What did I learn this week?

For the last five years I’ve had the odious distinction of being the lead planner for an event that brings upwards of 1000 people from across the country into buildings, tents, bars, restaurants, and pool halls of our little part of the world. I’ve been fortunate in each of those five years to assemble a team the least of whom could be described as acceptable. Most were easily best in class. We got along with a few nudges from leadership and delivered each year’s product on time, to standard, and on budget.

This year, for reasons surpassing any kind of human logic, “help” as poured in from each and every one of four management layers above me. “Help” poured in from the lawyers. “Help” poured in from the people who manage the contracts. “Help” poured in from quarters that have been otherwise silent for years. Which is nice since we really have no idea what the time, standard, or current budget are supposed to be anyway.

All of this magnanimous help has made properly certain that every god damned thing that gets touched comes flying violently off the rails at every available opportunity… and especially on Friday afternoon. Which is tremendously helpful for both my mood and blood pressure.

What did I learn today? Ha. Well, if there’s any possible way that we can fuck this up, but still blindly stumble on without even considering whether it’s a thing we should do, that’a exactly the direction we’ll follow.

The utter soul of indifference…

My opinions on some certain topics are considered, in some circles, subject matter expert level by virtue of long and painfully won experience.

When we’re talking about issues in one of these area, life becomes much easier for everyone in one of two ways: 1) Accept that I do, in fact, know what the fuck I’m talking about and stop asking for more data and analysis or 2) Tell me the answer you want and I’ll find a way back the data into it.

I’m the utter soul of indifference with regard to what the answer is and how we get there… as long as we can bloody well stop revisiting the same three or four data points multiple times a week with no end in sight.

On having the talent, but lacking the tools…

I haven’t had access to one of our internal networks in over two months. I haven’t been able to print since Friday morning. For the last week, Outlook demands that I enter my pin three times before allowing me to send an email. My workload is spiraling upwards at an exponential rate while I’m being told that I can’t use the resources that have been successfully brought to bear on the exact same issues for the better part of the last decade. 

I am, however, being given as much “assistance” as I can drink from echelons higher than reality who have at long last decided to pay attention now, versus six months ago when their participation might have in some way proven useful. 

Management is always going to be management. There’s no hope to reform it.

But expecting basic office technology to do something that approximates working doesn’t feel like it should be a goddamned bridge too far. It is, of course. It’s a bridge way, way too far. 

It’s during these moments I can absolutely understand some people’s impulse to live life inside a bottle or pop every pill. If anyone needs me I’ll be over here trying not to have a stroke, a nervous breakdown, or possibly both simultaneously. 

Not to reason why…

Even if you’re not steeped in the history of the Crimean War, it feels likely you’ve heard about the charge of the Light Brigade, or at least know of the phrase, “Theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do and die.” Few lines of English poetry are, in my mind, more evocative.

The (very) short version is that the British light cavalry, owing to confused orders and the fog of battle, was sent charging down into the valley against well placed and defended Russian artillery positions instead of towards the far more suitable target intended. The Light Brigade, brave sons of England, faultlessly loyal to Queen and country, was savaged by the Russian guns.

Mercifully, I haven’t been put on orders to seize anyone’s guns. In the better part of two decades in service I’ve made my bones by delivering projects on time and to standard regardless of impediments or restrictions. I’ve worked projects I’ve hated with the white hot fury of a thousands suns and a few that I’d have almost paid to be a part of. My personal feelings never figured into the effort if there was a job that needed doing.

I’m not the kind of guy who gets frozen with self doubt. It’s not my nature. I want to get the job done smartly and move on, always. But here, now, we have the first time a job’s been put in front of me where I don’t see any good or reasonable path forward. Every avenue of approach bristles with pitfalls and obstacles… and the clock is running.

I’m in the deeply unfamiliar and unhappy position of legitimately not knowing if I can get there from here – in some large part simply because I don’t know what I don’t know. If you think what you don’t know can’t hurt you, well, you’re a damned fool.

Let’s just say that my usual sense that if I drop my shoulder and shove hard enough, I can move the world seems to have abandoned me at the moment. After seventeen years, it’s possible I’ve found the job that I just can’t deliver. If you think I’m not well and properly shook, you don’t know me at all.

