If any of you have seen ‘Downton Abbey’ you know that Granny makes the whole show. If I have one aspiration in life, it is to become like Granny once I become older. Is there anything that fazes her? Not much, but the concept of a weekend does. At the beginning of the show (I think it was the first season) Granny meets Mathew for the first time. He attempts to explain what he does for a living (a shocking concept all on its own). But he stumps her completely is when he tries to explain how is work is structured. How his days are divided into what we, of the working class call ‘weekdays’ and ‘weekends’. It is an iconic scene to be sure, and it makes me laugh every time.
But seriously though, what is a weekend? I’ve all but forgotten. I haven’t had a free weekend in about 2 months and I am fuming. I don’t mind working hard, but this is getting to be a bit much. I think I have said it before, and I’ll say it again. Jobs wouldn’t be half as intolerable if people understood boundaries and gave you time off to do other things. What is with this obsession we have with our work? Let me give you an example. I work in an industry where we are always being told to give our 150% to the job. Being told that nothing matters as much as client satisfaction. Being told that being available and working around the clock are some of the biggest assets we have at our disposal. I can’t tell you how much I hate hearing these things. I disagree with all of it. Yeah sure, do your job well. And then forget about it. Should you be giving 150% to your job? Absolutely not people. You should, at best, on a good day, when you are feeling generous, give about 50% to your job and save the rest of it for the things you enjoy. Drinking coffee with friends. Watching the new Batman in theatres (totally worth it). Chilling in a bookshop. 50%. At best. Is there anything more important than client satisfaction? Oh yes. Enjoying time off. Learning a new skill. Afternoon naps on your days off. And should you work around the clock to give the clients (and your organization) everything you’ve got? I think you can guess my answer.
I just wish someone would explain to my bosses what a weekend is. Like they did with Granny. And I hope they start to respect time off a little bit more.
I read somewhere that the idea that you have to ‘love your job’ is a capitalist myth. I can’t remember the last time I agreed with something so wholeheartedly. I always hear about these mythical people who love their jobs. Someone, somewhere has a friend of a friend who is really happy in their job and love waking up on Mondays.
Now, I’m not trying to bring the mood down. I am sure there are some people who have been lucky enough to find work in a field they enjoy. But even so, the minute you attach money and deadlines to any activity, it can’t help but lose some of its charm. At least, that is what I think. Like, I used to love painting. And then people started paying me for it and commissioning stuff. And then all of a sudden, I didn’t want to go anywhere near my paints. And I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. I mean, isn’t this the dream? That you have a hobby you love, and then you commercialize it. Isn’t this what everyone means when they say, “if you love what you do, you won’t ever work a day in your life.” Sure, yes. Or you could be working all the time. And as much as I like something, I can’t constantly be doing one thing and feel happy about it.
Which I feel is the central issue with how our jobs and lives are structured right now. And it took me some time to realize this. The first time I quit my job (the only time, but it feels more dramatic saying it like this) I thought I hated my job. That I couldn’t imagine going the rest of my life only doing this one thing. Then I realized that that was the issue. It wasn’t that I hated my job per se (I’m actually half decent at it, and when it comes down to it, the actual work I do is enjoyable enough). I just hated that the only thing I did was my job. There was no time for anything else in my life. I wouldn’t say I ever fell into the category of people who ‘love’ their jobs (if indeed such people exist) but I could tolerate it well enough if it gave me the resources to do some of the other things I liked. The most important resource being, of course, time.
Which got me thinking. Why did I feel like I never had the time to do anything else? I’ve come to the conclusion (and this is a work in progress, so I might come back and tweak this conclusion a few times) that it is the way we are trained to think. The way they make us think about our time and how much of it we owe to our workplaces. By ‘they’ of course I mean our omnipotent capitalist overlords. From the moment I started working the overwhelming consensus was that people who went ‘above and beyond’ what was required were the ones that will succeed in this field.
