1. Joy theft. If I’m bluntly honest, I’ll tell you that I spend all day at work wanting to get home and lose myself in a book. By the time I’m home, dinner is made and cleaned up, and I’ve tended the creatures who share my roof, I’m so bleary eyed and tired that getting through a paragraph without my mind wandering is hard. Three nights out of five I can’t seem to focus on the words long enough for it to even be enjoyable. It’s just one more way that paying bills and being responsible conspire to suck all the real joy out of life.
2. Signals over the air. All I want to do in the few minutes between when I pull into the parking lot and when I have to be at my desk is get my morning Twitter update and find some funny, funny memes. Apparently that is too much to ask because for the last two weeks the parking lot has been a large dead zone. I don’t know if it’s my phone, Verizon, or just the Department of the Army trying to suck even a brief flicker of fun out of the surrounding air, but for whatever reason there’s nothing doing on my phone for those ten or fifteen minutes. If you think a few minutes of boredom and mindlessly staring out the windshield is enough to break my spirit and get me to my desk a few minutes earlier than I have to be there, well, it’s like you don’t know me at all.
3. Mushroom status. When grown in a farm setting, many mushrooms are simply left alone in a dark room and fed a steady diet of shit. I’m sure it happens in every organization of more than one person, but this great green machine of ours seems to have honed leaving people out of the loop to a fine art. It’s always exciting to come to the office and find an email from someone working in another organization letting you know that “your boss from high on Olympus said ‘X’ is going to happen.” It’s when you, as the person nominally responsible for “X,” have the exciting opportunity to let that individual know that no one in your own organization has bothered to tell you a fucking thing and thank them for the heads up before launching out on a paper chase to sus out how much time you may or may not have wasted depending on the veracity of your informant’s information.
1. The perceived speed of time. An entire Saturday runs its course in approximately 1 hour and 37 minutes. By contrast a typical Tuesday afternoon drags on for something like 14 days. Yes, I know it’s largely just a function of the way the conscious mind processes routine experiences and memory building, but damn. I wish I could find a way to bottle that 6am Saturday morning just after I’ve had my first cub of coffee and the whole weekend is still spread out before me feeling. I could use a strong shot of that at least three times a day on any given Monday-Friday.
2. Moving with purpose. Wherever you go, no matter the time of day, you will find yourself surrounded on all sides by people who seem to be loose roaming out in the world with no particular place to go and no particular time when they need to be there. They walk slow, they drive slow, the veer left or right without warning and for no obvious reason. It’s like these poor misbegotten souls are in need of some basic purpose in life. Any semblance of purpose would be a wild improvement from the norm. Day in and day out it’s these absolute shitbirds that are the most constantly infuriating aspects of any activity that requires leaving the house and interacting with people.
3. Ask for what you want (but first know what you’re looking for). I’ve been at this kind of work almost 16 years now. I generally know the back story. I know where the bodies are buried. I know why some projects succeeded and why others failed. I’ve been around long enough now to remember the last time someone had your “brilliant new idea.” If you want my help, all you really need to do is ask for it… but when you do, it’s best to ask for what you actually want. Don’t ask me for a brief history of Process X and then tell me that wasn’t what you wanted once I gin up the information for you. If you don’t know the name of the thing you want me to talk to you about, try describing it. Give me some detail. Don’t just keep saying Project X repeatedly and thinking that we are in any way communicating. If it’s obvious by the information I’ve provided that my attempt at deciphering your meaning has failed, you should probably come at it from a different angle of attack. I don’t generally want to stonewall anyone. My goal is to get the information you want processed and off my desk as quickly as possible – because that’s the most direct path to reach my overall objective of getting you to stop bothering me. I’ve developed many skills over the first half of my career – but reading entrails and divination remain, sadly, beyond my grasp.
Being a “senior leader” can’t be easy. I speculate that at best they’re surrounded by a few dozen “true believers” who have wholeheartedly embraced their vision of the future and then six thousand other assholes who only show up because they’re being paid to and don’t much care about someone’s vision beyond how it may impact them and their continued ability to pay a mortgage and put food on the table.
The biggest difference I notice isn’t actually in the conference room, though. It’s in the parking lot first thing in the morning. The run of the mill line employees start showing up at 6:00, maybe 6:30, basically as early as whoever they report to will allow them to come in. The flood gates open between 7:00 and 8:00. While the cubicles fill, I’ve noticed the reserved “executive” parking spots directly in front of the building remain almost consistently unoccupied until 8:30 or maybe 9:00.
I’m not in any way assuming that means the people whose cars occupy those spaces are lazing about in bed while a weary workforce struggles into the office. It’s just that they are thinking and operating differently. For me, and I assume most of the rest of the masses, the operational intent is to start the day as early as possible, let 8.5 hours elapse, and then get the hell home as expeditiously as possible.
The seniors, either by choice or necessity, start their days later and inevitably end up ending them later – much later in many cases. They’re the ones who wonder why people rolls their eyes when they mention scheduling a 6pm meeting or why their workforce doesn’t want to participate in evening or “non-duty hours” social events. Again, I can only speculate that because they don’t see the cars in the parking lot at 6:30 AM, they feel slightly betrayed that theirs are the only ones left in it at 6:30 PM.
One on one, outside of the cubicle hell that we inhabit, senior leaders are probably decent enough people with their own interests and personalities. Their lofty position in the c-suite gives them a necessarily different perspective. On a day to day basis, though, my assessment is that we are simply two very different creatures, with distinctly different motivations, who just happen to be residing under the same roof for about a third of every weekday.
