This morning I was granted official permission from the gods on Olympus to begin preliminary planning for the annually reoccurring piece of this job that I hate the most. Yay.
Putting a six month long planning process that stretches across a dozen different organizations, nearly a hundred separate contacts, and relies on offering a happy, welcoming face to our partners from the private sector into the hands of a well known introvert and misanthrope feels like the height of bureaucratic folly. It’s the kind of thing I’d intuitively want to give to someone who didn’t unflinchingly use the phrases “wedding planner,” “circus roustabout,”, and “welcoming the great unwashed masses” to describe his role even to the most senior of leaders.
But here we are. This year will be my eighth as wedding planner in charge of this particular effort. Years ago the bosses promised “just one more year” and we’ll get someone else to do it. They don’t even bother with those lies now… so I guess it’s eight down and thirteen more to go… unless I manage to cock it up in some truly spectacular and unanticipated manner. I’m not one to go in for sabotage, but I’m told that accidents happen, so a boy can dream.
That happy dream notwithstanding, I’ll get it done on time and to standard, but don’t think for a moment that I’ll be enjoying any of what I must do these next six months. It’ll be a product not done for love or pride of a job well handled, but purely because I enjoy getting paid every two weeks and would like nothing to interfere with that continuing well into the future. Nothing more, nothing less.
One of my best friends from college had a simple sign in his dorm room. It said “You don’t have to like it, you just have to do it.” On such words, whole careers are built.
1. Bureaucracy. Wednesday morning I received an email from the Office of Personnel Management. The sole purpose of that email was asking me to forward the email, a request to take a survey, to my supervisor. Yes, before anyone asks, it was a legitimate email versus some kind of elaborate and badly executed fishing expedition. Every time I start to think that maybe we have reached peak bureaucracy, Uncle goes ahead and sets the bar just a little bit higher.
2. Meetings that wouldn’t even justify being an email. The bosses called a global “all hands” meeting for our corner of the great green machine this week. There were 80 invitees in person or online. Squarely in the middle of when I’d generally be breaking for lunch. Surely, you’d think, this would be for the transmission of important information or critical organizational changes. No. It was 30 seconds of regurgitated talking points and 14 minutes of birthday cake for one of the top line managers. He’s a good enough guy and all, but if you’re ever wondering why morale has moved on from being in the shitter to being in the septic tank, I’ll present exactly this sort of asshattery as evidence.
3. Pants. I had to stop what I was doing in the middle of the day today and put on pants. Between the rain and the plummeting ambient air temperature, it was just plain uncomfortable. I’m not mentally ready to concede that the long summer is over. I’ve obviously spent too much time growing accustomed to conducting the business of the day in tee shirts and shorts. Making the transition back to actual pants feels… onerous.
I am a professional bureaucrat. Not the best pusher of paper that ever lived, but there aren’t many cases where I have trouble holding my own.
In that role, one of the things you are faced with is that while you can be an advisor – a voice of reason – you’re not in any way to confuse your position as being that of a decision maker. That function is performed by others. It’s a fact that you either accept fairly early in your career or it slowly drives you towards a special kind of madness.
I’ve come to terms with it.
I’ll give the very best advice my seven years of running certain projects can provide. It will generally be insightful and guided by the experience of having been there and tried that at some point in the past. I can tell you where the bodies are buried, why certain ideas have never worked, and the kind of feedback we’re likely to get if you follow any specific course of action. What I can’t do is force you, as the decision maker, to follow the best path. That part is wholly out of my hands – and often beyond my ability to influence.
I can only promise that I’ll always give you my fair and honest estimate of what should be done, the resources it needs, and how to avoid the foreseeable pitfalls… but don’t think for a moment that means I won’t be right there cheerfully dispensing a loud and hearty “I told you so” when the thing turns into a barely mitigated shitshow because you wanted to go your own way.
I might be a trusted professional, but don’t think for a moment I’m above gloating even when the cock up means I’m doing 5x more work than we’d have needed to if we did things the right way from the start.
1. Pennsylvania roads. With a tax base that includes two of America’s biggest cities and metric shit tons of New York City commuters, I’m never entirely sure why the roads throughout the commonwealth are so utterly appalling. Maryland is a tax happy, liberal paradise, and as annoying as the endless road work throughout the state is, at least the worst of the pot holes get filled. I mean a bit of decent infrastructure feels like the minimum one should expect from a state government with their hands so deeply into everyone’s pocket… but not Pennsylvania, though. They seem determined to let even their biggest highways turn back into dirt tracks and cow paths.
2. Bait and switch. You lured us into accepting a meeting request with promises that “lunch will be provided,” but suddenly the day of the meeting it ends up moving to 9 AM and there is no food. In any other context that’s plainly a bait and switch tactic and illegal in many contexts. I’m not saying you should never trust management, but a bit of good, healthy skepticism is always in order.
3. In recognition of a newly annointed federal holiday scheduled for tomorrow and noting the 14 working days that the creation of this lawful public holiday slashes from the number of days I’ll be in the office during the balance of my career, there is no third thing that annoys me this week.
