My job is fine. It’s not that bad for a Mcjob is better than no job at all. My problem is less to do with the company I work for and more with the nature of the work my non-linear CV has forced me into. The activities I do every day do not in any way resonate with me. My heart is completely disconnected from my hands. I don’t feel I play to my skills or make a significant, lasting contribution to anyone or anything. I am a parrot disguised as a grey, run-of-the-mill swallow because that is what I was hired to be.
I am so grateful I was hired at all. After months of unemployment, my brain felt, smelled and looked like blue cheese. I craved routine and structure that demanded simple things of me, such as getting out of bed in the morning. Most days, contact with people was rare so I lost interest in my personal appearance. I slothed around in my slippers and purple toweling bathrobe and my hair always looked like I had been tinkering with livewires. I developed an unhealthy, dependent relationship with my computer and wasted hours roaming in internet wastelands or watching Frasier and MacGyver reruns on YouTube. Thankfully, just before I started dribbling and rocking in a corner, this job popped up and it rescued me from Sylvia Plath-like insanity. (However, it must be said that working in a robotic job in the corporate world creates its own madness.)
I work for the routine and money. I think it’s ok to do this. In a previous blog post, I wrote about how, for most of us, circumstances, responsibilities and past decisions mean that it is unrealistic to demand a job that gives us a constant natural high. If I hear anyone say that a job should be a holy calling and passion at work is the key to career bliss, I will bop them over the head with a judge’s gavel or pick axe.
I think the psyche operates like a sound control desk. We have many different aspects to our personality and we can regulate their presence with a knob that moves up and down. At work, I tune down most channels and I set myself into a kind of emotionally and spiritually numbed zen mode. I disconnect my work from my heart because they are so utterly incompatible. The Real Julie then floats off like a helium balloon tethered with string, accompanying but not actually part of my body below.
This anesthetized state does not mean I operate with the glazed apathy of a civil servant. I work like an efficient robot but doing my job becomes as automatic as breathing. The Real Julie wanders away and I tune her in again after work because I can’t deal with my inner being’s whining, neuroses and dissatisfaction during the day. At 5:30pm, I run out the office as if the building is on fire and I continue the activities that make me come alive, such as spending time with Alastair, learning French, exercising or writing this blog.
This week my sound desk technique has not worked because I’ve been on a dull, irrelevant training course. When I am delirious with boredom, I think too much. The Real Julie comes pirouetting into my head and dances on the sound desk controls. She begs me to listen to her and look at her. She has so much energy, hope and enthusiasm and since there is no tangible way of meeting her needs, I find her presence annoying. When she’s around in my head, she starts poking her nose where she is not wanted. She opens filing cabinets such as ‘Regrets’, ‘Bad Career Decisions’ and ‘The Past’. She holds up papers to the light and says ‘Julie, what’s this?’ so I have to think about things I locked away. Sometimes, when she’s really frustrated, she bangs on the walls of my skull and screams ‘Let me out! I can’t take this crap anymore. Let me out!’
Henry Thoreau said, ‘Most people live lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with their song still in them’. I actually think that most people work in jobs that cause quiet desperation and drown out the song in them. Most companies want swallows, not parrots so we leave our colours at home. Many people, like me, put their souls on ice during the day. I think that is why social media has taken off because it is an outlet for personal expression. People are screaming, ‘This is the real me. Look at me. Notice me, please.’
I think the reason why work is often dull is because we don’t make anything these days. I got an email from a colleague in another country and the title on her signature was ‘Controller’. Controller? What the hell is that? I have heard children aspiring to be firemen, teachers, doctors or policemen but never ‘controllers’.
In the corporate world there is often no output (other than Powerpoint slides or Excel spreadsheets) that you can stand back and admire and say proudly ‘I made this with my bare hands’. Fix this leak. Mop this floor. Dig this hole. Repair this roof. Wash these dishes. Build this house. Most jobs where you do something tangible and useful and where you can see almost instant rewards are blue-collar but we poo poo that kind of work and esteem nebulous titles such as ‘controllers’ or ‘vice presidents (VPs)’ or ‘senior managers’.
I also think that schools and universities have cheated us. They did not manage our expectations and prepare us for the real world in the 21st century. They gave us an inflated, misguided hope that we could control our future and, if we worked hard and had some skill, we would be indispensible and invincible. This means many of us end up swallowing our fate like a hard, awful pill. The reality is that most jobs require swallows (although they advertise for parrots), many organisations are so dull that they are almost comatose and a lot of workplaces perpetuate mediocrity and like it that way. And sometimes, we can’t find any job at all.
In one of his books, Bill Bryson asks which is worse – to lead a life so boring that you are easily enchanted or a life so full of stimuli that you are easily bored? I don’t know. All I know is that some days, I pace in the bathroom at work like I am a caged, frustrated animal. I get home and I know I must run. I run faster and faster and faster. I run around the neighborhood like I am being chased by velociraptors. I need to hear my heart beat, my breath pant, my feet pounding the pavements. After my numbness during the day, I need to feel as if I am still alive in the evenings.
Schindler’s List was one of the most depressing, intense movies I have ever watched. Every morning I use the lift in our apartment block and it gives me some perspective for the day. A company called Schindler made the lift. Schindler’s Lifts. Things could be worse and I am grateful I don’t work there. Imagine: ‘Hi I’m Julie calling from Schindler’s Lifts.’ Or picture a business card that says: ‘Julie Surycz / Controller / Schindler’s Lifts’.