“Hello employee. Welcome to the workplace. We are all happy to meet you and want you to know you are a valued member of our bi-gender, multi-cultural, pan-racial team. You are one of us, ONE OF US. We want to afford you every opportunity to buy into the illusion that you are important. If there is every an issue please feel free to fill out a million forms, try to make an appointment with our ineffective Human Resources department and of course consult your supervisor if you can find him/her. Remember you are a very important part of our team. What is your name again?”.
When you grow up you gradually find out most things don’t matter. You realize you really don’t matter, it sounds harsh but let’s be real here for a second. If you died right now would it really alter anything besides make a couple of people sad for a short period of time? I know, it sucks, but stick with me. In the fast paced, profit-driven world of employment aside from heads-of-state (and even they can be replaced) it really doesn’t matter who shows up alive in the morning.
Everyone has an understudy, everyone is replaceable. You may not think you are, but you are. At your job there are a stack of applications from people that can do your job after a couple days training. Even in your private life you are an exchangeable item. Your significant other; they can replace you with a paragraph on a dating site. You are unimportant in every facet of your being, but this is not a bad thing.
In my private life I am a Robb, idealistic yet cynical dreamer. To the public I am just thirty-something white male. I am a demographic, not an individual. I fill a role in society, to earn, consume and pay taxes. If I went missing my entire public being would go to the next willing participant. I’m a part of something but a part that is interchangeable. This is no more evident then in the workplace.
I am completely unimportant at work. It took me awhile to come to this understanding and longer to embrace my reality. I knew I wasn’t by any stretch of the imagination vital but I figured I was doing something valuable. After five years I realize just about anyone could do my job. I’m cool with it. I’ve seen behind the curtain, I know it’s all a joke. But I want you to know that too. I want you to realize that you suck just as much as I do. Let go, embrace the void that is your life.
I know it’s not easy to see yourself as nothing more than a sack of meat to your employers, you think you have value. You think that if you were abducted by aliens (illegal or otherwise) that your attention to detail, your wittiness and small-talk would somehow cause your office to implode but it won’t. Your desk, counter, chair will be filled sooner than you think. Therefore I’ve made this handy list to living with the acceptance of these facts. These are the stages you will go through when you finally lift the veil of secrecy and realize you my friend are not-at-all important.
I know we all don’t have the same employment opportunity, career, profession (dress that pig up however you want, everyone has a J-O-B) and maybe one of the scant number of people that read this (perhaps taking a break from perusing the internet’s finest pornography) will be independently wealthy, so NO, not every item on this list applies globally. This is just a broad generalization about the work environment. Call it a “Guide to Disappearing into the Workforce”.
Hyper-vigilance / Paranoia – When let loose in a world that should be governed but really isn’t it’s completely reasonable to be a little or a lot paranoid. You think “there is no way there could be no actual oversight”. You start thinking there’s some way THEY are watching. There are hidden cameras, alarms, spy satellites, drones. Something has to be watching us all the time, we are not alone! It’s 1984! Soylent Green is people…oops sorry got a little carried away.
To believe in a lawless society where there is no authority is scary, so instead of instantly accepting it it is only natural to imagine being watched all the time rather than the truth that no one gives a shit about you. It may seem like your loony boss will never get off your ass but more often than not they are only that way due to their own paranoia that someone is watching them. I’ve found people don’t really work harder on their own accord, work is less about honor and more of a system.
Acceptance – After finally coming to terms with your role you’ll probably find yourself a little uneasy but willing to believe you are on your own. You may still keep one eye on the entrances, expecting someone to pop out with an “A-HA” but you no longer fear it as much. You know that 99% of the time you are safe, that other 1% still freaks you out and keeps you in line. However now you are certain of your lot in life, of your place in the pecking order and it’s starting to piss you off. You may not want a constant all-seeing eye hovering over you at all times but it may start feeling better than being on your own secluded island five days a week. As long as you accomplish your meager goals everything is going to be just fine. Just show up, punch in and grind out another day.
Defiance – Instead of getting lazier you get angrier. You start finding things to do that make you productive and piss your co-workers off. You clean common areas excessively and leave tersely worded but nonetheless passive-aggressive notes reminding them to turn off the lights, clean up their messes and stop stealing pocket change from my fucking desk!!! You do more work than anyone would even ask you if this was a real job with real responsibilities.
You begin to crave attention and would love nothing more than a supervisor to come over and pat you on the back. Maybe they could even tell you that “You are a valued member of the team, you are secretly what makes this whole enterprise go. Without you the whole thing would fall apart”. You want them to tell you how much everyone else sucks, that you are the best unimportant cog ever put into the machine. Alas this day will never come, in part because you my friend are not like that one asshole you work with. We all have one, the one that thinks they are the best at your job and has no problem in telling you this every time you see each other. Also your higher-up doesn’t care about you and if you are the higher-up let’s be honest you don’t care about those under you.
Bargaining – So you get a little lax with your work. You say “Well if the other guys do this I can at least take a little time to myself”. I won’t set up a home theatre system in my office but I’ll bring along a magazine. The magazine becomes a book, the book a tablet, the tablet a notebook, the notebook a fucking plasma and an X-Box. You devote ever increasing time to pursuing hobbies, playing Facebook games and catching up with friends you have no interest in staying in contact if not for the sheer and crippling boredom. If it’s good enough for ________, it’s good enough for me” becomes your mantra.