Like my orientation week. I was fresh out of college and very excited to be starting this job – my first job. I remember we were flown out to a new city and put up in a fancy hotel and made to sit through a bunch of talks in some fancy convention center. All designed to impress new recruits, which it did. During the course of the many talks I attended one of the speakers started talking about what it means to be ‘successful’ in this job, in this field. He started off by saying all of us have to have our own definition of success. This was not a one shoe fits all situation. Fair enough. Then he spoke about how to someone success might mean executing the best deals (whatever that means) and working round the clock to have the highest profit margin. To someone else success might mean not working on the best deals (again, whatever that means) but instead having time to spend with their family on the weekends. The way in which he spoke, it was clear that he thought the first person was normal and the second one was the kind they didn’t want at this firm. Spending time enjoying yourself outside of the office? What a dud.
This talk was followed by a lady who spoke to us about ‘firm perception’. She told us the story of a fresh associate who, while initially showed a lot of promise, turned out not to be someone the firm wanted to invest in in the long run. The reason? He didn’t understand what ‘loyalty’ meant. In the end, the actual offense turned out to be entirely anti-climatic. The poor kid had made a post on his social media at 3 am on a Sunday night talking about ‘late nights’ in the office which, in the eyes of the firm, made them look bad. So where was the disloyalty? Was it in talking about an actual thing that happened? Was it in talking about how you were spending all your time in the office? I think it was in not enjoying the fact that you spend all your time in the office. Because to my firm, this was the worst thing someone could do. Admit that they didn’t want to be spending all of their time doing this one job.
And even after the orientation, the idea that you have to make your job your entire existence is driven home to the point of exhaustion in so many ways. I have had superiors tell me that the best way to judge how well you’re doing is by looking at how much work you have. If you’re overworked, you’re doing well. What a twisted way of looking at things. Not only did it make me put in more hours than I needed to, it also made me feel guilty for not being worked to the bone all the time. And that stuck with me till I had to quit because of a burnout.
While I was unemployed, and when I tried to commercialize my hobby, I realized a couple of things which I think have helped me in coming back to work with a more balanced perspective. Firstly, that I didn’t want to get paid to paint. It would be nice if someone at some point liked the things I made and wanted to buy it. But I wasn’t going to turn it into a commercial enterprise. Because that turned it into a job, and I found out that I didn’t love any job. Then I realized that I actually liked having a job that gave me a steady income, as long as I wasn’t expected to love it and dedicate all my time to it. So, basically, I wanted a job I could just about tolerate for the most part and like in bits, and then have some time and mental headspace out of it to do the multitude of other things I enjoyed.
I take exception to how people at my job still want the newer kids to go ‘above and beyond’ for the job or give it their ‘150%’ and what not. I think it might be a lot nicer to tell the kids to treat it as a job. Just something you do on weekdays to make some money to enjoy your actual life. Something you can, and indeed should, switch off from whenever you can. You may not love it, but you can like it for the other things it does for you.
There is a lot of debate going on about certain comments Prince Harry made on what is being dubbed as the “great resignation”. He said he’s quite happy people have quit jobs that make them unhappy or negatively affect their mental health. He said, and I quote, “Many people around the world have been stuck in jobs that didn’t bring them joy, and now they’re putting their mental health and happiness first. This is something to be celebrated.”
While some people have come forward and said they agree with the statement made, a lot more have (understandably) come out against it. I am the first person to tell people to leave a job (or really, any situation) that makes them unhappy, but the difference here is I only advice people who are on the same level (usually) as me, in terms of their socio-economic standing. I do not pretend to know the lot of people less fortunate than me, and so I keep my mouth shut. This advice is, standalone, not bad advice. If something makes you unhappy, you should do your best to get away from it. You should always try your best to improve your lot. This is a no-brainer. But when such truisms come from the mouths of trust fund babies (such as Prince Harry) who haven’t any idea what it means to hold down a job for survival; people who have no idea what it means to exist in this world without the security of having a multi-million dollar safety net, it becomes a little prickly.
I think I can speak from some experience here. I had a job most would consider a good job (read – high-paying), then I left it because it was stressing me out and I wanted to try out some other things in life, and then I had to come back to it because things didn’t exactly end up going my way. So, I have been a part of the great resignation. And now I am back to work. And let me be categorical when I say that if you have a job, you’re lucky. And if you have a job you love, you are almost mythical.
But more often than not, most of us will have jobs we don’t like. And we will continue to do them (or as in my case, to come back to them) because we need them. I wish there was another way, but for many of us there isn’t. Despite this I think that a lot of us try our best to make our circumstances the happiest they can be. I think a while ago I spoke about the things that make me happy; new habits I have picked up to make my life slightly better. I’m going to talk about a few more resolutions I have taken, re-entering a job I don’t particularly like, in the hopes that it might resonate with some of you. Because regardless of what tone deaf rich people might scream down at us once in a while, many of us can’t afford to let go of our jobs.
