I’ve spent most of my career as a relatively junior bureaucrat in various organizations. That usually means working in small spaces well away from anything like natural light. My last desk had what passes for a view around here, though. You could see grass, and some vines, and even a few trees. You could tell if it was sunny or if it was snowing. It’s such a small thing but I apparently came to appreciate it far more than I realized.
Sitting now in an interior room with no hope of seeing daylight, I realize I miss that damned window. I made the mistake of escaping the office for a few minutes around lunch time today. The sun was shining, the breeze was freshening off the Bay, and it was all the things mid-day in early spring should be. It was the kind of day that might make it a bit challenging to want to climb back into the bowls of a post-modern office.
The older I get, the more I tend to believe that we’re not really wired for this kind of work. Hermetically sealed glass, concrete, and steel – unless it’s incredibly well designed – really is something of a soul suck. It’s only the pesky things like pay and benefits that makes it tolerable… but only just. I’m realist enough to know now isn’t the time to run off into the wilds to live in a lean-to, but when the working days are done, you’ll be hard pressed to ever coax me willingly into another office building…
and all for want of a window.
There are other people who do the things I do. Most of them do one or two of those things, but individually my skill sets are not particularly unique. What is unique, apparently, is my capacity to do all the things more or less at once. That doesn’t usually bother me far beyond my normal daily baseline level of thinking the world is going to hell in a handbag, but today is one of those rare exceptions that sent my blood pressure soaring to new and interesting levels.
I had the occasion today to observe a program that is about two thirds smaller in scope than just one of the projects I’m working on had been assigned a full time project manager, who was leading two full teams of subject matter experts developing content and managing logistics, and a full staff of support personnel. By contrast my own project has me and a pick up team of folks who make it to the meetings when it doesn’t interfere with something else they’re doing, where I’m managing my own logistics, and hoping that someone, somewhere might actually develop the content we’ve agreed needs to be developed.
Because as has been noted in this big green machine of ours, gripes go up the chain of command, I noted the discrepancy and opined that things might go better if we applied a few additional resources in the race down the home stretch. Given the time and manpower the collective “we” seem willing to throw at other projects, it didn’t feel like an unreasonable request.
If anyone wants to know the exact moment I stopped caring whether this mother turns out to be a success or failure, you can trace it directly back to that time that leadership shrugged and responded that, “well, you know life’s not fair.”
I’ve built a career on getting shit done on time and to standard, but you can damned well believe I’ll remember that one the next time someone calls wanting to pick my brain on a day off or comes around looking for me to pull another minor miracle out of an empty ruck sack.
I had a moment of extreme clarity this afternoon as I was sitting in my cube quietly seething at the inefficacy of things in general – and of the minuscule probability of ever getting my office computer fixed in particular. Like a real living version of Office Space, I realized that I’ve basically achieved every professional goal I’ve ever set for myself and my last real motivating factor is to cut hassle to an absolute minimum wherever possible. I try to do respectable work because that cuts down on the number of people who are going to ask for it to be redone. I cancel meetings when I don’t have anything new to share because a meeting running loose with no agenda will breed more work all on its own. I smile and nod to all manner of ridiculous ideas because fending all of them off would be both exhausting and futile.
It’s not the recipe you would want to use for ginning up someone’s best efforts, but it’s certainly one that works when the overarching objective seems to be reaching “good enough” and proceeding no further. If I were young and impressionable this might have the tendency to being dispiriting. Mercifully I gave up having spirit many years ago. Then I jettisoned professional pride and shortly thereafter personal pride in a job well done. What’s left then, it seems, is the motivation of not being hassled. What happens when that’s no longer a motivating factor, the gods alone know.
I supposed it’s yet one of those cases where I’ll have to burn that bridge when I get to it.
Some days, like yesterday, the words flow out like water from a geyser – pressurized and seemingly inexhaustible. Then there are the other days, when nothing at all fits; the words aren’t there. Not even the topics are there. It doesn’t matter how much backup material you’re sitting on when you can’t manage to string the narrative together. If I felt like being honest, I’d admit that those are usual the evenings when I pull out a canned post – one that’s not time sensitive – that I have pre-written and occasionally use for filler when life intervenes in the writing process. As it is, though, the cupboard on those is currently bare so in the absence of good options, this is what you get.
