Yesterday was an eight hour shitshow. There are more polite ways to phrase it, but there are none more accurate so I’ll leave it at that. Don’t let it ever be said, though, that the gods lack a sense of humor. Where yesterday was a colossal effort to make me lose my ever-loving mind, today I found myself wandering through back rooms and hallways verifying that emergency lighting and exit signs were operating in good order during a mock power outage.
I’ve worked in a number of places where the ebb and flow of days was predictable. Whether it was food service with the regular rushes for lunch and dinner to offices that lived by the tempo of weekly reporting they all had some kind of identifiable heartbeat underlying the day to day activities. Personally I’m a fan of that kind of predictability in life. You can count on one hand the number of “good” surprises I’ve ever been party to in my professional life. Come to think of it, I’d be hard pressed to show more than a like number of good surprises in my personal life either. Suffice to say, I’m not really a fan of the unexpected.
I’ve long suspect that at least in part the utter lack of predictability in what the powers that be are going to choose to care about on any given day is one of the fundamental problems we face. Get a little reliability and predictability baked into the system, trash a bunch of archaic process and procedures that don’t make sense in the 21st century, slash half of the management layers off the org chart, and hey, who knows, we might get a little productivity and morale going around here.
1. Non-final decisions. Should I ever find myself deified and empowered to pass judgement from high atop Olympus, the cardinal sin that would earn my condemnation would be indecisiveness. If you’ve got the charter to lead, then by God, lead. Make a decision. Do something. Or just keep deferring any kind of actual decision until the diminishing number of hours available in which to act precludes all but one possible course of action.
2. Partisan politics. When Party A goes to the wall screaming about what Party B is doing, I mostly tune it out. I know my mind and no amount of rending of Congressional garments for the cameras will change that. When Party A spends the day screaming about something that Party B is doing and it’s exactly the kind of procedural jackassery Party A did when they were in the majority, well lord, I don’t know why anyone would ever think we could have a functioning legislative branch. I’m sick to death of politicians and people in general who only find something objectionable when it’s done by someone else, but perfectly fine when they do it.
3. Lack of marketable skills. My particular skill set is pretty closely tailored to work on the inside. There just is’t a lot of call for someone who can slam together a 150 slide powerpoint briefing, plan a party for 55 of your closest friends without breaking federal law, or estimate how much ice or water you might need after a hurricane (and know how to order and ship it). I’ve been on the inside so long now I wouldn’t even know how to apply for a gig outside. Of course there’s too much now tied up in retirement and benefits to really consider a wholesale change – especially when the jobs that sound even remotely interesting would lead directly from professional bliss to personal bankruptcy. I’m feeling just a little bit trapped and that makes me fantastically edgy.
Thanks to Facebook, I know that today is the 6th anniversary of accepting the job offer that ultimately let me escape West Tennessee and more importantly, carried me back to Maryland’s blessed shores. Believe me when I tell you that’s not what annoys Jeff this week. In fact it’s a day that I should probably be celebrating with feasting and fireworks and parades. As disgruntled as I now may be, I know that six years ago my mood was far more vile.
What annoys me is the realization that it’s actually been six damned years. That took more than a couple of minutes to really sink in. Even then it still doesn’t seem quite right – like maybe I’ve misapplied some basic mathematical concepts somewhere.
I’ve been forced to admit that it’s more likely the days have crept past at their petty pace more or less unnoticed to cobble together the passage of so many years just 24 hours at a time. Even that feels like a bit of a stretch, though, because I really have no idea where the time went – and that’s profoundly annoying.
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.
I often comment that it’s awfully hard to explain exactly what I do on a daily basis without the aid of PowerPoint. It’s usually said with my tongue firmly inserted in my cheek. Today, of course, was the exception in which the joke was on me (more so than usual). As it turns out, not only do I need PowerPoint to explain what I do, PowerPoint is becoming what I do to almost the exclusion of all other things.
Yes, today was that annual day of days when as I had the fantastic opportunity to lead a small group in proofreading well over 400 individual slides. I got to evaluate them for spelling, punctuation, grammar, usage, style, contrast, proper use of the template, correct branding, and generally to make recommendations to make these 400-odd slides more presentable to the general public.
It’s horrifying that in 2017 that’s even a job people need to do… and all the more horrific because it happens to be my job in this instance. If you’ve never had the experience of hating yourself and every other living thing on the planet, I strongly recommend reserving a 700-seat auditorium, dragging a half dozen people with you, and taking four or five hours to comb through someone else’s PowerPoints to find all the places where there are two spaces instead of one or where the contrast of white on gray text just isn’t clear enough. If you get through the experience without your eyes bleeding or deciding that the voices in your head really don’t want you to “kill, kill, kill,” you’re a candidate for sainthood.
There is the occasional rare day when I can sit down and focus on one or two major projects and feel like I’ve mushed the ball forward even if it’s only by a little bit. Today wasn’t that day. The fact is, I don’t remember much of what I worked on today. I try very hard to do a mental dump on my way out the door in an effort to not drag any additional jackassery back across the river with me at the end of the day. Maintaining that massive, immutable, and nearly impenetrable wall between work and “everything else” might just be the most important thing I do on a daily basis. It’s the preserver of my sanity.
I vaguely remember that at one point or another today Outlook tried to trick me into a meeting I didn’t need to go to, and someone wanted me to fix a broken folding table, and there was a very serious discussion about where to store 30 outdoor umbrellas for the winter, and picking 8 people to take a bus ride to DC next week fell squarely on my desk. Those are exactly the kinds of things that end up being the reason actual work ends up being so often late, halfassed, or just completely blown off. You’re just going to have to trust me when I saw it’s almost never intentional.
Maybe tomorrow I’ll get some of my real work done… but I’m not overly optimistic. Some week’s just go like that. Although past performance is not a guarantee of future results, it’s often a healthy indicator. With this week so far as a guide, the best I’ll likely be able to manage is keeping my head down and trudging on towards the weekend. At least it’s no longer in any way surprising that this is how the “real world” works.
When I worked in the District, the most important question asked at every social engagement was some variation on “What do you do?” or “Who do you work for?” The answer, of course, would immediately raise or lower your social standing or level of attractiveness. There was a while there I was introducing myself as Jeff, the young and idealistic Chief of Legislative Affairs for Some Random Made Up Hippy Dippy Non-Profit. That had way more cache than being a bureaucrat from deep within the bowels of some big agency.
To those who know me, I often answered the question with a touch more realism. When asked what I did, my stock response was almost always “I do PowerPoint.” For long stretches of my career it had the additional benefit of also being largely true. There was a while there I could diddle a PowerPoint the same way a virtuoso can make a Stradivarius violin sing. Plus it always seemed just a little bit funnier than the usual, “I could tell you, but I’d have to kill you.”
Now if people ask, well, the answer always comes with a little less humor. What do I do? Depending on the day you ask, I either have meetings about meetings or I’m the Organizational Party Planner in Chief. The irony of an arch misanthrope being the touch point for planning your next 1500 person event isn’t in any way lost on me. It’s one of the reasons I know the universe has a sense of humor.
At least when the time comes to punch out of here, I’ll know that I am fully prepared to begin my second career as the most overly officious and bureaucratic wedding planner in all of human history… because dealing with overly sensitive, emotional clients who want their special day to be just perfect sounds an awful lot like dealing with the day-to-day demands of your run of the mill general officer. The only thing missing is the poofy white dress.