I had a really good day at work yesterday.
Not coincidentally, it was quite a tiring day as well - the only times at which I've enjoyed my job have been hectic and filled-to-excess with responsibility. This probably isn't true for people who have particularly stressful jobs; I guess it was the contrast between yesterday and the usual drudgery that made it seem special. At no point yesterday was I lacking for a goal; I got to exercise a bit of initiative and engage intellectually with a problem that interested me in both theory and execution; other workers treated me as a resource and - against all odds - I was able to address their questions, and received much-appreciated praise for doing so; the major task for the day got done relatively efficiently, and we reached a major checkpoint in our work more or less on time (but see below).
In the abstract: people work best when they know why they're doing their work, know how to do the work, are able to exercise their particular, personal competences, and receive regular feedback as to the quality of their work. (Thomas Pynchon got little enough feedback on Gravity's Rainbow during its decade of execution, but some people are able to generate that positive feedback themselves via some unusual power of proprioception and self-evaluation, or else have superhuman faith in their abilities. I don't.)
In specific, I got to (among other things) write a damn Perl script (of no terrible complexity, elegance, or ingenuity), which did its job with very little tweaking, and for a moment I found myself receiving praise for skill instead of talent. Since my job has heretofore been a primarily clerical one, it's rare that I've gotten to think in that very particular, particularly rewarding way, and for that reason, there's probably a bit of nostalgia tied in with yesterday's feelings of satisfaction. It's no coincidence that the 6.001 textbook (mentioned recently on this here bl0g) served as bedtime reading last night.
The dark irony is that, from most standpoints, this has been a fucked up week at Big Publishing Company. My supervisor's contract wasn't picked up, and Monday was her last day; her replacement is totally different in temperament, particular work experience, technical/non-technical background, organizational style, workplace manner, and way of involving herself in the broader plans for our Megalithic Software Debacle. The old boss was an old-time software developer, and was thought of as a resource by the code and tools-development teams (as I understand it); the new boss comes from a project-management background (with some Web stuff liberally sprinkled in there). In other words, right now I'm sort of the de facto technical guy in our three-person fireteam. This is unexpected, gratifying in a way, and certainly makes for a deeper investment in the job - leaving open, of course, the question of whether anyone should get deeply invested in a week-to-week temp job.
I tend to get angry when people talk wistfully about how the Old Ways are obviously the Good Ways, because in those stories my generation and I generally aren't involved in the Old Ways and are implicated by our ignorance - which is far too often depicted as either willful or just lazy. (If someone my age is doing this nostalgic talking, I get angry because nostalgia in the young always comes off as pathetic posing.) Homilies about the vital importance of New Ways are similarly nauseating. Many of our workplace tensions in the last six months have derived from a terrible disconnect between management's tendency to glorify the New, upper-upper management's entrenched nostalgia for the Old, and lower-level managers' personal investments in the New or Old Ways that happen to glorify them or fall within the boundaries of their personal fiefdoms (yes, that's how it's spelled). I've found myself sometimes talking about the New Thing coming to overturn everything at Big Publishing Co, or resisting structural changes because the Old Thing works 'just fine, given our low standards.' I don't like this about myself, and I don't like it about the company. As such, moving from boss to boss offers a chance to figure out just what it is about the job that's worth caring about, and to focus on that as best I can.
The new boss will be Just Fine, I suppose ('Meet the new boss / Same as the old boss'). If I'm going to protest all the time that our Big Clunky Software Product doesn't do enough for students, isn't a pedagogical win, and therefore just doesn't matter to me at all, I should do my best to write it off in my own mind as an educational product, and treat it as what it is: a business venture by a large corporation for which my approval and enthusiasm are totally irrelevant. I figure I'll be a lot happier at work if I pay attention to the things I can actually control - because over time, as my responsibilities are allowed to grow (maybe even to the level of my competence - wouldn't that be a thing?), the scope of my control will also grow, and I'll get (with glacial slowness) closer to a position where I can invest my energy into long-term meaningful projects.
In other words, it's quite possible that my boss's departure - quite sudden in a number of ways, not so sudden in others - has more or less severed the last thread of concern I have for Big Publishing Co's welfare or for our own ability to really help out the students who use our products. And ironically enough, I think this will make me a better worker.
Cue last lines of 1984 right here, I guess.