Keep Your Eye on the Ball

The other day I was in a meeting for a civic organization I’ve joined. Although I joined and participate in their activities, the jury is still out as to whether I will continue with them, but that’s another story, although I touch on it briefly here.

A group of us were in a department meeting. Sitting in with us was an academic, a bonafide top authority in his discipline, who had done his Ph.D. on the field we’re in. He was here to do a follow-up to see how the environment had changed in the ensuing five years. We’d all approved his presence and we spoke frankly as we always do.

The meeting seemed very bogged down with minutiae to me. We spent a lot of time talking about buying a piece of equipment which we’d be sharing with another department. Why in the world we had to spend almost so much time discussing this, I don’t know. To me, this is a simple check-off item in the agenda, mentioned only to determine if one of us had a spare which he’d donate, or had a wholesale connection, both of which would have saved some money. It could easily be handled in the chain of command.

❝How dare you use common sense?❞

We spoke of a number of other issues, and mostly I just listened. I‘m new to the group, and I feel I haven’t earned my stripes, so I hold my piece. But this meeting emboldened me, and here’s why.

Ostensibly, the organization is supposed to be a service group. However in my observations, not a lot of worthwhile service is being rendered to our core group of clients. We meet them, they get an orientation, some workshops which might be valuable if someone doesn’t know how to use a library or the Internet, but generally, it’s business as usual.

There’s a good deal of hand-wringing about building the membership and retention. Out of the new clients, as far as I can see the conversion rate to membership is less than one in five. Meanwhile, we’re talking about buying a twenty-buck piece of equipment. Nearly the whole meeting went by and it seems as if nobody cared that we had this expert sitting in our midst, a top authority in our field who had been monitoring groups like ours throughout the state. No one else thought to ask him about what other groups were doing and how successful they were.

After holding back, I finally asked for recognition and asked him for his observations and we got them. On my way out of the meeting, I felt a palpable chill from a couple of the other members. How dare you use common sense!

Some of my friends maintain that I’m brilliant, and that my talents have been wasted, and that I’m an under-achiever.

Yep, that's what they say.

Some have tried to analyze my lack of career success, and one of them, a fellow who speaks from the conviction of knowing me for a quarter-century and knows that I respect his opinion says, “Kenn, you’re too smart for your own good and you know it. You chafe when you have to subordinate yourself to people who you don’t respect. You don’t make a secret of your contempt for them, and you should not do that.”

He’s right. When I was younger, one of my report cards said: “Kenn does not play well with others.” Until I can fix this flaw in my character, I will be doomed to fail.


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