When the help isn’t…

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.

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.

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.

A late lunch…

I went to lunch at 2:30 this afternoon. Because reasons. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong about that other than the fact I usually try to snag lunch around 11. That’s reasonably close to the mid-point of my normal work day and it’s when you can run out and back without returning to find the closest parking somewhere in south Uzbekistan.

Mostly I don’t like eating that late in the afternoon because I stick to a fairly early dinner schedule. Even of weekdays, dinner is made, eaten, and cleaned up before 6:00. A late lunch throws that schedule out of whack, which nudges other bits of the nightly routine our of order. It’s all minor stuff that conspires to create a big mood by the time the day is done.

I still went to lunch at 2:30 today… not so much because I wanted to eat at that point, but because not going to lunch at all has the potential to create a precedent that I have no intention of adhering to in the future. In the absence of direct threats to life or property, lunch is a thing that’s going to happen, as much my time and inviolable as the small hours of the morning.

Long experience tells me that doing something for nothing only ratchets up the expectation that you’ll do a lot more somethings for the same amount of nothing. Even when that’s not the intention, it’s an idea that I’m determined not to allow to take root even by accident… although getting back at 3:00 and leaving at 4:00 does have a certain charm.

Doing the work…

I’ve done well for myself. I’ve taken advantage of my educational opportunities all along the path of life. Occasionally I even think that I’ve done better for myself that a simple boy fron down the crick really has any right to expect. Don’t think for a moment that I take any of that for granted. 

I’ve seen a lot of the world and had the opportunity to have some truly remarkable experiences. At heart, though, I ultimately think of myself as a technician – a wrench turner in the data economy. I’ve tried the whole management and supervision thing and we’re all better off for my having given it up.

Mostly, I really just want to be left alone to do the work. That’s where my talents and interests are applied to the most effect.

I’ve said it before and it bears repeating: Hard won experience tells me that I can either spend six hours doing the work or spend those same six hours sitting in meetings talking about the work. If I’m doing the latter, there’s absolutely no progress being made on the former. Putting more simply, I can talk about the damned work or I can do the damned work. I cannot, however, do both simultaniously. Personally, I know which one I’d greatly prefer. 

However, my opinion on the subject is clearly not of any great significance. If it were I wouldn’t regularly be spending 50% or more of my days sitting around jibberjabbering instead of getting the job done.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Bathroom stall phone calls. Yes, you’re sitting down and probably bored, but the shitter in the public restroom really isn’t a conference room. And yet at least once a week I walk into the one down the hall from my little section of cube farm and there’s someone holed up in one of the stalls having a full blown conversation. First, it’s the one room in the building where I can mostly go to escape pointless conversation. Secondly, whoever you’ve got on the other end of the line doesn’t need to hear you dropping the kids off at the pool. Lastly, you can save the stink eye, because every time I walk in there and find you on the phone, I’m going to fart, belch, whistle a jaunty tune, and generally be as loud, obnoxious, and passive aggressive as possible… because I dare you to say something to justify yourself in the eyes of gods and men.

2. City slickers. In Paul Krugman’s recent screed in the New York Times, Getting Real About Rural America, his thesis seemed to be that things could get better if only people in rural America started thinking more like people living in urban America. The catch, of course, is that I’ve made the conscious decision to live in rural America precisely because it doesn’t think (or behave) like urban America. I could have just as easily decided to live in Baltimore, Wilmington, or Philadelphia but none of those places support the kind of lifestyle or the quality of life that’s important to me. If the capital “D” Democratic Party ever wants to make serious inroads into the vast swath of country beyond reliably Democratic voting cities and inner suburbs, they’re going to have to come up with a far better argument than “you should just think like us.” The day I declare I want to give up wide open ground, backyard wildlife, towering oaks, no traffic, and idyllic quiet for “everything the city has to offer,” consider this my written permission to begin proceedings to have me psychologically committed. 

3. Recognition. After spending the better part of six months mixed up in delivering a final product that’s “rolling off” the proverbial line next week, there’s nothing more cheering that sitting in a meeting where one of the Gods on Olympus turns to you quizzically and asks, “Ummm, why are you here?” Oh, no particular reason, I saw a meeting forming up and I didn’t have anything else to do this hour so I thought I’d hang. I don’t ever do things for public credit to see my name in lights – in fact I actively avoid those things. Still, though, sometimes it might be nice to know it’s recognized that I’m not just wandering the halls lacking anything better to do. You can just color my morale well boosted today.

Personally…

I think it’s adorable when someone calls me sounding apologetic and forlorn because they need to make a major change to one of the events managed by Tharp Parties and Events Ltd. (A division of Big Bureaucracy Productions).

Look, chief, we all work for someone. You answer to your bosses. I answer to mine. If yours and mine provide conflicting guidance and we can’t sort it out together, I have absolutely no problem pushing it up the chain for resolution somewhere at echelons higher than reality. Your bosses and mine are allegedly professional adults who should be more than capable of decision making when their staff can’t come to agreement.

Believe me when I tell you that if you come to me saying “I know this is going to blow a hole in the schedule, but my bosses don’t want to do A, B, or C,” I’m just going to shrug, pass the word to the next level up, and move on with the day. The chance of my taking it personally is precisely zero-point-zero.

You see, there are a limited number of hours in the day and I’ve only got so much energy to apply to whatever batshit crazy things happen during any given 24-hour period. I do my level best to wast as little of that time and energy on anything that is absolutely beyond my ability to control or even to exert influence upon.

So, you see, if you ever find yourself in a position of delivering me “bad news,” and I take it with what might generously be called ambivalence, know that it’s not exactly because I don’t care, but rather because even as you were speaking, I assessed the situation as being something well outside my scope and I’ve already made the decision to refer it to higher for further evaluation and action.

I’m nothing if not a man who recognizes his own professional limitations.