Why I Hate Everything (or, The Power of Pessimism)

Have you ever accidentally called your boss a bitch to her face?

It was the summer of 2013. I had been working as a help desk consultant at a travel agency, and my job consisted of two main categories, taking phone calls from agents who didn't know how to perform certain tasks, as well as clients who needed help beyond a booking agent. The other half involved responding to e-mail requests from both internal and external customers in a shared e-mail inbox utilized by the entire department. It was a pretty straightforward job, but the person who looked over the department, Terri, decided to micromanage the department even more than she already was, so a new metric was created to ensure that nobody could avoid working e-mails that came into the shared e-mail inbox. This metric was a huge point of contention because it was unrealistic for everyone to attain. It essentially boiled down to this, in one hour of your shift, you may only be actively taking phone calls for 45 minutes while the other 15 minutes of your hour is considered "available time." For every one hour of available time, you had to work one e-mail in the inbox. It was an overly simplistic metric that caused agents that worked the morning shift to excel in their metrics by getting all the emails as they came in while the agents that worked the night shift struggled to succeed. It was a formula that by design, worked for a single person, the one measuring the statistic (who in this case was Terri). I hated it because for 3 months I didn't meet my numbers, nor did a lot of my friends and co-workers. I was exceedingly vocal about it in many meetings and casual encounters with her, but the metric was not going away, so it didn't look like I was going to be meeting my bonus incentive goals for quite a while.

It got to a point where I started responding with cynicism anytime someone brought up the subject of "Have you worked any e-mails today?" It was about 5 months into having this metric, and it was an incredibly slow day, so there was lots of time in between calls and no e-mails had been coming in, which meant the longer I sat available the further I was to getting a bonus. My co-worker and I were standing up chatting when Terri looks over and asks me, "Isn't there something the two of you could be doing?" I quickly quip back, "Well as soon as one of those e-mails you keep talking about come into the inbox, I'm sure everyone will be chomping at the bit to get it done. But until then, I'm going to keep waiting for the next person to call me." I gave my co-worker a dirty glare and whispered, "get on messenger." I start typing as fast as I could, "I swear to God if Terri is going to keep being a bitch and complain about things we can't do I'm going to flip shit." I hit enter, and immediately my heart sank. I meant to message my co-worker, but because I was so focused on being angry at Terri that I double clicked Terri's name in the messenger box and sent that message directly to her.

I grew ten shades of pale on pale. I looked up and realized Terri wasn't at her desk. "shit........shit.........shit......." My co-worker looked at me, "What's wrong?" I showed her my computer monitor and her response wa a mixture of utter disbelief, fear, and a little bit of laughter because EVERYONE in the department wanted to call her out. She calls our support agent over who sees me in shambles. "Chris, what's wrong?" She asked. "I think I'm going to get fired today." She walks over to see if Terri's computer is locked to delete the message, but it was. I was boned. For 30 minutes I sat in absolute fear that HR was going to show up at my desk at any second. I finally started talking to a customer when I get a notification pop up on the corner of my screen. "I'm assuming this message wasn't intended for me, was it?" Terri had finally responded to my mistake.

An hour later I was in the HR manager's office with the head of HR and Terri's boss. "Chris, do you think what you said was appropriate?" At this point, I could have turned my tail to try and save my job, or I could have told them what nobody had listened to up until that point. I went with my gut. "Do I think I could have phrased that differently? Absolutely, the verbiage I used was not professional. But was it inappropriate for me to deliver the message that I conveyed? Not at all." Terri's boss look puzzled, "Elaborate for us, what is the message you were trying to give." "I have given her feedback for months that the metric she is imposing on an entire department is one that does not allow success for everyone within the department. What she requires is one e-mail for every available hour, when realistically we are only receiving one e-mail for every two hours we sit available. I've been looking closer at the numbers for the past two weeks, and one agent's success guarantees another two agent's failures. We simply do not get the workload, and to have a static metric for a dynamic number is making an entire department miserable. What we need to do is have a scale that encourages true distribution of work based on the workload provided. If you give me the opportunity, I can build a tool that will automate all of the legwork and get better productivity out of the entire department."

