1. Toothpaste residue. If you feel the compulsion to brush your teeth at the office in the middle of the afternoon, I’m sure you’re doing great things for your dental health… but for the love of all the gods can you please wash away or wipe the toothpaste residue out of the sink when you’re finished. It’s hard to feel like a trusted professional when it looks like you’re sharing a shitter with a bunch of 5 year olds.
2. Checking your work. I’m forced by the universe to accept that mistakes happen… but most often they seem to happen because people don’t check their work. If you know that you got a bad batch of widgets in and someone is making a special trip to your place of business to purchase one of these “might be bad” widgets, it stands to reason that you’d check before that person physically showed up in your shop, wasting time, and being inconvenienced. I can’t save the world from faulty material, but I can bloody well call out shit customer service when I experience it.
3. The dream of immortality. In a nation of almost 330,000,000 people living deep into the 21st century, on any given day about 7,708 Americans will die. Another 10,563 will be born. The rest will muddle through what, for them, is a more or less unremarkable day. For all the fuss we make about our big, developed brains, we have a bit of a strange relationship with death. It’s almost as if we try to pretend that if we just build a better seat belt, or cure cancer, or ban the right object or beverage, that all 330 million of us will go on living forever. It’s never worked that way. Sure, everything can be a little bit safer. You might even manage to cheat death for a while, but it’s most assuredly only a temporary reprieve.
Tuesday is the new Monday. There. I Said it.
Once upon a time, not so very long ago I use to dread the arrival of Sunday night and the end of the weekend. Now that Mondays are usually spent working from the comfort of home, Tuesday is the day that causes the most angst and consternation. Now that I’ve settled into the new Monday routine I’m even more starkly aware of just how cripplingly unproductive a day at the average office is.
The trouble with being an information worker is that so much of what you touch requires some amount of reflection and analysis. Concentration is pretty easy to come by when you’ve got views of the woods and the loudest sound is mid-morning trash collection across the street. It’s a much harder commodity to come by when you’re stacked shoulder to shoulder with 30 other people who are all having their own conversations, or are warming up their lunch, ignoring phones ringing, pushing reams of paper through the shredder, and making their way to and from meetings and appointments, or who are just away from their desks wandering around to pass the time.
Now I can be a pretty focused guy. When the need arises I can summon monumental amounts of concentration on one point to the exclusion of all else… but I’m starting to suspect that the need to do that all day, every day is a major contributing factor to why I drive away from the office four days a week feeling like someone has run my brain through a blender. Somehow I doubt seriously that’s part of the recipe for wise and effective analysis over the long term.
I know for a fact that isn’t not even a short term recipe for a happy and productive Jeff.
I’ve always had trouble finding my mental focus in loud environments. I don’t know if that’s what makes the hermit life so appealing to me or if it’s the other way around. It doesn’t really matter which caused what. The end result is the same – sitting at my desk with glazed eyes completely unable to cobble together a single coherent thought. It’s just one of the many joys of existing in cubicle hell.
If I’m honest, I’ll admit that the day to day isn’t as bad as I feared, but with that said the bad moments are absolutely hellish. At one point this afternoon I was an unwilling third party participant to at least six conversations taking place simultaneously within 20 feet of my desk. Keeping track of the thread of my own thoughts proved to be something between challenging and impossible for the better part of two hours today. For the record, that doesn’t lead to good staff work and leaves me feeling just about as annoyed in this particular workplace as I’ve ever been. That’s no mean feat.
When other people leave the office they’re in a rush to meet for dinner, or go shopping, or engage in some other socially acceptable form of human interaction. When I leave I can’t get away from that sort of thing fast enough. Home is far from silent, of course. There’s the clatter of dogs on tile, television or radio humming quietly in the background, HVAC noises, or appliances running. Somehow those things manage to not be distracting. Half a dozen overlapping conversations, on the other hand, leave me tired and more than a bit frustrated with my own inability to focus through the distractors.
Whatever reason, the subdued sounds of home, a good book, and something pressed from the fruit of the arbor feels like exactly what I need to steady myself.
