Note from the author: I have approved the following message. Unless you don’t agree with it, in which case I will delete this post immediately.
We have a strict approval process in the corporate communications department where I work. When I write a story, it must first be sent to several subject matter experts (SMEs). After they have inexorably mutilated a particular story beyond comprehension, I rework it according to their most arbitrary wants and desires:
SME #1: “Put a line in about how I ate 40 hot dogs on Thursday and became the 2012 state fair hot dog eating champion!”
Me: “I’m going to veto that idea as it in no way relates to this story on bird diverters.”
SME #1: “But it took place on company time…”
SME #2: “This story is way too colorful and fun. Dull it down immediately.”
Me: “I’ve dulled her down once and I’ll not do it again! The story – she can’t be dulled down any further, man! It’s madness; sheer madness, I tell you!”
SME #2 (tsking, yet somhow frowning at the same time): “All these adjectives are unnecessary. We don’t need to know that it was the STATE fair. But, that sure was a lot of hot dogs, wasn’t it?” Chuckles, impressed.
Me: “I feel like Tony Danza from Who’s the Boss?’”
SME #2: “What did you say?”
Me: “I said, ‘sure thing, hoss.’”
SME #3: “Use more filler words, like ‘in order to,’ ‘henceforth’ and ‘thereunto.’ You know, make me sound good.”
Me (under breath): “Putting ‘Knew Mother Theresa’ on your resume couldn’t make you sound good.”
About four years ago when I didn’t know better, I would then send the story back to them with changes made, a subject line of “Final, approved article.”
We are so naïve sometimes, aren’t we?
From there, it’s typically a steady spiral downward. Back and forth we go for at least three more edit sessions before the story is finally stamped with approval. Without fail, I’ll receive an email from an SME a day or two before it’s published telling me they forgot to include someone in on the approval process, and ’round we go again.
I begin envisioning a time long ago when I didn’t need dark chocolate or fanciful daydreams about certain people falling down flights of stairs to get me through the afternoon. (Get it? The chocolate matches my view on working in a corporate environment!)
Then, at long last, everything is approved. Sighs of relief are blown out prematurely as the newcomer tentatively mentions it would be in “our” best interest to send the story to his supervisor as a heads up.
Little does he know it would actually be in his best interest to stay away from any stairwells.
I send the courtesy email as instructed. Once a writer, I am now a mere messenger girl. A very nicely dressed messenger girl, I should mention, one approval away from changing into comfortable, sensible walking shoes and outrageously white socks on my trips to and fro the parking lot. Oh, how the mighty have fallen into the corporate abyss.
Before the horror of it all can sink in, I promptly get a reply back that inspires hope within me – optimism that mankind is truly attentive and courteous of time and effort spent. I open the email eagerly to discover it is an automated “out of office” message and this person will not be returning until next Thursday.
It is Tuesday.
I wait out the week patiently, expelling my pent-up exasperation during dart league. (What can’t shiny, pointy objects and a good imagination fix?) And, although the story is no longer timely or relevant, I will publish it solely because I WILL PUBLISH IT.
Approximately five minutes before deadline, I receive word from the supervisor that they need to rethink the angle of the story since the project is nearing its final stages. Yes, indeedy — the huge, multi-million-dollar project is moving faster toward completion than my 50-word article. I am asked to pull the story until the project’s progress is more definite.
Follow-up emails going without reply, my paranoia grows as I physically walk to the supervisor’s office seeking approval, only to see him nervously dart behind a maze of cubicles. Upon asking the admin if he will be returning anytime soon, she looks at me inquisitively before replying like a pro: “He’s not even in today; he’s at a conference. In Florida.”
We stare at each other for a solid minute without speaking. She holds steady eye contact, not blinking once and never backing down. Two minutes into the battle and blinking furiously, I blame my parents’ genetics for the poor eyesight which has resulted in my wearing of contacts, thus putting me into a no-win situation. The admin begins to shuffle papers neatly into piles on her desk, humming cheerfully. I smirk and grab two handfuls of M&Ms from her candy dish before retreating.
At close of business, I see the supervisor walking to his car in the parking lot and yell his name. He freezes, then continues toward his car after a moment, never looking back. I forgo the temptation to run him over. Too many witnesses.
Forced to eventually scrap the entire story, I am asked about its whereabouts months later by my own manager. I send her a copy of the email trail, and she emails the supervisor about the article. The supervisor responds immediately, saying, “Yes. Ok, let’s publish.”
After the red spots I’m seeing diminish, I muster the ability to email back, “Publish as is, or would you like to give an update to the project?” The supervisor waits at least half a day to respond, choosing at that time to respond with five ambiguous words: “Let me think about it.”
A week passes. I send another follow-up email asking about the story. A day later, I promptly get back two words: “Run it.”
Now, I normally include at least one exclamation point with each thanks to express my gratitude for their direction, but eliminating the exclamation point has become my (non) pointed way of sticking it to the man.
At that time, I am officially dead inside. But, I publish the story anyway.
It comes down to this. Most people have the ability to walk away from work at 5 p.m., or to leave it behind on the weekend. I thought I was one of those people until I realized this approval process has somehow soaked into the inner fibers of my wellbeing.
I now seek approval from everyone before I do or say anything, unsure of my every action and how it might affect those around me, and beaten down from having my own personal thoughts, opinions or agendas. Here are a few dialogue-based examples of ways I have sought consent from others over the last few months:
Me: “I’m going to get the pie. Should I get the pie?” Sits, lost in thought for 10 minutes debating the right choice. “I won’t get the pie.”
Friend: “No, get the pie!”
Me: “Ok.” Holds both hands out in a “STOP” stance. “If you’re sure.”
Me (standing up to declare loudly in the movie theater): “I’m going to the bathroom. Unless this isn’t a good time for you guys. Is everyone ok with me leaving?”
Audience: Various yelling to shut up.
Me: “Anyone need anything? Soda, popcorn?”
Audience: Dead silence.
Me (leaving, then ducking back into theater): “Thought I heard someone. Still no one? Ok, I’ll just bring back one of everything, just in case.”
Me: “I put $10 in the basket at church. Do you think I should have put in more to compensate for daydreaming about pushing people down stairwells?”
Clayton: “The church accepts any contribution.”
Me (signing check with flourish): “$20 it is!”
Me (Getting dressed for work, glancing down): “This shirt isn’t the same blue as the blue on our corporate logo.” Frowns uncertainly.” I better change.”
Me: “Let’s go get some groceries at Wal-Mart.”
Friend: “You shop at Wal-Mart?”
Me: “I meant Trader Joe’s.”
Friend: “That’s right you meant Trader Joe’s.”
Me: “It was a joke.”
Friend: “No, it wasn’t.”
Me: “No. It wasn’t.”