My name is Charles, and I am a competent employee.

I wasn't always. When I was younger, while I showed signs of brightness now and then, there was no way I was going to be singled out for recognition: I was another cog in the wheel, nothing more, and so long as the wheel didn't grind to a halt, nobody cared. But as time went on and I became less immature and less unfocused — a couple of abrupt career changes contributed greatly to this situation, I think — what was once unthinkable began a slow, inexorable slide into what was inevitable.

It didn't take long after that before my life became almost unbearable, and as these changes affected me, they also affected those around me. Like most people in this country, I work for an organization that values internal politics, sub-Machiavellian maneuverings, and cash flow above all else. In such an environment, the competent employee is an absolute liability. Officials judged my job performance and found it incompatible with their goals. By doing my assigned tasks correctly, I made it impossible to enforce the desired levels of discipline; by not constantly seeking the guidance of superiors, I deprived them of their rightful role in the organization; by requesting new equipment and supplies when needed, instead of on schedule, I wrought havoc on the financial statements.

Since almost all organizations are like this to greater or lesser extent, I am forced to conclude that the defects, whatever their precise nature, lie within me; moving to another organization would likely produce similar results. And I am likewise forced to confess that I don't know where to begin to correct this situation. Doing sloppy work, while demonstrably rewarding for some people at higher hierarchial levels, is something I simply don't comprehend. And seeking the counsel of those placed above me is unthinkable: for one thing, in our current organizational chart, virtually everyone is placed above me, which means, owing to time limitations, that I would have to rely on a statistical sampling, which introduces potential errors of its own.

The obvious solution, it would seem, would be to give up work entirely. This is not a plausible option at this time: I am more than a decade and a half away from retirement age, assuming that the legally-defined retirement age does not recede farther into the future, an assumption which I believe is unwarranted. Given my current health and mental state, it seems unlikely that I will live long enough to reach this age anyway. Still, it seemed unlikely that I would live long enough to reach the age I am now, so I am forced to admit to the possibility that I may continue working those years, however many they are. I can count on diminished physical capacity to reduce my competence in some small way, but otherwise, I am likely to be much the same efficient worker in 2020 as I am in 2002. Needless to say, this prospect distresses me greatly.

Is there any hope? I cannot say for sure. The likelihood that organizations will suddenly begin to embrace competence rather than to resent it is, I believe, virtually nil. Since I will most certainly not be rising in the local hierarchy, I will not be able to effect any changes in its structure or in its mission. And moving to another similarly-constituted organization will probably affect only the amount of my compensation, which would likely decline from inadequate to embarrassing. It is certainly true that I brought this on myself; it is also true that, barring some form of divine intervention, I can expect it to continue indefinitely.

Thank you. Who's next?

The Vent

#298
23 June 2002

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 Copyright © 2002 by Charles G. Hill