Friday, December 5, 2014

Somewhere over Nowhere...

Right about now, I would imagine that I am somewhere over The Badlands - I cannot be really sure - I mean the airplane has this map - but I find it more entertaining to just guess where I am at - and from looking out the window, the muted browns, grayish greens, and square orange fields plowed over for a winters rest - yep - The Badlands.  It looks like just about everything else from past the Blue Ridge to the Cascades - flat - orange - the only thing that really changes are the colors - with the seasons - but the shapes are all the same - big industrial sprinkler circles, rectangles, and every once in a while some out of place landscape that makes me think some God had a good time dripping hot wax on a cold surface - I mean, he or she has plenty of time fuck around with things like that right?

It really doesn't matter where I am, the plane is vaulting along at 548 miles per hour, I know I left Atlanta and I am pretty sure that I am going to land in Seattle - all of the miles in between - on airplanes anyway, become pretty insignificant.  If this is what they mean by jet setting, it seems a pretty shallow way to live - but none the less - a necessity for those of us who want to skip a few miles along the way.   If I am doing the math correctly this is somewhere around mile 228,000 in this calendar year - and being somewhere over nowhere - well that makes me think a bit of all of the miles in between, and those that I missed that really should have mattered.

Back in 1990 I sang in a rock band in Southern California - what a great time to be a 19 year old kid - the era of some revitalized youth movement that took from the success of the hippie generation and turned it into some sort of cynical activism - at least at seemed cool at the time - it wasn't as kitchsy as disco and it wasn't as heavy as that freedom rock stuff you catch on PBS late at night - but it was something different - now I am not quite sure what it was, other than an opportunity to get laid every once in a while, and to take a break and ignore the things that were really pressing (at least what we thought were really pressing)...

At 19 years old, freshly flunked out of college, heading to somewhere to start over - I touched every mile along the way during a 7 day $49 Greyhound bus ride across I-10 - that's what I could afford, that's what I did.  I knew where I was leaving from, and I thought I knew where I was going - but the things that I remember are the miles in between.  The old stale cigarette smelling cowboy - probably the age I am now, riding out to see his daughter somewhere in Texas, he got on in Mobile, and left somewhere in East Texas.  His stories were sad, lonely, and funny - but his hope was evident - he was excited about seeing his daughter.  The single mom traveling to San Diego to try to rekindle the flame with her sailor husband - she got left somewhere in Arizona, we staged a mini-protest and forced the driver to turn back and pick up the lady at the combination McDonald's/Bus Stop in the middle of desert.  The hooker that smelled of weed and liquor - she rode the bus from Jacksonville to Los Angeles - there were only three of us - some sort of modern day Grapes of Wrath like trip - misfits who knew they had a purpose, and we were going to find it in the land of milk and honey in Southern California. 

I remember stopping at the New Orleans bus terminal.  I thought about getting off the ride and going to see my PaPa and MaMa in St. Bernard - but I had things to get to, and a bus ticket, and didn't think much about the stops along the way.  That was stop I should have made, if nothing else, just to say hello - get a free cab ride, enjoy a warm meal, who knows, maybe stop for a day or two.

I can remember stepping off that bus in San Diego. I didn't know where I was going, I had gotten there, I still remember the stink that I carried with me - the bag of things I owned, the hopes that I had - and for the most part, that trip made things happen - I didn't flunk out, I didn't fall down, I didn't fail - and somehow, I still remember the miles along the way.

Twenty or so years later - here I am - on a plane every week wondering when I can stop and feel a few of the miles in between - the people in those small towns, the smell of dry brown fall grass, a cool winter breeze pushing through the warmth.  Stopping and having a piece of toast and some hot scrambled eggs in some greasy spoon on some road that was named after a local hero that gave their life in service of something.  Something a little less canned, a little more comfortable, a little slower than a five hour bounce on a big old jet airliner.  Something where the airline attendants don't thank you for your service, but where a gas station attendant asks you where you are headed, and then tells you the story about their cousin who moved out west to take a job on a fishing vessel, but lost their hand in some terrible accident, and ended up working for a circus down that spends the winters down in Florida.  A little more grounded, connected, less parsed out in routines of meal service, piss breaks, and shifting weight to keep the ass from going numb.

Knowing that I am heading somewhere feels good - knowing that there is something waiting on me gives me some zen like satisfaction - but missing all of the miles in between, it just makes me fell like I am missing the somewhere over nowhere.

Friday, February 7, 2014

And the best annual review process goes to...

