Yesterday was an eight hour shitshow. There are more polite ways to phrase it, but there are none more accurate so I’ll leave it at that. Don’t let it ever be said, though, that the gods lack a sense of humor. Where yesterday was a colossal effort to make me lose my ever-loving mind, today I found myself wandering through back rooms and hallways verifying that emergency lighting and exit signs were operating in good order during a mock power outage.
I’ve worked in a number of places where the ebb and flow of days was predictable. Whether it was food service with the regular rushes for lunch and dinner to offices that lived by the tempo of weekly reporting they all had some kind of identifiable heartbeat underlying the day to day activities. Personally I’m a fan of that kind of predictability in life. You can count on one hand the number of “good” surprises I’ve ever been party to in my professional life. Come to think of it, I’d be hard pressed to show more than a like number of good surprises in my personal life either. Suffice to say, I’m not really a fan of the unexpected.
I’ve long suspect that at least in part the utter lack of predictability in what the powers that be are going to choose to care about on any given day is one of the fundamental problems we face. Get a little reliability and predictability baked into the system, trash a bunch of archaic process and procedures that don’t make sense in the 21st century, slash half of the management layers off the org chart, and hey, who knows, we might get a little productivity and morale going around here.
Ha. Yeah. Like any of that going to happen.
Standing in the pre-dawn darkness, the first words I muttered after rolling out of bed this morning were, “Oh Christ on a crutch… it’s only Wednesday.”
That should have given me every indication of the kind of day it was going to be. But no, I opted not to listen to that small nagging voice that had already tried to warn me off. I press on with the morning routine – shower, coffee, feeding the menagerie, and trundling off to the office. I even had the audacity to enjoy the drive in, the humid air feeling brisk and refreshing once you got above a certain speed.
The wheels didn’t really come fully off the day until I’d already been at my desk for 45 minutes. I won’t get into specifics, but be assured it was all sideways and down hill from there. It was a day wholly given over to the anti-Midas touch – a skill that appears unbidden in my quiver from time to time and enables everything I touch to turn directly to shit.
Tomorrow has got to be better if just because there are only a few ways in which it could be worse. Steer into the slide. Regain control. Navigate away from danger. That’s the plan. Either that or sitting at my desk sobbing quietly. Really, either one feels like a possibility.
As we all know by now I’m a devoted creature of habit. Some of them are so well worn in that I’m not sure I’d know who I am without them. Others are more malleable based on circumstances. Contrary to opinion popular in some quarters, I’m not completely inflexible on all points – though I am on a few of them to be sure.
The real trouble comes when, of necessity, one of those more ingrained habits must change. Since unwelcome change in all its myriad forms is something that must be resisted at almost any cost, migrating one of these habits towards something new and different is rarely a course of action I’ll embark on willingly. I don’t like spending that much time with a warning klaxon rattling around my head that something isn’t right. The whole idea mostly just serves to remind me of a sign a friend of mine kept in his dorm room lo those many years ago. Perched above his desk, the sign gave off the constant reminder that “You don’t have to like it, you just have to do it.”
That seems to have become my unofficial motto across several fronts lately. My reading of history informs me of all manner of destruction/creation cycles and their near-inevitability. Mythology is filled with tales of the old giving way for the new to rise. It’s all very inspirational, of course… But that damned interregnum between one habit dying and the next taking hold tends to throw my whole neatly ordered universe temporarily out of kilter and that just sucks.
1. Lazy asshats. You asshats are competing for billions of dollars of contracts. Somehow, though, you can’t manage to take your water bottles with you when you leave the damned room. What on earth would make me think you were compatent to manage major program efforts when you can’t pull off the easy to do stuff. If it were up to me being a lazy asshat who’s too good to clear your own trash would disquality you from any future work.
2. Those who can’t “leave it at the office.” This week I’ve observed at close range dozens of people who stuck around to “talk shop” for well over an hour after the work day ended. Those people perplex me. I can’t imagine a circumstance where I wouldn’t have something better to do on the average afternoon than that. The last thing I want to talk about at the end of the day is what I just did for the last eight hours. All I want to do is slide down the tail of my brontosaurous and make best possible speed for home.
3. Critics. Unless I saw you sitting in six months of planning meetings and voicing your “good ideas” when we could have used them feel free to take you nitnoid criticisms and go fuck yourself.
I had a moment today. It was a moment in the late afternoon when the phone wasn’t ringing, there weren’t two dozen emails demanding immediate action, and no one was parked at my deskside expecting a decision of any kind. It startled me. It startled me and the the reality set in that I was in the calm… that last moment of peace, the deep breath before the inevitable shitstorm crashes over your head, swamps all efforts to manage it, and defiles everything it touches with its unholy stench.
Yes friends, I had that moment of calm this afternoon and every finely honed sense developed during nearly half a lifetime as a professional bureaucrat is screaming out a warning of rough weather ahead. Truth be known, I could have done without the calm – without the chance to sit back for a minute and think on the myriad of ways the thousand moving parts of this circus can come undone between now and Monday.
Someone once said that “Jeff is happiest when he’s bitching loudest.” There’s probably some truth in that… although I’d settle for being a little less happy if there were reason to need to do a little less bitching.
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.
When you’re sitting in a meeting with the great, good, and mighty, and one of them asks “Who approved that,” the correct answer is never “I did.” It results in a collection of blank stares, curled lips, angsty glances, and general twitchiness among the host assembled.
Yes, Virginia, I had the audacity to make a decision or two all on my own. I do it more often than they want to know, because it’s the only possible way to keep everything anywhere even close to on schedule. If we want to fall into the mode where the shading and font of every slide needs executive approval, you might as well fire my ass right now. Some decisions need made on the spot and unless someone directs me not to, I’m going to make them. I’m going to do it not so much based on any written authority, but based on the fact that I’ve got half a damned brain in my head and I’m reasonably good at what I do. If you feel that I need that kind of hand holding at every decision point, I’m serious, you really should replace me with someone more competent.
Look, I’m not vetoing bills and sending them back to the Hill. I’m not negotiating treaties with hostile powers. I’m not offering to cut entire weapons systems out of our portfolio. I’m deciding what slide template looks best when projected on a 50-foot screen and how many reserved seats we’re going to need. It’s the operative definition of nug work. It’s the sort of thing that should be well below the notice of those wielding profound executive authority.
I didn’t want to be the point man on this team, but someone gave me a task and told me to get it done. I’ll do exactly that, but it would be one hell of a lot easier if we could stop tripping all over ourselves. Believe me when I say if I hit a snag, or when the decisions needed are truly above my pay grade, I’ll be the very first to go screaming for help.