Why Do You Care so Much?

It’s been a while. Using a metaphor, I’ve been happily floating on an inner tube through life. There have been a couple of big waves from passing large ships and I’ve managed to hold on until the water settled down again. For the most part there haven’t been any major fires to distract me, no über drama erupting and forcing me into shore. It’s been pleasantly quiet. And I’ve been savoring the peace and tranquility.

Because the recent float on life’s river has been uneventful and my stress levels have decreased considerably, I’ve tolerated a lot in recent weeks that six months ago would have sent me through the roof. I remained calm through several phone calls from my daughter Emily, whose sole purpose was to get something from me. I was able to joke about my neighbor coming over to ask me about getting my paved driveway resurfaced in time for her son’s graduation party. (For the record, we had it resurfaced last summer.) I even stayed calm when my daughter Rose and her husband had another argument because he was being disrespectful and making unreasonable demands.

In the back of my mind, I knew eventually the smooth float would come to an end, either by running out of water or by being called or pulled to shore. In my relaxed state of mind I had time to ponder what event would cause my inner tube to spring a leak. I was pretty sure it would be one of our daughters. That’s always been the thing to push me over the edge before. If not one of them, then it would have to be my job. Sure enough, the job.

A couple of weeks ago one of our managers wanted to use a well-known image on some advertising. The image she wanted to use is trademarked. To make this simple, I’ll give you an example. This is NOT what happened, but it’s a good example. The manager wanted to put the Nike swoosh on t-shirts and hand them out as prizes. The problem? We don’t work at Nike and that swoosh is trademarked. We may not be a big whale in the ocean, but we’re a big enough dolphin that Nike knows we’re there and notices us once in a while. This manager was not happy that I called attention to the use of the swoosh and tried to tell me, “No one will notice.” There would be thousands of people at the event where these t-shirts would be handed out. It was a clever use of the swoosh, and all it would take is for one person to think it was cute, take a picture and tweet it, and Nike’s lawyers would be ringing up our CEO. I called out the manager on it, took it up a couple of ladder rungs, and the manager was forced to go with Plan B advertising. End of story? Not quite.

Two things happened at work today in a span of a half hour that tossed me out of my inner tube and slammed me up onto shore.

The first. I was in my weekly meeting with Boss Man and we were discussing how some of the team are behind in their work. It’s no exaggeration that these people all have too much work. But a couple of them are tired and run down. We don’t have a manager for our team right now so these individuals are not being pressed to do their work. We haven’t had a “watching manager” since my old boss left the company nearly a year ago. Boss Man still hasn’t replaced my old boss. And Boss Man is too busy minding the till that he doesn’t care about what’s going on out in the store aisles. (Yeah, I’m mixing metaphors.) “Why do you care so much?” he asked me. Say what?! In the first millisecond I thought he might be teasing. He has this sarcastic way of talking and sometimes I have trouble deciphering if it’s a joke or not. In the third or fourth millisecond I realized he wasn’t teasing, and he was waiting for me to answer his question. For five through ten milliseconds, I wondered 1) why in the world would a Boss ask such a question, and 2) how in the world do I answer? I went with the truth. “It’s my job. If someone is behind on the schedule, I have to negotiate a new schedule.” He knows this. Well, I think he knows what I do, unless he forgot about the very first meeting the two of us had after my old boss left. Honest! Boss Man called me in for a meeting just days after my old boss had left and asked me (not kidding) what it is exactly that I do. Since he is the manager of our division, shouldn’t he know what I do?

Anyway, when he asked why I care I told him I was just doing my job. So then he asked me why I was worried about doing my job. “Do you think I’m going to catch you doing something?” Say what, again?! I didn’t have to spend any time wondering if he was teasing or being sarcastic. And for once in my life I could think quick as lightning and I said, “There’s nothing for you to catch me at. I’m not guilty of doing anything other than my job.” By that point, my anxiety level was off the charts and I just wanted to sit in a quiet room and figure out what the hell was going on. Thankfully our scheduled time was up. He told me to have a great holiday weekend. I wished him the same. I went back to my desk and sat down in my chair and stared at nothing. What manager would ask an employee why he or she cares so much about the job? Aren’t managers supposed to want employees who care?

I pushed the thought to the back of my mind and decided to check my email, then clear off my desk, and leave for the day. That’s when the second thing happened. While I had been in the meeting with Boss Man, an email had come in from the Nike-swoosh-stealing manager demanding that our department turn over all original files for all of the advertising projects we’ve completed for that manager since January. For some perspective, that would be like walking into a warehouse shoe store and telling them you want every shoe in the store. Right now.

This manager doesn’t own the original files. The manager is in charge of selling product and we create the advertising for that product. The intellectual property in the design files belong with our department. If we give out those original files, we lose all control over them. The manager can take those files and do whatever with them. Remember that trademarked swoosh? It could appear anywhere and everywhere if turned over to the manager. Think Nike won’t notice?

And those original files are huge. To turn over the original files on even one project, we will need to have a very large external hard drive. The files won’t fit on a CD or a flash drive. Two projects would fill up a “normal” hard drive. Five projects would fill up a normal “cloud.” This manager wants all the files completed since the beginning of the year. I’m guessing that’s about 125 projects.

We have an enormous amount of active projects on our desks every day. All with very tight deadlines. We’re typical of every team in the workforce right now in that we’re a small group doing the work of an army. We handle projects in priority order. To gather that many files and load them onto some type of storage device(s) will take an enormous amount of time, which we don’t have because there are so many urgent money-making priorities ahead of this request.

I decided to take the easy way out and I answered the manager’s email by saying Boss Man will have to approve that.

To my shock and horror, within a couple of minutes, Boss Man replied, “This is approved.”

What in the hell is going on? I shut down my computer and left. I told myself I will not think about this again until Monday morning. But of course, I’m thinking about it. And I’m wondering, why do I care so much?