I would like to dedicate this article to all of my fellow intellectuals who, by no fault of their own, have found themselves trapped in a fluorescent dungeon of boredom, forced to test the limits of their sanity by relentlessly performing thoughtless and menial tasks for upwards of 40 hours a week.
It’s a tough economy, and it seems that having a handful of college and graduate degrees can only soften the blow so much. So here we sit, after investing years of our lives and hundreds of thousands of (the government’s) dollars into our educations, only to be performing jobs that a high-school drop out with a full-frontal lobotomy would fail to find challenging.
In order to first determine whether you fall into my target demographic of weary office drones I have prepared a short quiz.
- You are concerned that the incessant tingly feeling in your head might actually be your mind slowly going completely numb
- You have experienced at least one sudden-onset moment of clarity during which you stopped pouring your boss’s coffee and thought to yourself “wow, I really miss thinking.”
- The highlight of your month is an office birthday party (free cake almost compensates for a life devoid of any real meaning, right?)
- You find yourself flying into a fit of uncontrollable rage when someone uses your mug- I mean come on; it had your NAME on it in TWO places! TWO! (I’ll save you some serious introspection time: it’s not really about the mug.)
- The cashier tells you that you owe $2.83 and you realize that counting out the change is the most action your brain has gotten since…you can’t even remember when.
- You see a computer screen when you close your eyes to go to sleep at night
- You know more about your boss’s kids than you do about your roommate
- On at least one occasion you have accidentally answered your cell phone by mindlessly reciting the mandated greeting used at your office: “Thank you for calling ____, this is ___ speaking, how may I help you?”
- You’re fairly confident that a machine could do your job…not even a fancy machine…on some days, possibly even a stapler.
- You have wondered on more than one occasion if your co-workers think you’re mentally challenged. The tutorial on how to sort mail by recipient and place it in their corresponding mail box was definitely a red flag…However, the explicit instructions given on how to stuff envelopes (“you have to fold the letter into thirds, you can’t fold it in half or it won’t fit.”) was really just a slap in the face.
Then this article is for YOU!
(If not…then you’re already half-way through so you might as well keep reading. )
Sure, there are days where you start to envy the paper that you’re shredding, or when you take out your aggression on whatever unsuspecting stamp or stapler has the misfortune of crossing your path, but you can get through this. The key is to remember that this is not permanent- this is simply a temporary stop on your road to awesome career success. Odds are that this is not potentially your “big break”- if you’re anything like me a “big break” that involves working in an office doing paperwork for the rest of your life sounds like a nightmare regardless of the salary; so look at this more of a detour on your way to your big break. Hence, no need to pull your usual Type-A shenanigans. You are not trying to beat anyone out for a promotion, stand out from the competition, offer suggestions on how to restructure the company’s operations and supply methods in order to reduce overhead costs, or wow your boss with your knowledge of skeet shooting (oh he enjoys it too? You had NO idea…thanks Google!). Just do your job (no more, no less) and you won’t get stuck there forever. People who become too invested in a position that should be temporary often run the risk of having that position become permanent and fail to reach their full potential for success and happiness in life. So here are some tips to keep you from slipping headfirst into a lifetime of mind-numbing mediocrity:
How to Survive:
- Fight your inner skeptic: Don’t question your manager’s methods regardless of how inefficient or impractical they are. There is nothing that will get you blacklisted in an office environment faster than acting (or implying, ever so subtly) that you’re smarter than the manager. Ironically common sense is far from common, so every time you are instructed to do something in an unreasonable manner, just feel lucky that you were blessed with it and proceed as instructed (Only if you’re being watched of course. If not, feel free to let your true OCD shine and implement your own far more effective, efficient, and reasonable method- I won’t tell if you won’t).
- Don’t be seen as a threat: Fly under the radar by completing tasks on time (not early). In the (very likely) event that you do finish your tasks early, don’t go asking around for more work. This will make the other office drones nervous about their job security and will motivate them to drive you away by whatever means necessary (most commonly employed means include: gossip, unfavorable assignments, death glares, cubicle vandalism, phantom phone calls and stolen lunches). It has the additional disadvantage of dramatically expanding your job responsibilities with even more mindless tasks, while you are still forced to keep the same low-level title and take home the same devastatingly small paycheck. You are not Bargain Barbie: you should not be doing two jobs for the salary of one. Give them what they pay for- no more, no less. Save up your energy to make a good impression at a job that counts.
- Always appear busy: Walk fast. People will assume you are very busy doing important things if you have to speed walk to the copy machine and the bathroom. This will keep them from piling more menial tasks on you, while simultaneously causing them to be impressed with your work ethic (so simple, yet so effective).
- Be positive: You’re the new kid at space camp and you haven’t earned your wings yet so take a back-seat to the office gossip. Don’t say a bad word about anyone, smile and nod to everyone, and never ever complain. Smile; because you know that you get to leave this place and go on to achieve great things while Chatty Cathy and Bitchy Beth will likely be rotting in their cubicles for the next 60 years.
How to Thrive:
- Maximize efficiency to maximize free time which can stealthily be used to keep you sane: Successful completion of menial and/or mindless tasks comes down to sheer efficiency. So after you have skillfully powered through all of your daily assignments (likely before 10 a.m.) devote the rest of your time to looking busy while doing something that is beneficial to you. Remember, they are paying you $X an hour to do the tasks outlined in your job description. If you have done all that was asked of you then you have given them what they paid for. Your time is valuable (far more valuable than $X/hour), so spend the remaining time enhancing your own value (while maintaining the illusion that you are working your butt off for this company). Personally, I chose to learn a second language and start a blog. But it all comes down to personal preference.
- Keep your eye on the prize: Don’t lose sight of what it actually is that you want to do with your life and don’t put your ambition on hold just because you’ve found a momentary income. Keep exploring ways to get where you want to be and keep your options open. In some respects a job like this can be a blessing because it gives you an income while allowing you to take steps towards getting where you want to be. I actually feel like I have more time to pursue my career objectives now than I did when I was unemployed.
So chins up chicas! You pour that coffee with pride and stuff those envelopes like you mean it, because you have the satisfaction of knowing that you’re the kind of girl that refuses to settle. It’s like when you fly from DC to LA and they have that random stop-over in the mid-west; you know you’re headed somewhere truly fabulous, so you just suffer through the 90 minute layover and think about how great it will be to finally get there.