Sometimes writing is an art. Other times it’s more like a fist fight. The fact that tonight is the latter doesn’t mean that it’s bad, just that it’s harder than it would be otherwise. That can make for good writing or it can make everything feel more than a little forced. That’s mostly the luck of the draw on any given night.
I’d like to tell you I had a better formula for how this is supposed to work, but writing, even these simple small posts, is a lot more like breathing than I want to admit even to myself. It’s just something that happens naturally without too much intervention. Sometimes it’s easy and other times it’s labored, but mostly it’s outside your direct control.
Even with the world on fire and a hundred possible things to write about, occasionally you get nothing. Since I’m not on a deadline and I’m not doing this for the money, the occasional bout of getting nothing isn’t really so bad… and since no one is asking you to pay for it, you’re mostly stuck reading it until I find something more interesting to say.
In the meantime, if you find yourself sitting in a cubicle and feel like chuckling at the fact workplaces everywhere are quite possibly filled with asshats of every conceivable form and style, click over and read a few posts at http://www.askamanager.org. They’re not all funny, but most of them are damned entertaining.
I was all set to sit down tonight and hammer out this week’s three-pronged edition of What Annoys Jeff this Week. Then, sadly, I was met with the realization that it’s only Wednesday. Only. Effing. Wednesday. I guess it only feels like each day this week is managing to distort time so that it feels like a week unto itself.
It’s one of those weeks where I put some real analytical horsepower into whether I should just sell it all, load a few bags in the truck, and start driving, how far I could drive before I needed to stop, and what I’d do whenever I got there. I like the roof I’ve got over my head too much to ever let that be more than a passing thought, but still the thought was there. I don’t really know what that’s supposed to mean, but it’s a happier thought that it probably should be.
Some weeks are better than others. I suppose that’s equally true of days and even years, too. For whatever reason, this one has decided to be a real whore, though. I’ve been cautioned against wishing my life away, but I’d be ok with this next few days passing on with all possible speed as I’ve accepted that no good is going to come between now and close of business on Friday.
Surprisingly, the very best thing about three day weekends isn’t that it’s an extra day not tethered to my cubicle. That’s a perk to be sure, but it’s not the best bit of a long weekend. That position is reserved for the simple fact that a extended break means there’s time enough at last. Time to fit in those things that never seem to get done when I’m busy cramming everything else into two days. There’s been time to read, time to write, time to build out a new tortoise habitat, time to spend four hours in the middle of the day cooking and not worrying about what other stuff isn’t getting done as a consequence.
The three day weekend means I can cross a couple of items off my want to do list instead of just getting through the “must dos.” It feels good to get to something beyond must run the vacuum, must do laundry, must cut the grass, must get groceries. It feels vaguely unnatural to manage to do something I actually want to do for a change.
Time and the lack of it are regular features here. They’re a regular source of frustration. I’ve spent more of it that I want to admit pondering why it always seems to be short at the end of the week. I doubt I’ll every crack that nut in any particularly satisfying way. As long as I like having a roof over my head and some nice bits of kit underneath that roof with me, time’s always going to be the resource that comes most dear… so just now, instead of thinking about it, I’m going to enjoy having some of it in excess for just a little longer.
This is one of those days where I’m reminded just how limited a scope of interest I currently seem to have. I could regale you with another in the latest round of stories about why the office is a shitshow. I could rant about any number of celebrities, political figures, policy decisions, or current events. In a pinch I could even bang out another about the alleged joy of home ownership. What I can’t do at the moment is give you a fresh and interesting take on any of those things. They seem to have become the background hum of every day.
I’m not an escapist by nature, but I find myself spending more and more evenings cramming my nose into a book and trying hard to ignore all the other noise. I don’t want to think about work. I’ve already had it up to my eyeballs with politics. I don’t have it in me to further ponder the expensive mud pit I’m about to have commissioned in the back yard. So for the moment, maybe I’m being a little more escapist than usual. Even so, spending the evening with a decent drink and a good story doesn’t sound particularly awful.
Conveniently I don’t have an inner adrenalin junky to satisfy or I’d probably be off signing up for sky diving lessons, so that seems like what it’s going to be for the time being – or at least until the other bits and pieces settled down a bit and are, on the whole, a little less exhausting. I’m usually inclined to try doing it all at once, but this one time I think it best to let my inner slacker lead the way for a while.