Reading for comprehension. Before you ask if I can provide the dial in number, perhaps you should read all the way to the bottom of the 4 bullet point email I just sent you. I’m not saying I always include every scrap of information someone might need in an email. Sometimes things get left out. But when I know the information you seek is one of the items I purposely put in a prominent place for all to see, it’s like you’re trying to get on my last nerve. I’m increasingly convinced the only reason meetings ever really need to happen is because people can’t be relied on to read for comprehension.
False surprise. You’re well into your 50s. You’ve spent 30+ years in Uncle’s service. Don’t feign surprise when things you want to try to get done two weeks before the end of the year can’t be done because 75% of the people who do the work, myself included, have no intention of being around between Christmas and New Years. It happens every year like clockwork. It’s regular as the tide. Please, for the love of little newborn baby Jesus, don’t suddenly pretend concern that a thing can’t be delivered a mere handful of hours before everyone but a skeleton crew goes away for a couple of weeks. This is especially true when you were given the opportunity to work the fix four months ago but opted to drive ahead anyway. It just embarrassed both of us.
Medical science. The good news is that my A1C is now actually too low and as a result the doc is taking me off one of the meds I’ve been on for the last two years. That, of course, was accompanied by the bad news that my cholesterol has finally snuck into the “troublesome” range so I’ll be starting on a new pill for that… along with regular blood work to make sure the combination of it all isn’t ripping my liver to shreds in the process of keeping the rest of me alive.
1. The difference 30 minutes makes. Leaving the office on time gets me out and away minutes ahead of the big rush of traffic trying to squeeze out a couple of undersized gates and onto the also undersized surrounding highways. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that I’ve put some thought and analysis into minimizing the amount of time I spend fiddling around in traffic. You see, the difference in leaving 30 minutes later in the afternoon translates into getting home a full hour later than I usually would… so it’s not so much an issue of minding staying in harness for an extra 30 minutes, but the fact that that 30 minutes really costs me a full hour. Anything that slices that deeply into my evening is bound to top the list of things that annoy me.
2. When I tried to warn you. If I come to you four or five times over a period of a few weeks trying to give you a heads up that something is coming along that will bite you in the ass if you ignore it, there’s a fair bet that’s exactly what’s going to happen. I’ve been at this a while now. I don’t cry wolf and I don’t ask for top cover very often. When I do, it’s probably something you should have on your radar. Otherwise, 20 hours before the thing happens you’re going to end up getting hit with a fast moving shit sandwich, wonder how the hell it came out of nowhere, and then get all angsty and aggravated that something that could have been easy turned into a smoking hot mess. I know being the guy who says “I told you so,” isn’t the best look, but I did tell you so. Sadly, I have very little control over what anyone chooses to do with that information even when they have been forewarned.
3. Failure to close. I should have been closing the sale of my condo today… but thanks to various banks, lawyers, and the state of Maryland, I’m not doing that. Instead I’m carrying the place into another month – making another mortgage payment, paying the insurance, and paying the utility bills. Plus, after three and a half weeks of planning, I’m just finding out that the damned home owners association that I’ve been paying into for almost 20 years hasn’t spit back the two page form they’re supposed to fill out so now I’m leaving never returned phone messages for them trying to determine what their dysfunction is. Buying a house is the single most stressful thing I’ve ever done… but don’t kid yourself, selling one is almost if not just as much of a pain in the ass.
Some days fly by not so much because you’re busy and gainfully engaged in doing important and productive work, but because you’ve got an endless rain of ridiculous questions, halfassed ideas, and general fuckery waiting on you around every turn.
I’d dearly like to say that such days are a rarity, but a cardinal rule of this blog is that we don’t lie, exagerate, or make misleading claims. Maybe days like this aren’t arriving often enough to be the rule, but they aren’t rare enough to be the exception, either. It’s more like a certain level of fuckery has been normalized. It’s just what you come to expect on any given day.
After all these years, you’d think that I’d have dialed in my level of expectation accordingly, but every now and then it really does jump up and catch me by surprise. No matter how jaded or cynical I manage to be, a day always comes along that leaves my eyes wide and head shaking in wonder at the business of “business as usual.”
Sigh. Sometimes the only good thing you can say about a day is “it’s over.”
Before I had even walked through the office doors this morning, I already outlined tonight’s post decrying one of the workplace policies that I find most obnoxious. Due to a confluence of events that, if you told me about second hand, I would never believe, the entire thread of that post was briefly overcome by events this afternoon. Although this age old nemesis wasn’t defeated in detail, it was delivered enough of a punch that I can’t possibly rail against it as I intended.
