I’ve ranted and railed at length about the seemingly endless trail of mandatory training “experiences” my employer requires each and every year. Some of those trainings are online modules that literally have not changed since I started way back in 2003. I’m looking at you here Constitution Day Training. Having studied history and political science, there are very few documents written in the English language that I prize more highly than the Constitution. Clicking through a few pages of how a bill becomes a law or which powers reside in the Executive and which in the Legislative just doesn’t fill me with an augmented sense of awe and wonder. The fact that so much of this training is stale, though, misses the broader point.
Regardless of how stale or dated the training, it’s mandatory. Beyond it being mandatory, eventually I know I’m going to catch hell if all those little boxes are not check off next to my name before the clock runs out on the end of September. What everything finally translates to is I’m going to suck it up and wade through hours of pointless training not because it’s teaching me something new, but because I want to keep myself out of trouble. I’m sure that’s some kind of pedagogical construct, but it’s not one I learned about a hundred years ago when I was learning to be a teacher and design instruction. Again, however, even that misses the big point here.
The really important thing I have to say about the mind numbing volume of mandatory training is that unlike previous years where I come sliding in sideways and waving one last certificate on September 30th, I’m finished early. Very early. I’m fairly sure that the first time in my career that’s ever happened. It feels vaguely unnatural. Fortunately I know that feeling can’t possibly last long before someone slams a new “must do” training requirement into the system so we can piss away more time on activities that mostly teach you how to sleep with your eyes open.
Government work isn’t exactly bad when you can get it. There are, of course, strings attached. One of the most off-putting strings by which I am tethered to the job is attending a series of monthly meetings that may or may not have any actual relationship to my profession. Since I’m well known as a team player and an undeniable physical presence in any room, I show up, listen attentively, take notes, and regularly report back only that there is nothing significant to report. Sitting through an endless series of meetings doesn’t require a real human-sized brain, but separating the mind from the body is generally frowned upon. Since my General Schedule overlords seem pleased enough with this arrangement, I too will leave well enough alone.
Look, I’m the first one to rock the boat whenever I think rocking it might actually do some good. Fighting city hall over the number of random meetings people get stuck in isn’t one of those occasions. I’ve been a professional bureaucrat long enough to know that the only thing worse than being in too many meetings is not being in them – because that’s always when someone gets the bright idea to make something your responsibility and not actually bother to tell you about it. So in a way, making sure all the meetings are well attended is a warped kind of self defense mechanism.
So baring a Powerball win, my foreseeable future would seem to include spending the hourly equivalent of at least one full week a month doing nothing more than sitting in meetings where my only real responsibility is signing off with “No sir, nothing to add here.”
This is the life I chose… it’s a blessing and a curse.
If you stick around any place long enough, you’re going to see history repeat itself over… and over… and over. After almost a decade of professional service to the United States, I can honestly tell you that there’s not much left that really surprises me or makes me nervous. There is one thing, though, that to this day makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and fills me with the ominous feeling that something ridiculous is about to happen. It’s not a warning light that flashes “launch detected” or even the thought of getting handed my walking papers if Congress doesn’t get its act together. Those are realities you just sort of things you learn to live with along the way.
The thing that strikes fear into my very heart is the sound of a phone ringing at 3:55 on a Friday afternoon. Nothing, absolutely nothing, good happens at 3:55 on Friday afternoons. Like a call in the middle of the night, it is never, ever good news. More often than not it’s someone who has made a bad decision somewhere along the line and is flailing desperately in an effort to find someone else to share their misery. Make no mistake, if you’re foolish enough to pick up that ringing phone, you’re going to become the someone in question. And your life is going to get very stupid, very quickly.
Sure, I know everyone is a selfless and dedicated employee who doesn’t mind having the first moments of their weekend spent trying to unravel someone else’s problem, but look, take it from me, the best thing you can do when you hear the phone ring at 3:55 on a Friday afternoon is just hum a happy tune and walk away. By the time you know what the problem really is, whoever you need to talk to in order to get it fixed will have gone home for the weekend anyway. Rest assured, whatever was stupid and broken on Friday afternoon will be waiting for you on Monday morning. It will still be broken and stupid, but at least you’ve bought yourself a full weekend of ignorant bliss.