Oftentimes, you don’t realize that you care for people or realize they care about you until you have to part or leave each other. I find this is especially true with co-workers. I was amazed at how many nice things people said as I left and of course, they were probably equally shocked when I said nice things to them. For today, I gracefully accepted their kind words, for tomorrow who knows what they will say about me when I am no longer around.

It’s not until you leave, do you have any idea where you stand with people or understand the impact you on your little working world. Of course, human beings are fickle, so most of your working days you have to focus on where you stand with yourself and your God (which I hope is not yourself, which then turns “God” into a little and not so omnipotent “god”). At the end of the day, you hope you can you answer positively the following question: Did I do my best? Was I honest? Was I thoughtful and kind?

Ninety-nine percent of the time all you are left with is a nice big pat on the back from your conscience, and hopefully your conscience has strong but gentle hands. The workplace is not a place to be if you are searching for continuous external praise or validation. This is what mothers are for. Thank goodness for mothers and their capacity to love us, despite all our failings.

Although validation is tough to come by, everyone seems to be ready and generously willing to offer up criticism and sadly enough there is always a contingent that actively seeks to find others’ weaknesses, looking for ways to coldly step on others. Believing ugly is the way to the top in the working world. And as this world would have it, sometimes it works out for those people. But this is to be expected, every office is full of its misfits and miscreants, saints and sinners, demi-gods and semi-sociopaths.

My Time as Mr. Boss Man

As a boss, I think I did a poor job about giving out praise. I never wanted people to get big headed for just doing their job, especially state workers who have no real measure for performance. It is hard to praise mediocrity; there is something insincere and clinical about it. But, the cynical side of that is to be sarcastic and negative and that is a downright toxic, demoralizing, mean existence. It may be funny on TV or in the movies when actors and actresses are playing two-dimensional characters for a limited time, but all my co-workers have to go home and be a father, a mother, a husband, a wife, etc., to somebody afterwards and live out the more important part of their lives. I didn’t want to be the one who dispirits and deflates that person and makes their life harder than it has to be.

Having said all of that, I was less than perfect and I could have been more humane and less task oriented, more patient, and stopped using words phrases like “babysitting” or “herding cats” and I could have stopped asking questions like “Why are you making this harder than it needs to be?” Or, “Why is this so hard for you to understand?” As you can see it wasn’t always pretty. But life is like that, a delicate walk between justice and mercy, a fine balance between being demanding and being understanding, tip-toeing through doing and being, hoping someday that the gap between love and action closes until full integrity is reached and our god-given potential is tapped.

Pondering About Staff

As I returned to the office one last time last night, to return the keys I had forgotten to return when I left for dinner, I did feel a pull on my heart. I was going to miss this group, this odd group of people I would have never gravitated to if it had not been for work. I began to not think of them as subordinates or as staff, but as human beings. I began to think about their futures.

Would middle-aged Fanny Wickham, who had been recently separated from her alcoholic husband after he went missing for several days on a binge last year, ever find peace? And maybe love? While she embraced tough trailer talk about the men her age, you could tell she was lonely. After 28 years of marriage, you can’t help but have a hole to fill, even if your partner was a helpless lush.

Was Harriet Betancourt ever going to find peace and be able to deal with incompetence of Ken Parker. I think he was one of reasons she was such a stud at competitive darts. And how long was her health going to hold up, with the stress she put on herself to get things done around the office. How many years could she hold up with lupus, diabetes, high blood pressure all the while still smoking heavily every day? I did appreciate her hard work, but not so much all the time she missed from work with health issues. It left a big hole when she was gone for periods of time. God bless her though, she did work her tail off when she was around and struck fear in all the slackers in our office. She was not going to let you off the hook. This was the same woman who bragged about trying to take out her no good ex with a frying pan and the family car. I learned you put your life in peril when you took on this feisty, red-headed French Canadian. But underneath it all she was a real softy and you could really get to her with criticism. She did care a lot about people and every Christmas she gave to all those who were not offended by Christmas a homemade ornament.

I do wish her luck and some peace of mind and happiness. If there ever was a case for not legalizing drugs it would be her family. Drugs and alcohol had devastated her family. Her kids all had issues with drugs and alcohol as well as her grandkids. She could no longer have her son come over because he had stolen so much from her. During my tenure, we had a Bounty Hunter come to our office looking for one of her grandsons who has skipped out of town. And another grandson was shot in the stomach by the police in Stockton when he attacked them while he was high at a 7-11.

I was going to miss the humor of Mason Bixby and his quirkiness. I will miss our resident philosopher. It was only today, did I realize how good of a worker he was when there were no deadlines or stress. I never could figure out what it was but the more stress there was in the office the more he would uncontrollably shake. I will miss his shouting expletives and slamming the phone down whenever he had to make arrangements with his ex-wife for picking up his daughter for the weekend. And, I will miss his odd habit of flirting with the clean-up crew when they came into the office to vacuum and dump trash.

But at the end of the day, this guy could really make me laugh and at some level we shared the same goofy humor. And he was another one of those people, who tried to think about others. He too gave out gifts at Christmas and in the summer would hand out tomato plants to those who wanted them. Also, what stuck in my head was the fact that he deliberately used the phrase “God bless” twice when telling me good bye, sneaking in God, heaven forbid, at the workplace. God bless you Bixby.

Others I have little worries about as they seemed to have very little drama in their lives, or at least they didn’t lay it all out for others to hear or see. Like my temporary replacement, Dylan Escusi, who watches no or little TV or movies, loves to read and bikes 20 miles to work every day in the summer and spends most of his time with his family hiking, biking and rock climbing. He had an amazing ability to keep his desk clean all of the time and was a great worker, but truly embraced the philosophy of working to live. I never had to really supervise Dylan, we made a great team and accomplished a lot together.

And then there was Deepti Devi from India, our payroll expert, who quietly did excellent work and never said a bad word about anybody. She had a Master’s degree in Biology from India, but somehow ended up in America doing payroll. All her children were highly accomplished. So much could be learned from her, she never let anyone get anyway with anything and persistently chased down paperwork, but did it so nicely and always with a gentle smile. People loved her for it. She actually received a standing ovation at our Supervisor’s training. And then there is Miss Anna Knight who brought to work a youthful spirit when it was much needed, and was a blessing in that she had a lot of skills and a high standard of professionalism. Her learning curve was not as steep as it had been for others.

I also thought about Algernon Godfrey who left about a week or two before I did for a lower paying job in the Bay area. When Algernon had come to us, he had just gotten married for the first time in his early fifties to a Chinese woman, who spoke limited English. There was a definite innocence to him. He worked extremely hard, but moved 150 miles an hour in the wrong direction and so wanted to have people to like him that he was not a very effective manager. None of the women in the office respected him very much and pretty much ignored any direction he tried to give them. I hope he is doing well, I know this job took a lot out of him. I hope he is happier now he can be with his wife more often. His wife literally had about 15 different jobs and plans for jobs during his time with us and was always traveling to the Bay area to visit friends or work out one of her schemes. The poor newlywed had to go weeks at a time without his new wife, hence we suffered from too much sharing when she was gone.

And then there are others, to whom my concern is what they would do to the office morale now that I was going to be gone.

Maybe it was because I was their boss and had to somewhat learn to care about them as humans and not just as worker bees, but I will miss them even though we had very little in common other than work. Strange how that works.