The winter solstice — accompanied by the Mayan non-apocalypse — seems an appropriate time to mark a new beginning, one with less snarkiness.
Readers of my blog, as well as my Facebook friends, may have noticed a certain snarkiness creeping into my posts. The snarkiness is often directed at my clients, borne out of frustration with their habits, protocols, and mistakes. However, this shortest day of the year, combined with recent events, reminds me that life is too short to be in a near-constant snit about things that really don’t matter all that much.
My pettiness was starkly laid out for me on a recent business excursion. An agency client of mine, for whom I have been working regularly for the last several months, recently invited me to participate in a 2013 planning meeting in their offices. I had never met this client or anyone at the agency, but had spoken via phone, and communicated via e-mail, often enough to have established what I felt was a fairly close relationship. The agency graciously agreed to reimburse me for my train fare, and to send a car to take me from the train station to their offices. While en route, I received a text message from my fiancee, who told me that I had two messages on my home office voice mail. I retrieved the messages, and found that one was from the agency, providing details of the car service pickup, and the other was from the car service itself. I was annoyed that they had called my land line instead of my mobile, as I obviously wasn’t home. I phoned the agency and expressed my annoyance, none too subtly, only to be told that my land line was the only number they had for me. Apparently, I had never given the agency my mobile number, but I had arrogantly assumed that they had all the information they needed.
The car service pickup went without a hitch, and I was transported to the agency’s offices (my driver happened to be a former pharmaceuticals sales rep who had fallen on hard times after being laid off a few years ago). When I walked in the door of the agency, I was immediately struck by how small the place was, though the holiday decorations produced an illusion of spaciousness. I was also struck by how damn busy everyone was, from the founder/CEO to the administrative assistant. Everyone was juggling multiple tasks, many of them urgent, and yet they took time out of their hectic schedules to meet with me and a handful of other consultants to generate ideas for their clients’ 2013 communications campaigns. The confusion and miscommunication over my phone numbers turned out to be small potatoes, by comparison. I went home that night with a new appreciation of the stellar work that agency does in the face of limited resources and unrelenting pressure.
In addition to my direct clients (i.e., my agency clients), I’ve occasionally found myself directing my snarkiness toward my indirect clients, the pharmaceutical, biotech, and device companies that hire my direct clients (what I like to call my clients’ clients). Whether for their opaque, imprecise, or ungrammatical prose, or for the intense pressure they place upon their agencies (and by extension, me) to meet impossibly tight deadlines (only, in many cases, to delay the entire project due to a complex and elongated review process), these companies have often been the target of my ire. However, as I sit here alone in my quiet home office, with its view of the distant hills and my purring cat seated atop a pile of folders on my desk, I realize that my comfy situation is a far cry from the crazy crucible these companies often find themselves in. I can only imagine the pressures they must face as they prepare for medical congresses, quarterly earnings reports, FDA hearings, and heaven knows what else. If a smart-ass freelancer is inconvenienced for a few days or weeks, so what? At least I’m getting paid.
Earlier this week I learned that an employee of one of my client’s clients — a Connecticut-based biotech firm — lost a child in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. The news made me feel horrible, and I feel no less horrible now. I cannot imagine what that family must be going through. For the rest of their lives, the holidays will be a time of grief and sadness. A few minutes ago, at 9:30am, I took a break to observe the minute of silence marking the one-week anniversary of the tragedy. I have weighed in on other forums with my views on gun control, the state of mental health care in this country, and the hysterical tone of what passes for political discourse in our society. I won’t do so here. I will only say, as the rain lashes my office windows on this sad winter solstice, Peace on Earth to everyone.