My son, who is studying “community helpers” in kindergarten, came up to me the other day and asked, “Dad, what do you do at work?”
It is important to note that he asked what I do, not where I do it. I have taken him and his older sister to my office on several occasions to spin around in the swivel chairs and write on the white board while I futilely attempt to accomplish something constructive over the din of youthful enthusiasm.
After pausing momentarily to think about it, I replied, “I go to meetings, talk on the telephone, and write reports.”
This drew the chuckle I intended from my son, who enjoys the wry sense of humor that I inherited from my father. The more I thought about it, though, the more I had the sense that I had in fact given him a truthful answer to his query.
To whit: I was in a conference call the other day that began at 9:30 in the morning and ended at 4:15 in the afternoon. This was a rare opportunity to both talk on the telephone and go to a meeting at the same time. The only break was a scant half hour to race to a nearby fast food restaurant, purchase and consume some form of sustenance that the average self-respecting epicurean would walk away from, and race back to the office to rejoin the festivities. (Notice I said consume. I don’t believe that digestion took place until a couple of days later.)
When later relating the story about the conference call to my son, he asked the obvious question, “What was it about?”
A couple of days earlier we had captured the attention of the entire project team, which is scattered across three states, when we attempted to define the End of Time. Now, there was a practical reason for undertaking this effort, and it had nothing to do with philosophy or religion. There was considerable disagreement about what constituted the End of Time, although it was agreed that the answer likely lie in the hands of a higher power, which one presumed meant Upper Management. In reality, Upper Management did not want to be responsible for having prematurely brought about the End of Time, so after hours of meeting on the subject, a volunteer (read: low man on the totem pole) was recruited at 4:00 p.m. to handle the problem. By 4:15, he had arrived at a solution, having had the foresight that Upper Management was lacking to recognize that neither he nor anyone else in the company would likely be around to find out whether he was right or not, and it wouldn’t really make any difference at that point anyway.
When the conference call was finally over, we had to write a report about it.
One of the few things about my childhood that I remember with great clarity is going to visit Dad’s office, where my sister and I would spin around in the swivel chairs and write on yellow legal pads while my Dad futilely attempted to accomplish something constructive. He never complained. Now I know why. After all, it’s really because of the din of youthful enthusiasm that we go to work in the first place, whether we work in an office or someplace really cool like a fire station.
Forgive me, I’ve got to run. The phone is ringing and I’m late for a meeting.