One week later I was standing in front of the general manager and Terri's boss presenting my proposal that I had worked on non-stop with a few of my friends. We created a tool that took the total amount of hours the department was sitting available, and created a staggered percentage based on the metrics of "not meeting, meeting, and exceeding." I created a daily task for the support agents that took two minutes to ensure morning agents were not working too much, but still had an opportunity to exceed expectations without taking the meeting expectation away from night agents.  It was so well received that the site retroactively pulled stats for the five months prior and paid out the bonuses to all of the agents who would have actually hit the metric.

Did I almost lose my job? Absolutely, I was told that my proposal was the only thing that saved it. But the look on Terri's face when I got to prove her wrong was the most entertained I had been in years. I was on a final written warning with that company up until the day I quit to work for Maximus, and wore it like a badge of honor.

I am a cynic, a nay-sayer, and a god-damn pessimist on my best of days. I'm fucking miserable to be around most of the time, and I can't understand what people talk about when they say I encourage and motivate them. They must be talking about the motivation to not turn out so wretched and ruined, but I've been this way for as long as I can recall. I can't enjoy what's right about the world because I'm so fixated on everything that is wrong. Now, I say these things from the perspective of internalizing EVERYTHING I DO. I'm probably not the worst person in the world to have a conversation with, but I recognize that I'm the one nit-picking ideas as they come up, and I will be the first to tell you what I think will fail about it. It took me a while to realize this, but I'm at my most creative when I am utterly miserable. I day dream about what is wrong, and what could be better, but I can't stop there. Having spent as many years building process documents and designing ways to implement new strategies, my mind is wired to think of the bigger picture. So instead of creating an abstract vision of the future, I create processes to have the framework built for that future to have substance I can hold on to and drive myself towards. My nit-picking is the way I work through the back-end problems to ensure they don't have to be dealt with in the first place.

If I had never admitted that I wanted to stop living, I wouldn't have recognized there was a problem until my car was already in the garage. I recognized the problem, and I addressed it by creating a process that attacked it head on. What makes me miserable? Was it working in call centers? Not directly. I loved a lot of my coworkers, and my boss Toby helped me take a second chance on living, so there were certainly things I enjoyed about it, but it was more about the relationships that I made with people than the tasks we did together. I hated the monotony of numbers and spreadsheets, sure I was good at doing it, but manipulating data and creating spreadsheets wasn't tangible. I couldn't show a finished product that would be in front of me that I could say "I'm proud of this because I did this myself from start to finish." I needed to offer a finished product of sorts., but I didn't know what it was. Whatever it was, I needed to be able to do it on my own, because I cannot stand when other people take credit for the work that I pour into a project. Whether it's building a staffing analytics spreadsheet or redesigning a website from the ground up in 2 hours because the original site died, I want to make sure that I am recognized as the one accomplishing the task. I poured into this process by focusing more on what I didn't want to do.

Over the weekend I watched Jim Jeffries' Netflix special "Freedumb", and near the end of his routine, he talked about being a pessimist. "People say 'You're kind of a glass-half-empty sort of guy'.......These glass half-full cunts, fuck them. Ya know what I mean? I've never met a successful glass-half-full kind of guy. You'll never be anything if you think the glass is half-full. If you want to get ahead in this world, walk into a room and say 'Why isn't that fucking glass full?" It made me realize that all of the pessimism I've focused on in the past three years have brought me to where I am right now. The pessimism that fills me now has purpose, something it never had previously, and that's how I know that the next chapter of The Barber Story will be bigger than anything I've done before. Yesterday morning when I woke up, I was in a crappy mood, and to be honest, I've been in a shit mood most of the week. I have no real reason to, other than I see everything wrong with the world, and I'm trying to build a better version of it for myself one page at a time. I keep getting frustrated with my side project so consistently that I keep rewriting it over and over (I've started keeping version notes) to make it more tangible and real. Sure I'm still constantly getting down on myself, but this project is motivation to keep moving forward, and with each revision, I have had an opportunity to work out some of the kinks I know will show up.

It's difficult being friends with a pessimist, and I can accept that. But I would much rather be a pessimist that can work towards creating solutions to the problems that I see than an optimist who doesn't pay attention to what's in front of them. Being a barber in Boise is a series of challenges, but that just gives me something to work towards and take pride in.