“God is in the Details”
The weather has been like a Greek play and I don’t understand what’s going on, one moment it’s calm and there’s singing, the next it’s like the world will end.
And you would have thought with all this fussiness I inherited on my mom’s side, this need for constant circling around the house to keep things in order, I would have made for a better project manager. Like, if you’ve got that compulsive need to keep things in order and you’re well-organized, you could be good as a PM, you could sort of like it.
But something went afoul in me or the state of Denmark, and now here I am folding my kids’ laundry and learning how to handle bleach, taking notes and then blogging about it.
The one thing about being unemployed the past few months is getting to really know my kids. Before (this is a confession), the kids kind of got in the way of my work, that’s how it felt. Like they were on the outside of this cocoon I’d spun around myself. It was this Point A to Point B thing, skipping from task to task hoping I’ll get across and not go under.
And with Lily small for her age but a couple years older than Charlotte and Charlotte pretty much normal-sized, their clothes are like indistinguishable to me, a blur of ponies and cartoon characters and ice cream cones.
So to hunker down and actually wash, dry, fold, and start to identify each garment as unique to each girl, that’s new to me. To hold a shirt up and picture one of them inside it for a second makes me smile and gets me through any begrudging or crappy feelings I might otherwise have as a stay-at-home dad.
For our wedding anniversary, I gave the house a deep clean and realized the scent of bleach triggers a special place in my brain that brings pleasure and comfort, a natural relaxant, and not bad for huffing.
And like a lot of our friends and people we know, we had professional cleaners before I quit my job. Despite what any therapist or financial planner will say to convince you why it makes sense to hire help, it’s still a kind of leap to pay someone else to clean your house, it feels unusual. It violated some code I had in me, some discomfort I was now part of a class I didn’t picture myself in or necessarily like. I thought I was too down to earth, but I soon got over that.
So you would think the compulsive fussiness, the constant up and down around the house picking things up and putting things away, that would incline me to project management, a paid gig for endless woes and miscalculations and shit not put away or broken or just about so, stains that will never come out however hard you try, socks missing their mates and reappearing in the wrong places, ants getting in under the door sweeps and like talking shit about you, the ants: nothing ever quite right again after you see them, the ants.
I got outed as a project manager, or passed the litmus test, with a business owner who all but puked on a piece of paper she put on my chair, bullet pointing everything she thought we needed to manage it with an almost Beat irreverence, off-the-cuffness.
And when we sat down to have a proper discussion about it and she sensed my unease, my tightening jaw, she grinned a bit behind her glasses and said, What’s the matter, you don’t like it because it’s not organized?
And I nodded yeah, of course: and it was like I’d advanced a rung with her, to reinforce why I was the right guy for the project, even though I wasn’t. You think you can do anything until you stop thinking you can, which is true of just about everything.
So it’s ironic that after quitting my job to redefine myself now, at the end of the day the task before us, to relocate our family to Europe for a year, really just requires a solid project plan.
I bought a white board and last week, Dawn and I had a status meeting where I facilitated and drew columns, color-coded things by priority and even used some acronyms.
And like they will jam down your throat in the PMBOK (Project Management Body of Knowledge), the need to reiterate, to go back and refine plans once you’ve completed them, is the most important thing to effectively manage a project. Because the plans are never done. Plans change. But planning…is still important.
We had this foolish assumption it would be a lot easier to live in Europe for a year. We’d never heard of the Schengen, underestimated the complexity in shopping for health insurance or how long it would take to get the paperwork to fly with pets.
And that’s why companies hire project managers, to find people who get off prodding all these little details out and fitting them together, like drawing a map, complete with the mythical dragons in the water because they really are out there and do have multiple heads, they’re uglier than the drawings, impossible to imagine, but know how to sink you on email and pretend like it never happened when you see them in the hallways.
The good project managers I knew I didn’t like. They had qualities I admired because I knew how hard it was, but because they were true PMs, it’s like I never really saw them without their costumes. They didn’t seem like happy-go-lucky people, because they’d looked inside the ass of the world and seen it for what it is, infinitely dark and untenable.
And I knew I couldn’t worry about being a nice guy but I never stopped worrying. There was a guy, a mentor of mine who is the reason I got into it all, who had an eye-twitch, a recovering alcoholic and brilliant PM who said I really don’t give a damn if you don’t like me, if you don’t think I’m nice. It’s not my job for you to like me.
You really have to get over that, or not even know what I’m talking about when I say it, if you want to be a good PM. And it was my Achilles heel to be nice, to want to be liked.
Because like parenting, you teach people how to treat you. And people are like kids, they will push to see how far they can go, how little they have to do or how much they can get away with; they will define your level of authority unless you do because it’s all just words until you act on it, how much you really mean it when you warn there’ll be consequences.
No, at the end of the day when I was leaving the best comments about me spoke of my integrity and having a good heart.
You can be a good PM and be all of these things, just not me.