I sat through ten separate briefings about contracts today. Maybe it was one very long briefing. After the first hour, it mostly tends to bleed together with one contract being much the same as all the others. I’m sure to those who’ve dedicated their careers to the exciting world of government contracting or those companies who are hoping to score the next billion dollar contract from their Uncle Sugar, it’s all entirely fascinating. Being neither of those two things, it’s all largely something that just must be endured.
I’ve said for years that I’m completely agnostic about what people say or do once they’re on stage. I’ve rented you the hall, made sure everyone has a place to sit, talked to the guys who run the sound and video, and otherwise set conditions for you to succeed or fail on your own merits. What anyone chooses to do with it from there, is entirely between them and whatever gods they follow.
As a mostly disinterested third party, these several days of talking contracts does nothing for me so much as make me want to lay down and take a hard sleep. With no vested interest in any of the content one way or another, it’s all a jumbled wreck of dull, duller, and dullest when it hits my ears. You’d think after seven years of sitting through these some affinity for the stuff would rub off just due to long familiarity. Alas, it seem familiarity has only bred that other thing it’s famous for creating.
Some people, probably those with a more optimistic world view, would say we’ve reached the point in the week where momentum has kicked in. My less generous take is that really it’s just bureaucratic inertia taking hold of the event. Once a program or project starts, they’ll mostly just continue along indefinitely until something forces them to stop. There’s no stopping function here until close of business two days hence.
There’s a schedule we’re vaguely close to following. People are showing up more or less at their designated times. We’ve trudged through the first and longest day without any overly serious problems. Don’t get me started on people’s seeming inability to brief and then immediately go away so we can proceed on schedule to the next segment. This introvert will never understand the tendency to stand around, blocking the camera, glad handing for ten minutes once you’ve finished what you’re there to do. Personally, once my piece is finished, I want to be the first out the door. I’ve never felt the need or desire to mill around talking about what I just talked about when there was literally anything else I could be doing.
On a positive note, I haven’t had to worry about a giant tent blowing away during a freak thunderstorm, the caterer not making enough food for lunch, or issuing refunds for people wo decided to spend shit tons of money and then not show up. So I’ve got that going for me, which is nice. Still, from my wheelhouse down at the edge of the stage, the only good event is the one that’s already over.
1. The disconnect. No, I’m not in any way annoyed by being disconnected from people. I love that shit. It’s the disconnect from the schedule that’s throwing me off. Here we sit. I know it’s Thursday because the calendar says so but it doesn’t feel like Thursday. It doesn’t feel like Monday. I’m not sure if it feels like any day at all, or whether it’s all the days and none of them simultaneously. The days have become utterly interchangeable and that’s unsettling.
2. Extra dirt. I wasn’t prepared for the extra dirt involved with being home 7 days a week. I mean it makes sense. I’ve let the dogs in and out 37 million more times than usual this week. A certain wild, young rescue dog has already churned the yard like we’re Iowa farmers preparing to plant the back fourty. The week’s rain has turned his work into a quagmire… and they’ve both been trying to drag it all directly into the house on their paws. That more time home equals more cleaning should be surprising, but after working for the last twenty years it’s just not something I ever considered.
3. Outlook web access. On a normal telework day, I log in through a VPN connection and my laptop behaves just as it normally would in the office. With the crush of new people working from home this week, VPN is running near capacity. The alternative is old fashioned web mail, which works well enough for sending basic email. The catch is, it doesn’t pop up meeting reminders the way Outlook does before a schedule meeting… and that leads to a flurry of emails asking “wherrrrrrrre are youuu?!” I mean what am I supposed to do, look at the calendar and memorize the day’s schedule like some kind of ignorant savage?
There’s some kind of plague in the office that seems to be slowly afflicting everyone in the place. One of the people I interact with most on a current project has the good sense to stay home today. The other crawled from bed like a corpse hacking and wheezing its way through a day of meetings.
I’m feeling fine. But given the current prevailing circumstances I’m feeling confident this bug will take me down sooner or later. You won’t find mock heroics here. Hard life lessons have taught me that no one cares if you drag you’re near-dead carcass from your sickbed to make sure that one meeting gets covered.
Even if someone did care, the meeting and giant bureaucratic organization for which it stands, will roll along forever with or without you… So if it truly couldn’t matter less, you might as well stay in bed and make an effort to recover – or at least make the effort not to spread the plague to everyone who has to work with you.
If anyone needs me, I’ll be over here dipping my whole self in lysol.
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.
It’s the third day back from vacation. The restive and restorative effects of having a long and happy break have long since worn off. Frankly they didn’t make it past Tuesday morning.
I’ve spent most of this week trying desperately to uncluster a Special High Interest (SHIt) event that, not unexpectedly, spent the last two weeks teetering dangerously on the verge of flying off the rails. It’s the kind of thing that happens when too many people who don’t know all the background information try to give things a little extra help.
I’m sure it was all well intentioned, but I could have done without the added mess in need of fixing this week. Easing back into the routine and building up a slow head of steam for the haul through the next four months doesn’t feel like it should have been too big an ask… and yet here we are, with me looking for the nearest load bearing structure to repeatedly bang my head against.
People will tell you that it’s good to feel needed. All things considered, I think I’d probably enjoy sitting in the corner being ignored far more than I do being the guy who gets tapped when the next SHIt event is in dire need of fixing.
Sigh. Some boys have all the luck. It’s me. I’m some boys. And all the luck is bad.