If nothing else, you can always say that I didn’t give in to peer pressure. Not that the pressure was all that significant after someone kindly pointed out that it was beginning to feel a little like Official pressure to paste on a happy face, lay your money down, and partake in the Organization Non-Denominational Holiday Luncheon and Party.
Hey, no one appreciates a swinging good time more than me, but that’s not what you’re likely to find in a room full of your coworkers. It tends to be an opportunity for awkward conversation and the passing illusion of actual community. As it turns out, sitting at the bar and staring out the window at the water doesn’t actually qualify as “participating” in one of these events. Since that’s what I invariably end up doing at the location where these activities are held, taking a pass felt like the least bad of all possible scenarios.
Back when I was young and ambitious I worked for a guy who was quick to say that colleagues “can be friendly, but they can’t be friends.” Aside from a slim few friends I made at the dawn of my career, I find his thought process was spot on. Keeping as sturdy a firewall as you can between your personal and professional lives feels like a critical action item, because either one bleeding into the other is never going to end well.
Or maybe I’m just antisocial. That’s also a distinct possibility.
The concept of a Non-Denominational Winter Holiday Office Party is a lesson in contradictions. First, fill the room full of people that you really only know passingly well. Add a DJ who can’t play any good music for fear of offending someone. Add a healthy dose of forced conviviality and Christmas joy. And finally open the bar in the middle of the afternoon. It amazes me year after year that office Christmas parties don’t result in drunken shouting matches between people who generally don’t want to be in the same room with one another when it can be avoided. It’s one of the biggest reasons I know mankind can do anything that we collectively set our minds to.
As office parties go, I have to admit that this year’s was pretty well laid on. I’m never going to be super happy in a large crowded room, but the food was plentiful, the adult beverages were cold, and no one tried dragging me onto the dance floor. Under the circumstances, that’s pretty much how I define success. Now if anyone needs me I’ll be hiding out in the basement trying to recover from an afternoon of actual socialization.
Sometimes I go to lunch with some of the guys from the office. When they talk about leadership problems, playing favorites, and how hard it is to get promoted unless you’re part of the clique, I mostly lean back in my chair, cross my arms, and smile. I won’t go so far as saying I agree with every decision made around here, I know from firsthand experience how much worse it can be for a working stiff somewhere near the middle of the pack. I’ll nod at the appropriate intervals in feigned agreement, but on the inside I know that unless they have served in the Court of the The Boss Who Shall Not Be Named, even the worst of their stories falls somewhere inside the range of “eh, that’s not so bad.”
I didn’t realize it until quite recently, but my time in the Office of the Damned has completely recalibrated my sense of good and bad work experiences. What a normal person would call good is beyond my scale completely now. Bad falls somewhere in the range of what I think as acceptable. The entire bottom half of the scale is occupied by things I’ve only seen the TBWSNBN do. In almost ten months, even the worst days have never been close to dropping onto the bottom half of the scale. Destroying my ability to see “normal” bad situations as being actually bad might be the only good thing TBWSNBN did for me.
Sure, it’s warped my sense of reality probably beyond any hope of repair, but that’s a relatively small price to pay for not being the least bit bothered by what sends those around me into a red-eyed fury.
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.
I’ve got an employee who hasn’t been able to come to terms with the fact that I’m leaving. Every day he comes in and wants to discuss events that are going to happen months from now and stands there blankly looking for some kind of meaningful response. Why he thinks that I’ll suddenly care at this late date and with my time getting very, very short I just don’t know. After four of five days of this, I though I’d make it very easy for him. I explained that, yes, I was leaving and no, I wasn’t paying much attention to what he just asked. I literally told him that I wasn’t paying attention when he was talking. I said it to his face in front of God and everyone… and he kept talking. Just kept right on rambling about whatever it was he decided was important that morning.
I still wasn’t paying attention, but this time it wasn’t due to lack of interest but because I was too stunned that even at point blank range he couldn’t process that I really didn’t care about what he was saying. Sometimes I wonder if it’s actually better to live life in that kind of bubble of obliviousness and just roll from task to ask happily unaware of the subtitles of the world around you.
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.