As you may well know by now, I’m not well known as a joiner of activities. I don’t seek out social events or organizations. I don’t join clubs or rush out to sign up for team events. A million years ago as a student, group projects were an absolute agony… and I like them even less now as an adult. To say I do my best to avoid those situations is an understatement at the least. Anything that reeks with the stench of “group project” is to be avoided at nearly any cost.
The officially sanctioned Large Bureaucratic Organization “org day” is exactly the kind of thing I was built to avoid. The endless rounds of small talk with virtual strangers, the repeated need to refuse requests to sign up for various “team building activities,” and spending hours standing around looking vaguely uncomfortable are rarely the hallmarks of a good time. They’re not, in short, the kind of things I would enjoy doing under any circumstances, let alone when it’s laid on under the auspices of a benevolent employer.
Maybe it’s the kind of thing that’s good for someone’s morale, but I’m not that someone. The sort of things that improve my feeling of well being aren’t generally the ones that lend themselves to being a team event. Give me a comfy chair, a good book, a decent beverage, and a furry critter whose ears need scratching and my morale goes up dramatically. Recruiting me to join in a tug-o-war, not so much.
In this case, the best possible outcome I can hope for is managing to spend a couple of hours showing the flag and being seen by the right people before quietly disappearing to do something that will legitimately make me feel better about the world. I know there is no way to account for every individual preference when dealing in large numbers, but it would be nice, occasionally, if someone recognized that one size does not fit all.
1. Forgetting Tuesday. So as it turns out, when I have more than two days off I lose all sense of time and do things like completely forget to write a blog post in the middle of the week. Since the chances of finding too many four-day weekends in the course of a year is slim to none, I’m not worried that this will become a regular occurrence… but really any deviation from the normal schedule is enough to make me just a little bit twitchy, especially when it’s something as built into the daily schedule as writing. Maybe we are all entitled to an occasional misfire, but I like to think my inner sense of consistency is stronger than that. Apparently it is not.
2. Luddites. I work from home one day a week. To make that possible I rely on a lot of decades-old technology such as email and the telephone to stay connected to the home office. When I discover that my normal day for working at home is going to be shanghaied because I’m “needed” at the office, that usually translates into having to have someone available to flip the slides. That’s fine. Whatever. But when you’re going to want to do things like that could you please not let me find out that the person we’re staging this meeting for will be talking to us from his car on the way to some other meeting while I drag myself in to the office to huddle around a single land line like a congress of latter-day Luddites. If only there were a fancy device that let people hear voice communication from more than once location simultaneously instead of trying to pretend we exist in a universe where the best solution is two tin cans and a bit of string.
3. The oblivious. There are any number of awkward things that can happen in the modern office. Of them, the one that annoys me the most is probably the people who have no natural sense of when a conversation has hit it’s logical conclusion. They just continue to stand there looking at you as if you’re supposed to stop the world and entertain them for whatever duration their attention span can muster. Look, even when I’m not pressed for time, I don’t want to spend any significant part of the day in idle chatter. I’m just not that social. If you’re that desperate for social interaction, hit me up on instant messenger like a normal human being. I can work with that. But please, for the love of all the gods, don’t just stand there with your arms draped over my cube wall hoping that I’m suddenly going to get chatty. And yet I’d be the asshole if I just looked directly at someone and told them to go the fuck away.
It’s not exactly a secret that I’m not a fan of large groups of people – or of people in general. My misanthropic tendencies run pure as a mountain stream and remain one of my most consistent personality traits over time.
Despite my misgivings about people and groups, I’m a reasonable enough adult human being to know that both are sometimes unavoidable. While social engagements aren’t something I seek out, they are a fact of life from time to time. In those circumstances, I’m perfectly capable of behaving myself in polite company, of making small talk, and generally being a pleasant enough human being.
So you see, what I mean when I say “I don’t like people,” is I don’t go out of my way to find them, but I’m perfectly aware that they are a simple fact of modern life with which I have learned to contend. I learned a long time ago that most people need far more social interaction than I do in order to feel some sense of community or fulfillment. I’ve made peace with it. Mostly.
I’m never going to be the guy who wants to be the center of attention at a party of social event. Like Mister Ed, I’ll likely never speak unless I have something to say. Others may be more tempted to flap their gums to fill in awkward silences. That should in no way be mistaken to mean that I’m going to stand in a corner looking surly for the duration of the event. Just because I don’t usually want to doesn’t mean I can’t play nicely with others when the need arises.
Sometimes, you see, circumstances demand that we do that which we would not otherwise do, not because it’s how we’d rather spend our time, but because it’s something important to the person asking us to tag along. That said, I find myself growing less and less accommodating by the minute. If I’m going to be condemned in either case, I’d rather be condemned for what I am rather than what I am not.
