The Halloween Costume

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I’ve mentioned this before but I lead a group of people who love to dress up for Halloween.  You would kind of think that since we work in R&D that there’d be more creative types who would join in on the fun but it is generally us and a handful of others.  Most of the building comes to see what we’ve done and I get the feeling sometimes that others would love to join in but are held back for various reasons.  I mean it is work and I guess work is supposed to serious.

Random leadership tip – if you ever want to establish a good connection with the people on your team, just join them for Halloween dress up.  I was the detached observer for many years and then decided “why the hell not”.  The first year was a store bought thing and I just wore part of it but the reaction was amazing.  Over the years, I decided if you were going to do something, then you might as well do it right.

My cultural reference library is limited to the 80’s and 90’s since I’ve basically stopped watching TV or going to the movies, so I am reaching back a bit.  I dressed as Sonny Crockett from Miami Vice because that was an easy look to pull off (the boat shoes with no socks wasn’t a lot of fun).  And then I was the Dread Pirate Roberts because you can’t go wrong with the Princess Bride even though I discovered that many people had not seen that movie and assumed I was Zorro.  Sigh.

So I’ve gone for the real obscure this year and the pieces of the costume are rolling in.  We have this system at work that rewards you for various things and I never use the points so I just cash some out to support buying the various pieces.  Yes, I could do something practical with the money but it is more fun to do something silly.

The character is Captain Malcolm (Mal) Reynolds from the cancelled way too soon show Firefly and the movie Serenity.  It is something of a cult favorite and it is hard to describe if you haven’t seen it.  It has been described as a space western and I guess that fits.  There are certain genres that just instantly appeal to me.  Give me a group of interesting characters that don’t quite fit in and are underdogs and I’m usually on board.

Short plot summary.  It is set in the far future when earth has been made uninhabitable so the population flees to a different part of the universe.  The places near the center form an Alliance while the people who don’t want to live under alliance rule settle in the far flung planets which have an old west feel.  The Alliance decides they need to rule everything and a group of plucky rebels fight back.  Of course, Mal joins the rebellion which is soon put down.  Now, he’s captain of a ship still trying to live in the outer lands and trying to find work (some of it is dishonest) to avoid having to totally live under Alliance rules.  So you’ve got the whole thing of someone who doesn’t fit in and wants to be an individual which I can totally relate to.

I don’t claim to be an Myers Briggs expert and I think typing fictional characters is risky since they are going to be the product of the writers and any ad hoc stuff by the actors and they aren’t always going to be consistent.  Still, Mal seems to make extensive use of Introverted Feeling which is me all over.  The short version is that he has a deep value system that guides all his decisions but it is private and internal so his decision can often appear random to others.  Plus, there are certain things he cares deeply about and, when those are threatened, he becomes the hero.  Part of the reason Mal’s character never really has success is that he’s just not evil enough to really throw himself into the criminal activities so something usually gets messed up by a greater evil.

Here’s an example of some dialog from the movie.  It probably won’t make much sense out of context but the lines about someone having to speak for these people and that he doesn’t hold with making people better are examples of what I’m talking about.

OK, that’s probably more than you needed to know.  The short version is I loved the show and the characters and Mal in particular and it is an easy costume to put together.

Since I’m on Halloween, I should talk about our contractor who he had to let go on Friday.  He has Asperger’s and he was very open about that.  One thing that he couldn’t really do is recognize the signals that we all give off.  Which meant if he got rolling on a story and started to dominate the conversation, all of the subtle hints would just bounce off him.  You had to deal with it straight on.  I remember a couple of times having to stick my head into the lab and tell him to use his indoor voice since the conversation was carrying into the hallway.

I remember someone one time telling me how weird he way.  That was when he would eat his lunch in the vestibule because he couldn’t eat in the lab and he didn’t feel comfortable in the break room around other people.  But everyone has something to offer and he’s very intelligent and capable and we just had to assign him the right tasks where he could do the job.

To be honest, he wasn’t the most motivated person in the world and that’s why he never really was someone I could push for a full time position.  With some people, if you give them a task and a due date but where the task can be done long before the due date, they’ll bust butt and finish early and ask for something else.  He would get it done but always just by the due date.  That’s the kind of thing that keeps you as a contractor.  The thing is that you couldn’t help but like the guy even with all his quirks.  Then again, we all have quirks.

Halloween was probably his favorite time and I think the first time he realized he could wear a costume to work it was like Christmas.  As you might guess, he’s big into Sci Fi and super heroes and the costumes ran in that vein.  Plus, he’s the kind of guy who could pick apart any movie because, let’s face it, all movies contain holes in their logic.

Anyway, the reason I bring him up is that he wrote us all a good bye email.  In typical fashion, he forgot to send it before he left on Friday so he’s real good friend sent it out today.  If you have a visual picture of him, then you might guess that he’d be the type of person that bullies would single out in school because kids can be mean.   High school students in the popular groups are kind of like a pack of hyenas – look for the weak and injured and then attack in force.  He made a comment about school being hell  but that work had been heaven because the people around him accepted him for who he was.  And that really allowed him to grow as a person.  I mean in the time he worked for us, he got married, had a kid and bought a house.

Diversity and inclusion get tossed around a lot in the corporate world and words are often cheap.  Of the two, I think inclusion is more important – creating an environment where everyone feels welcomed and where all our little quirks are accepted.  That’s where people can flourish.  And the people in my team didn’t need the flowery words from our corporate types.  They just acted from the heart and accepted this guy despite his “weirdness”.  Which is why I tend to think words and corporate policies are mostly useless because you have to have people who really believe the stuff to make it work.  But this was a real case of why creating an inclusive atmosphere is important.

I’m probably not making a lot of sense here.  It is sad that we had to let him go but it makes me feel good that the team made him feel welcomed and that he did make some real friends here.  It sounds kind of sappy but it is just nice to come to work and know that you are surrounded by some really good people.  It isn’t all roses and rainbows because there are always going to be little personal conflicts when you get a group together.  But on the big things, the group really cares about each other and that is nice to be around.

Well this turned into a much longer post than I expected.  I guess I’ll end it now.

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