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TALES OF A BUDDING (M)AD MAN III. by James Jackson, Intern

I’m used to being good at stuff. Damn near everything. There was never any need for me to put in any real effort. A minimal effort was always good enough. I knew very little about reaching down deep and pulling stuff out. My natural aptitude had been enough to land me in all-star games and atop lists of the academically gifted. The thought of failing is a crippling one. It’s just enough to get lodged in your thoughts and take you to a really scary unproductive place. This isn’t a good place. I now know this from experience. Failing makes you realize you don’t know everything and there’s room for improvement.

Part of my job description involves putting marketing reports together.

The numbers have to be right and a lot is riding on whether the numbers that go inside of that spreadsheet are, in fact correct. Future dollar allocation is riding on the fact that I double and triple check the numbers I present. And normally, there’s no problem with this aspect of the job. It’s kind of what I’ve been groomed to do through the schooling process. But this particular report was different. It involved compiling data from several (like twelve) sources covering a 3-month period and putting them in to one document. And judging from the wizardry that went on before I arrived, it was no easy task. I had never done anything of this caliber before. At least nothing with this kind of money on the line. It started off cumbersome.

But once I realized where each piece of information was coming from, the task got easier. It’s like writing: once you’re into something, there’s no stopping you. But the problem is, you’re sometimes too close to the action. It’s only when you stop and step back from your work that you realize (more often than not), it really is awful. And that’s the problem I had run into.

It didn’t take long before my mistakes were realized.

Since I was a marketing-report-virgin, I lacked of a time-tested editing process. So I fumbled around in the dark, grabbing clumsily for the switch that would make my report better. And instead of the efficient, streamlined process of addition and deletion, it became an amateurish attempt ending with a report ridden with numerical issues.

Another problem I ran into was that the report covered a time period I wasn’t the least bit familiar with. My editing became purely grammatical. The numbers just felt right. And that extra “0” stuck into one of the spreadsheets looked about right, too. I can deal with being hindered by a concrete barricade. I can’t, however, manage being tripped up by traffic cones. If something seems like it should be easy, in my mind, it is. It’s a perfectly solvable problem. Perfectly solvable problems are the ones to watch out for. Those are the ones that command your attention to the details. But once those are wrangled in, the problem becomes something solvable.

So I remain a work-in-progress, constantly being molded by the people and projects around me. Double and triple checking are becoming daily rituals. The progress will hopefully be something I never stop, but I hope to one day feel like I’ve earned the vacation I feel like I need right now.