As I’ve mentioned before, after enjoying about 18 months of “early retirement,” I had an opportunity to return to my previous employer to manage a large project for nine months. In and out. Done. Some money in the bank, decent health insurance for a reasonable price, seeing my old friends/colleagues, and what the hell. It was a different kind of project, so it seemed like a great idea. And it should have been. It could have been.
Well, not so much. The work environment alone is somewhat maddening. Get this:
- I have two company-related Google accounts. Anyone who is new to our company has one GMail account; the other folks have two. If you write to me using the original GMail account, it should also hit my second GMail inbox, but sometimes it doesn’t. Anyone who isn’t on my project doesn’t even know or care about my second GMail email address, so they don’t know that I may not see their emails for days. Or weeks. Or ever.
- I keep getting invitations from people who I know, and even like, to join a Google+ circle. I am sorry, but I have enough Google in my life already.
- I have a third email account with our client, wait for it, Harry-Potter, Inc., that is not Google-based.
- I’ve given up attempting to keep up with my two personal email accounts while at work. That’s just not going to happen. And, of course, I’m missing out on all kinds of important Yahoo News, like how Nabisco is coming out with a thinner, less-caloric Oreo cookie. Imagine that.
- So, it follows that I also have three calendars. They do not talk to each other. My colleagues who need to schedule a meeting with me don’t know to send the meeting invitation to both of my Google accounts, so I need to add my second email account to every internal meeting. If I remember. Which I probably won’t. So, if I’m not there, don’t be surprised.
- If I’m going to be out of the office, I need to put it on our project calendar, our company calendar, and in my Harry-Potter calendar. I’m sure I’ll remember to always do that, because I never get interrupted.
- Oh, damn. I have two other calendars. I forgot about the wall calendar at home and the calendar on my iPhone. I have had to reschedule my dentist appointment four times now. You’d think I’d rather go to the dentist than work all afternoon…
- Not surprisingly, then, there are also four instant messaging methods that you can ping me on. I hear beeps and blurps all day. If you ping me, I hope you’re patient. It may take me five or ten minutes to figure out which account it came from, much less how to respond. “Instant,” my ass.
- I also have two large monitors that allow me to display all of this madness. This is a good thing, considering all of the applications, calendars, and email accounts that I need to have open at any one time. Unfortunately, though, knowing exactly where my mouse is, at any point in time, can be challenging, if not downright dangerous.
- This is my first time using Google Sheets, a brilliant, yet diabolical invention. The inherent complexity of this project requires that we have a way to share tracking sheets amongst our many team members, so that we can all work in them at one time, if need be. So there’s that. But the underlying functionality of this not-quite-Excel application is unpredictable, frustrating, and scary.
- I have two Google Drive accounts that contain many documents that colleagues have shared with me. Just figuring out which Drive account could contain the document they want me to look at, and then whether it is still in the “Shared” folder or “My Drive” folder is enough to make me want to put my head down on my desk and cry like a baby.
- I also have two phones and too many ways to call in to meetings. There’s Skype, Lync, ReadyTalk, Google Hangouts, and, well, you get the idea. Sometimes I even just talk on the phone with somebody without some silly software that only works half of the time; that’s a real treat. Except, with our VOIP phone system, I often forget what I have to dial in order to call out.
- And passwords? Don’t even get me started.
So, it takes a while to get used to navigating all of these “environmental” challenges.
And then there’s the actual work. This really should be a fairly straightforward project. We open about 1,000 documents, make some rebranding changes from “Harry-Potter” to “Harry Potter Excelsior,” put them through a two-phased approval process, and we’re done. Oh, no. This is an understated version of this hellish project:
Me: “So, where are the documents you want us to change?”
Harry-Potter: “Well, we don’t know. They might be here.”
Me: “OK, we’ll look there.”
Harry-Potter: “Oh, and here’s a 4,000 line spreadsheet that might contain some other clues.”
Me: “Great. We’ll look at that too.”
Harry-Potter: “Let us know if you can’t find them.”
Me: “We can’t find hardly any of them.”
Harry-Potter: “Oh. So, do you have any documents done yet?”
Me: “Uh, no. We can’t find them, remember?”
Harry-Potter: “Oh, that’s right. Well, put your questions in this other 1,000 line spreadsheet and we’ll see what we can find out for you.”
Me: “Hey, we actually found 57 documents!”
Harry-Potter: “Oh, and by the way, we just found out that 20 of those 57 documents can’t be started yet.”
Me, to myself: “So, we just wasted days of time, looking for those 20 documents and starting work on them.”
Me, sighing: “Do you know where your illustrations are?”
Harry-Potter: “Well, they might be here.”
Me: “There is no correlation between these documents and how your folders of illustrations are organized. Can’t you just tell us if you have new illustrations for these documents there or not?”
