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  • The last couple of days, I have felt a bit like Jimmy Stewart in “It’s a Wonderful Life”, when he comes back to his life, after he got to see what life would have been like in his town without him. Just the sheer joy he experiences at seeing all the things that used to stress him out, now that he’s seen what it would have been like without these things in his life, what they would have been like without him.

    My first day back, Wednesday, I woke up at 2:15 a.m. and couldn’t get back to sleep. I was going to be leading a discussion first thing that morning, with all of our key field managers on this major initiative that’s supposed to be the most important change we’ve had in 40 years. I’m leading the implementation team for the initiative. Several key players on my team, who would normally be there backing me up on the details for this highly complex predictive analytics model we’re using , were not going to be there. Out of country. I couldn’t get into our server to go over the Power Point presentation I was going to be using for the discussion ahead of time, and they moved the meeting at the last minute to another conference room that wouldn’t have a phone to patch in another key team member. Since there was absolutely nothing I could do about all of that, I just decided not to worry about any of it, and just read Cowbird stories and wrote a couple, until it was time to get ready to go.

    I walked into the meeting, which was standing room only, without having had any preparation – I still didn’t have the presentation, and was hoping they had it already queued up there. The guy leading the meeting wanted to turn it right over to me, but I said, “Don’t you have a break scheduled now?” They did, so I had 15 minutes to scramble if I needed it. I did. No presentation. But, I did have a blank thumb drive, and sent someone to load it on there and bring it back. I let them do the scrambling. I just chatted folks up during the break, then I led the next 2 ½ hours of the meeting, and it went better than anyone had anticipated it would. We got all of the field managers on board with the initiative, got good feedback and dialogue from them, as we’d hoped to. The agency administrator, the Under Secretary and Deputy Under Secretary (the BIG Honchos), all floated in and out of the meeting a couple of times, and everyone agreed it was a great discussion. I was the only one who knew that I was just completely winging it, there. (I normally go into a meeting like this so over-prepared, with all possible contingency plans in place, it isn’t funny. Not having any of that going for me this time, I just embraced the moment, and rode with it. It was actually a lot of fun!)

    All these scenarios that had played out in my head, during the 5 weeks that I was mostly away, about how they were going to realize they really didn’t need me, and I was going to come back and be all kinds of marginalized and everything – just my own head games. It was like I’d never been away. All of the issues were still there, awaiting me. The big boss wanted my opinion on some major agency restructuring options that he’s considering. Despite my less than 4 hours sleep, I felt more energized by the end of the day than I had any right to be.

    Yesterday was more of the same. But the best part of it all was, we had softball games last night! I hadn’t played in 5 weeks. Thursday nights I play on the team I don’t manage, so I had no idea where I’d be playing. I’m the guy they can stick anywhere, except pitcher, as I play all the positions on the field, and like to move around. But, my favorite position has to be Third Base. The Hot Corner. That’s where you’d better be in the moment at all times, or you might be swallowing a screaming line drive, along with all your teeth. My kind of position. Keeps ones reflexes sharp playing down there. The manager shot me a text message during the day – “Hey, Tony can’t make it tonight – who do you know that can play Third Base?” I’m your man, Wayne!

    The over-enthusiastic, hasn’t-quite-figured-out-how-to-use-his-head-on-the field “20-something” Shortstop playing to my left, had a rough night. First inning, batter hits a flare out to short left field, directly behind me at third base, I’m hauling ass out there and know I’m on a line to get to that ball if I just keep hauling, one of those over your shoulder grabs. I know I called out “I got it” as soon as I took off, as no one else was even close, so I’m just focused on getting there, then just as I’m reaching up to make the catch, the young buck appears out of nowhere, crashes into me as he goes flying past me, he and the ball go flying, and I’m pissed! But I look down, and the poor guy is just laying there on the ground, in the fetal position, the ball rolling out beyond him, and the batter’s circling the bases. It was that kind of night. I was fine. He didn’t realize the force of nature he was dealing with, here! Later, he would take a weird hop, right where you don’t want to take anything, and had to be carried off the field. Poor, stupid kid!

    I got plenty of action down at the hot corner. We were playing a really good hitting team, and they hit nothing but line drives and hard-assed grounders. I made all my plays, including a scorcher just to my left that I was able to snag – I love it when your focus is such that the ball slows down enough to get that glove up and make the grab. It’s all about being right there, being mentally ready for it.

    First two times at bat, I hit a couple of really pathetic looking dying quails, just beyond the infielders’ reach for hits. Once I got my stroke going again, I hit a few great shots, right at fielders. Just one of those nights. Without our big guns, we got spanked both games by a better team.

    But, God, it felt good to be out there again. I felt just about all the way back into my life, again.

    And, yes – It is, a wonderful life. Good to be back!
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