One of the best parts of having been around for a while is that “my lane,” those areas of the workflow for which I exert some measure of control or influence, are reasonably well defined. Put another way, I know my boundaries within the organization or of the specific projects I’m assigned. I know what I can and can’t do – or rather what I’m supposed to do and those areas on which I am not supposed to tread. It helps me not dive into the deep end and fire off my opinion without first having that opinion grounded in fact.
It’s important to remember that your lane can change over time. It can narrow or grow wider based on the needs of the organization you serve or on the whims of those who lead it. Because of this, remembering who is empowered to change the size of your lane, also helps you avoid careening through the guardrail and finding yourself upside down in a ditch.
It’s critical to remember this when someone who isn’t in legitimate position to shift the width of your lane tries to give you a nudge. The fact is, I don’t care if you are a butcher, baker, candlestick maker, doctor, lawyer, or indian chief, if you’re not one of the handful of people who are authorized to change the width of my lane. Despite all their efforts to the contrary, I’ll smile politely, give them and understanding look, and then carry on as if we’ve never had a conversation.
I am an American bureaucrat. I have honed my craft over years. Who’d have thought that innate intransigence and a prickly sense of how things ought to be done would ever serve me so well.
The language of bureaucracy is full of many ways to admit that you have no idea what’s going on in interesting and completely non-committal ways. This afternoon I was in a meeting where I’m pretty sure I used all of them. It’s an awkward feeling, though not in any way surprising or unusual.
You see, I find myself in the not unfamiliar position of being told that I’m “in charge” of something without being given the corresponding authority to make any actual decisions. This means I’ll spend more time running back to higher echelons and asking “mother may I” and waiting for mother’s response than I will doing anything that might accidentally resemble planning.
Sure, I’ll perch out on a limb from time to time and make a decision that’s time sensitive. There’s a cost associated with doing that – a limited pool of good will that occasionally lets you execute an end run around the powers that be. It usually ends up with either being required to beg forgiveness or listening to one of the Olympians opine on how it had been their idea all along.
Mercifully the last thing on earth I want is credit. All I really want is to do a job quietly, professionally, and then head myself towards the barn at the first available opportunity. Frankly I’d prefer than my name stay out of the record as much as possible – because public recognition has a funny way of only serving to attracting more work and I’m not looking to expand into new markets here.
Today was the first of many meetings where most of my responses will inevitably be some variation of “I don’t know.” This is the time of year when I approach peak bureaucrat-ing. It’s a close run contest to decide whether I’ll respond “don’t know” or “that depends” more often over the the next few months.
I worked through lunch today trying desperately to un-cluster a fuck that need not have been clustered to begin with. The cluster in question was entirely self inflicted – as are most of our most damaging wounds, really. Truly we have met the enemy…
See, the problem is that we’ve got a really dumb habit of rewarding bad behavior. See, how I always, naively, thought it should work was that you provide ample lead time, sufficient instruction, and a deadline. Then, being reasonably close approximations of adult human beings, we can get that assignment done. What really happens, of course, is you provide the lead time, instructions, and deadline and everyone waits patiently until the deadline expires to begin screaming about not having the time, the people, or the money to get it done. All the pitfalls are things that could have been rectified early in the process if only people paid just a little bit of attention.
They don’t do that, of course. It’s far easier to blow off a deadline and expect someone else to jump through their ass to bail you out than doing the thing to begin with would have been. Hoping that there might be some level of accountability – that “because you didn’t do X, you cannot now do Y” – is a pipe dream at best. It’s one of those words we like to talk about, but not do a thing to enforce because it means someone is going to have to have an awkward conversation.
Day in and day out we reward bad behavior and then wonder why every single goddamned thing turns into a world-class cluster fuck.
1. Gender specific household chores. In the last week I’ve seen a literal shitload of social media posts boohooing that traditional “women’s work” is unappreciated in the household. Yes, I’m sure these posts are directed at a certain sub set of the population that largely includes households that consist of two adults and a few spawn, but honest to God my reaction is almost universally “Oh just shut the hell up.” If I don’t do the “girly” things like cleaning, laundry, grocery shopping, and making of doctor’s appointments those things don’t get done. If I don’t feed the dogs, cat, and tortoise they don’t get fed. Likewise if I don’t do the “manly” things like cut the grass, change the oil, clean the gutters, and do the other household maintenance, those things don’t get done. If I don’t drag my ass out of bed and into the office 40 hours a week, there’s no money to do any of the above mentioned activities. You see, I’m an adult. I do the things because that’s what being an adult means. There are days I’d love to have the luxury of dividing it vaguely near the middle and calling some of it someone else’s responsibility. The fact that somewhere out there many pairs of grown ass adult humans apparently can’t figure out how to each do approximately half the things I somehow manage to do on my own ranks somewhere between appalling and infuriating.
2. Pet owners who shouldn’t. If you need to be told to bring your pets inside during a hurricane you are an absolute fuckwit and would do the world a considerable favor by tying yourself to a bundle of cinder blocks and letting the storm surge have you. I’m willing to accept no excuse of stupidity, poverty, or unavoidable circumstance to justify your ineptitude to provide even the most basic level of care for a creature that relies solely on you to provide for it. In the benevolent reign of King Jeff you would be drug into the street, given a fair trial, and then summarily shot and left where you fall.
