Saturday, August 10, 2013

Roller Coaster

I *wish* I was talking about the amusement park kind of roller coaster. It's been a while since I've been to an amusement park, and heaven knows there are a couple of good ones around, and I totally want to go, but I've been lazy about rallying somebody to go with me. Any takers?

No, I'm talking about the emotional roller coaster that was this past week at work. Monday started off reasonably enough, but by noon I had received some stupendously unfortunate news. News that unnecessarily complicated my work-related responsibilities, was based on (IMHO) a supremely poor decision, and for which there is no readily identifiable solution, for a number of reasons. It's an issue that has been brewing for about eight months (that's being its entirety, it's probably been an issue since this time last year). I had written panel sheets, digests, memos, slide decks and emails describing potential courses of action (COAs); and apparently I failed to communicate my position adequately, because such a crappy non-solution was the end result. The best I could say about the whole thing was that at least now I had an answer. I shut my office door to vent to fellow reviewers, stewing about it for a while, then tried to shake it off because I had other work to do.

In the afternoon, I was working on a panel sheet to brief my bosses about a meeting the next day, so they'd be prepared to discuss the issue with knowledge of some critical background information. I reached out to the brief's drafter because I had some questions of my own. And proceeded to get into a 20 minute conversation, bordering on argument, about the importance of spend-down and closing out accounts as close to zero as possible at the end of the fiscal year, and how OMB treats vacancy rates for planning purposes. As cogent and rational, based in fact, as I thought my premises were, I was unable to sway the other party from hir fears about having to brief the Admiral (theoretical Admiral, in this case) about the potential for going ADA (violating the Anti-Deficiency Act -- spending more money than appropriated) in the account. I failed to communicate my position adequately. I shut my office door because I had to pace the length of the office a dozen times to regain some composure, then tried to shake it off because I had other work to do.

'Long about 1900 (yes, I was still in the office...we're trying to build an FY15 budget, people), I subjected myself to another confrontation because of my strongly held beliefs and lack of ability to do anything other than speak my mind. Even to an O-6. Heated words were exchanged. I ended up saying, "Aye, sir" a lot. And even though had back-up from another Reviewer this time, I felt like I failed to communicate my position adequately. I shut my office door to change so I could go home. I was done being beat for the day; the other work I had to do would still be there tomorrow.

On the ride home (thank goodness I had ridden my bike that day -- the National's game traffic would have been the Last Straw if I had been in my car), I reviewed the day, wallowing in the crappiness of the whole thing. And I realized,  while the decisions related to each of these issues are very important, no one was going to directly die because of them. No boat crewman was going to be pitched into the water from the small boat, to be run over by the ship's screws; no person in the water was not not going to be spotted by the lookout and rescued after 11 hours in the ocean; no flight deck crew was going to be sliced in two by the spinning blades of a hovering helo; no engineer was going to be sprayed with fuel oil and engulfed in flames in an engine room fire. It's good to put things into perspective.

Tuesday started with a better attitude and I jumped right in. Until the first meeting of the day, at which point, a little bit of office logistical news was inadvertently leaked before its proper time. I got spun up about the rationale behind the decision, feeding off the righteous indignation of the other Reviewers and shutting the office door numerous times to rail against life being so damn unfair. Not much work got done that day -- and I don't think it was just because the movers were packing up our spaces for the pending move to St E's, trying their very best not to get too much in our way.

But there was 1700 meeting to plan high level strategy about a Very Important Decision, to which I was invited. I don't always get invited to these kinds of meetings -- I have niche role, specialized in personnel, and while people are everywhere, these strategy meetings are typically about politics, which is definitely *not* my specialty. And when I have attended these type meetings in the past, I haven't ever said much. This time was different though, for some reason. I had input which the other attendees valued and incorporated into the plan. It was very satisfying...the small victories count.

