The longer I go along in this career of mine, the fewer days I have that seem to slide completely off the rails. I like to think that it’s because I’ve gotten exponentially better than I use to be, but I suspect the reality is that after 18 plus years, it’s mostly that I keep seeing the same things happening over and over and over and over.
Painful years of experience is one of the biggest reasons why when these anti-Midas days come along, they really catch me so completely by surprise. I’ve gotten use to knowing what’s likely to turn to shit in my hands and can often avoid the worst of it.
Today definitely was not one of those days. Every single thing I touched turned into a big steaming turd. Some of it was clearly my fault. Some of it was inflicted by the actions or inactions of others.
I use to take that kind of thing personally. Now, I mostly just shrug and move on. I guess that counts as personal and professional growth.
At the risk of being accused of not taking anything seriously, the thought that’s occurred to me more often than any other this week is wondering how, exactly, so damned many people have eight or nine days off, largely in the middle of the week, to be able to spend so many days in a row schlepping around the streets of America’s major cities.
I wish I were even being facetious. I’m simply amazed that so many people have the amount of free time in the middle of the day that being this level of involved would require. I mean don’t get me wrong, I’ve got a nice pile of vacation time stacked up, but not so much I can fire off a week of it at a time due to unplanned circumstances.
Maybe what I learned is that I’m not getting as good a deal on leave as I thought I was. Best believe I’ll be making sure to educate myself further on this one.
I know that a few months ago I told you I like learning things. In fact,I promised to make each Friday’s post a tribute to that idea.
Here, now, I’m going to backtrack on that statement a little. This week has been an unrelenting bitch. I don’t want to learn anything new this week. In fact it would be helpful if I could just turn my brain down to a low simmer for the next few days and focus on blocking out things that are old and stupid rather than acquiring that which is new and interesting. I just don’t have the bandwidth for it this week.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to put something completely mindless on the telly and read until my eyes go blurry. That should carry me through about 8:30 ot so. Then I’ll sleep and hope to rise again tomorrow and pretend it’s not just a two day pause in an endless parade of major and minor shitshows otherwise known as weekdays.
It occurs to me that part of the reason weekends are so much better than weekdays is I pay virtually no attention to the news on Saturday or Sunday. Of course I catch bits in dribs and drabs from Facebook posts, whatever is trending on Twitter, or what the BBC pushes out in alerts, but I don’t make a conscious effort to seek out news during those 48 hours blocks.
Maybe some would say it makes me a bad citizen, but it makes me a more sane human being. It’s probably worth the trade off. I think I’ll continue trying to keep the shitshow of events entirely outside my own sphere of influence confined to the 5 days of the week that are already dicked up by other factors. Two days of willful disengagement out of seven days in a week don’t feel like an outrageously big ask.
I’m left to wonder if we might not all be better off if everyone spent more time tending to the things that are within their own span of control and less tuned in to Big Events over which no one has any real control. It’s a pipe dream, of course. There are too many people too tied in who seem like they might just get off on soaking in the drama.
As for me and mine, we’ll double down and take a page from General Washington to increasingly strive to be the kind of man who seeks mainly to “sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.”
1. Wanting it bad. There’s an old saw when it comes to government work that says “If you want it bad, you’ll get it bad.” Put another way, if you want to shove something out the door fast, don’t be surprised when quality suffers. I’ll be the first to say that not every project needs to take months and years to come to fruition, but there are times when you’d be far better off and deliver a far more refined product if you’d just take a few extra days to put just a little bit of polish on the final effort… but if you demand a rush job, don’t be surprised when the result is one ugly-assed example of “good enough.”
2. FCC complainers. I didn’t see the Superbowl halftime show this year, but I did see clips of it. According to complaints received by the FCC it was “a x-rated display like you’d see at a strip club.” All I keep thinking is that the poor person who wrote that complaint couldn’t possible have ever been to a strip club or actually seen porn. I almost feel sorry for these puritanical douche canoes who are clearly too uptight about the human body to ever really enjoy any sexytime.
3. Lack of motivation. By Thursday whatever motivation I could manage to scrape together to kick off the week is well and truly spent. While I’m mostly focused on keeping my ducks more or less in line and getting across the Friday afternoon line of demarcation, there’s always someone rolling into the last third of the week with boundless energy, optimism, the desire to do great things. While I’m sure these people are well intentioned and may even be organizational rock stars, the only thing I really want to do with them is kick them directly in the junk. Because it’s Thursday and I’m expending every ounce of available energy to keep my eyes from rolling out of my skull. If I can put anything more than that on the table at this late stage of the week, it’s a bonus, but really shouldn’t in any way be expected.
Most people wouldn’t see a lot of up side to sliding into work at 6am. I won’t say all those many people are wrong, but they don’t speak for me.
One thing stands out as a real perk of starting the day at an obscenely early hour… and that’s seeing the “end of tour” rapidly approaching immediately after lunch. All things considered, 2:30 doesn’t feel like a bad time to end the working part of the day. If it were an option I could convince any of the bosses to consider, hell, I’d probably volunteer to take that on as a permentant schedule. Lord knows it’s not as if I’d mind going to bed a little bit earlier to compensate.
There are, of course, reasons why that won’t happen – chief among them is the penchant my particular organization has for starting meetings after 4PM… and more than a handful that spring up at 5PM or later, depending on the vageries of when any given uberboss may have some white space on their schedule. For reasons surpassing understanding, free time is almost invariably at the end of the day. Somehow I think I’d be more sympathetic in these cases if suddenly they decided to come in early and stack the extranious meetings on the front end of the day instead of at the tail.
