Monday, October 18, 2010

All Suited Up and No Heritage To Go

Sometimes I hate calendars. I wish I could live in an endless wave of beautiful, 75 degree Octobers, the days meshing beautifully into nights and no cares or concerns for Sunday vs. Wednesday vs. Friday afternoon (when you're putting your head in your hands and wishing with all your might that the clock would magically SPRING to 5 and you could fly out of your office like a bird released from captivity). If I did not have a calendar, I could go freely from one task to the next and never worry, and think only about the "big picture" and the "process."


Who am I kidding? As an ENTJ (nicknamed "The Executive") on the Myers-Briggs, and as a 3 on the Enneagram test (known as "The Achiever") it is very unlikely that I would enjoy the big picture free flowing hipster coffee shop life is a bowl of trail mix attitude. It is far more likely that I would write a new calendar (like Caesar or Napoleon), make myself a daily regimen of boxes to check off, tasks to accomplish, draw up executive summaries. I am a Type A, task-oriented, get in my suit and go rock the presentation girl.

So, knowing all this, let me tell you a story about last Wednesday.

It was presentation day - my program was divided into groups of four or five and sent out to various stakeholders around the city to brief them on our research into energy policy. My topic was whether the EPA had the authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act (I know, so general). I was ready to break it down by stakeholder, issue, underlying concept of liberty and property, policy history... my group had met, arranged an order for our presentations, and had even thought about how to introduce our class project and what we knew about the general landscape of energy policy.

AND I was all suited up - my charcoal gray suit with the tags newly ripped off, gold heels with only one unfortunate black scuff mark on the left toe, my hair trapped in a low ponytail and fake diamond studs in my ears. When you get dressed for a presentation in Washington, DC, it's always tricky - you want to be memorable but not flashy. You want to be reserved but not stuffy and off-putting. You want to make them remember your content but also your professional attire, but not remember that the clothes all come from JCrew but just that you know how to dress yourself for the task at hand. It can be an ordeal choosing an outfit here.

So I was ready. And my group headed out to our briefing at the Heritage Foundation (which is conveniently located about 10 minutes away from the ASP building). We arrived and checked in, and then sat tentatively on the ornate but tasteful couches and stared at the fake orchid arrangement on the smooth wooden table. I always find that I perch on the very edges of couches as if I am afraid they will collapse under the full weight of me in my suit. But then I am trapped because I have to tense my calf muscles to keep myself from falling off (and how could I live it down if I fell off a couch at the Heritage Foundation?) - and then when I stand up, I'm sore. From sitting on a couch!

So I perched on the couch, trying not to fall over, sweating slightly at the thought that I was about to give my first presentation to an actual stakeholder in Washington, DC. And after five minutes another student in my group walked over to me... "Hilary! He isn't here!" I started. "What do you mean?"

"The front desk says he is out of town until tomorrow with a family emergency!"

My feet still wobbling from their previous tensed position, I walked over to the other corner of the front part of Heritage. What to do, what to do... I could reinvent the calendar and make tomorrow Wednesday, so that we could come back and he would be here. We could run away. We could present to the expensively papered walls of a conference room at Heritage?

I ended up calling our program director, and after a few more phone calls back and forth, my group trudged towards home. Talk about anticlimactic! After all the hype, all the preparation, after I had wedged my feet into those heels and shrugged the cute two button jacket over my shoulders... no Heritage presentation. No glasses of water to place on a table and watch the beads of condensation drip slowly onto the clean surface and form rings on the perfectly groomed furniture. No awkward pauses before questions get asked and no awkward pauses when NO questions get asked.

As we trudged back to ASP after our failed attempt at briefing, I couldn't help but think about how much stock we put in our calendars and schedules. I had planned on being at Heritage at 3pm that day for a briefing that would conclude at 4pm, and then I would go home to prepare for a mentorship meeting at 5:30pm and that would end by 7pm... on and on and on. I put stock in the calendar, in the written out agenda, in the false certainty of words and appointment books. My Type 3, ENTJ, personality-typing system loving self discovered that sometimes the unforeseeable happens, and your plan changes, and your schedule is thrown off balance.

And where maybe a year ago I would have worried to pieces about when we would manage to reschedule, or when we could fit in another planning session, or how in the world I would rearrange my daily planner to reflect this unfortunate (but comical) turn of events - last Wednesday I just laughed, groaned, laughed again, and put my gold heels in my bag, my old but trusty blue flip flops on my feet, and headed back to ASP. I laughed because calendars, much as I love them, cannot be my compass in this city or in my life generally. I groaned because I still have such a long way to go in learning this. I laughed again because the day was beautiful, the sun was shining on the uneven brick sidewalk and there was a black crazed squirrel scuttling up a tree. I laughed because Heritage or no Heritage, suit or no suit, unfortunate tripping down the escalator when running back from work to get to class on time in front of a crowd of good looking Hill interns or no unfortunate tripping, the unexpected will always prove more memorable than the expected. The surprises, in whatever form, will always prove worth forsaking the to-do list.

I'm working on this one, readers. Enjoy the sunshine (or the rain, or the gray clouds, or the thunder) tomorrow.


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