Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Easy Button

I took this past Tuesday off. I needed to register my car. Maryland's MVA is only open on weekdays between 8 am and 4:30 pm for vehicle registration. Hence, I needed to take the day off to register my car. Gotta tell the truth...didn't really mind the excuse for taking a day off. I'm sticking with my personal goal to take a day off in the middle of the week about every three or four weeks just to stay even moderately balanced with this job.

So the car was my excuse. Problem was, I didn't really *want* to register my car in Maryland. The Honey Bee (as my coworkers call it), a mellow yellow Mini Cooper, has Hawaii plates...you know, the ones with the rainbow on them. I've had people take pictures of the plates here in DC. So--*way* cooler to keep my Hawaii plates than to get boring, old Maryland ones. But my Hawaii plates had expired (umm, in April...I kinda wasn't paying attention), as had the inspection sticker. I checked Honolulu City & County's website for guidance on what to do, even looked for a phone number to call, but it was *absolutely* unhelpful.

I resigned myself to Maryland plates. Reluctantly. But a day off...that helped ease the disappointment.

The day started with a regular physical therapy appointment (shoulder's still bugging me). I headed up Rt 1 to the Beltsville MVA, hoping to find a Maryland inspection station along the way. I stopped at one, two, three, four, five, six...eight, ten stations! before finding one that could fit me in. The inspector wasn't there, wouldn't be in for another hour, hour and a half; they didn't have any appointments that day; they didn't do inspections anymore; their inspector was out at the MVA getting more inspection slips...was getting a little frustrated.

*Finally* I found a place that could do it within an hour, and as luck had it, there was a diner right next door. An inspection *and* breakfast (had been craving biscuits and gravy for days!)...now *that's* what I'm talking about. I finished up with breakfast and still had some time left, so popped across the street to the bike shop to pick up some new grips, a pair of paniers and a mounting system for my bike to make the 15-mile round trip commute to and from work on the bike a little more comfortable.

Got back to the inspection station, only to find that the Honey Bee had failed. What?! The car is only three years old, still under warranty...what on earth could be wrong? Well, the passenger side headlight was mis-aligned, staring down at the street too steeply, and the assembly was broken and couldn't be adjusted. The inspector suggested I have the dealership replace it.

The day just got complicated.

The dealership is down in Alexandria. I was in College Park. Only about 12 miles away...through DC traffic.

I resigned myself to an unplanned trip to Virginia. By the grace of the PTB, I was able to get a service appointment with the dealership enroute, and pulled right into the bay when I got there. And there I sat...for an hour and a quarter. To replace a g-d headlight assembly?! Yes, to replace a g-d headlight assembly. I tried breathing deeply. I tried reading a book, a magazine, a newspaper. But I was just getting *frustrated!* I could feel my day off slipping through my fingers, with the possibility dangling that I wouldn't even be able to get accomplished my single goal for the day.

Thankfully!! the Rocket Scientist was keeping me company on Skype IM, sending encouraging messages and distracting me from my downward spiral. The single saving grace at this point in my day.

Eventually they got my car done...after pointing out that I had a nail in one of my tires...did I need them to fix that? Replace the tire? Wash the car?...Is the tire flat? Well, no, it's a run-flat...Is it low on air? No, but it's leaking...No? Well, good. Give me the damn car back. I've *got* to get it registered today.

'Long about this point, I realized it might be best for *everyone* involved if I stopped at home and got a bite to eat for lunch. Besides, if I timed it right, I could Skype with the Rocket Scientist for a few moments before he went to sleep...which really is the best part of a day off right now.

I said good night to him, and headed back to the inspection station. Where the car passed, and I got my paperwork. Continued on to the MVA. Got cut off by some *jackass* who sped up to merge when a lane ended due to construction. Nearly traded paint with the sumbitch before I realized he didn't give a *damn* if he scratched up his p.o.s. car, while the Honey Bee is much better loved than that. I blinked first, honked in disgust, and got flipped off for my troubles.

And started breathing deeply again, to remind myself that I truly am blessed. I have a nice car. I have a good job. I have a sweet little home. I have a family and friends that love me. I have free time, an education, options, hobbies and interests, good health, opportunities...so many things that lots of other people don't have. Deep breath. Don't sabotage the day with negativity. Deep breath.The day will be fine if you let it.