There was no alternative post in the queue for tonight, so sadly all you get is this small statement of contrition… and my amazed admission that every now and then the asshattery can flow a little slower and a little less deep. It’s a wonder of wonder, but I can indeed still very occasionally be pleasantly surprised by the great fumbling behemoth of the bureaucracy.
1. Surprises. I will never in my life understand why anyone likes being surprised. In my experience being caught off guard, having a bombshell dropped in your lap, getting a wake-up call, or enduring a rude awakening are all fundamentally bad things. It is, sadly, impossible for any one person to know all the things and to be prepared for all the eventualities. Even so, that doesn’t mean we have to like getting blindsided even in the exceedingly rare case where it’s a “good” surprise.
2. Decisions. Look, if you’re not going to “empower” me to be a decision maker, the very least I should be able to expect is that someone up the line will actually be making decisions in something approaching a timely manner. Sure, some questions are difficult and need great thought and discussion, but mostly are run of the mill and answerable as part of a simple yes/no or this/that dyad. Getting the answer shouldn’t take weeks and slow every project down to the point where forward progress can only be measured in a lab environment by high-precision lasers.
3. Training. My employer has made a few stuttering baby steps towards eliminating some of the onerous annual training requirements that eat up time and net very little in the way of return on investment. However, they still insist of gaggling everyone up for far too many of these “valuable opportunities to learn.” After fifteen years on the job if I haven’t learned not to be a rapist or walk around making sexually suggestive comments to my coworkers, I’m not sure the 16th time around is going to generate that magical “aha moment” they seem to want. At least the box is checked for another year… and that’s what really matters.
1. Shaming history. A few weeks ago when tearing down Lee and Jackson was all the rage, I posited a simple question to Facebook: Where does it stop, with Washington and Jefferson? Social media called me everything but a Nazi, but here we are these few weeks later and statues of Jefferson and Francis Scott Key are being vandalized. This tells me all I need to know (as if I didn’t know already) about who I’m dealing with. It really isn’t about statues or memorials. It’s about wanting history to comport with some whackadoodle notion that everything has to reflect modern leftist sensibilities or risk being labeled fascist. Feel free to label me whatever you’d like, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to hide from or in any way be made to feel ashamed of our history. As long as I’m drawing breath there will be at least one voice in steady opposition to sanitizing history into a bland inoffensive paste.
2. Lack of Starbucks. I like coffee and 19 days out of 20 I’m happy with the old fashioned drip variety. I usually take it will a bit of cream and sugar, but black is just as good. Today was that other one day out of twenty, though. It’s on days like today when I would pitch a screaming fit for a properly made latte. Of course there’s not one of those to be seen between the house and the office. I’m not hung up on the Starbuck trademark, but a proper coffee shop somewhere between Aberdeen and the Delaware state line feels like something that would be well received in an underserved bit of geography.
3. Late day surprises. We’ve covered this before, but it’s a perennial annoyance – the people who call you 20 minutes before the end of the day and expect some major miracle to result in them getting a fully formed plan or analysis. What you’re really going to get is a page full of the notes I made during the phone call with a supporting post it reminding me to work on that “hot” action first thing the next morning. Assuming it’s not a lifesaving or life sustaining action, you’re the dumbass who waited until the end of the day, and by 3:30 in the afternoon I’m in no humor for random jackassery.
I’ve identified the real victim of my time off. It turns out it wasn’t any of my projects running aground or some other planner making off with all the best party favors. In fact, the only thing I seem to have lost in the time I was away was my ability to sit at my desk without budging for hour after hour… after hour. Being able to sit in front of the keyboard and hammer out hours’ worth of memos, emails, and assorted other written products isn’t exactly a point of pride even though it regularly defined so many of my days. Still, it was something I could do on the regular.
Put another way, the first real day back in the office has been a recurring series of pains in the ass – not because of anything particularly stupid happening, but because I’d spent so much of my vacation time not sitting on my ass that going back to living that life was a shock to the system.
I was expecting to need some self-medication today as a result of extreme eye rolling or maybe a heavy dose of something for heartburn. I wasn’t expecting to need to treat acute pain in the ass… though on reflection I don’t know why I’m really surprised.
1. The confidence of youth. I’m not saying that I don’t still have a ragingly high level of confidence in my own abilities, but that confidence has been tempered with the experience of so many things that should be simple to do becoming a giant triple-stacked shit sandwich right in my hands. Occasionally it’s because of something I either did or failed to do, but more often it’s because of outside influences over which I have little or no control. Occasionally now I see a young project leader, eyes bright with possibilities, charge through a meeting as if nothing could possibly go wrong. I chuckle to myself, but I also feel a little bit sorry for him because I already know what the next act looks like. Experience is a harsh teacher and while those occasional flops have made me better over time, every now and then I miss the swaggering confidence of youth and a time when I was slightly less cynical about everything.