So I am nearing the annual review process again, and as always, am interested in seeing the black box that everything gets pumped out of. For years, my Dad has been saying to me, "The only way to control how much you make is to make it for yourself", i.e. - open your own business - and I cannot say he doesn't know what he is talking about - because he did just that - he started his own business, leveraged his experience, ethics, and knowledge, and now is pretty damn successful - and can determine what his annual review is going to look like - I guess a quick look in the mirror, and Voila! For me, on the other hand, a cacophony of somewhat bad, good, and indifferent decisions - and here I am looking towards the annual review process at a mid-tier consulting firm as a Manager. (Mid-tier, top tier, middle market, yadda yadda - I don't know the difference, except to say that I am stealing what everyone else says)Last year, my review process was about as shocking as one could expect, it was my first in a professional consulting environment, and with some dumb luck, didn't end up being my last (more on that later) - Needless to say, I wanted to share a few of the lowlights from my stellar 2013 (we are in FY 2014 now) review. I strongly recommend that you, if you are actually reading this, do exactly the opposite, and suck a little partner ass and hope the black box shits out a great bonus. My opening comments:

Dear Sirs: Please preface my comments on this performance and self-assessment with the knowledge that traditional review processes are somewhat difficult for me to ascertain; we all crave direction and opportunity, but much like the current crises in adapting new forms of energy on a national framework, we are all limited by those resources that are available to us.

I liken the review process to putting on a tuxedo and getting in the bread line, and once the bread is finished, passed out, supply exhausted, you are left wearing a tuxedo with the ration of bread that you have been given. I take no great pleasure in describing why I deserve a larger slice of bread than others; I have no insight into their performance, the standards by which they are measured, the requirements of their tasks, or their personal needs. I do know that I am in line with them; however, in most cases, I choose not to put on a tuxedo, and realize that my financial and professional futures with the firm are in your hands. 

 My style may be misinterpreted as irreverence or an aloof assessment; please take my commentary on my performance, and my questions to the firm as just that – there is no ill will or indifference towards your knowledge, skills, and valued positions within our firm. I have organized this assessment into distinct sections, and would like to apologize for any sarcasm, irony, brevity, or facts that are contained in this assessment. As mentioned in prior verbiage, I take no pleasure in self-assessments, they generally contain information that does little to answer those biting questions that the members of the panel might have, and more overwhelmingly, become a recorded observation as the slices are doled out from the back of the bread truck. I can only hope to ask that my bread comes with a ladle of stew, a few chunks of meat, and maybe a carrot for color. Otherwise, perhaps you will find this assessment in its entirety slightly entertaining, and a break from the more serious discussions of who deserves how much and the why behind it. Performance assessments contain very simple and explicit facts:

1. There is a hierarchy and that must be followed.
2. Performance is greatly subjective; however, can be isolated, in a professional services environment to knowledge, revenue, and client base.
3. There is no player on any team that is not expendable.
4. Not everyone will get a trophy. Sometimes, the pat on the ass and “good game Champ” are about all some players should expect.

Okay, first lesson - my schmarmy and editorialized diatribe oozes "kiss my ass" - perhaps that was mistake. My passive aggressiveness in this last review round - I would score it a 10, my ability to write a great sentence about raises being like standing in the breadline - 10, my ability to actually turn this creative spurt into a raise - 2.

Some more snippets....

Section 1 – Work Life Balance Although it is ironic that this is actually a performance measure, I will delve into my uberhuman nature and try to expand upon my successes and failures throughout the past 8 months. Below, I highlight both:

Family – I have failed miserably as a parent and mentor to my children this past eight months. I have dedicated the overwhelming majority of my free time to flying to engagements. I have not taken much, if any, PTO. I have missed all but one of my daughter’s and son’s soccer games. I was unable to assist both my ex-wife and fiancĂ© in child rearing activities. Therefore on this grade, I will openly admit that my 65 hour weeks have not been beneficial to a work life balance.

Personal Time/Development – I did go to Las Vegas for three days, and spent two days in Jacksonville over Christmas. In both cases, I had an engagement letter to write, whilst in Vegas, I was an interim CFO providing management discussion and analysis, but in both instances, I did make sure to put my phone on vibrate so as not to disturb any of the festivities. On this point, I will grade myself a “C+” or “B-“, my body was there, and in some cases, that is all that is necessary (like organ donation), and managed to deliver all of my assignments on time.

Location – I, with the consideration and grace of the firm, was able to apply for and have approved the flexible work option to be based out of Seattle. This was an “A+”. As far as I can tell, it will make little difference where I am based, my travel, and apparently utilization and billability have required Sunday through Friday travel, with the general exception being when I ask for forgiveness and forego permission. This is a positive, because I am told when things slow down, I will be able to spend that time in Seattle.

Personal Development – I have enjoyed reading multiple books, three on the history of Chicago, I highly recommend Eric Larson’s Devil in the White City, it is a wonderful book on both mass murder and the Chicago World’s Fair. Many of the beautiful things about Chicago came about because of the World’s Fair. I have finished a book on the Rape of Nanking, studied the migration of Midwesterners during the dust bowl, and delved into the transition (and associated difficulties) from the apartheid government in South Africa to the current democratic state. I have expanded my banjo playing capability, and now can play at least two songs off of the most recent Avett Brothers album whether sober or intoxicated. • Developing into the Nietzsche Superhuman – I am working on this, but find myself stifled at times by a more Machiavellian principle as outlined in some of his works. 