I resolved to maintain my calm at the MVA, no matter what, no matter how long I had to wait.

So I waited. Online, projected wait times were listed at less than 40 minutes.

I resigned myself to settling in for a wait. 40 minutes came and went for me. 50 minutes came and went. An hour. An hour and fifteen minutes...and finally my number was called. I took my paperwork to the counter, smiled serenely at the clerk and stood by patiently to answer any of her questions. Did I ever have a Maryland driver's license? Yes, a really long time ago and I registered my motorcycle in Maryland about a year ago, so I should have an ID number already in the system. Why didn't I have a Maryland license? Because I'm active duty military, and my Hawaii license is still good, so I didn't need to get a Maryland license.

She goes off to check the blue book value of the car, and comes back to tell me that I have to pay a six percent excise tax on the market value of the car in order to register it. I do some quick math in my head...well, my brain doesn't work that quickly, but it seemed like an awfully high number, so I broke out my phone and used the calculator. And nearly choked when I saw that they wanted me to pay over $1150 to register my car. OUT OF THEIR *FREAKING* MINDS!!

Long and short of it was: when I registered my motorcycle in Maryland (which I did not have the option of registering in Hawaii, since the bike had never *been* there...actually, I need to look into that again), that was a declaration to the state that I was establishing my residency there. Since I established my residency at that time, I had two months after that to register my car there without being subject to the six percent excise tax. Regardless of the fact that I'm active duty military. Regardless of the fact that I pay taxes in Hawaii and am a resident of Hawaii. Regardless of the fact that, damn it, I'm a good person, not a slacker trying to game the system...Ok, I think I might have lost my cool there for a bit while talking to the supervisor. He finally recommended I bring a copy of my transfer orders back in to the DMV so they could verify that I had orders into the state within the last year.

I made it out to the parking lot and the safety of the Honey Bee before the tears of frustration started leaking out of my eyes. I called my sister and asked how, HOW, *HOW* to deal with this level of frustration without giving up, getting negative and being absolutely *pissy* about the indignity of the bureaucracy? Sadly, she had no zen-inspired answer for me.

But during our conversation, I resolved myself to make more of an attempt to figure out how to keep my Hawaii registration. Taking advantage of the six hour time difference with Hawaii that I normally curse, I would find a phone number, work my way through the phone system, leave a message, find the information, and figure out how to renew my registration so I didn't have to pay Maryland a single, g-d *dime!*

I calmed down enough to drive home. And when I got there, I searched the Honolulu City & County website, found a likely phone number, and somewhat skeptically, called it. A very nice wahine answered. On the first ring. I explained my quandary. She very helpfully gave me another number to call, which I promptly did. And another very kind wahine answered. On the first ring. I explained my dilemma again. She told me where to go on the website for the two forms I needed, told me how much my registration bill was and gave me the mailing address to which to send all the paperwork. I nearly wept with relief and thanked her sincerely.

At some point during the abject frustration of the day, I texted to the Rocket Scientist, "There is no easy button," suggesting that I was okay with and fairly used to a certain level of resistance from the universe in getting things done. What I didn't realize until my phone calls with those two helpful souls halfway across the Pacific, was that sometimes, just sometimes, the easy button comes from listening to what the universe is trying to tell you. I didn't *want* to register my car in Maryland, and by forcing it, I ran into all kinds of resistance...at *every* turn, it felt like. But when I went to do what I wanted to do in the first place, the easy button kicked in, and the resistance disappeared. There's a bigger lesson in that, somewhere.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

A Sense of Urgency

I ran my first half-marathon this past weekend. It was a trail run, and a little muddy, so maybe a little more challenging than a regular road-race half-marathon...but I might only be telling myself that because my performance was [shame-facedly] pathetic. I finished. That's about as far as I'm willing to go with "bragging" about how I did.

Over the course of the 13.1 miles, though, I did think about a lot of stuff. What was for lunch (turned out to be a gatorade, bag of potato chips and a Mounds candy bar, post race). Whether, at mile 7.5 going steeply down hill, it was the seven years on ships, four of them on patrol boats, that had destroyed my knees to the point that I had to step to the side of the trail, bend forward and want to cry because going down hurt so freaking bad. Or was it just bad knees? Or complete lack of training (I'm going to use this excuse, because it's the only one I can control in the future)? And why the *hell* it felt like someone was bashing my calves with a baseball bat to make them cramp up and spasm so much? Guess I should have had that gatorade pre-race instead of post-race. It was about at that point that I started walking.

