Okay, this is as good a time as any to dish out the “new job” blog…
A few minutes ago I got an email from my division chief patting me on the back for crafting a well written one-page request email. To put that in perspective…at my last job you were lucky to get an honorable mention if you made it through a thirty six hour shift without losing consciousness.
Before I get into all of the greatness of contracting for the federal government, in general I’m still in a pretty calm place. We just celebrated our first wedding anniversary, I’m turning 41 on the 4th of July, and my “other” birthday is July 12th. Tonight we are eating at one of my new favorite restaurants- Justus Drugstore. Still working the program…remaining as accountable to that as possible. I was leading the 8am Saturday meetings for the past three months, and now I’ll be leading the 6pm Thursday meetings. I genuinely enjoy going, but obligating myself insures I’ll attend. The noon meetings over by where I work are good, but there is nothing like your home group. Remaining accountable to the program means watching out for highs and lows of emotion in order to avoid the egomaniacal pitfalls that are part of life….specifically the feelings of “YES! I got this job and am doing well because I’m the greatest sonofabitch alive!”, or the equally ego-driven “Oh, I know I’m just not worthy of these good things that are happening…”. I try to stay away from all of that, and extreme emotion in general, which I know has a negative impact on the entertainment value here….but I am treating my newly found sanity with cautious optimism and don’t want to rock the boat.
Plus, I’m just making out like a bandit these days and stop to appreciate it all as much as possible…. great wife and marriage, a dream job where I work 9-5 and no weekends, new stuff around the house and a nice new flowerbed out front, high-end dinners out without freaking about every penny, good friends, farmers markets, an overgrown herb garden, a round of golf with my cool new clubs every damn weekend…..and if all I have to do is work the program to keep all of this, or keep me sane if any of it goes off the rails, then I consider it a bargain.
So it is with gratitude and wonderment that I approach the new job…. one that I didn’t even have to go looking for after seven months of following every friggin’ lead I could find. Even when things get a little surreal or ridiculous around here, all I have to do is remember what it was like week after week with no leads and no hope.
Without getting into specifics that could get me into some kind of trouble, I’ll just say that I currently work as a contractor in a large federal agency in the IT department. And granted, it is such a different environment from anyplace I’ve worked that I could take the piss right out of it for about 6,000 words if I got into one of my modes. I will say that, in regard to the stereotype of the angry, lazy, government employee, you do see some of that. And you do see every type of disability….when the weather is bad, the Little Rascal scooters are lined up like Sturgis downstairs. But overall, people are pretty nice, and unlike places I’ve worked like Sprint and IBM, people who make really good money here generally don’t go around putting on airs. At the Sprint Campus, someone making 50K would go into hock and lease a new Lexus just to keep up with the faux-yuppie image….and in general, someone making more than twice that here probably still drives their 2005 Chevy truck or Honda…and even though they happen to have some property and a cabin down by the lake they don’t pull the Sprint/Corporate bullshit and act like it’s a tudor in The Hamptons. It is pretty laid back here. The government goes at the government’s pace, and you hear almost zero talk about politics….because the government goes at the government’s pace…the Fox News/CNN battles that stoke the fires of public outrage really don’t spark that much conversation here. For all of the well meaning liberal white-guilt bullshit “diversity” talk you hear in the corporate setting, diversity is real here. When confronted with a well meaning liberal riddled with white guilt (who usually lives in the all-white yuppie enclave “close enough” to the hood to pretend to be urban) who has something to say about diversity, I tell them “If you really believed in diversity, you’d hang out in the DMV or the tax office to make friends”. Well, working here is like working around everyone you run into in the tax office or DMV….age, race, gender, sexual orientation, religious belief….it is all well represented here in what I refer to as “heaven”.
