Some days you feel like you may have actually contributed something – made a difference to someone, somewhere. More often, in my experience, the average work day is more a haze of answered emails, unavoidable phone conversations, and shuffling papers from one side of the desk to another. At best, maybe you manage to shuffle some of the papers from your desk to someone else’s. As often as not, that’s as good as it gets.
Maybe there will come a time when I look back on these 35-ish years of professional “life” fondly, though sitting in the middle of it, I current can’t imagine why. I accept it, grudgingly, as a means to a desired end. I’m lucky to be good enough at the work that I don’t get hectored too much by the bosses and the pay is reasonably good. It’s got that much going for it – but ginning up spectacular PowerPoints, enduring meetings that never quite seem to end, and the inevitable zero-sum bureaucratic infighting isn’t the kind of thing I can imagine anyone getting passionate about. I’ve met a few who find it their true calling, though. That’s something that convinces me more than ever that we can never really hope to know what evil lurks in the hearts of man.
There’s not really a point to all this beyond saying that today I felt like a particularly ineffective cog in a uniquely inefficient machine creating marginal products for an apathetic audience. At least such feelings only occupy 40/168ths of an average week so that’s a bit of a mercy.
Look, I’m glad I’m not out there passing around resumes and all… but lord almighty am I glad I have other other interests that round out the “personally fulfilling” side of life’s ledger.
I was home yesterday. I had plenty of time to write and post a normally scheduled addition to the blog. I have no excuse other than the fact that I really kind of forgot that yesterday was Monday. Weekdays are usually hard to miss based on my level of aggravation and discontent, but being a big, beautiful day full of annual leave, this particular Monday wasn’t so afflicted.
I should probably take it as some kind of a warning sign that so much of my content is driven by the annoyance and general disgust generated by the average five-day work week. On the other hand, the fact that I don’t have much to say about the other 80 hours each week may speak loudly about how low key and relaxing I find the time not spent dwelling in cubicle hell.
I may have missed Monday, but you can rest assured that Tuesday more than made up for it. After all, where else could I put my 15 years experience, bachelor’s degree, and MBA to work putting giant hard-backed posters on an easel and then taking them off again all while working two hours of unscheduled overtime?
I’m historically a guy with a long… fuse. Most of the day to day trauma rolls past little noticed and I drive along on the same trajectory doing whatever it is that needs doing. Sure I comment on it here because it makes for somewhat interesting reading, but beyond the notes I jot down in the moment, I don’t internalize much. A quick spike in blood pressure and then I can smile, nod, and keep on going.
That’s most days. Then there are the ones that aren’t most days – the ones where you can feel your blood pressure rising continuously, until you’ve ended up with a screaming headache. They’re the days when every batshit crazy idea comes out of the woodwork and you end up wondering what the actual fuck you’re even doing. Days like that aren’t the worst ones, though.
The worst moments are reserved for the days when you have meetings stacked like cordwood at 9:00, 10:00, 11:00. 12:30, and 2:30. They’re the days when inevitably someone is going to ask why some actual work didn’t get accomplished while you were busy enduring your laundry list of meetings.
I might roll my eyes and mutter under my breath, but I’m not the kind of guy given to violent outbursts. I know from hard experience, though, that I’m a guy with limits beyond which it is unwise to push. And while that outburst may not come in the form of flipping over desks and beating someone with a three hole punch, it often comes with the loosening of the tongue and the saying of things that discretion and common sense would tell a clear thinking person are better left unsaid.
Opening my mouth and letting what’s usually my internal dialog flow out as actual spoken words isn’t the kind of thing that ends well. Mostly because what I really think is, in most cases, considered “not helpful,” “unprofessional,” or in some cases “wildly inappropriate.” I can’t quite shake the feeling that tomorrow is going to be one of those days where we’ve crossed well into the danger zone and every ounce of available restraint will be needed just to keep my mouth shut and my face from doing that thing it does when I’m abjectly annoyed.
1. Rain. Not all rain is bad or evil. We need it and in some quantity recently. If it could hold off a bit on pouring it down during the mid-morning through late afternoon parts of the day, though, I would really appreciate it. As much as I still enjoy driving my big red Tundra, I’d really like to continue Jeeping topless during the only time of year when it’s really comfortable to do so. Yes, I know the drain plugs will take care of whatever standing water may be on the floorboards, but that’s an extreme measure I’d just rather not need to resort to unless it can’t be avoided.
