So, you know how, once you stop doing something for a while, you sort of forget the nitty-gritty details of it, unless really pressed to remember?  Like, if someone asked you to describe the process in detail, you could do it, but in your day-to-day thinking about the thing, you might gloss over certain details?

Since I have been back at the office, there have been relatively few surprises, but one I wasn’t prepared to be surprised by, but was, is the return of MEETINGS.  I know, it’s sort of shocking that I could possibly forget about them at all, what with the sheer number I’ve been to in my lifetime, but I… kinda did.  I’m sure that, had someone pressed me to describe in detail a typical day at the office, I wouldn’t have forgotten to mention the meetings, but when I was contemplating returning to work, I sort of forgot about them altogether. 

It only took about three days to be reminded of the existence of meetings, as I was introduced to the core group I was to be working with via meeting, and holy SHIT, did that put me on the spot.  After a brief introduction, the entire rest of the (mercifully short) meeting involved my boss talking about what my job duties are, which required him to refer to me in the third person for the duration.  I know it’s just a tic of our language, but hearing myself talked about for 20 minutes as if I weren’t in the room was sort of trippy.  And worse, everyone in the room is watching me, curiously, while listening to someone else talk about me.  I think I ended up with a frozen grimace that must not have seemed very approachable, but I also seemed to have been forgiven these awkward initial moments. 

The other meeting I’ve been to thus far was more of a training class, complete with projected slides and an open-book quiz.  Where the answers were highlighted in yellow in the slides.  Which we could follow along on our handouts, where the answers were also highlighted.  I sincerely hope American schools are not using this particular testing model, because I can tell you right now, even though I took that quiz yesterday, I can’t remember jack shit about it, questions OR answers. 

This meeting reminded me of the countless others I’d been to at Large Pharmaceutical Company, meetings that tended to be scheduled for 1 in the afternoon, when you’re already good and comatose, and somewhere about the 4th slide I’d feel my eyelids drooping, no matter how hard I tried to pay attention.  Of course, this same thing tended to happen whether the meeting was at 9am or 3pm, so maybe it’s just me- perhaps I am constitutionally incapable of paying attention in meetings.  I’d say the only time I was ever really alert and awake in a meeting was one where I was scheduled to present, and then I’d try to go first, both to get it out of the way and to minimize the amount time people spent looking in my direction.

I know, I probably shouldn’t admit that I am a terrible meeting attendee in such a public way, but there it is.  Furthermore, I generally don’t think meetings even accomplish much- I can count on one hand the number of meetings I’ve attended where I walked out with something I was dying to put into practice (and let’s just say here, for the sake of clarity, that I’m talking about meetings and not lectures, which I can and do stay awake for).  And besides, the vast majority of time, meetings were scheduled in such a way that they ruined the entire day- experiments couldn’t be started, paperwork couldn’t be handled.  The 10am meeting will be the death of American scientific progress, and if you don’t believe me, see what Paul Graham had to say about it.

Surviving Large Pharmaceutical Company’s obsession with meetings required developing some coping strategies, because falling asleep in meetings is generally poorly regarded, unless you’re my former boss, in which case it appears to get you a promotion to director.  Besides, the horrifying jerk your head makes as you realize it’s pitching forward is best avoided altogether, since there’s really no good way to cover that one up (what?  I was just… testing my reflexes?  I don’t think anyone’s buying it). 

So I doodle.  I always bring paper and a pen to any meeting I attend, and attempt to look engaged by taking “notes” which are really random patterns, “drawings”, and quite frequently, my to-do list (to which I invariably add the meeting I am currently attending, the better to cross it off the moment the meeting ends).  I write letters, and sometimes blog posts (I came up for the idea for this one in a meeting), and sometimes I simply draw circles, filled in or not, over and over again. 

Once released, I swear I am a productive team player, who can leverage my talents in order to better synergize with company goals, really I can.  But put me in a conference room and dim the lights, and you’ve pretty much lost me.

Someone, please tell me I’m not the only one.  What do you do in meetings?  Do they offer you something?  Share with me.

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