2. Things beyond my control. Believe it or not, I don’t think of myself as being much of a control freak. Most of life is pure reaction to those things we don’t foresee or exert any control over. While willing to accept that I can’t possibly control for and plan against every conceivable circumstance, I do like to imagine that I can bring some semblance of order to my little section of a chaotic world. I’m also enough of a realist to know that order begins to break down just as soon as it’s established and keeping a veneer of control in life takes all manner of effort on a pretty consistent basis. Knowing that there are a multitude of things beyond my control and being willing to accept those things just now is feeling like more of a tall order than usual. Maybe I need to sign up for some kind of master class in Zen and the fine art of acceptance.
3. Not being surprised. I’m a bit befuddled that anyone is somehow surprised that there’s a set of rules for the wealthy and powerful and another for the rest of us. It hardly seems like news that a long time politician “somehow” managed to get away with actions that would cause the average employee to lose their job, be barred from future employment, and possibly go to prison. While I’m certainly as outraged as anyone at the lies, deceit, and in my opinion outright criminal behavior foisted upon the public by a high profile politician, I can’t for a moment say that I’m surprised that the official consequence of those behaviors is absolutely nothing. If this is the kind of thing that surprises you, there’s a fair chance you’re just not paying close enough attention to the world.
In an interview with CBS yesterday, Donald Trump’s comment that “I fight like hell to pay as little as possible” when it comes to taxes has apparently stunned the internet.
I’d have been alarmed and suspicious if he said he loved writing million dollar checks to the IRS, or that he paid more than he had to, or that he thought Government was a bastion of effective and efficient financial management. Am I supposed to hate a guy who says he doesn’t like paying taxes and uses the avenues available to him to decrease his yearly tax liability?
While the scope and scale is decidedly different, I do the same thing. I’d have to be a certified lunatic to hand back the savings from mortgage deductions, property depreciation, charitable donations, and tax deferral mechanisms… and because I’m not a tax or accounting expert, I pay a guy to find those savings for me and make sure I’m within the bounds of the law. If you’re filing anything more complicated than the 1040EZ, you’d be a fool not to at least consider some expert advice. Bashing a guy, especially one in business, because he employees lawyers and accountants just makes you sound like a moron.
But, but “Taxes are the price we pay for civilization” and everyone needs to pay their fair share. Sure. That’s fine. I like civilization and I’m absolutely open to a discussion of what it means for everyone to pay a “fair share.” But that dialog needs to start by accepting that having half the population whose cut of the fair share is $0.00 is patently ridiculous.
The internet, HuffPo, WaPo, and a host of other outlets may find his statement outrageous, but damned if his stock didn’t go up a few points in my book.
1. Failing to read for comprehension. When I send you a four sentence email it’s not like reading the entire thing is going to monopolize your day, especially when one of those sentences tells you exactly how to do what you’re trying to do. No, the answer isn’t to send me more “follow up” emails. The answer, as I will tell you over and over and over again as needed, is right there starting on line two of the original response, which you obviously didn’t stop long enough to read. You can feel free to “follow up” all you want, but damned if I’m doing it for you. Your inability to read and comprehend simple English is not so much my responsibility.
2. The value of time. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I know the value of my time. It’s the most limited commodity I have and it doesn’t come cheap. Unless you’re on the friends and family plan, it never, ever comes free. Whatever it is that’s so critical, unless it’s an immediate threat to life or property, really isn’t so critical and certainly doesn’t give rise to the need to give anyone a freebie. I’ve been around long enough to know that there’s always a tomorrow… and on the off chance there isn’t a tomorrow none of it is really going to matter at that point anyway.
3. Non-surprise surprises. For the love of Pete, when I’ve been telling you for weeks that X is going to happen on Y date how in seven hells are you surprised on Y-4 that Y is going to happen next week. It’s been on the damned calendar for 5 months. We’ve had at least 30 meetings about it, but whoa, every-damn-body but me seems to be taken by surprise. Look, I know we always try to kill the gator closest to the boat first, but there’s no way I’m letting anyone get away with the “Uh, I didn’t know” excuse on this one. I find it interesting that all the things we didn’t have time to do three months ago, we now suddenly want to cram into a day and a half. I hope you’ll forgive me if I don’t wrap myself in knots trying to do that which is inherently illogical if not downright impossible given the limitations of available time and manpower.