What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. The confidence of youth. I’m not saying that I don’t still have a ragingly high level of confidence in my own abilities, but that confidence has been tempered with the experience of so many things that should be simple to do becoming a giant triple-stacked shit sandwich right in my hands. Occasionally it’s because of something I either did or failed to do, but more often it’s because of outside influences over which I have little or no control. Occasionally now I see a young project leader, eyes bright with possibilities, charge through a meeting as if nothing could possibly go wrong. I chuckle to myself, but I also feel a little bit sorry for him because I already know what the next act looks like. Experience is a harsh teacher and while those occasional flops have made me better over time, every now and then I miss the swaggering confidence of youth and a time when I was slightly less cynical about everything.

2. Things beyond my control. Believe it or not, I don’t think of myself as being much of a control freak. Most of life is pure reaction to those things we don’t foresee or exert any control over. While willing to accept that I can’t possibly control for and plan against every conceivable circumstance, I do like to imagine that I can bring some semblance of order to my little section of a chaotic world. I’m also enough of a realist to know that order begins to break down just as soon as it’s established and keeping a veneer of control in life takes all manner of effort on a pretty consistent basis. Knowing that there are a multitude of things beyond my control and being willing to accept those things just now is feeling like more of a tall order than usual. Maybe I need to sign up for some kind of master class in Zen and the fine art of acceptance.

3. Not being surprised. I’m a bit befuddled that anyone is somehow surprised that there’s a set of rules for the wealthy and powerful and another for the rest of us. It hardly seems like news that a long time politician “somehow” managed to get away with actions that would cause the average employee to lose their job, be barred from future employment, and possibly go to prison. While I’m certainly as outraged as anyone at the lies, deceit, and in my opinion outright criminal behavior foisted upon the public by a high profile politician, I can’t for a moment say that I’m surprised that the official consequence of those behaviors is absolutely nothing. If this is the kind of thing that surprises you, there’s a fair chance you’re just not paying close enough attention to the world.

[Adjective] Professionals…

My little part of Uncle’s vast army of minions has been plagued with morale issues for what feels like as long as I can remember. As usual, there’s no one root cause. There is a conglomeration of issues that beset and bespoil any engendered feelings of goodwill. Maybe that’s just the natural state of things in an enormous bureaucracy – the unhappy rabble fester in a simmering cauldron of discontent while the gods on Olympus conduct studies, launch pilot programs, dither, and tune their fiddles. They may well be trying to do something corrective, but either they’re too far removed to really understand the fine points, bad choices are being foisted upon them from still higher up the mountain, or they’re simply living embodiments of the Peter Principle. Not altogether rarely, you’ll find a combination of all three – an Unholy Trinity of Bureaucracy if you will.

The latest trend-of-the-moment is making everyone refers to themselves as “Trusted Professionals.” I’m sure someone came up with it as a means of improving the esprit de corps, of conveying the privilege of being part of something greater than any one individual, but seriously the phrase just begs for mockery. Crusted Professionals. Rusted Professionals. Busted Professionals. Take your pick. Insert the adjective of your choice and you, my friend, are now well on your way to being as jaded and cynical as the rest of us.

As a writer, I firmly believe that words are important. Words can change the course of history. Words only do that, though, when they’re back up by deeds. When they’re not, words are just words – more flotsam and jetsam on the mighty sea of brainstorms that fizzled before they ever really got started. If you want someone to be a trusted professional, then start trusting them to be professionals. Set the standard and then hold them accountable for results. The rest will follow.

Or just make them repeat an otherwise meaningless catch phrase at the end of meetings and hope it catches on. At least that way it will be fodder for the interwebs.

So you just graduated?

The whole world is open before you. Congratulations! I won’t mention that you’ve just been booted into the real world into the teeth of one of the worst job markets in living memory, or the fact that your degree doesn’t actual qualify you to work in your field, or that you’re about to enter a soul crushing, mind numbing grind that will rob you of your youth and keep up its blistering until you’ve dropped dead or saved enough money for retirement – whichever comes first. I won’t bring any of that up because your graduation is a time of celebration. It’s a chance to recognize a milestone achievement before you go off to make your way in the world.

Life after graduation doesn’t have to be doom, gloom, and the choice between living in your parent’s basement or your own studio apartment with an endless parade of ramen for dinner. Sure, you’re going to want you weekends to stretch from Wednesday afternoons until early Monday morning, but a few rounds of sitting through some mindless 8AM staff meeting will most likely break you of that desire. It’s just one of the machine’s many ways of breaking you down so it can building build you back up into a useful and productive cog.

Hope isn’t lost, though. The good news is that countless generations have preceded you. A few of their number were even thoughtful enough to write down a the tips and tricks that will help you navigate the professional world you’re about to enter. Now I could let you in on all these secrets for free, but that really defeats the lesson I’m trying to teach here – that sometimes free advice isn’t worth the electrons it was written with. Sometimes if you want the inside scoop, you’ve got to be willing to pay.

Let’s face it, at the low, low price of $2.99 for the ebook, knowing what you’re in for before it happens would be deal at twice the price. So, my newly graduated friend, I invite you to head on over to iTunes, SmashwordsBarnes & Noble, or Amazon to pull back the curtain and take your first steps into a broader world forewarned and forearmed. Nobody Told Me: The Cynic’s Guide for New Employees is the graduation present to yourself that you didn’t even know you needed.