Harry-Potter: “No. Maybe search by file name?”
Me, to myself: “REALLY? Search a massive server, at the root level, by file name?”
Harry-Potter: “The VP just asked us how things are going. We need to get some documents done, fast.”
Me: “Do you know how you want to name your rebranded products yet?”
Harry-Potter: “Well, no, not exactly, but keep working.”
Me: “Can you give us any more clues about finding your illustrations?”
Harry-Potter: “Maybe, but not today.”
Me: “Do you know where the other documents are yet?”
Harry-Potter: “No, but we’ll ask around.”
Me: “Remind me again, how we’re supposed to complete documents for you without graphics or knowing how to refer to the product?”
Harry-Potter/He Who Shall Remain Nameless: “Why aren’t you getting more documents done?”
You get the idea. This has gone on for more than TWO months, every single day. I’m not complaining, really, except to you. It could be worse, somehow. Bill Murray’s got nuthin’ on me. We even took on this on as our official slogan:
“Okay, campers, rise and shine, and don’t forget your booties ’cause it’s cooooold out there today!”
A few months before starting this ill-fated project, I had embarked on a serious health kick. I do this every year or so. Feeling great, eating well, taking all of my expired vitamins every day. Impressive, right?
Within two months of returning to work, here are just a few examples of how my life had changed for the worse:
- Instead of a healthy breakfast of egg whites and vegetables, breakfast turned into a four-shot cappuccino and a blood pressure pill.
- Water consumption, on the other hand, plummeted to a trickle. My work partner and I consciously took on less water so that we had to spend less time peeing. Further, we coordinated pee breaks so we didn’t miss anything. We’re all about taking one for the team.
- Not only should I not be falling asleep at the wheel driving home, but I certainly shouldn’t be falling asleep at the wheel driving to work.
- Dinner should not render a person almost unconscious and center around popcorn. Furthermore, when asked about the likelihood of dinner by my spouse, he should not be answered by my saying: “How the hell should I know?” I mean, that’s just not nice.
- Running? Not likely. Logging miles was about as likely as remembering to eat lunch. You can’t imagine how charming I am without blood sugar.
By the time the Fourth of July weekend rolled around, I had hit the wall. My young partner-in-crime (BTW, I define “young,” in this case, as half my age), was faring no better. Something had to give.
I crammed 50 hours of work into four days and headed happily, albeit exhausted, into my first 3-day, Fourth of July weekend. In spite of all of my fantasies of sleeping in and floating through the weekend, most of the first two days were physically exhausting instead of mentally exhausting.
I hit the next wall when the temperature soared to 105 degrees, late afternoon on the Fourth. We were hanging out on our deck, watching the clouds float by, and sweating like Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke.
I could have been asleep by 7:00 pm. But, of course, I wasn’t.
Sunday morning was a treat since I didn’t have to set an alarm. We got up, lounged around in the living room over a lot of coffee, and just talked for the first time in weeks. Breakfast came and went. At 10:00, I did the unthinkable:
I went back to bed for an hour.
The sky was grey, the temperature had dropped twenty-five degrees from the day before, and everything was quiet. I got up and thought about what to do for the rest of the day. I had a very short list, for once:
- Finish the blog I had been sort of working on for the past several weeks (how pathetic is that)
- Run a mindless errand
After I published the post, I took off alone in my car to run my errand. As I drove the half-hour to town, I was suddenly aware that something was very, palpably different. What the hell was it? And then it hit me:
I was actually relaxed.
Feeling peaceful, like a-puppy-taking-a-nap-in-the-sun-peaceful. WOW. How long had it been since I felt this way, without alcohol? Months.
And in that moment, I also realized how very far I had strayed from how I wanted to be living my life.
So, I turned a corner and swore to not let the Harry-Potter madness make me crazy. I also swore to no longer fantasize about trading in my job for a gig at the local drive-thru espresso place. (But those girls look so happy there! Stop it!)
And, while I was swearing, I swore to tamp down the madness every time I felt it starting.
Amazingly, especially to me, my power swearing has paid off. Two weeks later, I am still, more or less, sane. I’m inching my way back to a healthier state. I haven’t fallen asleep driving to or from work, so that’s good news.
I will pay the price for my slovenly behavior when I try to run a half-marathon this weekend that I am have not trained for. But the temperature will be lower than expected and it’s all downhill, so hopefully I can survive it. Hey, it’s better than working, right?
So, long story short, I’m hopeful that my epiphany will hold for the next 7 months, or however long this project takes to finish. Showing up has proven to be even more of a challenge than I ever could have imagined. But you know, I’ll just keep trying to keep that 40,000-foot view when I do break down and have a serious cocktail after work. Gotta keep things in perspective:
“I always drink to world peace.”
Thanks for reading. I know how busy you are.