There’s this term in the military coined as mission creep, which describes the ever-expanding mission of stopping bad guys at one particular place and time, to stopping all bad guys everywhere forever. Noble. Admirable. Well-intended. Cost? Achievability through military means alone?
It refers to our recent involvement in parts of the world to stop present bad guys, to helping the locals train and equip to stop their bad guys on their own, to rebuilding (whatever that means) their nation for them, to stabilizing that region of the planet to… a never-ending dependence on their part or an intrusion on our part or both, and at the expense of the citizens shouldered with the tax burden.
MISSION CREEP AT THE JOB
Well, on the smaller-scale, at work, my job typically goes from doing my job to doing other people’s jobs for them. At this smaller level, I hear it called, being the victim of one’s own success; this seems to hold especially true in government or large top-down/centralized bureaucracies.
Get paid more for working harder or for making a better mousetrap? Perhaps as an entrepreneur living passionately at the cutting edge of development, of the marketplace, of competition.
For the rest of us? No. We don’t get paid more for working harder. Even when work starts out as a calling that we want to do more than anything, it tends to diminish into a career, and then into just a job that we have to do but don’t really want to anymore… and then sometimes diminishes even further into suicide-inducing drudgery.
No, it doesn’t have to be that way. Note for the moment that it does happen.
Once work become just a job, just a means of survival, incentives limit to the tangible benefits of pay and time off. Furthermore, because in such an organization, one doesn’t get paid more for working harder or smarter, incentives encourage mediocrity.
HIGH STANDARDS IN A LOW-STANDARD ENVIRONMENT
The one guy who can’t live with himself for just being normal, average, mediocre… that one man whose personal standards at the very least disallow allow himself from turning to shit… well, he gets rewarded with more bullshit since he’s so good at it.
And the rest? They get punished with comparatively more time off. They still get paid the same but now do less work since they’re not as good at transmuting bullshit into gold. Hence, the incentive towards mediocrity. They don’t feel safe. They’re in survival mode. They have scarce resources and see only a loss in stepping outside their comfort zone.
I overheard this conversation the other day between my boss and one of the Chief Warrant Officers (CWOs) in the section. The CWO said that his job and role as a CWO specifically limited to XYZ sets of tasks.
He argued that it did not involve running a particular meeting and leading the participants (mostly Lieutenants). It did not involve taking the extra step to reach out to them to make sure that they knew the details of the given tasks, understood why, how, what, when, and possessed the necessary tools for success.
He further saw his role as limited to reaction, to answer only when asked, and only about the specific things for which the military sent him to school to do. The few times I asked him about something seemingly within his scope but not really, his response remained, “I don’t know. Not my job.” Nothing further.
I don’t disagree entirely. W-grade Officers are to specialization what O-grade Officers are to generalization.
In his dispute with our boss, and after some escalation, our boss finally responded to one of his “My job is [XYZ]” with “Yes it is, as well as to assist as the commander and executive officer with what we reasonably deem as necessary to mission accomplishment” (paraphrased a little). Great response. Yes, and [BAM!].
In other words, “Your job is whatever the fuck we say it is. Shut your goddamn mouth.” Okay, maybe not that extreme, but roughly.
The CWO replied with, “And that’s why I’m retiring.”
He didn’t start out with this attitude. I don’t think anybody does. But sometimes, you got to Shamurai it out… although, a real Shamurai would have avoided that whole mess to begin with.
A real Shamurai would’ve either avoided being found in the first place, avoided that whole conversation or would’ve made sure to have put up a good enough appearance of busyness beforehand as to be left alone presently.
BACK TO WHAT I’M DOING
I’ve only been at my current position for a couple months. I don’t want to brag, but I’m starting to get good. One of the symptoms is, just as the title of this article, I’m starting to do other people’s jobs. A lot of other people’s jobs.
Even so far as going to meetings and answering on their behalf. And, from sections outside my own!
Need to apply my Shamurai skills.
I’ve been wrestling with a value lately that I’m attempting to cultivate within myself – becoming a good receiver. Good receiving and high standards almost seem to conflict with my Shamurai-ness. I need to rethink my definition of Shamurai.
Shamurai. Not a motard but definitely not a shit bag. Some reasonable measure in between, who does enough, who does not interfere with others, and who climbs his own ladder rather than the ladder prescribed by the job.
It feels good to give, and I’ve realized that in helping others at work, people have been trying to give me thanks. I’ve been downplaying it; in a way, rejecting them.
I don’t want credit for anything because I don’t want more work. I’d rather they simply see me as unreliable or incompetent. Still, I can’t let myself turn to shit.
This is costing me time away from my family, from sleep, and time to myself.
What to do… what do… I’ll think on this some more.
This happens regularly enough that I should have a solution by now. After all, it’s been 18 years.
Thinking… How do I do my job well enough to be left alone to do what I find meaningful, which is largely outside of my job? What’s a better question to ask?