Buy cute stationary
The first time I started working I told myself it was going to be a temporary thing. I wasn’t going to be around for a long time. So, I never really felt like spending time on decorating my desk. I’m determined to do it differently this time. I don’t know how long I will be in this job. I have some plans, but you know what they say about plans; man plans and god laughs. So, till the time I am in this job, I am going to treat is as a permanent thing. The first thing I will do is make my desk as cute and homely as possible. Last time around, I didn’t allow myself to buy any of the cute office stationary I would constantly fantasize about. This time, the first thing on my list is a pink colored keyboard. Maybe baby pink. Something that cheers me up whenever I see it. I know some people scoff at this, but there is a lot of value in making your environment as cheerful as possible.
Spend my money
I know that the point above this also had to do with spending money. But this is a little more generalized than buying stationary. In my previous stint as an employed person, I didn’t spend any of the money I made. Because my parents had kindly let me live in their house, I didn’t even need to spend any money on rent. So, while I would slog away at my job, the money would sit pretty in my bank account. This is an extremely privileged position to be in I know, but it also had the effect of making me feel like none of it was worth it. It made me feel like I was working way too hard and enjoying the benefits of it way too little. This time, I am determined to buy myself things I enjoy. Which aren’t too many. Books mainly. And maybe some other things.
Learn to invest
This is another habit I want to get into. This is something I have wanted to do for a while, but I think with money starting to flow in again, it has given me an additional push to learn to manage my personal finances. I often wondered at why we were never taught important things like managing our finances when we were in school. Then I read somewhere that the sole purpose of designing the curriculum in the way that it was designed, was to prevent average citizens (people like you and me) from learning how to do anything practical, so that we stay hooked to bad jobs that make us live paycheck to paycheck. So, it wasn’t so much an oversight on the part of the school not to teach us about financial management as a conscious decision. I plan to change this about my life. I don’t hope to become any sort of financial whiz kid, but I do want to be able to generate a secondary source of income by learning how to invest well. Also, I have recently learnt that one of the worst things you can do with your money is letting it sit in the bank. So, for those of us who have the opportunity to save a percentage of our earnings (i.e., if all our earnings do not go into providing basic necessities) then we should definitely try and invest it in something or the other. Watch ‘The Inside Job‘ if you’re not convinced about the villainy of the banking system.
So, yes, if I had to take a position on the whole Prince Harry x The Great Resignation debate, I would say I’m against his benign advice to quit our jobs, because for most of us the decision isn’t that easy. If I need to, I will definitely hold on to the job I get and try to work our way around this job-related-misery in whatever tiny ways I can.
We are all social animals. No secret there. We are social to such an extent that in several studies researchers have found that the single biggest contributor to our happiness in life is the relationships we have and foster. Not just romantic relationships, although these do play a major part in anyone’s life, but the relationships we have within our family, with our friends and with our co-workers, amongst others. On the flip side, nothing is as hurtful or humiliating for us as social rejection. In fact, social rejection activates the same pain centres in our brain as actual physical injury.
I saw a video recently in which the speaker spoke about how to be socially accepted in a workplace is to be, more or less, a man. I’ll explain myself. Corporate workplaces are a male dominated and male infested space. While it is true that more and more women have entered the workforce, but it would be a mistake to think we are anywhere near tilting the balance of power. There are fewer female CEOs of the S&P Fortune 500 companies than there are men named James, William, or Robert. In fact, I remember recently reading that in 2021, the number of female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies was at a record high. How many? 41. Out of 500. That is 1/20th of the whole number. So, yes, it isn’t incorrect to say that the workplace, especially the corporate workplace is still a predominantly male space. I work in the legal industry – specifically in the corporate legal sector. There is a very visible trickling down in the number of women at the top, as compared to how many of us join the company as freshers. In my year alone, the firm I worked for took in 4 women and 2 men. But if you look around in the entire office, there are only 2 female partners compared to the 20+ male partners.