Personal Development Goals for the 2013 – 2014 year:

Family – Continue to strive to spend time with my future wife and children. 

Location – I will maximize my time in Seattle. I will maximize my time in Jacksonville. I will maximize my time at the client location. I will not have to pay rent for an apartment in Chicago.

Personal Development – I am going to take a course in the steel guitar, and have my drum kit shipped to Seattle. I would really like to get that nifty Detroit rift down that is so prevalent in 1970’s funkadelic, I am still having some trouble coordinating my base down beat with my high hat. I believe I am going to continue reading books that help me expand upon my vision of the world that surrounds me. By reading, I feel a smaller part of a much larger world, and am sensing a need or desire to explore eastern religions. I will continue to plan for a summit of Mt. Rainier in 2014, and use the elliptical at the hotel as a way to prepare. (I have found that placing ziplock bags of ice in my shorts and workout shirt mimic cold air).

Personal Work Balance Questions for Exploration with the Firm: • Compensatory Time – I am unclear or have not been able to find a policy regarding compensatory time. I have googled policies, and have only been able to find those at the larger consulting firms, and have yet to ask how one requests or balances time that is spent over and above general expectations. I am on track to hit between 2600-3000 hours in the 2013 – 2014 year, and the only way to make my hourly salary go up is to work less hours, or go through this review process with flying colors. • Travel requirement policies – I have been able to find policies regarding Saturday and Sunday work hours for the audit functions “during the busy season”, but as of yet have not found a policy regarding travel requirements/incentives for the firm consulting staff. I have found some that are fairly progressive (DeLoitte’s 3-4-5 policy), and have found the firm's overnight bonus program enlightening. I would like to see established boundaries for work travel requirements and am aware that clients pay my bills, and without proper service, I will be in an actual breadline. In my line of work, assignments will typically last longer than 4 days on the road, they are more likely to last 4 months, and, based on what I have seen from our current marketing program, will be located in every corner of the United States. For this year, I will discuss with my supervisor a Sunday – Thursday evening or Monday travel through Friday evening policy, and as always, will display a large degree of flexibility for the occasional one-off. • Education – I have seen a large number of policies regarding certifications for audit and tax professionals, but need to explore the availability of remuneration/reimbursement for other certifications. Overall, I would grade my work life balance, at best, a B-, C+. Mediocrity has its benefits, and time has its limits.

You get the idea - this was not a good idea, and it only gets worse from here... I will post more in the next post - for now, I think that's enough, and a good way for me to revisit how I approach my annual review process for 2014.  Maybe I use an excel spreadsheet with numbers and stuff....and save the editorial for the 7 people who actually read my blog...

Until next time...


Monday, January 27, 2014


So I let 2013 roll by without a single post - probably had something to do with my lasting motivation, and the other areas of my life that I was focused on - none the less, all of them are pretty shitty excuses for the best therapy that I know - 300 words a day, or a week, or a month, of somewhat meaningless scribble out here in the land of the blogosphere (I think that is a word...) So the new year, new posts, new thoughts, new directions - same news stories, just different flavors - right now, the entire income inequality debate is raging in full force - the Pope is even chiming in, to the dire responses of the Republican Party, and the somewhat deaf ears of the establishment Dems. I cannot help but think if the thought does not fit into a 30 second commercial, that US politicians really don't want to bother with it. I sit and watch CSPAN (I work from home quite a bit) and listen to the former attorneys, who now make more than 97% of the population place blame and throw caustic speeches - and we still wonder why nothing ever gets done. I have a fail safe plan, and albeit simple - it should work for the purposes of income distribution, how about rolling back the Bush Tax Cuts, and really defining the food stamp program for what it is - it is a national price support program for farmers and mega-agricultural can argue all that you want with those two definitions, but plain and simple, the tax cuts were temporary, the food stamp program is not. I read the articles from Wall Street mavens screaming that capitalism drives the system - but I cry back - bullshit - if that were the case, then I would have access to the lobbyist, and then have access to the congress person - trust me, I have written a few letters, and the responses I get are nothing more than hand job form letters that ask me to donate more - donate to what? Capitalism does not drive the system - greed drives the system - when you get fined $13 billion from the DOJ, cry unfairness, and get a $20 million dollar raise, what are the rest of us to think? When the average CEO pay is 200 times the line worker - income distribution does not exist - and no one is worth that much money - I don't care how brilliant they are - no one is worth that paycheck. Now granted, they give a large sum to charity - but to hear folks cry about tax rates for the highest 5% of earners - is is just bullshit. It is reverse entitlement - so next time I hear someone say the government does not need to be involved in income distribution, I return the challenge - then what is the tax code for? What is the military for? What is equality then? I challenge each of them to drive through some of the poorest communities, with their windows down and the doors unlocked, and see what opportunity those folks have. What access do they have? I can answer that question, but I am afraid it will never make it to the boardrooms and golf courses and private jets. I don't know the answer to the question, I do know what has not worked - endless tax cuts, war in the middle east, and making special interest groups people - but hopefully we can all figure it out together.