No matter how many times I do it, I always seem to forget that going back to the office after a long few days off is, quite simply, exhausting. There’s the usual flurry of emails – mercifully fewer because so many other people stayed home too. A few, though, were real humdingers – written, clearly, by someone who chooses to ignore the holiday and assume everyone spent every waking minute of their time off thinking about things back at the office. That’s fine for some people I suppose, but it goes entirely against my wiring.
It’s Wednesday at least. Having a week that starts halfway through does seem to help ease the transition back into the world of work. The impending arrival of snow in the local area tomorrow is having something of the opposite effect by filling my head with dreams of an extraneous day off. It’s a pipe dream, of course, given the forecast, but it’s a happy dream. I’ll try not to let it rock me back on my heels too badly in the morning when I wake up and all it is outside is dark and cold.
The good news, if you can call it that, is the first day back is over now and it can cause no more trauma. Like the journey of 1000 steps – or more aptly in my case the journey of 6,357 days – the key part is to take the first one and then keep grinding them out.
After the better part of two weeks off, some might say that they feel rested and ready to get back to work. I’m not one of those people – never have been. Eleven days of doing whatever I want, whenever I want has precisely the opposite effect. There’s been a lot of reading, a lot of cooking, some visits with old friends, nights spent sprawled across the living room floor with the dogs while we catch up on a few TV shows, and tending a few necessities of home ownership. What hasn’t happened at any point during these days off (until the sun climbed over the yardarm today), is giving any but the the most passing of thoughts about what might be going on and/or waiting for me back at the office.
Now that I’m squarely facing the last day of this glorious long, long weekend tomorrow it has come creeping back into my thoughts… and decidedly not in that “oh yay I get to go back to the office soon” kind of way. There’s nothing for it, of course. I’d be shit at living under a bridge and the endless bulldog medical bills won’t pay themselves, so face it I must.
There’s still a day standing between me and whatever bat shit crazy ideas have passed themselves off as the best things ever over the last two weeks. I feel it’s my personal obligation to do my best to ignore those thoughts as best I can for at least the next 24 hours. After that, all bets are off, and we’ll be exhausted and right back in the tall grass as if there never was a break at all.
1. The two weeks of Christmas. I was sitting in a meeting this week where the great and the good were calling for all manner of things to happen in the next two weeks. It’s cute when they’re optimistic like that. Experience tells me that even the most dedicated senior leader is going to find it hard to get jack-all done when 75% of his or her workforce is sitting snug in their homes or on the road for the week before and after Christmas. It’s good to be ambitious. It’s good to have goals. It’s also important to know your limitations, especially when you’re working with a skeleton crew just barely large enough to keep the lights on. Reason 7,471 I have no interest in bossing ever again.
2. Not knowing when to STFU. There is a time and a place for raising new topics or for asking every question. When the guy sitting at the head of the table is trying to close things out and the meeting has already run twenty minutes past its scheduled ending, though, is neither the time nor the place. That’s when you should have been a bureaucrat long enough to know that it’s time to sit there and shut the fuck up.
3. Emergency slide flipping. If there’s anything worse than being stuck in your own meeting, it’s being unceremoniously suck into someone else’s meeting because their computer crapped out and getting it fixed takes days. Look, a) It’s not my program; b) I actually have my own work to do; and c) If we keep finding work arounds to the shit tech support we get it will never have a reason to improve. Being a slide clicker on your own material is bad enough, but the number of times I’ve been yanked away from whatever it was I was doing to flip slides for someone else is astounding. It’s like no one in this place has heard of opportunity cost or return on investment. There are days when I’m entirely convinced I’m the best paid clerk/typist in the whole damned country.
Everyone reading this is probably well aware that I’m not what anyone would describe as a “party” person. In most cases, hell really is other people – especially other people crammed in a room studiously avoiding any topic that could even possibly be considered controversial (and therefore interesting). In most cases the Nondenominational Office Winter Holiday Party is effectively a very long lunch in which everyone carries on the conversations we would otherwise be having over the cubicle walls.
These Nondenominational Office Winter Holiday Parties are said to be morale boosters. For some, maybe they are. If you should ever want to perk up my flagging spirit all that’s really necessary is cutting me loose a few hours early to hang out with the critters. It has the added benefit of not requiring anyone to reserve the back room somewhere and order in a deli tray, so it’s kind of a win-win.
Still, though, if I’m honest, the $13 price of admission is a small price to pay for getting four hours away from the cube farm without burning off any of my own vacation time so it isn’t an utterly lost cause.
Today I was sitting at my desk around 9AM lamenting that it was only Wednesday and there were still hours to go in the first half of the week.
After a moment’s pause, I realized a few important things:
1) There is a three day weekend incoming;
2) I still have 40 hours of use or lose annual leave on the books;
3) I just got my 40-hour performance award (because I’ll take time off instead of cash money every time); and
4) Starting on January 13th, I’ll be earning 8 hours of annual leave a pay period in recognition of the fact that I’ve managed to not get fired or dropped dead since signing on with Uncle fifteen years ago.
After completing the required paperwork – because truly nothing moves in the bureaucracy without the required paperwork – I’ve effectively created a time machine by which I can skip one of the annoying days in the middle of the week and head directly into the weekend starting at close of business tomorrow.
That’s made Wednesday far more tolerable on just about every level.
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.
After a long and glorious spread of days off, I found myself back to work today. Maybe I should say I found myself kind of back at any rate. I worked from the comfy confines of my home office, which is probably about as a good a way to ease back into it as one could reasonably expect. It was still painful and I know it will be more so tomorrow when I resume my customary position locked into the middle of the cube farm.
I don’t know that I’ll ever really make peace with needing to whore my brain out by the hour to the high bidder, but I’ve at least accepted it as the preferable alternative to starvation and homelessness. It seems likely that acceptance is probably as good as it’s going to get. I can’t foresee a circumstances where I would spring fully awake from bed each morning eager and happy to file forms, create new and better slides, and engage the bureaucracy in a ceaseless battle of attrition. Climbing from the bed with my lips twisted into a grimace and with a gritty determination just to get through to the close of business feels like something I can manage, though. That’s probably enough.
If nothing else, I know the posts here are going to start picking up again soon. Few things feed that beast more than anger, frustration, and cynicism. All of those elements are in short supply when I’m left to my own devices. It’s remarkable to see how the word count plummets when I pass a day not filled with meetings and random paperwork. By Thursday, I think it’s safe to assume I’ll have a full head of steam built up and be back in proper form… that may not exactly be a good thing, but it’s at least the enemy I know. That should probably count for something.