**there will be profanity. It’s been that kind of week. Sorry, Mom. **
I have a new job, and (confession) I’m really terrible at it. OK, maybe not really terrible. Maybe it just feels that way sometimes.
I love my job. I work with a lot of smart people, and I cannot even begin to tell you how great my Supervisors are. But as far as the actual job goes, I often feel like A Righteous Fraud. I’m half-convinced that any day now someone is going to out me to my Manager, and I will end up on the first plane back to Texas, sleeping under a bridge and hustling strangers at intersections for beer money. The upside is that I won’t have to worry any more about how terrible my hair always is, or whether I remembered to turn my shirt right side out when I got dressed in the morning. Also, I will not have to format any more documents, ever. So there’s that.
At the end of last year I was hired as a Quality Auditor for the Big Kahuna Contractor here in Kuwait. I had no experience, but they took a chance on me. I closed my eyes and made the career leap. Now I am a corporate rat with a clipboard (pink suede) and a hard hat (sassy white), which hangs on my office wall right next to my Mardi Gras beads.
I love my hard hat. I think I look cute in it, plus it covers my… well, do we really have to keep talking about my bad hair? Probably not. I also have an orange safety vest which nicely disguises my muffin top, and I get an embarrassing amount of mileage from tossing around the line “Orange is the new black!” People should not laugh as much as they do at that line. They should get out more. Maybe they’re just being polite.
Basically, my job involves slapping a checklist on my pink clipboard and crawling around shipping yards making sure people are doing their jobs. I audit the Transportation Department, which on a military base encompasses anything with an engine that moves things and people from Point A to Point B. Planes, trains, automobiles.
There. I just told you everything I know about the Transportation Department.
In a perfect world an Auditor studies hard for every audit. They read the Government’s requirements for the department. They memorize SOPs and Work Instructions, and Army Regs and Everydamnthing Ever Written on the Subject (Defense Transportation Regulations!#partyhat). They become a SME, short for Subject Matter Expert, which is pronounced “smee,” and which sounds ridiculous when you say it out loud. Go ahead; say it aloud, like you’re proud of it: “Hi! I’m the smee!” and see how you feel about yourself afterward. It reminds me of Peter Pan and it makes it hard for me to take seriously any conversation about the necessity of being a SME. I keep imagining myself in a striped shirt and granny glasses trying to talk Captain Hook down from his latest homicidal shenanigans. I mean, I understand the importance of being a SME (still trying not to get fired, here), but it is just such a silly-sounding acronym.
Anyhoo. The one thing standing between me and SMEdom is the fact that approximately twelve minutes after I was hired the person in charge of the Documents department selfishly decided to have a baby. I told her to knock that shit off, but of course no one listens to me, I’m just the new girl. And guess who is doing her job now? (Ten points if you guessed me.) So as a neophyte I am doing the job of two whole people, and—let me be clear, because somewhere along the line someone is going to read this and report to my boss that I’m complaining—I am NOT complaining. Not here, for god’s sake. Not in cyberspace. I’m not a total idiot. But in Documents there is Big Stuff to report to the Government in a lot of really exact, never-the-same-twice formats, and it takes a lot of time, and I am not good at it. I am not detail-oriented; I’m much more of a slap-some-paint-on-it-and-let’s-all-go-have-coffee kind of person. Out of necessity I am learning to spot the details, which is both humbling (because I’m so bad at it) and tedious. My brain rebels. My brain is a lazy cow, and if I give it an inch it will take a mile. Spell check, you slacker!
The point is, thanks to Documents I don’t have any time to study for my audits right now. I just have to show up and fake it. But I have learned a few coping tricks that sometimes see me through. I will pass these on to you now, gratis:
- Carry a clipboard everywhere. Everywhere. To the bathroom, dammit. It makes you look official. If you decide to go shoe shopping on your lunch hour, carry a clipboard. People will think you know what you’re doing. Mad props if you wear the orange safety vest at the same time. In the Taco Bell line! You got game, Girl. Orange is the new Black!
- If you have to talk to people, perch on their desks and tap the clipboard distractedly against your thigh. They will understand that you are An Important Person with Places To Be and Things To Do. You will get a lot of mileage from this. “Mileage” is what makes people be nice to you when you utterly fuck up a document carrying their signature that the unforgiving United States Government is about to sign off on.
- At meetings (there are a LOT of meetings) frown and nod knowledgeably. Take copious notes. Usually these are grocery lists: Toilet paper. Sharp cheddar. Ramen? So fattening. Hairspray!
- If forced to sit through a Power Point presentation, at some time raise your hand and say “wait, can we go back a slide?” Ask the presenter to clarify. Try to use the word “metrics.” If that’s not appropriate, shuffle some papers (you did bring your clipboard, right?), make an impressed kind of face as though you just learned something new, jot down medium shrimp, shelled and distractedly motion the presenter onward.
- Rock that hard hat.
Today I had to audit the Customs office. I finished plowing through an elbow-deep pile of government documents, hurtled out to Customs, and proceeded to make an unadulterated ass of myself. I was just completely unprepared. Stop having babies, goddammit!
There is nothing that makes you want to crawl under a rock and die like charging in, all “I’m the Auditor! I’m here to Audit!” as the guy you’re auditing smirks at you and explains that you are completely wrong about everydamnthing that their office actually does. Then you happen to turn around and the guy behind you is smirking too, and you realize with that gut-sunk feeling that they’ve been exchanging smirks this whole time because you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about! You can’t even get mad because they’re right! What are you going to do, apologize for wasting their time because Yo, guys, I couldn’t study because there was this one document I was processing, that has nothing to do with you, but it had an assload of really bad formatting errors, in fact it looked like it was written by a crustacean, and the Army kept calling and telling me to hurry the hell up with it, but that’s not even your business of course, even though it took me hours to fix, plus, guys, suddenly someone asked me to send them a Tracker on XX documents, and Jesus, what the actual hell IS a Tracker anyway, and how was I supposed to know I needed one in the first place…
Anyhow. It was a disaster. And I still have to audit the Transportation Motor Pool (TMP) this afternoon. If you don’t know what a TMP is, that’s OK. Go have some Chardonnay and rejoice in your soccer mom life path. No judgement! If you do know what a TMP is you probably have PTSD in some form, or have taken college courses on the GI Bill.
For the next few hours I have to pretend that I know everything ever written about Forklifts and Hysters and pallet jack test loads.
There’s a grocery list in there somewhere.
I’m the Auditor! I’m here to Audit!
Girl, I feel your pain! For me it’s front-loading on the payment system the random travels my boss does. Details, details, details. It’s not done often enough to be ‘routine’ and it all differs; flying, driving, being driven, room reservations, registration fees, meals. And, of course, you must use the proper verbiage. Really? Just stay at the office, like I do.
And yes, I know what a TMP is, but they say I don’t have PTSD although I did use government funds for school.
You just have to build confidence which will come with time. Or, maybe not. Travel has defied me for four years. Until then, have attitude; angry attitude. It makes people keep their distance and might give you time alone to read those damn regs.
Loved your post.
Clare, I found my way to this post from Facebook. You are so talented. You really are. And humble. And funny. I’m proud of you for your risk-taking. Thanks for sharing this story. -Audrey
Thanks Audrey. I’ve always held you in high regard so your praise is doubly meaningful!