I spent the bulk of today tinkering around the pre-start up necessities for a project that not even the second year of the Great Plague has managed to kill off. It will be my 7th time attempting to herd the cats towards this effort. It’s entirely beloved by the powers high atop Olympus, but has been, is, and apparently ever will be the absolute bane of my professional existence.
It’s safe to say that whatever restive effects of taking the last half of December off are well and truly used up now. I’m shocked they lasted into the second day, really. That’s almost twice as long as I usually manage to not be completely agitated by the unique joys of the bureaucracy.
The only perk of having done the same thing for seven years in a row is I have an awfully deep bench of templates to draw from. It’s virtual acres of ground filled with slide decks, Excel files, and narrative documents that help limit the amount of original thought that needs to be applied. The biggest hurdle is sorting through it all to craft a package that looks new and interesting enough that the great overlords won’t realize that it’s a great batch of recycled ideas.
The fact that this year, once again, will be in the format of a “virtual meeting” helps out a lot there. There are only so many ways to doctor up a Zoom meeting to make it look new and original. There will be allowances for that. Probably.
Still, today has been like meeting an old friend. The kind of friend who wrecked your car, slept with your girl, stole your wallet, and kicked your dog.
For most of my career I’ve been a jackass of all trades – a circus roustabout thrown at whatever needed doing at the time. Sometimes that keeps life from getting dull… but then sometimes you show relative competence in doing that which no one else wants to do and it becomes attached to you permanently. One of those perennial problem children raised its ugly head again this morning.
You see, it all started as a small conference that grew over time to include tents, a technology exposition, food trucks, and a weekend carnival before radically shrinking down to a simple online “event” under the weight of the Great Plague.
Today I was dragooned into a meeting based on the threat that the Gods on Olympus are dreaming up ways to reinflate the demandable thing in a new and potentially painful way.
It’s disheartening to discover that we’ve learned nothing in the last five months – that the plague hasn’t managed to kill off the whole idea of professional conferences / boondoggles as monumental wastes of money. The beginning of the plague year held so much promise of losing the old ways in favor of methods that don’t involve dragging hundreds of people around the country, jamming them all in the same room, and putting 20,000 square feet of parking lot under roof.
As always, even in a plague year, the bureaucracy often exists simply to lick its own ice cream cone.
Now it’s important to remember that when it comes to event planning at the very best I am nothing more than a marginally talented amateur. I’m reasonably good at establishing requirements and subcontracting them out to people who can do that actual work. What I lack in any meaningful way is the patience requisite to answering the same five questions 437 times after providing that information in a read ahead packet that clearly no one bothered to read.
The real problem, though, isn’t necessarily who did or didn’t read what… it’s that although I’m tolerable good at identifying requirements, I really have no actual control over them. In the parlance of my employer, I’m not a “decision maker,” and frankly, as I’ve said loudly and often, I don’t want to be one of those. The most significant “wheels coming off” moments I find at an event of any size aren’t actually a result of poor planning or staff work so much as they’re the result of one of the deciders being visited by the Good Idea Fairy twelve hours or so before the damned thing starts.
The result is that plans are made, flyers are printed, and advertising is done… and the new thing that’s being injected starts looking a lot like an after-thought instead of something that was carefully considered and added because it created value in the week’s proceedings.
But since I’m just a guy sitting here, what the hell do I know?
I had three things all laid out for today. But all three of them combined don’t hold a candle to the one big thing that has been absolutely crazymaking this week… and that’s waiting until the last fucking minute to decide to pay attention to the onrushing train bearing down on you.
It’s not that I have a philosophical problem with needing to do things at the last minutes in and of itself. Sometimes a crisis really is a crisis, something that arrived by surprise and was otherwise unavoidable. However, what we here treat as a crisis is almost always something that we’ve seen coming for months, but have elected to ignore until it shows up on the front stoop like a drunk uncle at Thanksgiving. That is to say that nearly all of the chaos brought on by suddenly engaging at the last minute is completely self inflicted.
If there’s nothing else I’ve learned in my 16+ years here in the heart of the Great American Bureaucracy it’s that no amount of planning I can do that will offset late-in-the-cycle visits from the Executive Good Idea Fairy. No amount of anticipating needs, or prep work, or casting entrails will ever get you ready for things that should have been mentioned three months ago but show up with less than three weeks to go.
I spent more of the day applying some academic rigor to food trucks, cake cuttings, and feel good opportunities that one might think was strictly reasonable under normal circumstances.
Personally, if I were making decisions on who should be involved in this kind of information gathering, I wouldn’t pick me. I’m not in any way sure what would make someone look at me, a guy who by nature loathes parties, events, or large gatherings of people, and decide that he’s the one who needs to play a significant role in party planning writ large. It’s a skill set to be sure, but I have to think that you’d be far better off giving the role to someone who has better instincts for what people might enjoy.
Believe me when I tell you that what sounds perfectly nice to me generally doesn’t come close to passing muster as being good enough for the gods of Olympus. It’s just a difference of tastes and perspective. To me, a good party mostly involves a fire pit, a half dozen or fewer people, and plenty of liquid refreshment. Once we cross into the realm of crab puffs, linen tablecloths, and mood lighting I’m 100% making shit up as I go along.
My best time imaginable is finding somewhere comfortable to sit, cracking open a book about the Royal Navy in the Napoleonic era, and enjoying a well-made whiskey drink. Trying to convert me into a producer of something that feels like it could give the Ice Capades a run for its money seems like square pegs and round holes territory, really.
On days like this it really is helpful to remind myself that no matter what happens, whether the final product is loved or loathed, the clock is ticking and this iteration of the greatest show on earth will be here and over sooner rather than later.
Like many industries, here at Tharp Weddings and Events LTD (a tiny subsidiary of Giant Bureaucratic Organization, USA), we have a busy season. At the moment we are directly in the middle of it. Which explains the random nose bleeds and increasingly surly attitude.
The simple fact is the next five weeks are going to fuse into an undifferentiated and increasingly frenetic hail of emails, phone conversations, meetings, briefing slides, and random conversations in the halls. It’s like being inexorable pulled towards an earth-based black hole centered on the first week of May that’s doing its level best to suck in every element of reality that surrounds it while spewing anti-reality out on the other side of the event horizon.
For someone who has to work diligently at being civil and talkative in a crowded room, the whole thing is basically a preview of what my version of a hell dimension might look and act like.
This time of year is something that is simply endured. If it feels like over the next few weeks that the writing here is suffering, it’s not your imagination. On the typical day I’m busy using every scrap of available energy to fend off the encroaching madness. Historically it doesn’t leave much in the tank to deliver the kind of online snark you’ve come to expect around here… and for that I am gravely sorry.
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.