Now, what does it take to be a man? When asked, most people will respond with positive qualities; qualities they believe constitute to the make-up of any normal man. Honestly, reliability, chivalry and what not. But, if you probe a little deeper and ask people what it takes to be a ‘real’ man, their responses tend to point to toxic traits such as callousness, ruthlessness, the ability to win and get yours regardless of the cost and hurt to others. You see this in playgrounds all the time. Men assert dominance through physical strength and such other traits which make a ‘real’ man. In adulthood, the nature of such competition as well as the locus, shifts to the workplace. Since most of our social interaction happens in the workspace, and the workspace is dominated by men, it is not surprising that they will incorporate the social norms they have grown up with. And if the norms they have to follow are based on traits most of us would regard as toxic, it is no wonder that workspaces also become, well, toxic.
This is called the ‘Masculinity Contest’. Basically, the traits you need to survive in modern day corporate workplaces are all masculine (mostly toxic). So, by converting workplaces into adult versions of masculine playgrounds, we invite toxicity in. What are the defining characters or norms of such workplace toxicity?
Showing no weakness
First, you cannot show any weakness. It sounds extreme to say it like this, almost war like, but if you have worked in a corporate set up and take some time to think back on your experiences, you will recognise that this is true. Any sign of doubt, fatigue or even trepidation is taken as weakness in the workplace. You can tell even by looking at the buzzwords so many employers use. We are looking for ‘risk takers’, ‘people who can take initiative’, ‘leaders’, ‘pioneers’, ‘visionaries’. All that hot air, and all they really want you to do is sit behind a desk and edit word documents (or excel sheets) without complaining about the workload. And going to the HR with concerns of overwork? You might as well leave buddy.
Strength and stamina
The second norm is that all workplaces prefer people who can show strength and stamina. Even in white collar workplaces, people prefer, and often promote healthy and good looking jocks as opposed to other less healthier looking people. Now in all fairness, this could be part of a larger problem we have as a society. Something the kids call ‘pretty privilege’. As I’m sure you can guess from the title, it basically means that being attractive comes with its set of privileges, and these privileges often spill onto areas that don’t have anything to do with how you look – for example, people presuming you’re nicer because you’re hot, or recruiters hiring you over your counterparts simply because you happen to be more attractive conventionally.
Work always comes first
The third norm in a toxic work place is the idea that everyone should at all times put work first. You can’t have a life outside of your work and if you do you’re seen as a drag on the team’s resources. You should have no responsibilities that take precedence over your work responsibilities. And even on your off days, most corporate workplaces will expect you to drop whatever you’re doing and get back to work if they need you (which somehow, they always do). I think this is in part because the workplace was designed for a middle aged man of some privilege. The reason why the workplace frowns upon your responsibilities outside of work is because traditionally, their employees had none (read: uninvolved husbands and fathers). You are expected to work as though you have someone at home taking care of the house and children (if you have any) and your only job is to dedicate your life to work, become a company man, and bring in the money. This is simply not true for most of us. No wonder it stresses us out. Doubly so for the women.
Dog eat dog world
And the last norm we uphold in our toxicity as corporate workers is a reinforcement of the idea that it is a ‘dog eats dog’ world. We are encouraged to think of everything as competition under the false belief that this will somehow increase our productivity. It doesn’t. The only thing it does is license bad behaviour in the workplace amongst the mediocre – where you undercut each other and generally act like nasty little beings – and tolerate even worse behaviour amongst the top talent (things like bullying, emotional abuse and even sexual misconduct is overlooked if you are a big earner or part of the inner circle at your workplace).
There have been many studies that show the effects of upholding such norms in the workplace are almost all negative. People report lower levels of productivity, psychological well-being and just general overall happiness in their lives (a major part of which is our work) when they work in conditions highlighted by the norms mentioned above.
The situation, as bad as it is for men, is markedly worse for women. It isn’t called the Masculinity Contest for nothing. Because while such behaviour (as damaging as it is) is encouraged amongst men who want to get ahead professionally, it is simultaneously expected of and disparaged in women. Women are expected to compete in this hyper-masculine space with these hyper-masculine tactics (of never showing weakness, putting work first and acting like the biggest dog around) while never actually displaying masculine traits like aggression or bravado. No, see, displaying such traits will get you labelled as the worst sort of woman and actually reduce your chances of being promoted. This dichotomy deserves an entire blog post of its own, but I haven’t fully gathered my thoughts on this yet, so I am going to leave that for another day.
