1. Pulling it out of your ass. There are any number of things that you should never have to worry about pulling out of your ass – gerbils, light bulbs, the usual. If you spend enough time making the hard to do seem easy and the impossible just a touch harder than that, sooner or later people will come to expect it… and then that time when you can’t deliver there will be hell to pay. The longer I serve the bureaucracy, I realize Chief Engineer Scott wasn’t actually a miracle worker. He was an expert at pulling things out of his ass and had an unlimited pool of good luck. Most pools aren’t nearly so limitless.
2. Panhandlers. How high would you have to be to try getting money from me when I’m pumping gas? The fired and true death stare wasn’t effective, but the growled command to “step. back.” apparently got his attention. His mouth worked, trying to form words while his addled mind struggled mightily to come up with something to say and then he did finally backed away slowly. I’m not saying I would beat someone to death using the end of a running gasoline hose like a medieval flail… but I’m not saying I wouldn’t if properly provoked.
3. People. I know many of you will find this hard to believe, but I legitimately want to like people. I want to assume the best about them and hell, maybe even be friendly… and then I go out into the world and actually meet people going about their business and find myself wondering how the hell they function in society and how quickly I can get away from them and back into the peaceful, access controlled confines of Fortress Jeff. Every day that ticks by seems to leave me with that much less patience for suffering fools… and yet the sheer volume of fools that must be suffered appears to grow exponentially.
I’d hate to calculate how many hours of training I’ve sat through over the last thirteen years. Only occasionally, when it was hosted in such exotic locations as Tampa or Dallas, have I ever voluntarily inflicted such opportunities on myself. Far more often it’s a statutory or regulatory requirement or worse drawing the short straw as a seat filler. Occasionally you can draw off some nugget of useful information, but more often it’s a study in watching the clock creep from one hour to the next.
Like so many other meetings, the first question asked by the would-be trainer should be “Can I convey this information in an email?” If the answer to that question is in the affirmative, you should write the email and forget about the training. If the answer is no, you may proceed with your planned training, but understand that anything of value or importance should be covered before 11AM, by which time all but a handful of the most dedicated and/or fanatical people will have stopped paying attention anyway.
Trainers tend to take this disinterest personally. They shouldn’t, because it has almost nothing to do with them or even with their content. You could be talking to me about the next sure fire way to make a million in the market and if you haven’t gotten to your point in the first three hours I’m going to lose interest. That’s just the way it is. I’ll most likely be polite and not focus all my attention on my phone. I’ll probably even nod at appropriate intervals and because of my years of practice I can probably even materially contribute to the conversation just based on whatever I’ve managed to overhear while most of my brain was otherwise occupied. It’s a skill, but not one anyone ever talks about.
But there it is. I’ve done my duty. Attended the training. Checked off another box. And as a reward, I don’t get any new knowledge, but I do get to look forward to trying to cram two days worth of work into a Tuesday and who doesn’t like that?
Some people are funny – and no I don’t mean in that “Hey, pull my finger” kind of way. There are virtues to that kind of humor too, of course, but I’m think more about people who can turn drop a perfectly aimed barb on a dime. They have the knack. It’s some combination of timing, ability to turn a phrase, topical awareness, and lacing your words with just enough poison to let the point drive home without ever doing more than brushing against a subject.
Sadly, there are another group of people who wield sarcasm like a brute force weapon – a cudgel with which to beat people about the head and neck repeatedly. It’s a pity, because sarcasm is a real art form when it’s done right. When it’s done wrong, it leaves you looking like a total ass. There’s a fine line there and it’s critical to know where that line is at all times.
People who don’t have the gift just really shouldn’t try to force the issue. It shows every single time and it never stops being uncomfortable. There are few thing more awkward than a person standing around throwing out what they think are zingers while the rest of the captive audience is forced to ponder just how much of a tool that person really is. Here’s a hint: if no one else in the room is laughing, you’re probably doing it wrong. You should stop immediately. And you should consider never doing it again.
The world is a big place. Not everyone needs to have the same skills. For the love of God, if you don’t have a knack for humor please leave it to the professionals – or at least to the skilled amateurs. Sometimes it’s ok to enjoy the show rather than try to be a part of it.
Monday evening. Milepost One in the long march towards the three-day weekend. One of my go to responses to many events at the office these days is an exasperated reminder to the world that I could have learned to weld, apprenticed to be a plumber, or picked up any number of practical skills that ensured my long term employability. I’m told that at least one of my high school teachers recommended that amidst my perpetual struggle to grasp the basic concepts of algebra. Perhaps the old crank was on to something after all.
Instead of doing something productive like learning carpentry, I went to college and promptly put the thought of alternatives out of my head. I do wonder sometimes at what kind of difference it would have made had I found myself practicing an occupation where the end result is something to physically show for your efforts at the end of a day’s work. At least part of me thinks that’s got to be personally fulfilling on some level. Or maybe from where I sit it just seems more fulfilling than being the guy who churns out the memo with the fewest spelling and punctuation errors.
At the rate my bits and pieces seem to be grinding down, I’m not under any delusions of transforming myself into a tradesman at this late date. Between the shoulder problems, lower back pain, clicking knee, and the occasional bit of foot trouble behind a desk is probably the most reasonable place in the world for me to stay. While I’m there, though, I’m going to spend an unreasonable amount of time thinking that I should’ve learned to weld. With all the wisdom of hindsight I think a career that results in something less ephemeral than a voluminous stack of PowerPoint slides would have suited me.
1. Drivers who think they can, but really can’t. Look, I like speed. I have the tickets and warnings to prove it. Generally I feel as safe with my own driving at 85 as I do at 25. Sadly, I can’t say I have the same level of confidence in everyone else on the road… especially the wannabe rice racer who cut the turn just a little to wide this morning and earned himself some first hand experience in how understeering is every bit as bad as oversteering . He should probably be allowed to get some kind of refund from his driving instructor. On the other hand, I have now personally seen the look of abject horror someone in a Honda Civic gets on their face when they find themselves unexpectedly traveling in the wrong lane with a Tundra bearing down on them. Hopefully he didn’t spend too long in the ditch, because that’s where he was headed when I rounded the next turn and rolled on with my morning commute.
2. Breaking my own rules. I think we all know that I hate speakerphones in an open-bay office setting. It really serves no purpose other than ratcheting up the noise level in a room that already has the acoustics of a train station. I was forced into a position of breaking my own rules today by participating in part of a call using a speakerphone in a “wide open” room. I was mortified, but it happened so fast that I couldn’t stop it. I have no other excuses. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.
3. Too much of a bad thing. I know I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating: I don’t think I’ve ever attended a meeting that I didn’t want to escape from within five minutes of it starting. Sadly, my opinion doesn’t seem to carry much weight when such decisions are made. Which is how you end up with so many meetings scheduled between now and the end of the month that the “September Meeting to Discuss Issue X” has to be moved into October. You might think that means the “October Meeting to Discuss Issue X” would get cancelled. You would be wrong, because what it really means is that we should just go ahead and have two “Meetings to Discuss Issue X” in October. So as soon as the ten pre-meeting meetings for the October “September Meeting” are finished, we get to immediately start on pre-meetings for the October “October Meeting.” Clearly common sense, logic, and reason have no place here.