A number of years ago I was promoted to a managerial position. Never having been a manager before, I quickly found that there were several new skills I would need to acquire. First of all, I needed an HP 12C financial calculator. To be respected in my segment of the financial industry one must discard the old Casio pocket calculator in favor of one these electronic wonders of the modern world. It makes no difference whether or not your job actually requires you to quickly calculate interest payments or amortization schedules; this was the tool of the trade and you must carry one at all times.
I had held out as long as I could, but I knew my management days were numbered if I resisted any longer. When the package arrived I approached it with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. This was my ticket to certain success and career superstardom, but could I figure out how to use it? This thing is no ordinary calculator. It comes with comprehensive instructions – in the form of a starter manual and a supplemental CD which you need to consult just to figure out how to do simple addition. (You first punch in the whole list of numbers to be added and then hit the plus key at the end.) I haven’t yet claimed defeat, but while my shiny HP 12C sits prominently on my desk for all to see, I grab my hidden Casio when I have to calculate how many sick days I have left.
I’d always fancied myself a fairly educated person – a notion which was totally false, as I learned when I sat down at my first meeting with executive management. Vocabulary words were whizzing by that I had never heard before and wasn’t even sure I could spell. Where did these words come from? Did managers secretly read the dictionary at night? They all seemed to understand each other, so maybe an executive e-mail went out Mondays with the words of the week? The lady next to me just said “diminuous”…or was that “deminutous”?
After the meeting I desperately searched for this word on dictionary.com, but to no avail. I stewed on this for weeks when, to my surprise, my boss used the same word in a conversation with me. Thoughts raced through my head – this was my chance… should I stop him and ask him to spell it? No, I couldn’t admit this failure. I would have to figure this out myself. After several more internet searches, victory was finally mine:
de minimis (adj): so small or minimal in difference that it does not matter or the law does not take it into consideration
Shortly thereafter, my staff began receiving Monday morning e-mails with the word of the week.
One of the perks of these new responsibilities was an office. Offices are prime real estate and being low-man on the totem pole, I was given the only one left that wasn’t spoken for. For the first time in my career I had a desk with 2 chairs on the other side, a large bookshelf, a file cabinet nearly as tall as I am, and a huge white board.
While I was naively happy with my new surroundings, others took pity on me for having the smallest office. Well-meaning colleagues would come by and sympathize with my plight. “Well, at least you have a door that you can close, right?” and “Yep, (sigh with pity) this used to be my office.” Finally, “Oh Jesse had this office….” (voice dropping off). Since Jesse disappeared one day never to be seen or heard from again, I wondered what had become of him. Had the dimensions of the office sent him over the edge? Was my mental health at stake? In all likelihood Jesse had simply never learned how to use the HP 12C.