Late afternoons are a time I find myself to be generally less effective. You might be able to physically keep me in the building, but I promise you that once we’ve passed the end of my normally scheduled service day my brain has turned to mush. Eight hours of bureaucratic jackassery is just about all I’m wired to tolerate in a single sitting. A reasonably smart man knows his own limitations and accounts for them. You’re getting my best and most focused effort between the hours of 6 and 11 am. Outside of those times I can still be pretty good, but for every hour either side of “prime time,” you’re getting a deminishing marginal return on investment simply because the world doesn’t exist to accomodate how I work best… which is a pity, really, because I’ve long suspected I could be far more productive in five focused hours than I’ll ever be in eight hours that stretches across and well beyond my natural sweet spot.
1. Politics at the office. I make a concerted effort to avoid talking politics at the office. I have plenty of opinions, but in my chosen career my loyalty is owed to the Constitution rather than party or the individual occupant of any office. I’ve served under commanders-in-chief of both political stripes and agreed and disagreed with all of them in turn. What I’ve never done is pop off about their virtues or faults in the execution of my duties. There’s a time and a place and inside Uncle’s cube farm isn’t it. Now if only every colleague were so circumspect we could have a few less cringeworthy discussions around the ol’ watercooler. As it is, I’ll have to continue to feign indifference and exercise great skill at avoidance.
2. Basically everything else. There aren’t a lot of single issues I can point out this week that stood out… but the week taken together was one enormously obnoxious pain in the ass. I’ll be more pleased that usual to see this one slide on past the stern. The single redeeming quality of it being a holiday weekend is, frankly, the only thing that’s kept me going this long.
1. Performance appraisal. I’ve spent more time than I want to admit this week dicking around with the required “self assessment” section of my annual performance appraisal. It feels like a monumental waste of time. The “old” evaluation system was a pain in the ass too, but at least it was consistent. You could copy and paste big chunks of content from year to year, change some dates and key words and then move on with a minimum amount of fuss and trouble. Since the system we’re now under is “new to us” if not exactly new, it’s starting from a blank page… which translates into more time fiddling. Look, when you’ve been told, albeit in a roundabout way, that the system is designed to drive people to the middle and prevent too many from being way out in high performer land, the incentive to make the end product immaculate is pretty low. Instead of the time and effort going into this new evaluation, it feels like we could have been just as well served by accepting that if we were fucks ups, someone would have told us by now, and that our raise will in all likelihood be within a hair’s breadth of the average unless you’ve done something breathtakingly good or bad in the last 356 days. Going though all the added motions really just adds insult to injury.
2. “Upgrading” software. I don’t mind software upgrades that improve the function of my equipment or make it somehow more secure. I do mind software upgrades that fail to install on the first attempt and then run in the background indefinitely consuming system resources while providing no way to stop them from the user side. Sadly there is absolutely nothing I’m empowered to do about the low bidder equipment or substandard tech support we’re saddled with other than bitch and complain about it at each and every opportunity. So I guess I’ll either limp along as is until the aborted update grinds my system to a complete halt or the admins throw my machine off the network for not having received the update. If only there were a great big organization in change of electronic communications I could call on for help in these situations. You can’t see it but I’ve rolled my eyes so hard I’m currently staring at the inside of my head.
3. Thursday. Well, not just Thursday. I’m just really kind of over weekdays in general. I’m tired of dealing with people. I’m tired of the same bureaucratic and administrative Groundhog Day experience every five out of seven days. I want to sit on the living room floor dispensing ear rubs and playing tug with the dogs, drinking coffee, and reading books… and I’d like for that to happen without finding myself quickly driven into bankruptcy. The dogs have become accustomed to a certain level of lifestyle (and medical care) and I need an ever increasing amount of space for book storage, so that pretty much precludes any radical changes to how I spend the average weekday. Most of the time, the week goes by with a dull “meh,” but this week it’s more of a roaring angsty rage. Good times. Im glad we’ve had this chance to talk.
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.”
When you get use to easing into the week by spending most Monday’s working from home, a Monday thrown directly into the daily asshatery of the office is like wrapping yourself in a cold blanket of angst. Going from a nice quiet Sunday surrounded by books and dogs to a cubicle surrounded by 30 other chattering bureaucrats is just hard on the system. It’s not insurmountable pain and agony, of course. Maybe it’s more akin spending eight hours with your swim trunks full of sand. It’s just unpleasant.
There are two sides of every coin, though. In this case, the obverse is that it’s one more day ticked off the calendar – meaning the work week is 1/5 the way done and there’s still a nice day of answering phone calls and emails from the comfortable precincts of Fortress Jeff still left to come. Don’t tell me I can’t see the brite side of things.
All told, it’s probably just another Monday – somewhere in the middle hump of the bell curve; not great and not awful. If there’s one thing I can count on my inner pessimist to deliver, it’s a constant stream of reminders to not worry, because things can always get worse. I’m quite sure that’s one of those sayings that’s supposed make you appreciate what you’ve got, but for me it’s always been more of a warning that even in the midst of what seems stupid, there’s plenty of room to drive the train even further off the rails… and into the ditch… knocking over a bridge… and crushing a bus full of nuns and children on their way to adopt all the puppies.
So if you’ve ever wanted to know what thoughts lurk in my head on a typical Monday in the office, there you have it.