And it’s heaven because the government has processes, and you learn very quickly who owns those processes, and if you are smart you learn how NOT to piss them off. Find out what food they like and bring it to the monthly birthday celebration….just be friendly and know your damn place. Do your job. Do YOUR job. Don’t go figuring out how someone else can do their job even better. Getting things done on time here is like extreme overachievement in the corporate world. Know your place, don’t be all loud, and if I didn’t mention it before…know your place. IF you can know your place and be happy with your place, and I am extremely, ecstatically, enthusiastically ENAMORED with MY place, you’ll do okay. Sure, some people are just angry…that’s their thing. And if they can make YOU angry, even better for them…..but you spot them quick and tend to avoid them. They are the people who you can literally hear grit their teeth when you hurry on to the elevator at the last second and push a floor before theirs. So I kid you not, this is something a couple of us do…we wait until we are AT the elevators and we wait for a door to open up. We do not rush to catch one. When we are in a meeting with federals and the conversation abruptly comes to a halt, that means “time for contractors to leave so we can talk government stuff”. You just better know that, nobody is going to say it. When we go to a luncheon, we get our plate of food and leave….we do NOT sit down in the middle of all of the federals and chill with them for an hour thinking we’re getting in good with them. And as crazy as it sounds, it’s the little things like that that will keep you off the radar and allow you to do your job in peace. Now, you have to work with some of the angry people on a regular basis, but it only takes about five seconds of thought remembering how much worse it was at Sprint or IBM to put things in perspective. And like I said, for the most part, people are pretty cool and there are some very interesting and highly qualified folks around here, and while the job can be challenging you generally have realistic expectations put upon you. You are actually allowed to LEARN THINGS and then PUT THEM INTO PRACTICE….such a different concept. But in general, it’s not the work you have to worry about, it’s the people. My masters in org psych is paying off BIG TIME here….because it’s all about getting along with people and personalities. Your boss may be high up on the food chain, but the person with more “power” may be the 70 year old admin you keep pissing off by tying up the printer with those 100 sheet print jobs. It could take your federal lead six months to get rid of you, but THAT lady….she could have you packed and out the door that afternoon because she has worked for the right people at some point. Total common sense stuff, perhaps too mundane, predictable and boring for some, but I love it….I finally found a gig where I can work to LIVE, not live to work. I put in 40 hours, go above and beyond whenever I can, am always stepping up when volunteers are asked for, and I’m damn friendly and personable. If they want me to work over in the evening or on a weekend (which hasn’t happened yet), that means our homeland security guys need at least a 2 day lead time in order to set up our security access for off-hours. And the cherry on top is that I got nearly a 10K raise when I took this gig. Those promises on pages 83 and 84 of the big book are absolutely real…..I couldn’t make this stuff up if I wanted to.
So I guard all of this. Guard my home life and guard my sanity. I don’t rush off into all of the tangents that keep me constantly amazed…especially this insane political partisanship of the past 2 years. It’s nothing but bad reality tv, but people buy into it. I guess the new thing is to hate federal employees because they are forcing Obama to raise taxes, because they are the only ones who will get all the money? It’s shit like that people will say to me when I happen to be among any of the Fox news crowd….lots of slogans, lots of catchphrases, lots of posturing, but sadly few facts or figures to back it up. Granted, I know those on the left can do the same shit….99% of political arguments boil down to going back and forth matching tales of hypocrisy. Government employees are parasites….well, I would have stayed at IBM indefinitely if the already highly profitable company didn’t decide they could boost their profits even more by sending my and 15,000 other jobs to countries where they can pay people four bucks an hour. So to me all of this boils down to, who do you trust more to run things? The government or big business? I realize it’s a nightmare choice, but higher taxes have had way, way less of an impact on me than all of the American jobs that are being outsourced so that fewer and fewer people can guarantee they get more and more of the money. What I hear from the tea-partiers is “well, jobs go overseas because the companies are getting taxed so much”……so by that logic, if taxes are lowered, all of the jobs are coming back? And of course there is the whole Arizona immigration thing….which is something that blows my mind. Yes, illegal immigrants are a big problem, but as per usual the knee-jerk redneck contingent would rather have a sabre-rattling good time rousting them than do anything to make a real impact. They want to send a message to the liberals rather than do something for their country. And by that I mean…why are the illegals coming here? They come here because people give them money to work. So instead of making a big deal about the failure of government to control the borders, how about we prosecute anyone who hires an illegal for treason? I’m constantly told by the Fox News/Limbaugh drones very specific things that mean I “either support America or I support socialism”. Well I support America…..and I love it enough to put people in prison for hiring illegal aliens to do a job. But they literally don’t even acknowledge that argument when I bring it up, because then I’m threatening big business…I’m threatening capitalism and unrestricted trade. And I’m threatening it because in order to cut off the cash flow to illegals, which WOULD keep them in their home country, that would mean that the heads of major companies who support things like ignorant Arizona legislation would have to go to prison. Companies like Wal-Mart, Tyson, Dole….right now they can afford to pay the wrist-slap fines they incur when illegals are found in their businesses, so the infamous Arizona diversionary tactic works just great for them. And in short, that is one of the things that just amazes me right now…..there’s no good debate anymore, just anger. No real dialogue about these things. So other than this last paragraph I don’t give it much thought, and when I’m drawn into the blackhole that is the discussion with a tea-party minded Palin apologist, I try to bring it all back to “so in all of this what can you or I do RIGHT NOW to make a positive impact in a way that actually makes a difference in our lives and does not involve rhetorical, lazy arguments on a national scale?”. And more often than not, that question ends the discussion….because people generally don’t want to think or do any work, or make any rational sense. The high-minded conservative “work ethic” only applies to whatever got them to a position where they are comfortable enough in life to say “that’s just tough shit…we can’t all go broke taking care of everyone” when faced with questions about what to do with the extension of unemployment benefits or the fact that so many people can’t afford basic health care. It’s much easier to demonize EVERYONE like they are that stereotypical welfare mother who keeps cranking out babies because babies mean even more money from Saint Obama, than it is to actually get involved with changing a process….the more time you can spend telling someone what they are doing wrong, the less time it leaves you to worry about what you can do that is right.
And with that, I bid you a good evening and a happy and safe 4th of July weekend. And you know why I don’t have time for some kind of a smartass sign-off? It’s because I’m a social parasite who gets to leave work now and I don’t want to use any of my own time to talk with you…..