3. Internet experts. I love hurricane season because it’s when the internet experts in material acquisition and distribution logistics all come out of the woodwork with an “opinion” on how to a) get the right stuff and b) move it to the right place at the right time. I won’t go into my firm believe that these are the same experts who are personally challenged to execute their weekly trip to pick up family groceries and who’s greatest logistical achievement to date is packing the family truckster for a week long roadtrip to Wally World. My point is, it’s fine to have an opinion, you’re entitled to it… but it’s always best to try not to sound like a complete idiot while you’re having it.
1. Oat meal. I’ll admit it. I’m a fan of hot breakfast cereals as a group. Oatmeal, cream of wheat, grits, corn meal are all perfectly pleasing breakfast foods in my kitchen. Running unnaturally late one morning this week, I opted to try breakfast in the little coffee shop / doughnut place in the office. That was a mistake. I saw oatmeal on their menu and thought to myself “self, how badly could a place screw up oatmeal?” The answer to that was a watery mess that had far more in common with the average soup than any kind of oatmeal one might expect to be served. That’s going to be a hard no from me, thanks. When the response from the manager is “yeah, that’s the new recipe we’re supposed to use. Nobody likes it,” I feel like you could have warned a guy ahead of time. Personally I’m 100% open to employee recommendations that warn me not to order something on the menu because it sucks. Not great business perhaps, but it would have been top notch customer service.
2. Telling me to smile more. Mostly I smile when I’m happy… not when I’m focusing in on the 13th revision of a PowerPoint slide or enduring the 3rd hour of a meeting that should have been an email. The fact that my face tends to go rather blank and the corners of my mouth draw towards a scowl in front of my computer terminal aren’t necessarily a commentary on anyone… Though I suppose it could be if it’s someone who tells me to “just smile” one more time. I’ll reserve those clear eyed, happy looks for times that don’t involve spending eight hour clips tethered to a cubicle. Otherwise I just end up walking around with a fake smile plastered right below my dead eyes like so many other drones who don’t seem to know what a smile is actually meant to convey.
3. Responsibility. I want another dog. I also want another cat. I also want to go to the Buffy the Vampire Slayer convention in London this fall. I want a new truck and maybe a plunge pool in the back yard. I want a remodeled master bathroom and new kitchen countertops too. I am, however, not currently getting any of these things because I’m making at least a passing effort at behaving responsibly and in a mostly adult manner. This leads me to believe that responsibility and behaving in an adult manner is stupid, largely unfulfilling, and generally annoying. In a world where the penalty for behaving utterly irresponsibly seems fairly low, I feel like I’m getting the worst end of this bargain.
I started writing this post three times already. Each one of the three things that came pouring from my fingertips made it to about two sentences in length before I realized that they were all topics that more appropriately belonged in an edition of What Annoys Jeff this Week. Being the good and disciplined writer I am, I copied and pasted them over into that file awaiting the right moment for them to come out into the light of day.
I could tell you that I have a massive backlog of ideas here, but the reality is I’m sitting on a stockpile of thoughts that’s rapidly approaching zero. I can only assume that’s because I’m paying increasingly less attention to “the world” over time. I’m sick to death of Trump is a shitshow, Democrats are all socialists, keeping track of who OD’ed, and so on ad infinitum.
Maybe I should care more, but the fact is I just don’t. I know my own reality. The one where I grew up, studied hard, went to work and now have grown ass responsibilities to be concerned about. Maybe that makes me not sympathetic enough. Whatever. I have my own garden to tend and my own troubles. If more people grabbed their own personal bull by the horns, I’ve always reckoned there would be a lot fewer problems left for society in general to sort out on their behalf.
Yeah, I’d probably have more things to write about if my heart were the bleeding kind, but as it is, all I really want to do is keep the house looking nice, play with the animals, and read a good book. Making sure those things can continue to happen on a consistent basis is just about as far as my bubble of concern extends at this point.
1. A crowded room. There’s something (well, maybe everything) about the roar of a crowded room. It’s truly the sound I hate most in the world. So many people. So needy. So many questions. All overlapping, running together, and becoming indistinguishable from all the constituent sounds, as every voice gets louder in a failed attempt to project itself above the others. Just listening to it consumes every bit of energy I can muster. Truly hell is just a room full of other people.
2. Own it. One of the marks of a decent human being, in my opinion, has always been their willingness to accept responsibility for their decisions and actions. A decent person owns it, even when they’ve cocked up. I can’t list the number of times this week, “Yep, I fucked that up” has come flying out of my mouth. I might not do it with a song In my heart, but the one promise I can make is that I’ll stand the hell up and be counted for the bad as well as the good. If only showing that kind of personal courage was part of some kind of organizational system of basic values. You can’t see it, but I’m rolling my eyes.
3. Slobs. You are grown ass adults representing some of the largest corporations in the world. Stuffing a banana peel beneath your seat for someone else to deal with, much like an ill-behaved toddler, really should be beneath your dignity. Even if it’s not beneath your dignity you should damned well be old enough to know better. Even if neither one of those is the case, I’m more than happy to disabuse you of the notion that you’re in any way special and deserving of delicate treatment. You’re just a douchebag. Hopefully I’ll see you doing it tomorrow so I can tell you to your face.