The Future Was Wide Open

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It wasn’t an unusual meeting in that place. If you couldn’t find a conference room either because they were all booked or because the stupid names gave nothing away about which direction or floor you needed to go and it’d be too much of a hassle to try finding it, you squeezed onto one of the communal couches by the kitchen nearest you and had your meeting there, out in the open, often alongside other, equally self-important meetings. It’s strange to feel as if you have too many conference rooms and too few people, yet the rooms are never free and the people are disappearing.

I don’t know what I was doing right before my boss stopped by my desk to have this chat, but it couldn’t have been that different from what I’d been doing in the two years before that: glorified data entry. I’d run myself into the ground physically ordering garbage pizza to the office — ask me how fun it was to watch the Domino’s tracker night after night, to slowly treat it like entertainment, like a friend, a comfort — and drawing pointlessly subversive art on the office whiteboards and putting in seasonal hours that became permanent, obscene amounts of time that drained the spirit, hollowed out the soul, corrupted my most important relationships and made me a stranger to virtually everyone I know.

After my yearly review, in which I exceeded expectations probably because none of my peers were around for my boss to rate higher, I was given a modest pay increase and the opportunity to add something like 16 people under my wing for the coming year. I would be responsible for the performance of 40 people, ultimately, only nine or 10 of which actually existed on paper; the rest were invisible headcount, temps shipped in from a staffing agency to do work that I’d seen was a dead end the entire time I’d been in that role. Someday ever sooner, the C-suite suits could do more than merely dream that this role would be automated and all of these people rendered redundant. But how soon? And how long did I want to wait for that future? And what was after that?

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So my boss brings me over. She runs through all of the accomplishments of the past year, building me up (as anyone in her desperate position, with hardly anyone to bequeath my role to, would’ve done) and telling me how wonderful and committed I am and talking about the future I could build for this team and I could have any title I wanted, any title at all, yadda yadda yadda. It was a standard song and dance.

Then we came to the thing that really mattered: pay. In my yearly review, I had asked for a bigger raise than the one I was supposed to get because I did not, still do not and won’t ever really give a fuck about titles. Ever met a project manager worth a damn? Well, up to that point, I hadn’t. And given the elastic nature of titles in this place, project or product or operation, whichever fucking one it was, it didn’t matter because there was a trust breached regarding authority. I did not respect most of those I answered to, and I say that as someone who’s never been one for overt rebelliousness; protest and change to me has (for better or worse) always been most potent when it comes from within, when no one’s noticing. The only thing that could’ve possibly mattered at that point was money because I was not doing this for a career. I wasn’t doing this for myself. I don’t really know who or what I was doing this for. I was lost, I mean.

In the previous year and a half, I’d watched five people leave the roles around me with conflicted feelings, but they ultimately wound up happier — or anyway, less unhappy. One took her entire life to Florida, got married and wound up working in California; another moved around for a bit, dropped out and went to a dev bootcamp, came back and is now settled in with his wife making bank somewhere on the North Side; another cried to me in a room, torn over a leap of faith that led to opportunities in the service industry a lifetime of cooking couldn’t get you; another two left to work in different roles at the same company and are still there last I checked, married to a man and unlimited vacation, respectively. I’d stayed because I liked these people and because I wanted to support them, help them while they figured themselves out, help them help me stay sane, stay alive, while our teams drowned in impossible productivity goals. It wasn’t just a bond of mutual animosity, though that factored in significantly; these were genuinely good, genuinely competent people restrained by the nature of our work. When they left, it was like they were all slightly more free, slightly lighter. Lifted. New.

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My boss offered up the number with anxiety written all over her face. She said it was the best they could do, but there might be more to offer later in the year and how does that sound? Would that be good?

I thought of the hours I’d devoted to this place under synthetic light, nowhere near windows, amid a miserable open office floorplan full of people looking busy just to get through the day and make some money to do what they really wanted. I thought of the guy who spent all day with a Twitch stream on one side of his screen while he worked on the other, and how some upper managers hated that but they didn’t know who he was and if the work was getting done, what could they do? I thought of the petty drama, the pointless disputes, the pathetic power grabs happening up top while it seemed like we were the only people actually doing anything down in the trenches. I thought of my friends and of my partner and of my health. I thought of what it would be like to stay here through another Black Friday, another Christmas retail season, another year of promise turned to self-punishment. I thought of all of these things and my history with this company and where I thought I’d be at 29 versus where I actually was and where I thought I was going to go from here because I hadn’t looked at a jobs board for four months and hadn’t updated my resume in half a year and hadn’t actually applied to anything in more than that and I could barely remember the point of my college degree and I was a rebel without a clue. I thought it over the course of a considerate pause.

I had no mission, no realistic goals, no plan, no future, no energy, no life. But I said no, that would not be good anyway and quit a month later. It should have been the best day of my life.

– – – – –

What is Andrea Dovizioso going to do now that he’s said no to Ducati? I guess that depends on what kind of money Aprilia can cough up, but whatever happens sure doesn’t bode well for his world championship ambitions. The contemporaries of his generation, the last successes of the erstwhile 250cc class, have already been put out to pasture: Hiroshi Aoyama in 2017, Alvaro Bautista and Dani Pedrosa in 2018, Jorge Lorenzo in 2019. It’s possible MotoGP’s second best rider for three consecutive years may soon follow.

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I may have quit my job with no idea what I was going to do next, but I’ve never quit my job with no idea what I was going to do next in the middle of a recession, in the midst of total global upheaval, in the throes of a crushing pandemic with no certain end. Andrea has, and it suddenly feels like he’s about to take that 250 twilight with him. I wonder what he’ll look back and say the best day of his working life was when it’s over. Wouldn’t it be funny if it was the 2020 MotoGP World Riders’ Championship.

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