But the thing about norms is that we have to uphold them ourselves or they lose their meaning. And we do a very good job of doing that.
It is like the story of the naked emperor. I don’t remember all the details of the story, but largely, some tailors told the emperor they were going to design a magical robe for him; one that would only appear to the people that were fit for their office. They designed nothing, and the presented him with nothing. He went about his entire day naked, not wanting to admit he could not see the robes and was therefore unfit for his office. No body else would point it out to him either – because no one wanted to lose their jobs. It is the same thing in corporate office spaces.
Anyone who questions the norms is seen as a weakling and then regarded as not fit enough for the job. There is a masochistic pride in being able to tell stories of how you survived the worst and the most toxic work environment but did not give up. You will reach before your boss, you will pretend to be busy at your desk throughout, acting like you have work even if you don’t, you will waste time in office just to be able to talk about how late you left last night and how overworked you are, and all you’re really doing is perpetuating a toxic norm that doesn’t help anyone, least of all you. You are pretending to see clothes on a naked emperor because you don’t want people to question whether or not you are fit for office. Worse, we disparage people who do not conform to these norms. Everyone might be privately miserable, but because everyone performs the norms publicly there is an illusion that everyone conforms to them and is happy doing so.
The only way in which this toxic corporate culture can change is if we manage to show the leadership that such a change will have a positive impact on the bottom line of the organisation. This reminds me of something I read recently. The pandemic forced everyone to move their work online and taught us to work remotely. Many companies have chosen not to go back to the offline method of work. This is because they asked their employees what they would prefer and the answer was overwhelmingly to stick to working remotely – something that had also had a majorly positive impact on their productivity, and in turn the companies’ profitability. Productivity in the end, comes from happy employees and not from forced pizza parties filled with bad jokes and pissing contests about how close each and every one of us is to a divorce because our spouse hardly ever sees us anymore.
I have an exam coming up in ten days. I signed up for it about a month ago. At the time, I was nervous about the exam. I wasn’t sure if I would have enough time to study for the exam. I had an entire study plan in front of me – daily targets, weekly targets, mock exams and review.
Fast forward a couple of weeks. I am still at the exact same spot – the same level of preparation I had a month ago. My study plan is still stuck to my work desk, but I haven’t done anything apart from staring at it once in a while. I’m simultaneously stressed out about my lack of preparation and not too worried because I manage to do well enough in all exams even without preparation. Just to be clear, I am not boasting here. I don’t ace my exams. I scrape by. That is well enough for me. But almost always, this is accompanied by a sense of wasted time and potential. I always think to myself – I probably could have aced it if I had put in the effort.
So why don’t I?
I think part of it has to do with a sense of security. I’m afraid of putting in effort because what if I try and do the best I can and the results are still the same? It gives me perverse comfort to know that whatever the result, I could have done better if I had tried. I know this sounds messed up, but it is what it is.
Another major reason is that I haven’t yet suffered any major consequences as a result of my habit of procrastination. Maybe I have low standards, or maybe I’ve been extremely lucky. But no matter how much I procrastinate, everything turns out alright in the end. You know, kind of like those memes you see online, the ones that say (or some variation of this) – “I pass all my exams even though I procrastinate, and this is the reason I procrastinate.”
I read somewhere though, that the reason almost all of us procrastinate is because this is natural for us. The idea of being productive in a single set manner – is a construct and has to be force fed to us. That we should be able to work for 9 hours straight, and take only short breaks in the middle – isn’t natural. Shocker, I know. I never really spend time thinking about such things – the way we are expected to work, what is considered ‘productive’ – but when I read stuff like this, it makes a lot of sense to me. I have never felt comfortable working for hours at a stretch. Apparently, what is more natural to us as a species is resting all the time, and working in short, manic spurts when we need to. This is how we have evolved. So, when we brush up against the current structure, it is no wonder that most of us don’t feel like working till we have to. I know I certainly don’t. Maybe, procrastination is normal, and the negative connotation attached to it is yet another unhelpful by-product of capitalism.