Honestly it had been so long since I’d gotten rid of my old Wrangler that I’d forgotten about the propensity of other Jeep drivers to wave to one another in passing. I know motorcyclists follow a similar protocol when passing each other and maybe there are other vehicle brands that do the same. I certainly never experienced it in my wide range of other vehicles. Drivers of Cavaliers, Corsicas, Grands Prix, Mustangs, and Tundras certainly don’t engage in this behavior. If I’m honest, I should be calling it the “Wrangler Wave,” since the Cherokee, Renegade, et al, don’t participate… but let’s be honest, when someone says Jeep it’s the round-eyed icon from the days of the world at war that everyone’s mind conjures up.
While being reminded of the “Jeep Wave,” I’ve also noticed a few trends in the last few weeks. Your most consistent group of wavers are the drivers of “old fashioned” two door Jeeps. It’s even more likely if they’re lifted or kitted out for the trail. The Unlimited 4-door drivers seem less likely to lift their fingers from the wheel. I have no idea if that’s circumstantial or if it has something to do with the type of people who buy hard riding, wind-noise and leak prone, impractical 2-door vehicles versus those who want the same experience but in the more suburban, practical 4-door variety. There are definitely “two-door people” and “four-dour people,” but we can leave that discussion for another day because I’m mostly focused at the moment on “Jeep people” in general, because someone willing to put up with the ride, the noise, the leaks, and the fuel economy that hasn’t budged since 1986 are a different breed altogether.
In any case, it’s real thing that people do… and it’s a rare bit of social interaction of which I cheerfully approve and engage in.
1. Hurry up (and wait). Hurry up and wait is an idiom that I personally suspect is at least as old as the first band of hunter gatherers who went to war to protect their wildlife and berries from a neighboring tribe. If there’s anything I’ve found consistent over the last decade and a half it’s that the preponderance of things that need doing arrive on my desk with some designation as “hot rocks” or “mission critical” or “for immediate action.” Setting aside the fact that almost none of these issues have ever dealt with actual life or death situation, it becomes a simple matter of people simply expecting things should be done in the double quick. It’s been my experience that you can do analysis well or you can do it quickly. You can even find a middle ground of acceptability between the two, but you cannot under any normal circumstance have both simultaneously. In reality no matter how “hot” the issue, you’re going to find yourself waiting for further guidance, waiting for questions to be answered by others, or waiting for your own chain of command to get around to feeling any actual sense of urgency. Until those things happen, it’s fine to hurry up, but you’d better be sure to have some entertaining apps loaded so the wait is tolerable.
2. Social history. The great man theory of history was out of fashion for at least a century before I picked up my formal study of the craft. Contemporary popular historians busy themselves crafting social history narratives that feel more like professional pandering to racial, gender, or whatever current cause célèbre group has captured the spotlight temporarily and then judging the deeds of long dead actors against whatever utopian dream they’ve concocted. Give me great men and heroic actions any day over that kind of tripe. Call me old fashioned, but I like my historical deeds to be set within the context of their times, rather than measured by whatever half assed yard stick someone just developed so everyone can feel included and not get their feelings hurt. Context is king, which is why judging historical figures as if they just suddenly walked out of the local galleria with a chi tea and $500 sunglasses makes absolutely no sense to me at all.
3. Landscaping. In my pursuit of domestic tranquility I’ve lain my head in all manner of places. From an efficiency apartment, to a condo, through a succession of apartments, to a new-built house, to a rental house, and finally, now, to what I consider a more permanent Fortress Jeff. What most of those places have in common is that I didn’t have to spend a lot of time concerned with landscaping. The condo and apartments obviously took care of themselves. The rental house could be serviced by a regular cut and trim of the yard. The landscaping around the Memphis house was so new that it mostly took care of itself. Now at Fortress Jeff, I’ve inherited a mature landscape in place when I arrived – and one that hadn’t received much attention in at least several growing seasons. In the last year I’ve taken down four full grown trees, sliced out half a dozen shrubs and plants that didn’t fit my “artistic vision,” raised parts of the back yard by almost two feet and set new grass to grow on it. This spring I launched into what I hope will be a mid-term solution for controlling run-off in the front yard and improving drainage. I’ve added the first cubic yard of mulch and have two or three more to go. A former flower bed next to the driveway needs prepped and sodded and then it’s time to tackle the challenge of a bare dirt bank where it seems nothing can take root. All of that’s on the list before I turn my eyes again to the back yard – where the list of want-to-dos is at least as long. Fortunately, I like tinkering with these kinds of projects. The hell of it is, they all take time and cost money and need to be laid in along with all the other tasks and chores that keep the homestead running… so now that spring has arrived, please forgive whatever messes pile up indoors. I’ll be getting back to them when the weather again drives me under cover.