Theirs is not to reason why, indeed.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

Reading for comprehension. Before you ask if I can provide the dial in number, perhaps you should read all the way to the bottom of the 4 bullet point email I just sent you. I’m not saying I always include every scrap of information someone might need in an email. Sometimes things get left out. But when I know the information you seek is one of the items I purposely put in a prominent place for all to see, it’s like you’re trying to get on my last nerve. I’m increasingly convinced the only reason meetings ever really need to happen is because people can’t be relied on to read for comprehension.

False surprise. You’re well into your 50s. You’ve spent 30+ years in Uncle’s service. Don’t feign surprise when things you want to try to get done two weeks before the end of the year can’t be done because 75% of the people who do the work, myself included, have no intention of being around between Christmas and New Years. It happens every year like clockwork. It’s regular as the tide. Please, for the love of little newborn baby Jesus, don’t suddenly pretend concern that a thing can’t be delivered a mere handful of hours before everyone but a skeleton crew goes away for a couple of weeks. This is especially true when you were given the opportunity to work the fix four months ago but opted to drive ahead anyway. It just embarrassed both of us.

Medical science. The good news is that my A1C is now actually too low and as a result the doc is taking me off one of the meds I’ve been on for the last two years. That, of course, was accompanied by the bad news that my cholesterol has finally snuck into the “troublesome” range so I’ll be starting on a new pill for that… along with regular blood work to make sure the combination of it all isn’t ripping my liver to shreds in the process of keeping the rest of me alive.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. The difference 30 minutes makes. Leaving the office on time gets me out and away minutes ahead of the big rush of traffic trying to squeeze out a couple of undersized gates and onto the also undersized surrounding highways. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that I’ve put some thought and analysis into minimizing the amount of time I spend fiddling around in traffic.  You see, the difference in leaving 30 minutes later in the afternoon translates into getting home a full hour later than I usually would… so it’s not so much an issue of minding staying in harness for an extra 30 minutes, but the fact that that 30 minutes really costs me a full hour. Anything that slices that deeply into my evening is bound to top the list of things that annoy me.

2. When I tried to warn you. If I come to you four or five times over a period of a few weeks trying to give you a heads up that something is coming along that will bite you in the ass if you ignore it, there’s a fair bet that’s exactly what’s going to happen. I’ve been at this a while now. I don’t cry wolf and I don’t ask for top cover very often. When I do, it’s probably something you should have on your radar. Otherwise, 20 hours before the thing happens you’re going to end up getting hit with a fast moving shit sandwich, wonder how the hell it came out of nowhere, and then get all angsty and aggravated that something that could have been easy turned into a smoking hot mess. I know being the guy who says “I told you so,” isn’t the best look, but I did tell you so. Sadly, I have very little control over what anyone chooses to do with that information even when they have been forewarned.

3. Failure to close. I should have been closing the sale of my condo today… but thanks to various banks, lawyers, and the state of Maryland, I’m not doing that. Instead I’m carrying the place into another month – making another mortgage payment, paying the insurance, and paying the utility bills. Plus, after three and a half weeks of planning, I’m just finding out that the damned home owners association that I’ve been paying into for almost 20 years hasn’t spit back the two page form they’re supposed to fill out so now I’m leaving never returned phone messages for them trying to determine what their dysfunction is. Buying a house is the single most stressful thing I’ve ever done… but don’t kid yourself, selling one is almost if not just as much of a pain in the ass.

The turd in my lap…

Look, no one is more aware that a lot of the things landing on my desk aren’t big, shiny, attention grabbing projects than I am. Some people might even be inclined to say I’ve made a career of taking these decidedly unsexy projects in my teeth and bulldoging them through to the end. Most of the time they’re something that needs doing and I’m more than capable of being the one to get them there without needing too much adult supervision enroute from Point A to Point B. Part of the charm of these “ugly” projects is how little attention or supervision they attract.

There are going to be times – maybe 30 or 60 minutes out of three months – when having a little overwatch would be beneficial. Show the flag. Give the illusion that there’s a renewed sense of interest. You know, basically do a bit of lip service to the idea that it’s something worth spending time on and that someone outside the immediate group is actually paying attention.

If it’s legitimately something that the bosses can’t be bothered to take even a passing interest in, I’m going to wonder why for the love of all things good and holy we’re spending inordinate amounts of time fiddling around with it at all. Fortunately, I long ago gave up tying personal pride or self worth to this sort of work, but it’s awfully hard for me not to notice professional disinterest when I see it. If I can spot it while trying hard not to, you can bet everyone else sitting around the table picked up on it… and that’s going to make them even harder to convince to come to the table next time some turd of a project comes down the pipe.