1. Stomach. My stomach has been trying to kill me off and on for the last few days. It’s not debilitating or preventing me from getting on with my day, but it’s made food something of a dice roll, meaning that I traipse through the day mostly hungry in order to avoid workday unpleasantness as much as possible. Of course continuing to pour coffee down my throat probably is doing nothing to mitigate the issue. Realistically, though, if I’m going to be hungry also having me uncaffeinated feels like it’s just asking for more trouble than we’re trying to avoid.
2. Perceived time. We humans have a bit of an odd relationship with time. We struggle mightily to measure it down to the merest fraction of a second, but it’s really how we perceive the movement of time around us that matters most. I’m grown increasingly interested in the perception of time after sitting at my desk for 37 hours on Tuesday, but finding that the most recent Saturday lasted only 192 minutes.
3. Be nice. Someone from time to time will suggest that I should make an effort to be more understanding – to “be nicer.” I’m sure the suggestion is well intentioned, usually implying that I’d be more approachable, less apt to judge, or in some way become a kinder, more sensitive human being. Seriously? Have you met most people? Piss off with “be nice.” I’ll continue to respond and react to people as their actions and attitudes dictate. If you’d like me to be nicer, I’d recommend convincing people at large to be a little less dumb. It’s a win-win for everyone.
I’m old enough to have caught the tail end of what could be called “local retail.” When I was a kid even our small town of a few hundred had what in generations past would have been called a dry good store. My home town wasn’t big enough to justify its own hardware store, but the next town of any size in either direction along the George’s Creek valley had one – Pritchard’s in Frostburg anchored the central stretch of Main Street, Ternent’s in Coney sat (where it still does business) at the center of town on Jackson Street. Ames provided a primitive “big box” style of retail while G.C. Murphy represented the last bastion of traditional American department stores. Murphy’s, though, was “in town” and usually involved a special trip. You didn’t end up there to pick something up on a whim.
There was a proper 1980’s mall, of course, decorated in shades of beige with it’s glass dome and sunken fountain centerpiece. It was anchored by JC Penny, The Bon Ton / Eyerly’s, K-mart, and Sears.
I’m taking this stroll down memory lane because of all these stores – many of them one-time giants of American retail, only a handful remain. Ternent’s lives still, I suspect as much due to the loyalty of the surrounding community (and inconvenience of making the 30 minute one-way drive to the next closest hardware store) as anything else. JC Penny creaks along providing the area with “something that isn’t Walmart. Now Sears has filed for bankruptcy protection. Its lone store back home isn’t on the closure list this time, but I don’t think anyone really expects it will last forever or even that it will last long. It’s only a matter of time before Sears too becomes part of consumer history.
Protected here by my walls of books and largely tucked away from people to the extent I can manage, it’s easy to dismiss just how much the world has changed in the last 30 or 40 years. A guy I use to work for was fond of saying that on average “it’s not better or worse, it’s just different.” It’s a nice sound bite and maybe it’s even true. But I can tell you without a moment’s shame that the older I get the less interest I have in “different” overall. Slowly, the words “different” and “worse” feel like they’re becoming synonymous.
I know intellectually that bankruptcy delivers creative destruction to the marketplace, but I’d consider it an awfully big favor if we could somehow avoid sweeping away all vestiges of the world that was.
I’m an early riser by most people’s definition. Weekday, weekend doesn’t really matter. Unless I’m deathly ill, and usually even then, I’m awake a few minutes on either side of 5AM. Today was a rare exception that pushed the day’s start time to 4am. When you’re use to waking in the small hours of the morning one hour is pretty similar to the next. It’s dark, the world is quiet, and you don’t want to do anything so much as sit on the porch and enjoy another cup of coffee. Sadly, though, today wasn’t the day for that.
Without detail, suffice to say what had me up in the small hours was a patently ridiculous task that involved significant eye rolling and standing around a parking lot in the morning’s light drizzle for far longer than was strictly necessary.
That’s not to say that waking up at 4am is completely without virtue. Dragging yourself out of bed at 4AM and starting the clock on your work day by 6:00 delivers the undeniable benefit of then being able to punch out and head home by 2:30 in the afternoon. That part of the day felt good and right. Most people wouldn’t make that devil’s bargain, I’m sure, but if the powers that be would let me kick off every day at 6:00 and clock out at 2:30, I’d sign up for that schedule in a hot minute. Sadly I inhabit a world where I’ve been “invited” to meetings starting at 4:00, 5:00, 6:00, and 7:00PM. Those are hours I’m exceptionally uninterested in being in the office, but during which bosses seem to thrive.
Maybe that’s why I’m such a consistent fan of early mornings.
This week is something of a scheduling oddity due to a confluence of unrelated events. It features a federal holiday, a telework day, half a day off for a dental appointment, and day of annual leave “just because.” That leaves exactly 1.5 days of time physically spent in the office. On one hand, of course, that feels like 1.5 days too many, but on the other it feels like just about right amount.
Of all the things I bitch about you’ll very rarely find the amount of time off I have in my hip pocket making the top 50, let alone the top ten. I know exactly how lucky I am to have that big beautiful stack of vacation days and sick leave sitting there waiting for me to use them.
Right now I’m making up lost ground to tend to appointments I didn’t have time to make in the first four months of the year and burning off days here and there to do things that are just more easily accomplished on weekdays than weekends. After the planned 5-day 4th of July weekend, the burn rate will settled down to a more sustainable rate for a few months. I suppose every week can’t be exceptionally short.
Those full, 5-day work weeks through the height of summer are going to make for a difficult adjustment. Sigh. I need to do something exceptional and get myself a nice time off award in order to stave off the madness just a little longer.