It’s that time of year again when officially sanctioned near-mandatory fun events lurk around every corner. The annual office Non-Denominational Holiday Luncheon, a team building pot luck lunch, the rush to decorate the door in a manner to acknowledge the holiday season but also ensure that there’s no way anyone might accidentally be offended by anything on it. They’re all on my mind as we rush headlong into December. There isn’t one of these things that sounds like either a good idea or something I’d enjoy. Those two categories are not mutually exclusive, of course, knowing full well that there are plenty of things that are a bad idea, but that I find perfectly delightful.
That being said, I know I can’t stop anyone from making me attend town hall meetings or award ceremonies. I know full well that I can’t waive off just because of my fundamental distrust of anyone who calls a meeting that isn’t absolutely necessary. I also know that there’s no requirement that I cook or otherwise prepare food for my colleagues. I can’t be mandated to attend the Non-Denominational Holiday Luncheon and pretend to be rapt by small talk with strangers and feigning an interest in the ugly sweater contest. As a former boss of mine so eloquently put it on so many occasions, “Look Jeff, I can be friendly, but that doesn’t mean I have to be your friend.”
Some people would surely find that offensive. I found it refreshing. Maybe some people come to the office to get their social fix. Maybe their life outside cube farm walls is devoid of other human interaction. Me? Well, I’ve got a Facebook, a blog, and unlimited text messages so there’s 90% of whatever interaction I’m looking for most days. There’s also the same bunch of friends I’ve had largely for the last 15 or 20 years… and they never ask me to pay $20 to pretend to enjoy a lukewarm lunch while surrounded by people I don’t know… and that counts for a lot.
That title is a misnomer, actually. As it has been for the entirety of my career, what was held this afternoon was the official Non-Denominational Winter Holiday Luncheon (NDWHL). I didn’t attend and if the past is prologue all it meant giving up my chance to pay $18 for a mediocre lunch and the opportunity to participate in painfully awkward party games.
I don’t have any philosophical issues with the annual get together. Sure it’s awfully lame compared to some that I’ve seen put on by private sector creatures, but that’s not really the problem either. Hanging around with Uncle, you get used to settling for the PG, family friendly, version of everything. For me it comes down to the simple discomfort of spending three to four hours boxed into a room full of perfect strangers. Being surrounded by people I don’t know and being required to make polite conversation with them for hours is basically one version of my own personal hell.
There is simply no amount of cajoling, peer pressure, or guilt that would convince me attending the NDWHL is a good idea. Telling me who to work with is well and good, but I always reserve the final say when it comes to who I do and don’t socialize with… and when I know something is simply going to be awkward and uncomfortable, why on earth would I pay for the privilege of enduring it when I have any other option?
If there’s anything I’ve come to expect from myself it’s that no matter how late I go to bed, no matter how blown out my throat is, no matter there’s a dull thump somewhere in the middle of my head, if it’s Saturday morning my eyes are going to flip open sometime between 6:00-6:30. My brain is going to engage and it’s going to insist that I get the day started, no matter the level of protest the rest of me might throw in its path.
This internal alarm clock is one of the reasons I don’t tend to have late nights often. The other reason, of course, is late nights tend to demand social interaction with people… and I think we all know how I feel about people. The weekend looks like it’s going to be dark and rainy, so I’m about to pour on a few gallons of coffee and switch the day to autopilot. If I’m going to be awake, I might as well make the morning count.
I’ve been trying hard to avoid the impending office Christmas Party. I’m not a social butterfly, hard as that may be to believe. I don’t enjoy small talk or making pleasantries with whatever random people I end up sitting with. Frankly, I find events like this absolutely exhausting. Staying at my desk in hopes of getting something done actually sounds far more pleasant than eating an institutional lunch and trying to chat with a room full of strangers.
In the last week, I’ve gotten a spate of emails “reminding” me how much the food has improved, how important team building is, and what a boost for office morale these occasions are. I’m getting the distinct impression that while this is a purely “voluntary” event, the expectation is that we show up, paste on a smile, and pretend to have a good time. Because I’m Mr. Go-Along-and-Get-Along, I’ll probably end up caving in.
Even though I’m almost inevitably give in to peer pressure, it’s my firm belief that mandatory fun just isn’t, especially when you get to pay for the privilege of doing something you really didn’t want to do in the first place. Something about adding insult to injury. Really, the only saving grace of these activities is that they take place during normal working hours. If it was something I was expected to do on my own time, well, I think you can imagine how that might go over.
If anyone is reading this and actually wants to improve my moral, instead of coercing me to buy $15 rubber chicken and cold vegetables, how about giving me a raise for the first time in four years… or a bonus… or even a time off award that costs exactly nothing. I can fill my own head with platitudes about how important the work is, how valued I am, and that my contribution matters. Sadly, a cash bar, awkward conversation, and a mediocre meal just don’t rank high on the list of things that motivate me to do great and wonderful things.