Now that I’ve spent a day at the office, it feels like 2019 is well and truly underway. The meetings, the phone calls, the email, the regular and recurring requests to change “happy” to “glad” on every piece of paper leaving my desk… the calendar may be changed, but the new year feels reliably like the old. It is, if nothing else, the devil I am extremely well acquainted with by the point.
Everyone wants to start off the new year drunk on champagne and optimism – believing in spite of themselves that surely this year will be better than the last. I’ve always thought such optimism was a funny attitude with which to go through life – especially after living through a few decade’s worth of new years and finding that the only thing that ever really changes is the date.
I’m not saying that the new year needs to be welcomed with doom and gloom, just that we collectively heap the time of year with mounds of unreasonable expectations. I try to be a bit more circumspect in acknowledging the arrival of 2019. Taken on average, some things will be marginally better. Other things will be marginally worse. A few things will swing wildly in one direction or the other. Mostly I expect that things will muddle through largely unchanged year over year.
So far my ability to predict the future is remarkably prescient.
1. Surprises. I will never in my life understand why anyone likes being surprised. In my experience being caught off guard, having a bombshell dropped in your lap, getting a wake-up call, or enduring a rude awakening are all fundamentally bad things. It is, sadly, impossible for any one person to know all the things and to be prepared for all the eventualities. Even so, that doesn’t mean we have to like getting blindsided even in the exceedingly rare case where it’s a “good” surprise.
2. Decisions. Look, if you’re not going to “empower” me to be a decision maker, the very least I should be able to expect is that someone up the line will actually be making decisions in something approaching a timely manner. Sure, some questions are difficult and need great thought and discussion, but mostly are run of the mill and answerable as part of a simple yes/no or this/that dyad. Getting the answer shouldn’t take weeks and slow every project down to the point where forward progress can only be measured in a lab environment by high-precision lasers.
3. Training. My employer has made a few stuttering baby steps towards eliminating some of the onerous annual training requirements that eat up time and net very little in the way of return on investment. However, they still insist of gaggling everyone up for far too many of these “valuable opportunities to learn.” After fifteen years on the job if I haven’t learned not to be a rapist or walk around making sexually suggestive comments to my coworkers, I’m not sure the 16th time around is going to generate that magical “aha moment” they seem to want. At least the box is checked for another year… and that’s what really matters.
Most people feel awkward telling truth to Power. It’s uncomfortable. It may make you unpopular. Like bitter medicine, the recipient will likely not enjoy the experience. Power will either blame or resent the messenger.
However, what you need to know about telling truth to Power is that every now and then you get to see Power’s face contort into the worlds most perfect scowl… And that moment makes all of Power’s bitter, condescending asshattery almost feel worthwhile even if just in the moment.
I’m probably way more suspicious than I should be. It’s not so much that I’m paranoid (I’m nowhere near important enough for the universe to be conspiring against me after all) as I have a healthy skepticism about most things. It kicks into overdrive when what I expected to be a day awash in asshattery turns out to be unexpectedly quiet and uncomplicated.
Today was the kind of day that makes me look over my shoulder or peer skyward to see if I can find the other shoe to come hurtling out of the stratosphere. It was the kind of day I expected to go completely sideways from the opening bell… and then when it didn’t, I spent the next eight hours watching my back and expecting the worst. By all rights today should have been a shitshow. The fact that it wasn’t, while pleasantly surprising, leaves me with decided feeling of dread and horror at what tomorrow could bring.
This close to a big muscle movement, there should have been churn and anguish. The fact that the email was manageable and the phone calls non-existent defies every kind of logic I know. I should probably attribute this deviation from the norm to it being the day after Easter, a fair number of people using up some of the precious time off, or contending, as I am, with a baked ham hangover. Or perhaps it was a lull to bait me into optimism based on a false sense of security.
My expectations for today were off. There’s still a whole mass of stupid coming down the line, it just seems it’s taking a bit longer to get here than I anticipated… the fact that it’s a day or more late arriving just means it’s just going to be more concentrated and juicy when the time comes.
Today was not an unmitigated success. There were no meetings and, if I’m honest, that goes a long way towards making a day more tolerable if nothing else. Then there was the great cleaning of the inbox. Clearing out near 300 backlogged messages that had no hope of being answered felt like a win… until I then was left to ponder the hundred or so that remained and actually needed some kind of answer. I spent way more of the day plowing through those than I want to think about. The amount of time wasted on email would be spectacular if anyone ever bothered to add it all up. They won’t, of course, because no one really wants to know the answer for fear they may have to do something to make that number more reasonable.
