Playing nice in the sandbox – being Swiss at work

[adult language]

I miss the days when I used to travel light. When I threw clothes in a bag and drove away without six pounds of meds and compressors and nebulizers and CF-related paraphernalia. Luckily, this week’s business travel didn’t include an airplane flight where TSA agents’ main objective is to embarrass me by having me remove everything from my bags. I hate airplanes and air travel for so many reasons now. But again, I only had to drive this week. For that I’m thankful.

I had three days of meetings, many of which I had to lead. If I had a favorite moment it was the opening when we went around the room and introduced ourselves, stating our position, years of service and other standard information, ending with a question: “What’s your favorite vacation spot?” Lot’s of possible answers to that one. Islands and Disney were the most popular. I would have liked to answer “the hospital” because that’s where I spend most of my time outside of work. However, this would have raised eyebrows and revealed my secret identity, which is now known in HR but not to others.

I dream of winning the lottery because I’d live in a large house with a big yard, donate to CF research, and not worry about money and health insurance.  I also dream of winning so I could stay at my job for a few weeks and say what I want to say. That’s right, I wouldn’t quit right away after winning. I would stay. But I wouldn’t want to hurt anyone with my words. That wouldn’t be sporting. Rather, I would like to quit playing the dance of being Switzerland, of using the most neutral of phrases and replies. I’d like to be blunt and not worry about making people feel like their idea was the best I’d ever heard. I’d like to hit a buzzer and say “average idea, you can do better.” Or tell my bosses that micro-managing sucks and we have a proofreader for catching typos. Management’s job is to avoid icebergs in our path, not visit the engine room to fix a spark plug.

I’d tell the guy who sits back in our meetings and looks for things to criticize to shut the fuck up. I’d tell him I don’t want to hear anything negative and to keep his pie hole shut for the duration of the meeting. End of story. If he wants to say something positive, great, speak up. However, if he wants to point out that under the harshest of deadlines and editing materials while I was in the hospital, that I could have used a different event on our timeline, well, he can kiss my ass. Because in the scope of life, it makes no difference. And perhaps that’s what irks me more than ever as my life nears its conclusion – so much of the time we spend at work is spent on trivial discussions. It’s not that the work doesn’t matter, it does. People matter. It’s how our time is spent that both fascinates and irritates me. In our quest to play nice in the sandbox, it takes longer to get to where we need to go.

And that goes to my lottery fantasy – saying what we want to say, not being mean to be mean, but stating it as we see it. Not being afraid to debate, or of healthy conflict without the constant fear of losing one’s job.

I’d also like to tell those who think that they deserve special recognition every time they do their job or work an extra 15 minutes at the end of the day that they are really doing just what they get paid to do. No one hired them to be average. Imagine interviewing for a job and stating that you’re going to do average work and want recognition every time you do great work. You’re paid to do a great job, asshole. Do it without the need for constant recognition that you’re doing your job well. The coolest cats, men and women, are the ones who do a great job and keep quiet about it. They don’ t need daily accolades. They have their own internal scoring system.

I think of my daughter and hope that she will work hard in life and find a career that makes her happy. I hope it’s one where she feels free to say what she wants to say. And I hope that opportunity exists by the time she grows up. I’m not sure it will.

6 thoughts on “Playing nice in the sandbox – being Swiss at work

  1. I read an article back about 3 years ago when I was near the top of the totem pole in my department in Cubicleville – only the customer service director, our department manager, and senior editor above me – that really made me want to become more financially secure while I was still there.

    It was about a younger guy who had come into money in his mid-20s due to an inheritance. He kept it quiet, but it totally changed how he worked at the office. He was no longer fearful about losing his job and spoke the truth when no one else would because *they* were afraid of the consequences. If a boss had a bad idea, he’d politely say that it was not in their best interest to do it. He did his job and did it well, but didn’t bust his butt with hours of overtime while still getting his work done and being a team player without seeming to work “for the man.”

    People respected him more after that. He was admired by the ones who were most fearful and he became an advocate of sorts. He was in a position of power without having any real power because he was free to stop pandering to the zombies above him.

    I had a taste of it when I put in my notice to start working from home. “I know I won’t be here next week, but I still care about the company, product, and the people who will have to stay, and this is not going to make anyone want to work harder and will result in an inferior deliverable,” was uttered by myself at at least 2 impromptu meetings that my boss thought were brilliant ideas. They weren’t – and I was the ONLY one in a position to say so. If they fired me for making a suggestion, they could actually be looking at some personal harassment from me rather than me just getting a week of vacation before my next job started.

    For those who deserve it, I would like little more for many workers to be free of fear at the office. Some have far too cushy of a job, and I led several of them fired in 3 years by asking the question, “why are they still here when they only create more work for the other 5 of us?” Why should we all sit around and complain about a person day in and day out instead of having someone brought in who is competent? It sure takes a lot of work to release someone from a gov’t contractor job by proving a pattern of issues, but by the end of my stay there, we had a well-oiled machine that was only hindered by micromanaging.

    Too bad I couldn’t get my manager replaced…

    I hope you find your financial freedom soon so you can enjoy what I did for 2 weeks. You deserve it.

    • Jesse, Interesting story and observations. Thanks for sharing. It really does come down to power, doesn’t it? We’re tied to our jobs by our possessions and bills and don’t have the power we need to speak up without fear of losing our jobs. Then our lives would come crashing down. It’s amazing what that fear turns some people into and what they do to keep their jobs. It’s best to leave like a hermit and have zero debt. 🙂

  2. I don’t think anyone who hasn’t worked for a large company can fully understand the herd mentality. Or the impenetrability of the shield surrounding execs, provided by their yes-men.

    What you and Jesse describe would revolutionize American business!

    I always said the people matter more than the projects. When I look back at my career, it’s not the projects that come to mind. It’s the people.

    On a totally unrelated note, I guess I am not smart enough to figure our your blog provider. Am I to subscribe every time I post a comment? Is there a way to do it once and be done with it?! WordPress wuss here.

    • MAL,

      Herd mentality is a good way to put it. I’m not sure it condemns any of us. It’s just the way we have to move to move forward in large groups, like a crowd exiting a concert. If someone goes against the herd, well he or she won’t get far and there will be turmoil.

      I agree it’s the people. I work with good people.

      I believe there is a way to subscribe to all the comments so you don’t have to do it each time. Give me a few days to figure it out. I’ll get back to you.

      Hope you are well. Would you ever like to write a guest post? Just a thought. I’d like to know more about you.


      • Thanks for looking into my WordPress issues! I guess I could write a guest post. I’m flattered you asked. But I don’t think I’m nearly as funny as you are! 🙂

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