Work is that place you go where everything drives you nuts and you can’t tell the truth about it. Right?
It’s a truism that most people are going to work because they have to, for the money, in spite of every possible discouragement: Being simultaneously overworked without challenge, bored but unable to take time off, wasting time at pointless meetings, having no creative input, with a micromanaging boss who is an obstacle to productivity, all with a long commute. Yay hooray.
Does it have to be that way, though?
When I got my first office temp job, I was so excited I didn’t know what to do. My previous job had been at a convenience store, so go figure. Literally anything is better than wiping up day-glo nacho cheese while listening to a hyperactive child play with the doorbell. This was a purely entry-level job, standing in front of a photocopier. Other temps had walked off the job on their first day. One of them quit after two hours, remarking, “I don’t have to do this.”
Faced with one of the most boring possible things, the human mind will wander, looking for some way to add excitement. I saw it as a great big video game that generated money. Try to beat the copier and keep it going so you don’t have to wait while it warms up for a new cycle. Count how many copies you make and try for a new high score.
My positive, upbeat attitude attracted the attention of the staff. They taught me things. I caught on quickly, and more people taught me more things. Their backlog disappeared. I started supporting two dozen people with basic administrative tasks.
Obviously other people would look at this as servitude, which it was - doing other people’s scutwork for low pay and no benefits. Seven dollars an hour was better than minimum wage, but it didn’t go very far. Ah, but almost everyone I knew in those days worked in either retail or food service. I had what almost none of my friends or acquaintances had. I had evenings and weekends off! I could predict my schedule months in advance! I didn’t have to hustle for tips, wear a uniform, or get pulled in to cover other people’s shifts.
Also, the basic skills I learned are skills I use every day, in my personal as well as professional life, skills that neither my family, high school, nor college had to offer.
The fact-finding mission of my first office job ever was to find out, What is it like to work in an office in a professional setting?
I liked it. I always have. I love the business world for so many reasons, the predictability and structure most of all. It is hilarious and surreal in many ways, a self-parodying comedy machine in which we’re never supposed to break character or peek through the fourth wall. Yet overall it’s a clean and well-mannered place to spend time.
Right now I’m on a bit of a true crime kick, and it has struck me that it might be very interesting to work in a law office. That’s one of the few fields where I have never worked. Suddenly it clicked that I could easily get a job as a paralegal, where I would learn everything I want to know...
And unlike school...
THEY would pay ME!
There may well be someone reading this who has a job as a paralegal. “You can HAVE it!” this person is thinking. Scoff scoff. This hypothetical person already knows everything that I do not know, and is thus no longer approaching the job with curiosity. I understand that as many people leave the legal profession every year as those who enter it, that it’s draining in the long term. It doesn’t bother me because I don’t want or need an administrative support role in the long term, and I would openly state as much in an interview.
“I will work for you with great curiosity and interest, and you will throw everything you can at me as my incentive. If and when it quits working out, no harm no foul.” Or something along those lines. I can speak business jargon at least as well as anyone else.
Literally every employed person has the option to replace one job with another. We’re all free to bring in whatever attitude we choose. We just don’t realize it.
So you replace one boring, unfulfilling, low-paid job with another. What have you lost? If you already know your current position or field depletes your energy, why stay?
I think what gets most people is interpersonal dynamics. We start feeling crushed by management, by bureaucracy, by colleagues, by clients or patients or customers. What makes the day difficult isn’t the work itself, it’s the social atmosphere. Mood, in other words. The thought of revising a resume, going after new credentials, or interviewing fills us with dread.
I’ve never had a client who was willing to do a job search - the very thought makes them quake with terror, even if their job is the worst part of their life.
It’s the key to freedom, though!
You can’t go on a trip without booking the tickets. You can’t move to your dream home without packing and changing your address. You can’t find romance without introducing yourself to your future sweetheart. You can’t get your dream job without that pesky old interview.
Every improvement comes from change.
It’s possible that someone who has been languishing in a soul-crushing job could transform it by turning it into a fact-finding mission. Possible? Trying to figure that out is a fact-finding mission all on its own. It’s worth a try.
The ultimate fact-finding mission is to figure out what it is that makes other people fulfilled and satisfied, even invigorated, by their work. Are we doing what they’re doing? It’s when we’re most engaged that we’re offering the most, and getting the most in return.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
This website uses marketing and tracking technologies. Opting out of this will opt you out of all cookies, except for those needed to run the website. Note that some products may not work as well without tracking cookies.Opt Out of Cookies