a handbag.
2. The happy customer… 12 hours later. About 12 hours after singing the praises of Amazon Prime and Amazon customer service, an email landed in my inbox informing me that the price of membership is going up $20 a year. Sure, it’s probably just a fluke, but it feels an awful lot like this Amazon just decided that since I like them so much, I won’t mind paying an additional 25% premium for it. This is clearly what happens when you say something nice. Therefore in the future, I’ll try to remember to only raise criticism and keep the kudos to myself. From here on out everything sucks and is bad, regardless of how much I like it.
3. Situational awareness. Snap judgements aren’t always right, but I’ve got a pretty decent talent for looking at where things stand and knowing when there’s a bad moon rising. I almost wish I didn’t. I’d probably be a happier human being if I wandered around not particularly aware of what’s likely to be over that next rise. Some days having decent judgement is a gift, but lately it’s felt like a real curse.
The week of Thanksgiving heralds the arrival of that most magical and wondrous time of year… and I’m not talking about Christmas with its faux joy, peace and goodwill towards people you otherwise can’t stand. I’m talking about the four weeks between the holidays when nothing gets done and everyone is busy burning off what’s left of their annual leave. In short: Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the long march towards the end of the year when there are fewer colleagues around asking reports, wanting to see slides, and generally pretending to be productive. It’s the time of year when the pretense of being productive falls away. Sure, that’s only because there are barely enough people around to keep the lights on, but beggars shouldn’t be choosers.
There are going to be plenty of people running around for the next month trying to put together pick up meetings or cram on one more “special project” before 2014 rolls in, but mostly even they know they’re putting on a show for the sake of appearances. I’d be hard pressed to find anyone who really thinks they’re going to be able to get anything significant accomplished at this time of year. That makes for a low key environment… and low key makes me exceptionally happy.
If I haven’t learned anything else from being a drone these last 11 years it’s that this time is fleeting. Before you know it, and well before you’re ready for it, we’ll be back to the full-on grind. So the advice from your kindly Uncle Jeff? Take some time. Slow your roll and remember that no one ever saved the universe with their PowerPoint slides. Even when you think what you’re doing is important, there are well over seven billion people on the plant who don’t care if you live or die.
Perspective, my friends, is everything.
I was once like you. I was young and ambitious. I wanted to streak up the career ladder further and faster than anyone. For those out there who want to climb, you’re eventually going to reach the point where you’ll be required to make a life-altering decision. You’re going to have to reconcile a nominal pay increase with the enormous pain in the ass that is becoming a first line supervisor.
If you’re even hesitating for a second in deciding whether that’s something interesting to you, let me key you into a secret – It’s not worth it. It’s not worth it at twice the pay. Sure, if you’re lucky there are going to be one or two hard chargers in your group, but most of the rest are going to be average at best and you’ll land an unholy sprinkling of dregs, sociopaths, malcontents, and those whose best service would have been to retire a decade or two ago.
Take a bit of advice from someone who was ambitious before you came along. Find yourself a nice mid-level position, gather the reins of a couple of projects, and enjoy a fruitful career concerned with meeting your own deadlines and being limited mostly by only your own capacity to work. Don’t, under any circumstances, allow them to make you a supervisor, team leader, or any other euphemistic term for becoming part of the problem rather than its solution. You’ll end up looking back at what started out as a promising career and wondering when it became a low-budget shitshow.
Editorial Note: This part of a continuing series of previously de-published blogs appearing on http://www.jeffreytharp.com for the first time. This post has been time stamped to correspond to its original publication date.
I’m generally considered a pretty smart guy, but I have never understood the thought process that goes on in the mind of chicks when they are making potentially life altering decisions. I’m a planner by habit as well as by profession and one thing I can say with a far degree of certainty is that “butterfly feelings” in the stomach area and how cute it was because he cried are generally not major planning considerations. In fact, I’d go so far to say that they are, in fact, a poor basis for any decision-making process.
Decisions of significance are made after careful analysis of the possible and likely outcomes, the severity of risks, consultation with subject matter experts, and a through “scrub” to make sure you are even asking the right questions. Without applying an overlay of logic to the process, decisions basically become “guesses.” And quite frankly, it has been my experience that life is far too short and time is far too precious to stumble from one point to another based on my best guess
I don’t mind dispensing advice; in fact I rather enjoy doing it. But please, ladies, when you ask, remember that I’m going to apply logical analysis to the situation rather than take stock in whatever butterfly effect you might be feeling. And if at some point one of you can explain to me what I’m missing here, please, please clue me in. I’m serious here people, I know there are a lot of you out there who read on a regular basis. I just want to understand what I am working with here. Can one of you dear readers enlighten me?