I love books. I love how they look on the shelf, the smell of ink and paper, and the heft of a 900-page doorstop in my hand. With that said, I absolutely do not love all books equally.
Some books, I pick up after reading a positive review or finding something interesting on the front flap. I’ve gotten to be a pretty decent judge of what I’m going to enjoy and what I won’t based on a quick assessment – even if that means literally judging a book by its cover. Sometimes, though, I get it wildly wrong.
I’ve heard that some people can just stop reading a book they find they’re not enjoying. Being able to just walk away and find something more interesting feels like it must be awfully freeing. I can only wish I was that kind of person. You can probably count on one or maybe two hands the number of books I’ve ever just given up reading because it turns out I have no real interest.
Me? Yeah. I’ll grind through a book, no matter how dull, just because I’ve started it. Once I’m a chapter or two in, I’m going to finish even if it’s an absolute slog. Sure, even from these books I pick up a few worthwhile nuggets, but finding them is more chore than joy.
As it turns out, there are occasionally times when raw determination to see things through to the end is not in any way helpful… I don’t suppose you’ll see that little gem on a motivational poster, though.
I almost called in sick today. I didn’t sleep particularly well last night and this morning my face felt like the dentist had practiced his trade with a jackhammer instead of a drill. Hot coffee made it worse and I’d have liked nothing more than to kick back in my favorite comfy chair with an ice pack and gone about the important business of feeling better.
What I did instead, was pull up my big boy pants, swallow down a fist full of ibuprofen, and drive in to the office. I did this because I had one minor thing that needed to be done before noon and I didn’t feel like sticking anyone else with it. Instead of coming in and being able to knock this one small item off the list this morning, though, what I found was that none of what had been agreed to on Friday had actually been done. At least one of the people who needed to see it was on vacation. Another couldn’t be bothered to read any of the follow-up email.
So, because I was trying to do the right thing by not setting up one of my coworkers to have to send an email on up the chain, there I sat with my thumb firmly emplaced up my ass unable to get the most basic of things accomplished. The longer I serve this republic, the more convinced I become that no one enters these jobs angry and jaded, but they’re made so by circumstances and conditions well outside of their control.
I almost called in sick today. I should have done it. I allowed the possibility that I’d achieve something productive to cloud my judgement. I very clearly make bad decisions… and for that I am very, very sorry.
1. Snap judgement. I’ve got a pretty good record of making snap judgements about people and situations. Occasionally, though, I’m proven utterly and unequivocally wrong. Just occasionally people really do surprise me. That seeds chaos and discontent in my universe and really does annoy me to no end.
2. Email. Actual it’s the lack of email that’s the problem. If we’re going to pretend to be an organization that lives and dies by electronic communication, keeping this most basic of those tools available feels like a reasonable place to start before we dive in and try to tackle the more complex stuff. But hey, what do I know? I’m just a guy sitting here because the damned email isn’t working.
3. Anyone who asks why I like animals so much and people so little. Seriously with that question? Have you met animals? They’re awesome. Sure, some of them will kill you if given half a chance, but on the whole they’re endearing and some of them are downright adorable. They can be expected to go about their lives doing basic animal things. On the other hand, have you met people? Some of them will kill you given half a chance too, but they have far fewer of the animal’s redeeming qualities and are, as a group, far less adorable. Unlike the other members of the animal kingdom, a large percentage of people can be expected to wander through their lives oblivious to the world around them and behaving in as obnoxious manner as possible. Given the choice, I don’t see how it’s even a contest.
They say robots and artificial intelligence are coming to take all the jobs. Apparently this time it’s not just manufacturing that’s going to feel the pinch of automation, but professional services will be absorbed into the collective too.
On days when I’ve sent 87 emails and received about twice as many, all I can really wonder is what the hell out robot overlords are waiting for? Why on earth would I resist or even object to an AI system taking over the heavy lifting so I can focus in on the 5-10% of those emails that should have really gotten some academic rigor rather than just the stock answer.
As far as robots taking over the place, personally I welcome it. Let them do the drudgery and free up some good old fashioned human brainpower to deal with the stuff that actually matters.
Then again, at the end of a day like this one I’d also probably be equally welcoming of Skynet come to eradicate the species, so my judgement could be somewhat compromised at the moment.
1. Details. There are two general schools of thought when it comes to details. One school says that you should cover every minute detail in as great a depth as possible. The other is that you should flesh out the broad strokes of an issue and allow maximum flexibility in determining which of the details is important. I tend to fall into the latter category… and it makes me ragingly hostile when someone wants to nitpick every solitary detail rather than use their own best judgment about how to get from Point A to Point B.
2. Timing. It seems to me that despite best efforts to the contrary, most events generally happen when they happen. While most of us make an effort to manage timing as best we can, as often as not that train is leaving the station regardless of what we do and there’s not a thing gained from laying down on the tracks in front of it. So, although I’m more than happy to concede that timing certainly drives events and gives them momentum, I’ll be damned if I’m willing let it alone be the determining factor in how those events unfold. Grand strategy is far too important to be left to the simple whims of timing.
3. France. Suddenly the French have decided to be all loud and militant about chemical weapons in Syria. Welcome to the party, France, but you’re a little late. I don’t remember you coming online when Iraq was in the crosshairs and we know for certain that they used chemical weapons against their own minority Kurdish population. If France thinks Syria is a war worth fighting, I’m all in favor of giving them the green light to lead their own coalition of the willing into that stinking quagmire of a civil war. But after a generation or two of France thumbing its nose at US foreign policy, I hope you’ll forgive me if I don’t jump on board with whatever wild international game they’re hoping to play.
There’s a good chance that when I’m sitting in an office alone with the door closed I’m doing something important and I don’t want to be interrupted. The closed door should have been a dead giveaway. The shake of my head when you peered through the window could have been another good indication. The look of disbelief followed one of smoldering hatred when you walked in and started talking about getting your timesheet signed should probably have stopped you dead in your tracks. But no, despite the voices coming out of the speakerphone middle of the table, I actually had to tell you that I was on a teleconference and that no, this wasn’t a good time for us to discuss it. Actually, I think the exact phrase was “Christ on a crutch, I’m on a call here. Get the eff out.”
Fact is, I was doing a phone interview for a promotion with a different big government agency. If I don’t get the position, I know who I will forever blame for it. If my boss was sitting behind closed doors, wandering in just to discuss routine operational questions would be the furthest thing from my mind. The door’s closed for a reason. If it’s critical, I’ll make my own decision, leave a note, or send an email, but unless the fence line is about to be overrun by shotgun toting rednecks, I’m not taking it upon myself to decided whatever’s on my mind is more important than whatever the boss happens to be working on.
Good judgment, I suppose, isn’t something I should expect… but the ability of people to operate without me at my desk for 30 minutes seems like something they should be able to manage. Or not.
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.