Maverick pragmatism

The sun is shining, the sky is blue, and it’s certainly warmer than it has been lately – but I find myself out of sorts.

I had my morning therapy which, in hindsight, always seems a bit of a blur. Outside of unwanted dramas, such as I experienced the week before last, it’s pretty uneventful, if not downright dull. I travel to the hospital in the dark, I lay quietly for nearly two hours, wiling the time away, and then I return.

On this occasion, it’s the return that has left me sour. Reversing out of my parking spot at the station, I heard scraping and got out of the car. It seems my front bumper had caught on something, and the momentum had wrenched it out of position on either side. There’s no serious damage and is easily repaired, I expect, but it’s annoying.

Home now and back at my desk working. I feel very unmotivated, but it’s nothing to do with what happened earlier.

I visited the office last Friday for a change and had lunch with my manager while I was there. Later, we had a discussion in which we had opposing opinions. The experience crystallised views that had been forming for the last six months.

My illness, if that’s the phrase, has left me ambivalent about the point of work. I know I need it to pay the rent, etc., but I can’t get excited about the actual work. In principle, anyway. This has always been in me.

I’ve always had a bit more of a detached view than most and was aware that it didn’t amount to much when you thought about it. To counter that, I had personal ambition and the sort of innate competitiveness that can turn the most trivial into a contest. I had to do it, and that being the case, I wanted to do it well and get all I could out of it. As it happened, I would often experience the joy of doing a job well. That remains true.

I still feel it when I get involved. I feel the surge of a looming challenge and want to overcome it. And, when I do, it’s very satisfying. It’s a pleasure of the moment, though, like being on the winning team when the siren blows. It’s good, but I question the value of the team.

Recent experience has emphasised that. The value of many things is open to question now, but in reality, all I’ve done is travelled further down a road I was already on. And I’ve become more actively conscious of it. Where before I might have given a frustrated shrug of the shoulders, now it is something urgent I must act upon.

I have become a bit of a maverick outsider, talented and respected, but consciously outside the system and somewhat disdainful of it. Again, much of this is by nature but more pronounced now. I suspect I always knew I could get away with more because I was smart and used it. And I’ve never been interested in belonging – just the opposite, probably. It suits me to come swooping in with the answers and then sit back with a satisfied air – though I probably seem more aggressive than that.

I’m conscientious and hard-working and fair-minded, but there’s something of the hare to me. My manager is the tortoise, which is why we made a good team. He plods along at a steady pace, making the occasional clumsy blue but utterly reliable in the sense that he’ll keep going without dissent or complaint. He’s a team player and company man.

He also does all the stuff I have no interest in doing – budgeting and admin, managing staff and responding to senior management. I’ve done that in the past but am long past it now. I realise that I may appear all care and no responsibility. I have the luxury of being a maverick and even being outspoken occasionally. My situation has added a layer of tolerance.

I’m glad that I don’t have that responsibility. Even if I were perfectly fit, I wouldn’t want it. That’s my limit now. I can manage doing the things I’m interested in and not anything I’m not (mind you, that’s the best use of me also). It doesn’t mean I don’t take responsibility – I do and am prepared to hang my hat upon my performance.

Perhaps by nature, but also by virtue of his role, my manager is a pragmatist. I think I’m pragmatic too, sometimes harshly, but I’m also a bit of an idealist. That’s a virtue of being a maverick.

We had a discussion, if not an argument, about how the piece of work we did – live chat – was being used. It’s very poorly used by a section of the business, and it offends me in two ways – that I’ve gone to the trouble of building this, and they abuse it, and because I think it shockingly unprofessional.

My manager shrugs his shoulders. Not your problem, he says. He’s like a tradesman who does his bit, and if the whole remains faulty, it’s not his problem. The difference is that I invest in the whole. I’m not just interested in whether my bit is working or even if the whole is working; I’m invested in the outcomes and how well it is used.

I get a lot of that from my consulting background when success was measured by performance. We’re building tools, and it matters very little if there’s a green light when you turn it on, if the tool is improperly used, or if it doesn’t achieve what it’s intended.

The pragmatist in me says I should let it go – be like my manager. I can’t be, though, even when I question the value of work. That’s because whatever value I find is in the quality of the work I do. It’s pointlessly empty otherwise.

I feel sure I’m coming to a crossroads. My immediate priority is to make it to January next year when I qualify for long service leave. Now that’s a pragmatic objective. After that, I’ll have to check where I’m at. The reality is, I can afford the luxury of being a maverick at work and being tolerated for it, but I can’t afford to be so cavalier with my life. I have to survive.

I imagine there must be a way to reconcile these disparate elements, but I don’t know how as yet.

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