So now I’m back to the office. They say great art comes from great pain. That could very well be true. I don’t know if “pain” is the right word here and I’m in no way vain enough to call what I’m doing art, but my best and most consistent writing almost always finds its source at the office. Sure, that could be because for five days out of every seven that’s where I spend more waking hours than anywhere else. I like to think, though, that it’s because the bureaucracy is a vast treasure trove of stories begging to be told. If I weren’t part of it, I’d have a hard time believing that anything so convoluted could even give the impression of functioning.
I’m not thrilled beyond all reasonableness to be back in my swivel chair, but for the sake of the blog it’s a good thing… and that’s as close to glass full as I’m going to be able to manage.
1. Friday afternoon. What kind of jackass sets up a meeting on a Friday after 4PM? Time, being the precious resource that it is, the start of the weekend should be even more sacrosanct. It should be inviolable. It should be the most iron-clad and immutable moment of the week. But no, because no one has the good sense to tell someone with a little bit of power that it’s a stupid idea, the weekend will be indefinitely delayed by another meeting that could have probably been an email.
2. Diagnostic analysis. I’m an analyst. It’s what I do and probably does a good job describing who I am as a human being. Generally when someone wants an analysis “on the fly,” I can reach into my back of tricks and give them the back of the napkin version without much trouble. Now when you tell me that the issue is a non-replicable fault, can’t identify who discovered the issue or what was actually reported, want it done without the benefit of credible trouble tickets or help requests, and no other direct method of measurement, well, basically what’s left is polling the operators and asking if everything is performing within normal parameters. If they say yes and the automated metrics agree with them, then the analysis is complete, there was no fault, and all systems are behaving normally. Analysis complete. I don’t know what else to tell you.
3. A good week ruined. I started off on Tuesday with a less than usually jaundiced view of the world. I was well rested for the first time in I don’t remember how long. Dare I say I was optimistic of having a reasonably good week. That nonsense didn’t last out the day of course and it’s been a straight mud-soaked slog through to Thursday night. If I can put my head down and bull my way through the next three weeks without a heart attack, a stroke, or setting the building on fire, I should probably consider it a job well done and never think of it again. Until next summer. When they whole damned thing starts over again.
1. Meeting prep. My feelings about meetings are fairly well known and not at all surprising. As wonderful as the average meeting is, the time wasted just sitting in them isn’t the only thing that fuels my discontent. The real problem is everyone – and I mean everyone – seems to look for excuses to have a call a meeting. It’s like what alleged professions do to kill time when they’re bored or lonely. Add to that people’s natural tendency to take Mondays and Fridays off and most meetings stack up like cordwood on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. The issue then becomes the inordinate amount of time a poor simple soul then needs to spend just to find and reserve an empty room that has all the required audio/visual bells and whistles. Getting that process done from start to finish usually takes two or three times as long as the meeting itself. To add insult to injury about 30% of the time once you’ve wasted half the day just getting the room itself, the crazy bastards that set up the meeting in the first place cancel it – or worse – they change the time, which leads directly into an endless cycle of wash, rinse, and repeat. The whole thing is maddening.
2. It could be worse. People who comment “it could be worse” as a response when situations go bad clearly miss the point. Of course it could be worse. You can always hit rock bottom and then start digging. Just because you can, however, doesn’t mean you should. Just because it’s not as bad as the worst possible scenario doesn’t mean it’s good and it sure as hell not something to be chipper about. Asshat.
3. Bad investments. I bought a house in December 2007. A month later the bottom fell out of the real estate market… and then proceeded to keep falling for the next four years before leveling off. You might have heard something about it on the news for the better part of the last decade. It’s only been in the last year that there’s been any progress towards clawing back a little of that value. It’s too little, too late. Even with the barking dog neighbors on one side and the regularly evicted neighbors on the other, I liked my house. I wish I could have boxed it up and moved it north with me. Instead it’s just sitting down there being a bad investment, bleeding me a few hundred dollars at a time. As much as I hate to admit the mistake – and making permanent the loss incurred – I’m ready to call it what it is, take my lumps, and move on expeditiously. What I lose in cash flow surely will be offset by the removal of the damed albatross from around my neck.