There are a grand total of 50 working days between me and kicking off a what I affectionately think of as The Greatest Shitshow on Earth. Fifty days sounds like a fair amount of time. Maybe it should. The reality, in the belly of the one of the world’s great bureaucratic organizations, though, is that 50 days is almost nothing. It’s closer to the time it takes to order and receive supplies than it is to what it takes to deliver a major project.
It’s fifty days to start, two more to do the thing, and a grand total of fifty two more days before this particular piece of work slips astern. It means I’m going to wake up every morning for the next fifty two days a little bit more annoyed than I was on the previous morning. It’s possible that at some point during this endless march of days, my eyes will physically roll right out of my skull.
I’d love to tell you it’s all for a good cause or that the return on investment makes the sheer weight of aggravation somehow worth it. I can’t and it isn’t. The whole thing is a fucking vanity exercise devised and propagated by echelons higher than reality. Look, I’ll go whatever way someone points me, and deliver whatever they ask for as best I can, but don’t ever expect me to pretend it’s an exciting opportunity to do great things. It’s just one more dumbass thing I’m doing to stay off the breadline.
I’ve often thought that motivation is one of those qualities that ebbs and flows over time. Some days you may be full of piss and vinegar and other days just getting out of bed could count as a major accomplishment. Maybe that’s an overly simplistic way of looking at it, but I can tell you for sure that motivation is not a static thing. What you had yesterday is in no way reflective of what you might have tomorrow.
It’s hard to believe now, but there have been times in my life when I could have been considered highly motivated. Some of those times were even fairly recent, at least in relative terms. Recent in this sense should in no way imply that reflects my current level of motivation… or maybe it’s just that I’m motivated by different things.
I should probably say I’m motivated to deliver a great product on time and budget… but the only real motivation I have tonight is in knowing that this particular shitshow has an end date. Holding myself together to get past that marker is just about the only goal I have. I simply don’t have the bandwidth to think about what comes after that… because it will most assuredly be just a different flavor of ridiculous and ill advised.
1. Language. There are times when the English language fails to deliver words of sufficient force to reflect what I’m trying to convey. No matter how shrill, “I told you so” lacks the kind of punch you’re looking for when you’re screaming wildly into the void. There really should be a more succinct and dramatic way of saying “This thing has turned into an enormous flaming shitshow that’s almost certain to collapse under the groaning weight of indecision and apathy.” Yeah. We definitely need a word for that in English.
2. Versioning. I’m now tracking the third or fourth iteration of documents that should have been approved weeks ago. Some have been kicking around for months. One in particular just took on significant enough changes to warrant shifting from v.7.2 to v.8. Good times, that. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that my employer is ever criticized for being the poster child for bloated, bureaucratic inefficiency. This week, however, is not one of those times. This week, the reasons why are perfectly clear and on display for all to see.
3. Delete me. At the grand old age of 41, I’ve had the good fortune to develop friendships with people whose views place them firmly on all parts of the political spectrum. I’ve got friends who are socialists, libertarians, social liberals, economic conservatives, hawks, peaceniks, and run of the mill Republicans and Democrats. It’s only with the rise of social media that I’ve found the attitude of “if you support x, we can’t be friends and you should delete me” has become prevalent. I’ve never picked my friends based on their politics and nothing else. It strikes me as an awfully narrow basis for friendship, but I accept that’s just me. To date, I’ve deleted no one because of political views or affiliation and I don’t intent to start now. If your friendships and world view are so fragile that they can’t withstand a differing opinion, I suppose you’ll have to do what you have to do… but I’ll keep picking mine based on criteria that is a lot more open and inclusive.
It’s the week before my annual burning off of use-or-lose leave. Sure, plenty of people are festive and jolly because Christmas is coming. They have their priorities and I have mine. I’d be thrilled with idea of sixteen work-free days in a row regardless of whether it was accompanied by a couple of holidays or not. That’s just the kind of guy I am.
So, you ask, what does the week before two weeks off look like? Well, I could say it was a week filled with high motivation and determination to cross all the t’s and make sure nothing is undone… but yeah, let’s not set those kind of unreasonable expectations.
It’s a week where I spent Telework Monday clearing my inbox (that was productive at least). Tomorrow will be a standard Tuesday – random meetings and more email to be sure. The next two afternoons are taken up with my semi-annual checkup and the office non-denominational holiday party. You can make your own assumptions about how productive I’ll manage to make either one of those days. The first four days of the week should be non-events.
Then we come to Friday. The final day of the work week. It’s the wildcard. Hard life lessons in Uncle’s service have taught me that it will either be a vast sweeping sea of nothing at all or it will be an unmitigated shitshow from start to finish. Historically it’s been my experience that there is no middle way. Not on Fridays. And certainly not on Fridays before an an ultra-long weekend.
Personally, I’m planning for the shitshow option. I think the universe likes to give you one last kick in the teeth before it gives you something so valuable as a long stretch of days off. I’d gladly accept a nice, easy Friday, but to stave off the almost inevitable disappointment, planning for the worst feels like a far better use of the limited time I’ve got left.
I don’t know why I’m surprised anymore. The moment something appears to be well in hand and headed for certain success, a butterfly flaps it’s wings in Tokyo and a shit sandwich is served in Aberdeen.
This isn’t my first rodeo. In fact that is the 5th iteration of this exact rodeo. It’s also a close approximation of other similar rodeos from years in the past. The only theme across them, however, is that at just the moment opening a successful registration website appears on the cusp of happening, something will go horrifyingly wrong.
At least it’s always something new and different that screws the pooch. I’d hate to think with all these years of experience that I’d waste time making the same mistakes. Especially when there’s all the opportunity in the world to make new and far more interesting ones.
I know I’ve always been my own harshest critic. I’m also well aware that sometimes my standards can, at first gloss, seem unreasonable. Still, just one time, I’d like to open one little registration without everything turning into a magnificent shitshow requiring me to explain to the gods on Olympus just how it slide of the rails this time.
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.
Someone once said “There’s a time and a place for everything.” Apparently it was true enough that everyone around him started saying it too. Maybe it it. What nobody ever mentioned, though, is that if there’s a time and place for everything, there’s a corresponding time and place which is not for a thing. It’s worth trying to bear in mind, really, because you see the time and the place to tell me that the thing I’ve been working on all day “isn’t right” is not 15 minutes before the close of business. That’s especially true when I’ve been doing everything besides begging for guidance for months now.
All I’ve ever asked for is someone to tell me what the objective is – what they want the end result to look like. With that key piece of information, I can bend the world to fit that image. Without it, I’m just flailing around making shit up as we go along. As another old saw goes, “when you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.”
I’ll just have to brace myself for the inevitable shitshow and mandatory ass chewing tomorrow… because Lord knows it’s always the time and place for that.