If you google the words, “why do we procrastinate so much” (as I have done many times), I’m sure you’ll find enough resources explaining the psychological reasons behind this behaviour of ours. I’ve read a few of those. I agree with them logically, but I still don’t think it applies to me. Side note, this attitude of acknowledging that negative things happen to others but are unlikely to happen to you is called an ‘optimism bias’. You should check that out too if you’re also one of those people who never think they can receive the short end of the stick. I’m just writing about the reasons I can identify for myself. I may not be the most self-aware person out there, but I got till three. So, that is something.
OK, maybe the title is a little dramatic. I didn’t leave without a plan per se. I had a plan in my head. The plan just happened to be ridiculous. There was nothing I had done in my life leading up to the day I quit that would suggest I could go through with the plan. I wasn’t the type of person who quits her job. I was the person who did well in school, did well in university, was earmarked to get one of those high-paying jobs straight off of campus and then stick to it for the rest of my life (accounting for maybe a year’s worth of break when I would presumably go off and get a masters from a nice school). I upheld my end of the deal till the time of getting a job. I got a great job out of university. Paid very well, made the parents proud. And then, a couple of months into the job, something broke. I don’t know how to describe it to be honest. It was like a seismic shift in perception. I’d seen it happen to favourite characters in movies and in the books I read, but I didn’t think it would ever happen to me.
I thought to myself, this can’t be all there is. I mean, yeah it is a nice job and I do love the people I work with, and I get paid enough to support whatever little unnecessary luxuries I think I want, but this cannot be it. I can’t keep working on things I don’t care about – and things no one else cares about either. There is a famous essay online theorising about ‘Bullshit Jobs’ and while I don’t agree with it completely, I do think my job qualifies as one. You see, I used to work as a corporate lawyer. And I completely agree with what the article had to say about corporate lawyers – that if all of us were to disappear off the face of this earth today, no one would miss us, including our clients. The clients who, incidentally, pay through their noses to keep us on. No hate though, if you’re someone who works as a corporate lawyer, and you like your job, please don’t take this in the wrong way. You’re one of the lucky ones. This is for everyone who took up a job because it was the ‘done thing’ and didn’t know what else to do with their time or life.
This is not to say that I was miserable at my job. On the contrary, I quite enjoyed my time in office. But it wasn’t enough. Now this is a tricky place to be in. Till you can convince yourself and others that you are leaving a situation because you are downright miserable, you will always feel guilty leaving. To admit that, ‘well yeah, this is okay, but I want more’ is a lot harder. It isn’t a black or white premise on which one can base decisions. And for this reason, it goes against every reasonable bone in your body. I remember having multiple conversations with my parents on why I want to leave and it always came down to one thing – “if you don’t hate it, why would you leave?” I understand the logic behind the counter argument too, its safer to stick to something you know then to venture out into the unknown in the hopes that the next thing will be “enough”. I get it. And yes, there are many reasons (family obligations, financial situation and what not) that would make people stay on in situations that they would rather leave. But I didn’t have any of these constraints. I don’t have a family to support, and my parents were kind enough to agree to support me while I took time off to decide what else I wanted to do with my life. So, yes, while I did leave without a plan, I didn’t leave without a security net. And I know there are a lot of motivational speakers and books that talk about how “you only have one life” and “it is now or never”. I agree with all that, but sometimes, moderation is needed. There is actually a really good video on this exact topic by Struthless. I saw this video so, so many times before finally sending in my notice. It talks brilliantly about how ‘quitting your job to follow your passion’ needs certain caveats and may not be for everyone, and why that is ok.
Anyway, with my research in place, and with my parents agreement backing me, I did manage to hand in my notice in the May of this year (2021). I told my boss (who I like and respect a lot) that I wanted to quit. Not because I had a better job offer, or because I had graduate studies planned or anything else. I just wasn’t convinced this job or this career was ‘it’ for me, and I wanted to take some time to figure things out. For anyone who has ever worked in the corporate world, you know how flaky this sounds. But there it was. The whole truth, laid out. I neither had the energy nor the will to make up an acceptable sounding professional reason for leaving. I wanted to see what else is out there, and that is exactly what I did.