But I also thought about how my sense of urgency for things has changed since I left the operational fleet. I actually find myself asking the question, is anybody gonna *die* if I don't turn in this [report,  white paper, digest, panel, Q response, talking points] within the next 10 minutes like I'm supposed to? If the answer is "no," I absolutely will still try to get it in on time, but will take the extra 15 minutes I might need to make sure it is a worthy product. Because, underway, the "is someone gonna die?" question is completely legitimate. Sometimes, underway, any action is better than no action. If no action is taken, ships could collide, helicopters could run out of gas while still a long ways off from the closest flight deck, lines could part with such force as to break bones, and lookouts could miss spotting that survivor treading water with only their melon of a head sticking out to be seen. Sometimes the action I've taken might not have been exactly the right thing to do, but it was far better than doing nothing.

One of my favorite quotes is the bastardization of Voltaire's original, "don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good." Exactly! Sometimes, good enough is just that!

And I also thought about how tactical decisions are different than strategic decisions (I swear, I'm not making this up...this really is what I thought about while I was running. It was a long race. At least for me.). Tactical decisions are finite...or maybe better said, there is a definable span to their execution.
They are bound-able. They have a beginning and an end. Go-fast chases are over when the bad guys are caught; hopefully, search and rescue cases are over when the PIW is found, or they're over when ACTSUS is granted; boat detail is over when the boat is recovered, griped down and all gear stowed.

Strategic decisions are...different (I shared my brilliant insight with the Rocket Scientist, not realizing at the time that he teaches strategic planning in war-gaming scenarios when he's stateside. His response, "of course it is."). But despite the recognition that strategic decision-making is different than tactical decision-making, I'm still stuck with the inclination to understand how the difference affects my ability, as well as a collective's ability, to make, defend, execute, message, recover from and generally live with each type.

So strategic decisions are harder because there typically isn't a need to make them *RIGHT NOW!* like with tactical decisions. I've been thinking for months that I need to figure out how to cool my house this summer because I don't have central a/c, don't like window units, and am actually going to be in Maryland for the heat and humidity this year. For *months!* I've been thinking about this. Finally, last week, I started doing some market research, learned about high-velocity and mini-split systems, looked up some companies...all the strategic stuff related to solving my house's cooling problem. Once the process got tactical, things got easier. A list of companies, phone numbers to call, estimates to schedule. Much more clearly defined and tangible. And you know what I found out today when the first estimator came out to the house...because of my lame ass procrastination to make a decision, the earliest this company can do the install is six to eight weeks...the middle to end of JULY!! Um, silly Girl...summer is well on its way to being half over by then.

Of course, I'll still go ahead and have the system installed as soon as the company can do it...and call it strategic planning for next summer. That's called "messaging" in my world of work.

Another thing about strategic decisions -- they typically require major process evaluation and potential change. Long-range planning without looking at the underlying process is just an extended tactical view. Good strategy involves thorough understanding of tactics: how things are done, why they're done that way and an assessment of whether there is a better way to do them. I called my sister today, about mid-day. Nothing bad was happening (well, except maybe my attitude). But nothing good was going on either. I was just feeling Put Upon. Weight of the world on my shoulders kind of thing...juggling multiple seven-figure issues, schedule crunches, trying to be in two--hell, four places at once, doing six things at a time. Had to leave work early (or at least early for this office...still put in an eight-hour day) to get home to meet the a/c estimator. Lower priority events fell off the plate.

This really is all relevant: how things are done  -- I push myself, try to do too much at times, take on more than I really should; why they're done that way -- it's just my nature, I guess, don't know what the hell I'm trying to prove; a better way to do them -- quit making lists of all the crap I feel like I need to do...hire someone else to clean the house. And paint the house. And tile the floors. And install the a/c. In other words, prioritize better. Recognize, accept and move on from the fact that I can't do it all *and* I don't have to.

And this really is all relevant to work. Like critically, desperately relevant. Budget cuts don't ease the difficulty of strategic decisions. Less money means strategic decisions are so much more important (critically), but ridiculously (desperately) more difficult to actually make.

Welcome to my world. At least I'm not sore from the race anymore.