2. Q&A. Live, unscripted question and answer periods with “the general public” should never be encouraged. For every reasonably well thought out question that’s asked, three more that are either completely off topic, so specific as to bore the other 300 people in the room to absolute tears, or utterly nonsensical and not formulated in any kind of structure known to the actual English language. In an open forum it’s just not worth the risk. The potential damage due to the extreme rolling of audience members’ eyes is a real and present threat.
3. Trusted professionals. Today, I’m left with a thought from John Wayne in his last role. He said, “I won’t be wronged. I won’t be insulted. I won’t be laid a hand on. I don’t do these things to other people, and I require the same from them.” Now I may have missed the circus this morning, but let the word ring forth from this time and this place, that if any of you trusted professionals decides to to put your hands on me, you’d best have made up your mind that I’m the last thing you want to touch for a good long time because by all the gods, I will break every bone in your worthless hand.
I’ve known for most of my life that there are two Jeffs. They share physical characteristics and personality traits, of course, but that’s largely where the similarities end.
One Jeff is the “trusted professional,” if I can appropriate the phrase. He’s quiet, quick with a pithy comment, and has something of a reputation for getting the job done no matter how tall and order it happens to be. He can bring a surprising amount of charm to bear when he’s determined to get his way and the people around him like and respect him for it. He possesses plenty of leadership potential, but very little in the way of leadership ambition.
The other Jeff is guarded and far more stubborn than his alter ego. He’s governed by perennial trust issues, but builds fierce personal loyalties often to his eventual regret. He’s resistant to change, colored with a streaks of perfectionism, and subject to a near fanatical devotion to order and schedule. This Jeff can be charming too, but he mostly excels at drawing people close only to shove them away if they threaten to orbit too near.
Which one is “real?” Probably both. I have my doubts if the two Jeffs are severable at all – and even less confidence that either one would be successful or effective on his own.
Most people who spend their days dwelling in the bland colored cubicles of a standard office complex wouldn’t compare their daily experience with a trip to Disney World. As has been pointed out on more than one occasion, though, I’m not most people, so it’s the argument that I’m going to submit for your consideration.
Unfortunately for most cube dwellers, the part of Disney that our life most resembles isn’t the convincing enough facades that line Main Street or the shows that seem to come off effortlessly. That’s all the average visitor to any big theme part sees – just enough of the illusion to keep them interested and to keep them from wanting to look behind the closed doors at the parts of the park that can’t be seen from the designated public spaces. No, our part is the tunnels and back rooms that keep the whole edifice sparkling and magical for our “guests.”
Like Disney, we build boxes of glass and steel, decorate them in as inoffensive a manner as possible, and then fill them with adults who mostly are only there because someone told them it’s the thing to do. Even for those on the inside, most people never see how the real inner workings mesh. They never see and don’t even speculate on what massive asshattery lurks in closed door meetings or in the executive suite. I suspect that most people wouldn’t have the stomach for that kind of truth – better to maintain a happy fiction than an uncomfortable reality.
So that leaves the illusion of a happiest place on earth where morale is always high, everyone always does their best work, everyone ask themselves “is this good for the company,” and no one ever gets eaten by an alligator. I can only speculate that it’s just another of the great lies we tell ourselves to stave off the madness until we can slog our way to retirement age or a Powerball win.
The good news is that a scathing, but entirely accurate comment card submitted to the Enterprise Help Desk gets a bit of attention. That’s basically where the good news stops – unless you count my diagnosis of imminent hard drive failure being proven correct as good news. I feel like that one could go in either column.
The bad news, because of course there’s bad news, is that as of the this afternoon, the local help desk has been tinkering with computer for 10 hours. When I left today there was no sign or signal that I’ll be getting it back any time soon. That basically means I spent the day staring at the ceiling, doing some long delayed shredding, and throwing away post it notes I no longer need. It doesn’t exactly fall into the productive work category.
By my rough math if they hang on to the damned infernal machine until at least noon tomorrow the cost just in lost productive time would be sufficient to purchase a new replacement computer. That of course isn’t how we do things. Uncle, as is his way, has a completely nonsensical way to measure costs and benefits.
I forecast that getting my computer back tomorrow is probably wildly optimistic. Wednesday is slightly more likely, but far from guaranteed. It’s infuriating that this is the standard way of running the business. It’s disheartening in the extreme. I know I do good work… when the damned policies, procedures, and relentless pursuit of mediocrity don’t try to trip me up at every available opportunity. I’m sure I’ve had days where I’ve been more dispirited about the state of my chosen profession, but they’ve been few and far between.