‘To become one with whatever one does’

My first day consulting, it had been almost two years since I last worked. They welcomed me in, and the office reminded me of where I’d been so many years before. They were nice and we had lunch together in the cafeteria. And then I started asking them to do things and they ignored me or didn’t do it the way I asked and then I had to threaten them.

There’s a similarity with the cat going up against the dog, making oneself look bigger, hissing, showing its claws: a bluff, but necessary. Project managers rarely have real authority over people; it’s assumed or granted, but always earned, often tested. You earn it by making yourself look big, that way.

I started feeling comfortable there at work. I only went in a few days a week and the other days worked from home. Going in felt ceremonious, a big deal, getting ready. Half of Microsoft’s workforce is made up of vendors like me. They need the vendors obviously and clients like to have their vendors there on hand, but as a company they make a point to remind you you’re not really an employee, and that’s important for legal reasons. So you have to check in at reception and get an escort, and then you don’t have a desk but need to squat in the common areas between meetings, the discreet parts of the building.

I worked with contractors like that at Starbucks on a big IT project. I had a mentor who also worked in IT who was a real project manager pro, who gave me advice. He said maybe the project was too big, and he was right: it was the largest in scope and budget my department had ever done, and they were starting the implementation in China, planning for a ‘global instance’ and requirements that could transfer to EMEA, LatAm, Canada. There were two sets of contracting firms doing Agile-Light Hybrid vs. Waterfall, or something. They burned through a couple IT PMs. I felt bad for one who was my peer, she got let go, but she’d tried to make me look bad on something and lost my trust. She got replaced with a guy from IBM named Art, I secretly worshipped.

Art was smaller in stature, Asian descent, with visible tats on his forearms (dragons, Anime characters, stuff that didn’t look corporate really). In his auto-signature he had every professional certification possible, it spanned two lines. He seemed to really know his shit. But it was a steering committee meeting where he really impressed me, when he asked politely if he could get up and address some concerns ad lib style, and when he did, he owned the room.

I didn’t realize how politically charged those meetings could be, I wanted to deny politics, that was my tact. But there was a lot of posturing and passive aggressive or full-on aggressive charges being made between the business and IT. Basically, the project had gone on way too long without a real schedule. Art came in and built one, to the tune of several hundred lines, mapped back to quarter hour increments, with dependencies and logic, and it all made sense (at least to Art): the important thing was, it made sense to someone.

One of my VPs was casting doubt and Art fanned out the project plan, but spoke to it at the right level and gave assurance he was managing it, and I realized that’s what people really want: they sure as hell don’t want to dig into your project plan, they just need to know you’ve dug into it.

I’d see Art by the food trucks or in the cafeteria and he was often alone, on his phone. I wanted to take him in, give him company. I also wanted to see what made him tick, I probably yearned to be as good at something as he was, at his job.

I took him to lunch at an Asian restaurant and we made small talk but it was odd. And we never quite connected, I think because Art didn’t really want to. And often, as I’m walking through the Microsoft cafeteria not making eye contact with others now I think about Art, and understand him more, why he kept his distance.

Since that first day I started this gig I wanted to feel comfortable and accepted but as I continue on, I feel the need less so. I’m not planning to go back to a full time, brick-and-mortar job. There’s the potential for more security, but I’m suspicious of that. The brick-and-mortar means at least 40 hours a week plus commute time, and then the expectation you’re available outside of that too. You just can’t get as much work done in 40 hours at an office vs. home, period.

I used to flip my badge around so no one could see I was a contractor (they’re different colors for vendors vs. full time) but now I don’t, I wear the sticker reception gives me on my shirt, and keep my jacket with me at all times. That feels good, I can leave whenever I want. I’d like to think that whatever I am or do is permanent outside of work, and the rest of this is just temporary.

I read in a book Brad gave to me just now, “to become one with whatever one does is a true realization of the Way.”

Keep your jacket nearby and your pen in your pocket, and remember they can cut your access anytime they want, and you can do the same.