First, quitting is a lot scarier than it looks. I know that the kind of world we live in, quitting is made out to be the easier option. And yeah, sometimes it is. If you want to be a ballerina but you can’t manage to go to classes on time or put in the work required, maybe then. But I don’t think its the easier option when you are labouring away at something you don’t want because it is easier than going after something you really want. In that case, I do think quitting is the better option. All said and done, it is scary. Especially when you don’t have a back up option. The nervousness and anxiety you feel is all real. Believe me when I say I didn’t sleep for two days before handing in my notice. What if I never get a job as good as this one? What if I never figure out what I want? What if I stay unemployed? How bad will a gap on my CV look? I thought of all of this. But in the end it came down to my assessment of how much sunk cost I was willing to take. If I didn’t this now, it’s unlikely I would want it in another five years. So, why wait.
Second, it wasn’t as hopeless as I thought it would be. Inertia holds us back from doing a lot of the things we want to do. But once you do get over it, you’ll see, as I did, that the situation isn’t as bleak as you (or your boss/peers) made it out to be. If you are reasonably good at your job, and you aren’t a total pain to be around, you will always have a job if you want one.
Third, it gave me a lot of time. Not just to figure out what I want to do next in life. I hope I can do that too in some time. But apart from that, I have spent the last couple of months doing things I always wanted to do but never really had the time for. I started making art again (I’ve spoken about this before briefly). I took a couple of short courses on art history and animation. I am currently doing an online masters in fashion industry essentials from Parsons (this is a little pricy, but the credentials are solid – I’ll write about my experience with this some time in the future). I have been contemplating starting a YouTube channel – and I’ll probably get into that. I have had time to seriously consider if I want to do my masters, and spent a lot of time researching universities and courses (this has honestly been a mammoth exercise, and I would love to write more on it). I also spent the time travelling with my friends. Yes, I realise these are privileges not everyone has access to. But if you do, then do yourself a favour and take advantage of them.
Charles Bukowski spoke about the drudgery of work. Because really, what else is it. Work. Drudgery. Drudging through the meaningless task at hand, for some money that probably doesn’t compensate what you do, and that you’ll likely never be able to use. But you’ve never been taught anything else. And so, you drudge on. I wonder if it can be used like that. It doesn’t seem like a verb, but I think of all things in my life, the rules of grammar probably matter the least. If for nothing else, then for the fact that I myself, drudge on a daily basis.
There are so many times when I think about all the other things I would rather be doing. I don’t want to tell you what I do just yet, because I don’t want people to form an opinion. I don’t want you to think, “oh well, now what did she expect taking on that kind of work”. Not yet, at least. My delusions of grandeur demand to be fed, by assuming for a little while that everyone goes through the same thing. But if I put my mind to it, I wonder if it’s the exact opposite. Is it grand or pathetic that all of us are going through the same, rather singular feeling of being absolutely pointless? Not going through, no. We never come out of it. I haven’t. I don’t know about others. But I feed by delusions still.
Some delusions I have been able to get rid of. A couple of months ago, I thought my work mattered. I can say with absolute certainty today that it does not. Not even to the people I do this work for. There is nothing I have been the author of that is worth more than the paper it is written on. Curious phrase. I suppose it comes from a time when paper was expensive. What I should be saying instead is, the work I do is not even worth the effort of pressing the keys that put it down. Put it up? It is on a screen isn’t it. Scattered thoughts and useless work. Could be the title of my autobiography. Maybe I’ll name this one so.
But let me get back to the task at hand. I believe I am in the unfortunate, though certainly not unique, position of being convinced that the work I do is worthless, while at the same time being convinced that the effort, I put into my work is worth much more than what I am paid. Odd place to be in. It has the dual effect of me simultaneously not caring enough to do a good job and constantly being a nervous wreck in case someone points it out.
When I look around, I see that almost everyone I know suffers from varying degrees of this…what shall we call it…? Disorder? We’re all perfectionists without the inclination to produce perfection, while never once doubting whether we might lack the ability. I, for one, have never questioned whether or not I can do a better job. I just know that I can, but I don’t want to, and I don’t want anyone else to ever point out that I, or in fact anyone else, could do a better job. And it certainly doesn’t help that I don’t enjoy myself one bit. I wake up every morning thinking about at least eight other things I might rather be doing. Then I go right back to my uninspired existence. I drudge on.
A few years ago, maybe it was months, or maybe it is just my imagination, someone told me that humans on earth must appear like fish in in an aquarium. Its rather depressing is it not? That we’re all stuck here with nothing to do. So, we convince ourselves that what we do has to have some meaning. I’m convinced that most of us would go insane otherwise. I used to think mine had meaning. I don’t anymore. I am the fish in the aquarium that has stopped swimming. I’m feel like the person in the bar that has sobered up enough to look around and recognise what a shit show it is once you stop to think about it.
