Month: November 2013

Temporal Relativity

Otherwise entitled: I Keep Forgetting What Day it Is.

Driving home through unusually light traffic tonight I realized, halfway home, that tomorrow is Thanksgiving.  For someone who works for a retail company centered around food, this is not how it should be. I should have, beating in my heart and tattooed on the inside of my eyeballs, every food-based holiday and a countdown to it. Instead I was one of the many last-minute shoppers at my local grocery store, which amazingly had all of the ingredients to make two pies, homemade cranberry sauce, and a gorgonzola-broccoli recipe I stole from my friend Cynful about five years ago.

My parents have the “Now What Day Is It Again?” syndrome but for drastically different reasons: the parents are retired. “Weekends” have no meaning if you  don’t work during the “week”. My day-of-week forgetfulness comes from “I am going to survive this day” combined with a bit of work each weekend.

My kitchen was demolished on 30 September. The job to remodel it was to be completed 6 November, with a schedule that had a ton of spare space in it. As of today, my fridge is still in my garage, all of my kitchen gear is in boxes, I can’t park in my garage because of said fridge and other kitchen-cabinet boxes, and we are looking at “another week or so” of work. Most people can forgive any amount of stress or craziness at work to go to the solace that is their home, I do not have that solace. I go home to disorder and disruption, which for me is unnerving and quite possibly a form of slow torture. The best way to make a control freak cringe is to take absolutely everything away from their control and tell them there’s no way to get it back.

I will take the frenetic panic of working through the massive consumer glut that is the holiday season, and yes I too have a couple of wish lists out there; I will take the increasing tempo of schoolwork for the boychild, I will take the slow creep of the scale that necessitates increased workouts, I will take the eternal guilt I get at this season for not being able to do more, to provide more, to be more.

It’s just another week until I get my kitchen back.

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Cliché

Clichés, as a rule, bother me. This has to do with my innate dislike for anything that must “be accepted”. The absolute BEST way to get me to not read a book, not see a movie, not do something, is to tell me I MUST read XYZ book, I MUST see XYZ movie, I MUST do whatever. It just won’t happen. If I’m in “polite” mode I will dither, if you are family I *may* humor you, but otherwise it’s just not going to happen. This explains why I still haven’t seen the “Breakfast Club”, why it took some serious cajoling to read Lean In (yes, yes, blog post coming about it eventually), and why, at 40, I don’t know if I own a hairdryer because I simply refuse to use one.

Clichés are the verbal “you must”. It suggests that there is something out there you must do, or must allow, because it just *is*. The absolute worst one, in my opinion, is “Everything Happens For A Reason”.

Please. Just… don’t.

Things happen because they happen. There is little reason in someone going in to a school and shooting children, there is little reason in the antics of Congress (these days), there is little reason in Wall Street (as evidenced by a DOW nearing 16k whilst we have the hurdles we have. There need not be, and frequently there is not, a reason.

Saying “Everything happens for a reason” is a way of accepting a lack of control; it means “I can’t see a good reason for this to happen in a logical world so I will abuse this platitude and hope this changes the subject and/or gets the person who is trembling with doubt, pain, or hurt to stop it long enough for me to be comfortable”. Looking for “reason” where no good one is, is insanity. Or optimism.

I’m more of a fan of “It is what it is.” “Que sera, sera”, however sung by Doris Day, is accurate. Things happen: this much is true. Entropy increases. Time marches. But the notion that there is some underlying reason causing a typhoon to kill off five thousand people, or a tsunami and earthquake to hit the site of a nuclear reactor, is asinine.

OK: Point and counterpoint. Correlation and causality. That is to say, YES, ultimately there is a cause to every effect.  A ginormous typhoon hit the Philippines because global warming has warmed the atmosphere and waterways in that area to a devastating effect and the bomb that would go off there went off with a bigger bang; people tend to build nuclear reactors near waterways in order to easily flood the site to cool it down. But when people say “Things happen for a reason” they do NOT mean, “things happen because a series of events led to them”, they mean, “there is some good reason for this to have happened” and “good reason” usually infers somehow, somewhere, there is benefit.

You will notice that very rarely does anyone say “Things happen for a reason” where something happens that is obviously beneficial. “Things happen for a reason” is not applied to the lottery win, or the quick reflexes that get you OUT of a car accident, or the “A” you got on your Chemistry final. No, then you take the credit: you studied, you had quick reflexes, YOU picked the lucky number. So if it’s good, you controlled it with your abilities and your skills; if it’s bad there must be some better reason for you to have fallen on misfortune.

I have been in plenty of good circumstance that was of my own doing, and nearly as much malfeasance that was as well. I do not attribute this to “fortune”, I attribute this to the way things are. It is what it is.

But it may not have happened for a “reason”.

Be a Traci

Every year, about this time, I get a little hectic. I’ve decided it must be me, because every job I have had for the last ten years, regardless of industry or emphasis, seems to go absolutely crazy at this time, and it lasts right up until about Christmas or just before New Years’. In previous years I attributed it to planning, that process where you decide how much money a given individual is responsible for; in recent years I had attributed it to the frenzy of “finish what we said we were going to do by end of year”.

Now that I am in a Retail Organization, I realize that I was but a Baby Developer/Analyst and had No Idea what the Real World was like.

I am finding comfort, and redoubling effort, in light of something I learned at my old job: Be a Traci.

To explain:

Each year, at this time, in my old job, I was part of a process in which we divided up something on the order of 1 or 2 Billion Dollars (it changed over the years) to 8 or 12 individuals, in terms of responsibility for the coming year. In short: Jane Roe, Jon Doe, and George Smith, you are now responsible for $1bn/x for the next 12 months, and if you don’t generate that cash volume in your area the Whole Company will look down on you with a mixture of derision, pity, and disgust.

As you can imagine, having someone (especially a Dev Manager) tell you “Here is your number, based on my Excel spreadsheet and near-sociopathic bent for analytics, have fun with that”, is not fun. I got a reputation for being “apolitical” and someone took me aside at one point to tell me that “No and no” was not a reasonable response to email.

However, the mitigation for this at the time was to get all 8 or 12 people into a room, for 8-10 hours, with me, a laptop, a projector, and dubious catering service. In that meeting each person would grab their PowerPoint and their skills in persuasion to indicate to the VP’s that Be why they should be able to put 10, 20, or 30 million dollars back in to the pot. After two rounds, I could tell you, in advance, who was going to sandbag, who was going to like it and lump it, and who was going to knock it out of the park.

Traci always knocked it out of the park.

I met Traci formally in Las Vegas during one of these meeting events, she was responsible for San Diego and was an up-and-comer. Traci was a Manager at the time and therefore a bit more down the hill that these monetary expectations rolled down. The next year, though, she was one of the 10, and she grabbed her Power Point, her very cute shoes, and her Excel Spreadsheet, and did something remarkable:

She accepted her number, and said how she’d do it.

Her number that she was allotted was audacious. It was not easy. I remember thinking she had to have balls of solid steel to accept it, and this was in a meeting where at least three other people who had been Directors, longer, put money back on the table. She didn’t act overzealous, she admitted the number was aspirational, but she detailed her plan.

She made her numbers.

She made her numbers every year for five years.

She has been a VP for three years running at a Fortune 500 company,

When there is a problem to go solve, they send Traci.

And every time, she rises to the occasion, grits her teeth, and gets it done. In cute shoes.

There are relative few heroines for women in the working world, apologies to Sandberg and Mayer. The fact that I can only think of two off the top of my head (without getting political) is sad (note: I have a whole blog post about Lean In coming). And the fact of the matter is, Traci and I are worlds apart in the actual work we do.  But I cannot forget her tenacity, and I cannot dismiss the infectiousness of her attitude.

Traci once had a long conversation with me about the 20-odd ways there are to say “No”. I like to say “No” the way I learned to: “No”. But in modern business, you need to say “No” without actually saying it: “I need to review our resources”, “Perhaps XYZ tactic will work better”, “I will take that back to management and we can review”, and so forth. It was one of the best lessons I had ever had in management, and I use it to this day.

So these days, when I feel overwhelmed and like the Powers That Be are dumping more on to my plate than I can handle, I remember Traci, and that meeting in Vegas. I’m armed with my Excel spreadsheet, and my Power Point. Now all I need is cute shoes.