The more things change…

I’m afraid we’re screeching back into one of those times when I’m going to spend far too much time casting around for new blog ideas. In this case, the problem isn’t any kind of block, but rather that everything I really want to write about is embargoed or otherwise of a nature that I consider it out of bounds for this forum. It really is a pity, because I know there are some real doozies that are sitting in my notes just wasting away. Sure, maybe they’ll see the light of day sometime in the future when they’re less relevant, but there’s no denying that takes the edge off them.

If you’ve read The Cynic’s Guide, you’ve already read most of this story. God knows I’ve already lived it. The best I can tell you is that the past is a pretty damned good indicator of what the future is going to be like. It’s 100% situation normal in the belly of the bureaucracy… and that’s a uniquely off combination of comforting and infuriating. If nothing else, I know what to expect. I’ve been here before after all. The names and faces are different, the scenery has changed, but it’s the same old, tired story. The more things change, the more they never do… at least this round of eye rolling is on the banks of Mother Chesapeake instead of Big Muddy.

Won’t get fooled again…

If you stick around any sufficiently large organization long enough, that which was shall be again. A reorganization here, a shuffle there, a bit of consolidation, another reorganization and it’s as if all the powers of the universe conspire to carry you back to the way things were before the wheel first spun. It’s one of the great universal truths of the bureaucracy.

Some people get up in arms over such circularly repeating patters. Others will tell you how much of an improvement the “new” system is over the “old” one. They’ll cheerfully tell you that it’s better than sliced bread and twice as nutritious. Some people will buy the company line about gaining efficiencies and economies of scale. Those who approach life with a slightly more cynical eye will shrug, maybe chuckle, and keep on doing what they’ve always done.

In that spirit, I can only offer the words of one of the 20th century’s great poets:

I’ll tip my hat to the new constitution;
Take a bow for the new revolution;
Smile and grin at the change all around;
Pick up my guitar and play;
Just like yesterday.
Then I’ll get on my knees and pray;
We don’t get fooled again.

That Pete Townshend, man… He would have been a masterful bureaucrat.

It’s Sunday. You know the drill…

Maybe if I didn’t still have a head full of crud, I’d take the time and effort to come up with a more snappy title for today’s post. Sorry, but you’re not getting that level of effort this morning. I mean you don’t always expect me to bring my A-game right?

The good news from today’s trip into the archives is that we’ve wrapped up the posts from September 2007. September ends more with a whimper than with a bag, but in a blog that’s just a play-by-play of what’s going on in life, that’s to be expected. October is looking a little more interesting so far. The first two posts you’ll see were apparently written when I was still professionally ambitious and not nearly as cynical as I am today. I’d almost forgotten there was a time like that. Maybe once the posts from the archive series is complete I can backtrack through the blog and point to the exact moment when I threw up my hands in disgust and decided to focus on other things.

Hopefully you’ll enjoy your time in the archive today as much as I have. We’ll return to regular programming tomorrow.

The journey of 1000 miles…

There are two things I’ve discovered for sure in the exciting world of self publishing: 1) Nothing is as easy or straightforward as it appears; and 2) You will find a typo about 37 seconds after hitting “publish.” Still, getting from the barest notion of an idea to an actual Createspace Announcementprinted book has been a real experience. Since I’ve turned my personal brand of snark and sarcasm loose on the world, the lest I can do now is stand behind it and bother as many people as possible to get behind the effort with me…

That’s why I’m please to announce to you today that Nobody Told Me… The Cynic’s Guide for New Employees is now available in paperback from Createspace for the low, low price of $7.99 (+3.52 shipping and handling of course). I might be biased, but I think it would still be a deal at twice the price.

For Amazon Prime members, the paperback should be available through Amazon in the next week if you want to save the shipping costs. As soon as I’ve got confirmation back from Amazon, I’ll post a notification here and on my Facebook Fan Page.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to step away from the keyboard, fix a strong drink, and take a breath.


I’ve got an entire chapter of Nobody Told Me… The Cynic’s Guide for New Employees devoted to the nature, causes, and avoidance of meetings. Sadly, being forewarned only lets you know what you’re in for, it doesn’t automatically get you a Get-Out-of-Meeting-Free pass. It seems that no power on earth can shove a meeting off course once it has built up a sufficient degree of its own bureaucratic inertia.

Under those circumstances, you get what we’ve had here this week – which is a meeting schedule that looks something like this:

Friday Morning: Pre-Pre-Prep Meeting (1 hour)

Friday Afternoon: Pre-Prep Meeting (90 minutes)

Monday Morning: Prep Meeting Part 1 (1 hour)

Tuesday Morning: Prep Meeting Part 2 (90 minutes)

Wednesday Afternoon: Meeting (90 minutes)

Thursday Morning: Post-Meeting Meeting (90 minutes)

This is not a particularly extreme example of what takes place to in advance and following what I’ll commonly refer to as a Very Important Meeting (VIM). In this case, VIM preparation, the VIM itself, and its aftermath sucked up about 480 minutes, or eight hours. That’s one-fifth of the workweek lost to a single meeting (or one-fourth of the proposed furlough work week in case anyone at home is keeping track). I don’t even want to admit how much time gets spent scheduling, preparing slides, making sure video lines are available, and mastering the actual subject material for one of these sessions. How much time is spent preparing for and attending meetings would make the average person’s eyes water.

Look, I’m not saying that every meeting is an enormous waste of time and effort, but maybe if we could just have one or two of them instead of six, we might all be able to get a little more accomplished. Maybe I should go ahead and schedule a meeting to discuss this new and innovative concept.

You can’t see it, but I’m rolling my eyes.