I can’t remember the last time I woke up excited for the day that was ahead of me. I wake up. I barely feel anything. I go through the motions of getting ready for another day of sitting for 8 hours. 8 hours if I’m lucky. Sometimes it’ll be more. Sometimes it’ll be a lot more. But never less. Do you know another thing? I rarely see happy people in the morning on my way to work. When did we become like this? Not a one? Aren’t there laws of mathematics against it? How is an entire city unhappy in the morning? Someone must be waking up looking forward to the day ahead of them, surely. If they exist, I don’t cross paths with them. Everyone has the same blank expression that I am sure permanently sits on my face. I get to where I need to get to. As I get closer to the building the sense of hopelessness only gets worse. Have you ever felt so hopeless you felt like laughing? And so, by the time I get inside office, I’m smiling. They always talk about how all of us are pretending, and the ones who get ahead just do a better job at it. I don’t know why some people have a hard time believing that. I never think otherwise when I look at the faces around me. Show me a smile and I’ll call out the bullshit.
I settle in. I take as long as humanly possible to set up my stuff. It isn’t a lot. One laptop. But I make sure it lasts at least 15 minutes. We only ever feel comfortable not doing something if we’re doing something else. When did we become so obsessed with staying occupied, so incessantly, neverendingly occupied?
Call at 11 pm.
Free to take on some work?
No, sorry I’m already doing some other work.
Will you be free once you’re done with the other work?
It might take a while don’t think I will be free before 3 am.
Well, give me a call then. There might be work left over for you.
Ok, thank you.
Call on Friday evening.
Do you have some other work for the weekend?
Well, take this work on then.
I wonder who the first person was. The first one who thought of avoiding work at office by saying he had other work. To the point where that has become the only acceptable response to not taking on work.
Wait, what, you think you can have some off time just because it’s the weekend? Absurd. We may or may not need you, but we certainly need you to constantly keep checking your phone, and we may or may not call you, but definitely don’t make any other plans because when we do call you, we will want you the instant we do, and the plans you may or may not have made will need to be cancelled, because, well, we did tell you not to make them, so really who is to blame here.
But I am getting ahead of myself. I reach where I need to reach. I smile. I say hello, how was your day. Hope you got some time to yourself. I honestly think all of our time should be for ourselves but even I can admit that is a little naïve. I get coffee. We’re all addicts. I certainly am. I meet the one person I find tolerable in my work place and crib about everyone else that I don’t. She does the same. Does that make us feel better? Maybe. A little. But it doesn’t change anything. Then the work starts coming in. Most of it, no, almost all of is just work created for the sake of it, the not doing of which wouldn’t matter to even to the person I do it for. But bills need to be paid, for which bills need to be raised, for which hours need to be put in, for which work needs to be created. I understand that. But it doesn’t make me more sympathetic. On the contrary. Once you realise, truly realise, that the work you do means nothing, you start seeing everything but the work. The hours. The sheer number of hours fed to the void. Let me show you. Forget my working hours. If the average is 8 hours a day, that’s 40 hours a week, which is 2,120 hours a year? I don’t know about you, but wherever these wasted hours of mine are sitting, I hope they are happy.
Never mind the hours now, they’re gone. The entitlement my job, and the people in my job, have over my time is total and unrelenting. It used to bother me a lot that people thought they could treat you any way they liked just because they pay you. I imagine its worse for jobs that are ‘objectively’ not high paying jobs. I’ve been told I am in one. A high paying job that is.
I find that adds to the suffocation. When people tell me I should suck it up, and that they’re allowed to treat me this way because of how much they pay me. I don’t agree. Who said time is money? It is so much more. Sure, you’ve paid for some of my time. But definitely not all of it. And so what if the money is good. Have you ever stopped to consider that the work we do for them is also great? I can’t say I have ever believed that to be justification enough. I don’t have high hopes anymore. All I want, is to take a step back and think about how unhappy I am, with what constitutes such a major part of my life. Maybe it won’t amount to anything more than the ramblings of a dissatisfied soul, but I want to re-learn how to be anything other than empty.