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.
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.
1. Twatwaffles. Here’s a fun fact – the more condescending your tone the more I will go out of my way to make even the easiest things difficult for you to do. If you insist on speaking to me in such a manner, I’ll smile happily at your jabs and then proceed to frustrate your efforts at every available opportunity. I can out-snark you on every imaginable level. Your powers are weak and pitiful compared to the untempered brunt of my sarcasm. You, my dear, clearly have no understanding of with whom you trifle. I will take great joy at your discomfiture, you hapless twatwaffle.
2. Self-driving cars. While conceptually interesting enough, I find the practical side of the idea to be something less desirable. If there’s anything I trust less than a human being behind the wheel it’s a computer programmed by a human behind the wheel. At least, at some point, one might hope that a human driver might as a last resort be expected to fall back on their instinct for self-preservation. I don’t have any such fleeting hope for a truly autonomous vehicle. It will do precisely what its programming tells it to do right up until it hits a buggy line of code and then does something completely different. If the computer on my desk at work is any indication, by the time we clog up our car’s computer with sufficient software to protect it from hackers, advertising bloatware, and the actual programming needed to perform mechanical and navigational operations, well, I expect to be about 17 minutes into my commute before the damned thing starts throwing off errors and just gives up and shuts itself off. I’m sure there is an enormous market for these fantastical autonomous cars, but I think I’d like to keep the 20th century simplicity of a steering wheel, a throttle, a brake, and a gear stick (clutch optional).
3. Falling out of the sky. I’m not sure if there are actually more planes falling out of the sky now than there were in the past or if we just hear more about them now than we use to. I’m sure there’s some handy website that keeps track of that information that’s only a Google search away, but really the actual numbers don’t matter as much as perception. It just seems like these contraptions are hurtling back towards earth like giant man-carrying lawn darts way more often than they should. This isn’t likely to stop me from boarding my next flight, but I’d be lying if I said a certainly unnerving series of “what if” thoughts won’t spend the entirety of that flight lurking around in the dark recesses of my mind.
1. Big Pharma Guy. Despite the public outcry it’s actually not the physical embodiment of Big Pharma that bothers me about someone who ramps up the price of their product from $13 to $750. The dude might be an MBA, but he clearly wasn’t paying attention in the “shaping public opinion” part of class. Sure, it was a douche move, but hey, I’m going to tell you to go out there and charge whatever the market will tolerate for your product. The fact that he’s been so quick to backpedal gives me a pretty strong indication that he didn’t think things through all the way to their logical conclusion. What annoys me more than anything though, is that I’ve never had the foresight to buy the patent on some widget I can make for less than a dollar and turn around and sell to a willing marketplace for thousands of percentage points in mark up.
2. Volkswagen. Someone established tough standards and then someone else found a way to lie in order to beat the standard. That’s how it works. That’s how it’s always worked. While I agree that Volkswagen did a very bad thing, I’m not sure why anyone is reacting with surprise. People, almost as if by nature, look for the loophole that lets them do whatever they wanted to do with the least amount of trouble. In this case, jiggering with the onboard computer was the path of least resistance. A test is only as good as the way it’s validated, or as a wise old Warrant Officer once told me, “You don’t do what the boss don’t check.” If you’re going to insist on having regulations, at least then insist that someone is responsible for making sure the testing mechanism works. I don’t blame Volkswagen for following their own self interest so much as I blame a system that was put in place that let them get away with it for the better part of a decade.
3. Delayed interest. When I’ve been working on something for months, there is no conceivable way I can bring you up to speed on the intricacies of each bit and piece of the puzzle 37 seconds before that particular thing is done. Thirty seven seconds may be an exaggeration, but only a minor one. At some point when I tell you something needs signed it’s going to have to be ok in believing that I know what I’m doing. At least we can put that dirty rumor that we’re trusted professionals to rest now.
Somewhere, somehow, someone is lurking around our building complex sucking down cheap liquor like it’s their job. No. Literally. Like it’s really their job. Most people might say that’s pure speculation, but I know it’s a fact. I know it because the facilities people blasted out an “all hands” nastygram informing us that in excess of 100 “miniature” bottles of Fireball (empty, of course) had been found making a mess of the local sewer lift pump station… which means the individual in question is hanging around in the can to get their morning eye opener or afternoon pick me up and then flushing the evidence.
As a tax payer I should probably be profoundly offended. As a professional I should be ashamed at the actions of someone who is nominally my colleague. But really all I really am is pissed off that this asshat has managed to sneak a little happiness in a bottle into the place and they haven’t been polite enough to share anything. That’s just rude, because God knows most days the sun isn’t even over the yard arm before I start feeling like it’s time for a cold one… or a warm one, depending on how the prick is smuggling in his contraband.
Trusted professionals, indeed.