Categories: identity, Memoir

Tags: , , , , , , ,

30 replies

  1. This made me think about how we carry things with us and keep with us so that we can cut out whenever want. All those backpacks, oversized purses, messenger bags – they aren’t so we are prepared for any situation, they’re so we’re prepared to find the exit. At least that is the way with me. I also take seats in auditoriums at the end of the row near the back for the same reasons. Always need to make sure there’s an out.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s more or less what prompted me writing that, was keeping my jacket with me on the job. Glad you saw that, and been thinking about you and your pitch week, so to speak. Bill


  2. Interesting about your peer who you lost trust in, both of you working on the same thing to make it succeed but she was prepared to throw you under the bus. I used to see epic battles between the cardiologists I used to work for, always protecting territory or funding or reputation. It’s every man for himself out there!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Trying to figure out your banner….seems to change, rotate…I like the new corporate round table mannequin one. Actually, I like them all.. Wondering what makes them rotate though or is it the theme you use?


  4. When I read this, I realize how casual my workplace is, how loose its managed, but it works. Mostly. The only department that grows is the Business Office, and they introduce new systems that are supposed to create more accountability but to my mind are just busy work. I like the loose, and I blanch at the idea of carrying around this new key card to get into buildings. The ones I access aren’t locked yet, but they will be soon. That’s when the place starts to own you.


  5. Quarter hour increments? Seriously? I suppose that might at least give the illusion of having problems under control.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. interesting, i always carry my coat and bag when going to a meeting after school to ensure the quickest and most direct exit. it’s a comforting safety net for me


    • Totally get that Beth, that’s funny. When I used to temp, I’d sometimes eat my lunch in my car. Gave me hope, I was that much closer to leaving.


  7. Your post helped me realize why I retired. I wanted to be connected to my work and my colleagues. I wanted my workplace (an elementary school) to be like family. To be sure we put up a good front to the parents and kids, but it was fake. Then again, how many families do I know that are truly functional, where everyone can be trusted, no jealousy, betrayal? In my career I think I may have experienced the ideal environment once or twice, but it was ephemeral.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ha, that’s interesting– thanks for sharing. So ephemeral it is, indeed. Enjoy it while it lasts. And enjoy your retirement, I hope you are Barbara! Thanks for reading and visiting me here. Bill


  8. “…spoke to it at the right level and gave assurance he was managing it, and I realized that’s what people really want: they sure as hell don’t want to dig into your project plan, they just need to know you’ve dug into it.”

    Ain’t that the truth.

    Then there are the bullshitters who have figured this out and can bullshit their way through most things without ever digging into them. They tend to fail, in the end.

    Had a boss one time who wrote a few words on the board at our first team meeting. One of them was “bullshit.” Another was “results.” He said something to the effect of “here’s what I don’t want,” and crossed out bullshit.

    I liked that guy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I get that, that’s good. I found myself in the bullshit camp toward the end of my last gig, that was hard. Really hard. Good to be back on my feet now, bullshit-free. Thanks for reading man. — Bill


      • I’m kind of there there right now, in the bullshit realm, phoning it in, the b.s. Especially on conference calls, come to think. If conference calls smelled like what they sound like, no one would be able to ride one out without reaching for an air-sick bag. Sorry to bash conference calls, hope you’re not a big fan of theirs quietly raging as I go on about things you didn’t even mention in your post. Anyhoo, I’ve got dogs to walk before I sleep, so later gator. Hope you’re sitting out there in that new yard, enjoying a slow fade.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Cheers, enjoy the walk mate. Better than a con call.


  9. This piece is a description of where I want to get to –at the moment I’m ‘owned by the job’ and afraid to jump.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. “…spoke to it at the right level and gave assurance he was managing it, and I realized that’s what people really want: they sure as hell don’t want to dig into your project plan, they just need to know you’ve dug into it.
    Then there are the bullshitters who have figured this out and can bullshit their way through most things without ever digging into them.


Leave a comment!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: