"What happens in boot camp, stays in boot camp."
If you don’t know what this post is going to be about, please go back and read the title. In fact, please make a point of always reading my titles. I have really good titles. Most times, I won’t repeat them in the post itself, so you should go back and read the title again after you’ve read the post, so you can truly appreciate how clever I am.
Now, where were we? Ah yes, Project Management Boot Camp. Did you know there was such a thing? I didn’t either, until I decided to look for a new position at my company and then they actually hired me. During the interview process, I was told that there was this incredible opportunity to attend a Project Management Boot Camp in Pennsylvania. Not wanting to spoil the interview, I grinned and nodded enthusiastically.
“That sounds perfect!” I said.
If everything worked out, I would attend the Boot Camp during my first week on the job.
“The timing couldn’t be better!” I said.
When I got the job, I asked,
“Who do I talk to to get signed up for this Boot Camp?”
I then found out that they weren’t calling it Boot Camp to be funny. You had to leave on a Sunday night and wouldn’t return until the following Friday night. “Evening activities should conclude by 10pm” the sample agenda read.
“It will be fine!” I told myself and registered.
On Sunday, March 6th, I drove the 45 miles southwest, trying to keep an open mind about both the Boot Camp and Pennsylvania. Now that I had bought my first home in rural New Jersey (yes, such a place DOES exist), I really needed to be more welcoming of my neighbors to the west, whose country music stations were starting to invade my radio frequency.
It was pouring rain and the two-lane highway kept abruptly turning left and right. This should have been my first clue. But no.
“I’m going to learn so much!” I thought.
I checked into my nice, but not as nice as my own bedroom, hotel room and hung up all of my outfits for the week, looking to see where the iron was, just in case. “I am a professional, wrinkle-free businesswoman now,” I said to myself.
If I hadn’t eaten before I’d left, I could have had complimentary room service.
“This is going to be like an all-expenses-paid vacation,” I mused.
At 7:30am the next morning, I filled my ice bucket so that I could tuck my vodka to bed for the day, like any good vodka sitter-slash-drinker. When I went to re-enter my room, a strange man opened the door.
“Oh, sorry, wrong room!” I said, realizing I was two doors away from my own room. I briefly recalled the time I went to the wrong house for a Christmas Eve party and stayed for 20 minutes before anyone realized it. Finally they pointed me next door. Snapping back to present day, I noticed this man had a notebook and added, “Although I think we’re headed to the same place!”
He gave me a strange look, but it didn’t dawn on me until much later that someone with a bucket of ice and someone with a notebook should NOT be going to the same place.
I recovered from the momentary embarrassment and reported downstairs to the hotel restaurant for breakfast. All five days were to start promptly at 8am. A few people were milling about, grabbing bagels and coffee, including the man I had just bumped into. “Maybe now he won’t think I’m crazy,” I thought, but watched as he took a seat at the opposite end of the restaurant.
Twenty minutes later, we gathered in the large, freezing conference room that was to be our home for the next five days. I had a panicky moment where I couldn’t find my name card, but there it was, in the far left corner, next to wrong-hotel-room guy.
“Whew! Imagine if they didn’t have me registered!”
I introduced myself and looked at all of the neat trinkets in front of me.
“I am going to get the royal treatment!” I thought, amused by the blue camouflage bandana and dog tags at my work station.
There were only 17 other people in the boot camp and I didn’t recognize anyone, even though they were all from my company. We were broken into two teams, blue and green, based on the color of our bandanas, and told that we had to wear our dog tags at all times or we’d have to buy the intructors a drink.
“What fun! My team is going to win everything!” I thought, glad I didn’t trade for a green bandana as soon as I sat down, like I had wanted to.
The two instructors both had Southern accents, which seemed to enhance the Boot Camp theme. I wondered if either one would snap during the week and tell us we were worthless little maggots. I kind of hoped they would.
“What happens in boot camp stays in boot camp,” they told us, and the first sense of foreboding came over me. I wondered how many more times people would say that stupid line before I died of boredom.
As they went over a disconcertingly vague verbal agenda for the week (they wanted some things to be a “surprise”), I quickly realized that the reason for such late nights was because we would be in lectures all day and in our teams all night, working on projects. If I thought I was going to get to watch Vampire Diaries and Glee, or ever see the light of day that week, I was sorely mistaken.
By Day 3, shortly after our team had to perform a dance number, to a song of the green team’s choosing (I would tell you more, but I’m afraid the instructors know where I live. I KNOW they know where I work), I hit a low place. A very low place. The kind of place where you think of the American Idol contestants during group week, or the poor bastards on The Real World, and for the first time ever, feel a genuine kinship. If someone brought me into a confession room just then, pointing a camera in my face, I’m not sure what I would have looked like, but it wouldn’t have been pretty. You would have been sitting at home, with your sweet dog and loving husband, judging me for binge drinking and sobbing during dinner “breaks.”
Project Management Boot Camp broke me, and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to look anyone in the eye when I returned to work. (I still can’t look at the CD of photos and video clips they sent us home with.) Luckily, I’m almost as good at (BIG, FAT) white lies as I am at blog titles.
“It was a fantastic learning experience!” I said to my new manager the following Monday, staring at the cracked leather on my left boot.
“I would definitely recommend it!” I wrote, when the training department sent around a survey two days later.
Written by Julie Davidoski, Certified Project Manager (CPM)