By Darren Johnson
Many souls get crushed in the years following college as people enter the work world.
While it’s great to be idealistic in college, it is hard to keep that spirit going as you get older and enter a workforce where you realize that most of the people you work with are … well … jerks. Self-serving, crass specimens — however educated they may be — who make you question humanity as a whole.
You may quickly find yourself getting disengaged with life. Before you know it your commute becomes mind-numbing. You get in the car, put on talk radio, and without thinking, you appear at work, do tasks, get back in the car, more talk radio, home and too tired and emotionally drained to do anything decent, watch TV, go to sleep, lather, rinse and repeat the next day.
Here are some reasons you may feel disengaged:
Incompetent hires around you — they earn the same as you, but you do most of the work!
Corrupt supervisors — they make decisions that harm the company but help themselves, whether it be financially, or just based on ego.
Bureaucracy and turf wars — you have to go through a maze of paper pushers just to accomplish simple tasks.
Lack of passion is in the air — no one has any oomph.
Micromanagers — you’re working hard on the big picture and under-qualified bosses come in with busy work, nitpicking about some tangential project that ends up eating your quality time.
Your talent isn’t being recognized — you clearly are good, but others (perhaps they are prettier, cooler, etc.) get the promotions, good gigs, raises, etc.
Extra effort goes unnoticed, or others take credit for it — you’re doing a great job but it’s a tree falling in the forest.
So, what can you do? Below are some tactics to keep your own individuality when confronted with an oppressive work environment.
For fun, and to add some graphics to this page, I will use sci-fi analogies to enhance my points.
For this example, let me mention the Borg from “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” They just did the minimum and nothing more, but they got the job done.
If Picard beamed an away team into the Borg Cube, the Borg members would totally ignore them, as if they were inconsequential. Now, if Riker started firing a phaser or if Data started playing with the Borg computer, the Borg members would respond, but, otherwise, they just went about their normal business.
The lesson: If your job situation is not enriching your soul (but you need the money), just do the minimum the job entails and look for outside pursuits to make up for the lack of challenge and proper financial reward for the day job. Show up at 9 exactly, leave at 5 exactly. Take the full lunch you are allowed and just do other things. If you have a spare moment during work hours, think about your other pursuit.
As a writer, I have taken this tactic when a daytime administration job isn’t going my way, despite my previous best efforts. I find side writing gigs, or even make some web sites for fun. Keep your personal passion alive somehow.
For this example, I will use the Death Star from “Star Wars.” Run by Darth Vader, this was a massive orb the size of a moon that could blow up whole planets.
If you find that your work environment is toxic, wage an all out, dirty war on your fellow staff and supervisors. Bullies only calm down if you fight back. Wait for them to make mistakes, document it and capitalize. Gloat when they stumble and rub your triumphs in their faces. Maybe some of these creeps may actually see the writing on the wall and move on. Perhaps they will be replaced by better people, and then you can calm down and be your nice, normal self.
I’ve gone into some situations where I have had to play bad cop for a bit. Some people really do act like animals (and it gets worse the higher up the ladder you go). The be-tough route will set the ground rules so that they know not to mess with you anymore.
It was harder thinking of a sci-fi example for this one, as whistleblowers don’t make for great stories. Usually, the whistleblower is a minor character, and often they get offed for snitching.
But I will go back to the 1976 cult-classic “Logan’s Run,” about a future in which people are killed at age 30 as a part of a brainwashed culture where they believe it is impossible to live past 30. Computers do all the dirty work. Logan makes a run to outside the domed city and finds an old man, proving the belief wrong. He must then go back to the city to tell everyone that the 30-year-limit is a big scam.
As in science fiction, whistleblowing seldom works, but if you sense something is seriously amiss, it is your duty to look for an outside agency to intervene. If the local dean is steering contracts to his friends, go up the ladder — to the president. If the president is in on it, go to a higher power. Maybe the state comptroller or attorney general or your local DA. Chances are, they may not feel it’s worth the bother to intervene, and it’s hard to beat city hall, but at least you will have created a paper trail documenting the corruption. In many instances, the law protects whistleblowers, though you may want to consult an attorney.
Play the game.
Just because your co-workers and supervisors are lazy and/or unethical, it doesn’t mean that they are necessarily breaking the law. In such cases, develop a strategy where you take on a persona — say the persona of a slick politician. Buy bagels for the office. If the Secret Santa limit is $20, be a real jerk and buy a $50 item just to show everyone who’s boss. When you go on vacation somewhere exotic, send the office a postcard with a photo of a beach, saying how great it is there in 85 degree weather under the palms. It’s all about the mind games.
Most people can’t tell the difference between being truly good and being a good conniver. That’s why so many bad people get elected over and over.
Think of the “Twilight Zone” episode “To Serve Man.” The aliens came and were very gracious. Come aboard our flying saucer. Our goal is to “serve man.” People went joyfully onto the saucer. How nice. But, it turns out, “To Serve Man” was the title of an alien cookbook!
Ha! They don’t make shows like that anymore.
And you can play the role like an Oscar winner. If you have a flair for the dramatic, you may even have fun charming everyone into submission.
Sometimes I wish I had that talent.
Get three to five bullet points for your resume and move on.
This is the most practical advice. Hate where you work? Well, at least accomplish some very tangible things to put on your resume and start sending it to other employers. It’s much more acceptable to move every couple of years nowadays, as long as there are no serious lapses of employment.
Treat the job like a class that you really dislike but still want to get an “A” in. It will be over soon enough. The thoughts of finishing keep you from getting too gloomy.
Eventually, Captain Kirk gets promoted to Admiral, despite all the times he broke the rules to save mankind. His bullet points included going back in time to save the world from a Nazi alternate reality, beating the wrathful Khan (twice) and bringing Spock back to life.
Though, Kirk discovered, the new job wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. It was those bullet points that made him who he was, not the title.
So, do take time to enjoy the voyage, no matter how bumpy your path to the final frontier may be.