Friday, January 22, 2010

What Would You Say You Do Here?

I will probably have an opportunity in the next few weeks to go to Haiti or, at least, to contribute in some direct way to the relief effort, whether that be in Guantanamo, on a ship, in Haiti, or in Miami. I have been on cloud nine since I found out. Not because I'm glad this happened, not on any level. Not because I regret my decision to get out of the active Navy and have been pining away for a chance to go back. Certainly not because I want to leave my family and friends and go hang in a third world country for up to a year. This possibility excites me because it gives me hope of being relevant again.

I have never been one of those people who can go to work every day just for sake of a paycheck. This is the essence of why I hung up my Navy boots in the first place, and it's why I took a job in emergency management after the book store went south. Well, let me back up. At least ostensibly, my current job is in emergency management. What it actually is, is an administrative position. It's herding cats, it's separating salt from water by hand. In other words, it's customer service. My job brings to mind that quote from Office Space. "What would you say you do here?" To which I say, "I take the specifications from the customers and bring them to the instructors." And the efficiency experts go on to grill me until I flip out and scream that I deal with the goddamn customers so the instructors don't have to! Not that there's anything wrong with that. I work with some outstanding people. I have a good, meaningful job. I know that what I do is important. I coordinate Emergency Management training for the state of Virginia and I work very hard to make the program better, with the idea that the next time disaster inevitably strikes, the collective "we" might just be a little better prepared. I try to think of and implement ways to make the training more relevant, more real-world, more immediate. But admin is admin is admin, and at the end of the day, I'm hard pressed to tell anyone the tangible results that were purchased by my exhausted state. I may have enrolled five people in a class, fixed six administrative errors, flawlessly accounted for 47 course completions, written a better checklist. But when it comes down to what I'd say I do here? I don't have much to say.

I have a friend who sells valves for a living: ball valves, butterfly valves, big industrial gate valves. And that is so incongruent with the thoughtful, well-read, intellectually brilliant person she is that I periodically can't stop myself from asking her whether she gets tired of doing it. She invariably replies that her job doesn't define her and that she's happy in this economy to have a job. That resets my cognitive dissonance until the next time I can't reconcile it in my mind and we repeat the cycle.

But as for me, I want to apply my efforts somewhere where the results are immediately apparent. Where I KNOW beyond the shadow of a doubt that I'm helping someone. So I say to the Navy, send me. Send me somewhere where I can do some good. I'm hoping to be gone by this time three weeks from now.