Wednesday started with the chaos surrounding the move to St E's slowing expanding; yellow bins were everywhere in the office, next to the shred bins, next to the disposal bins. I don't like that moving day feeling, knowing there are a thousand little tasks left to do but not wanting to start on them too soon because you might need something you've already packed. Haha!! I tried to be proactive with my packing, and put the binders from my shelves into crates on Monday -- fifteen minutes later I was digging through the crates in search of my FY13 and FY14 CJs (Congressional Justifications) because I needed to look something up. I brought the CJs home with me on Thursday, in case I needed to reference them while working from home on Friday.

So while the moving day chaos was building momentum and rage, we were still trying to help the FY15 Coordinator get the budget built for submission to the Department next week. Tables and displays and write-ups and object class spreads and personnel counts...for every single appropriation. It is a huge task that takes a lot of time and attention. Each Reviewer is tasked with making sure their program's stuff is done and compiled. I remember the process from last year, and was able to bang through my stuff pretty easily, after a few fits and starts of trying to recall approximately what the end product was supposed to look like. Unfortunately, new Reviewers don't have the benefit of that experience and usually end up frustrated because they don't know exactly what to do. They're usually smart enough to ask one of the seasoned Reviewers what the hell is going on.

Earlier in the week, a new Reviewer asked for my help with trying to wrangle hir program stuff into what the Coordinator needed. I gave hir some general guidance, completely forgetting that this was entirely new to hir. On Wednesday, I asked the Coordinator what s/he needed help with to keep things moving along. S/he asked me to work with the new Reviewer to make sure hir stuff was in the proper format, with the required information. I probably could have avoided the whole situation if I had given better information the first time around. Needless to say, s/he was annoyed at having to go back and redo some work because the expectations weren't clearly stated at the beginning. The whole process is not intuitive, requires detective work, and you've got to know where to look for stuff...heck, you've got to know what you're looking for in the first place. Yet another communication fail on my part. At least I didn't have to close my office door afterwards this time.

At some point during the week, I realized if I didn't just *make* the time to submit my e-resume, the 1 Sep deadline would creep up on me unawares like some little sneaky-sneak, and then I'd be scrambling to get it submitted. So I took a few moments to prioritize the boats one last time. I only put seven ships on my list -- I figure if I can't get one of those seven, I'd like a call from the Detailer to talk about why, and have a conversation about alternatives. I hesitated, hemmed and hawed, wished and washed, and in general procrastinated hitting "submit" for as long as possible on the dang thing. But I finally amassed the gumption to press go, and away it went. Now I wait.

One last piece of major business got taken care of on Wednesday. CG-8 signed a memo I've been working on for a while, with major personnel implications including a direct relation to individuals' lives, political and financial impacts, and kind of the whole future of the Coast Guard-thing going for it. I was very glad to get the project moving. It's not done, not by a long-shot, but it's started. And that's better than when the week started.

Thursday was a blur of packing the last of my stuff, cleaning up common spaces, trekking stuff to the car, with small bursts of actual work getting done at the peripheries. I left at 1550, as the movers were invading to make this move a reality. I wasn't sure what to do with myself, getting home before 1700. I think I actually made dinner that night, instead of just grazing from the fridge.

Next Monday I'll start work in our new St E's offices. I'm excited about it...and more than anything, glad the turmoil of last week is over.


Azulao said...

Jesus, Girl. You DO realize that communication requires the other person to actually be listening, right? It sounds like your situations are very complex and also possibly rather boring -- an extremely difficult communication challenge on both sides. So don't take on more of the problem than you really do own.

Just a Girl said...

A, I DO realize that communications require the other person to actually be listening. And you are not the only person to make this observation with regards to my assumption of full responsibility regarding the success of my communication attempts. But I think some of my reluctance to relinquish responsibility is that the alternative is to face the possibility that I don't agree with my leadership, that I might think they're wrong.

That's way more difficult for me to accept than just thinking I can work harder and do a better job.

nonsooth said...

The first time I read 'hir', I thought it was a typo. The second time, I got confused. I figured it out by the third time. I've never seen that before.

I don't know what kind of problems you're working on at HQ. And I have no idea if I would agree with whatever you're fighting for (assuming I could translate the bureaucratese into English well enough to follow). But from your blog posts, it seems like you really think things through and you actually give a shit. As a deck plate sailor, I don't always see that. So, good luck, ma'am.