Giant Leaps of Logic – So now that you know you’re not being watched, that no one gives a shit, why should you even show up? Will anyone know if you just don’t come in and say you do? Thoughts of “What if I just leave 10 minutes early” quickly devolve into “Why don’t I just stop in for ten minutes and make sure nothing is on fire?”. Of course we still arrive early and leave late and of course talk to those co-workers who we’d be hard-pressed to find something decent to say in an “in Memoriam” e-mail.
Work has become our life, we can’t function without the routine. The money is nice but the routine, AHHH the routine gives you a reason to wake up in the morning. It’s like crack and we’ve all got the habit. We sacrifice the best years of our lives to the Almighty WORK. It’s all for the off-chance that we make it to an age when we can retire and spend the last few years of our lives forgetting the names of the people we care about and the things we did when we were young. We were hard-workers though and respected, “Damn did they ever respect me at the shoe polishing factory!”. How many people actually live to retire at a reasonable enough age to enjoy retirement? I’d guess that number is pretty depressing, too depressing for me to research.
We gladly give up our youth to do all these things because deep down inside we know life has become rote. Day-to-day life is more ritual than ever. Work rules our lives. Everything boils down to what we do in the service to our work and not what work does to service us. It seems as if many of us don’t work solely for the financial support we need to survive. Work has become the primary place for socialization. When is the last time an adult made a friend outside of the workplace? 1994?
It’s hard to have separate lives when we labor so long and so pointlessly. Everything blends together and becomes a surrealistic nightmare of after-work gatherings that resemble team-building exercises instead of actual fun. God forbid we talk about anything not related to the latest happenings at the office. Who’s is dating who and what new protocols are in place for the next quarter and “Todd, fucking Todd….I hate Todd”. “Do you hate Todd?”. Everyone hates Todd. Everyone shares the same opinion as you, you are a worker, a drone, a lemming. You dive off the same cliff as Mike and Alicia and “fucking” Todd every day. You may get paid more or less but your life is work and work is life and so is theirs.
I know many of you think you are all delicate, special little snowflakes but truth is you are not. We are more like rain drops, nearly indistinguishable from every one else. We believe the lie about being unique because at heart we all want to be special. I do believe in my own cynical fashion that most people are decent and deserve more than life gives us. Sure, we deserve better, right? So many jobs have become placeholders for our dreams, as a species we are lazy and we are stuck. Raise your hand if you have attained your dream job. Now put your hand down, I can’t see you,. We find excuses for our lack of desire to achieve greater than we have. I cite the economy for why I stopped trying to do better. Better to be safe than sorry right? There’s a personalized excuse for everyone. Family, lack of time, money, drug habit, crippling sex addiction, prison sentence, etc etc, ad infinitum.
We are all replaceable; as employees, friends, lovers, parents. There is an expiration date on you dear reader. The only thing you can do is be happy for as many days as possible. It seems like we are all so worried about our place in history. Embrace your insignificance in the grand scheme of things, realize you will eventually fade into history. Make yourself important to yourself, to your friends and to your loved ones. Don’t worry about leaving a legacy. You know who left a legacy? Hitler. Don’t be Hitler, be yourself. That shit needs to be on a poster.
You remember when I wrote earlier about you being completely replaceable, that your loved ones would learn to live without you? Well, I really didn’t mean to bum you out. Sure, you can definitely be replaced but life shouldn’t be about what could happen. It should be about what is happening. Love your family, your friends and everyone you can tolerate with each breath you take. Revel in every day life, don’t just settle for making tomorrow something more comfortable. Like it or not most of us either aren’t going to make it to retirement and even few or going to be coherent enough to enjoy it.
Yeah, it’s easy to say let’s stop grading ourselves on professions and possessions. I’m no hippie, I like stuff as much as the next consumer, sorry, I meant person. We live in times where what we have and what we do is more important than who we are. I won’t bullshit you and try to pretend I am some paragon or ideal. I am an underachiever. Every time I hang out with someone who has a “better” job I feel insignificant and less of a person. I want more, I desire more. However as I get older and things are stripped away; youth, family, friends, opportunity, energy; I realize that I need to make myself important and not define myself by a job title or a bank balance. I’ll be the first to admit as I type these words I will not follow my own philosophy because I have wholly invested myself in divesting my “self” from my self-importance.
So fair reader, go for that brass ring, don’t settle for the bullshit you do just because you are doing it. Do the thing you want to do. It may be hard but it’s possible, anything is. Hell, what do I know, I’m just some jerkoff sitting at work waiting to go home. At least I am not Hitler.
In 1962 President Kennedy said “We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”. Maybe our individuals goals are not as lofty as reaching the lunar surface but maybe we just shouldn’t not do things because they seem hard. We should have a little more idealism, we should raise more dreamers. You, you my sweet reader, you should dream more. Reach your own moon, take up painting, run a marathon, write your own rambling nonsensical manifesto. Do something more than work and survive.
I’m not suggesting everyone become a nomadic hobo and roam the countryside begging for change. That would be ridiculous, obviously, but we have to break this routine of settling. I believed as a child I could do anything I wanted to do. That was until I got my first job and realized I wasn’t important. I could only do the prescribed list of things someone else told me to do. I settled, got complacent and I’ll be working the next 30-40 years doing something I don’t want to do because I gots to pay them bills. The quicksand of work has me and it’s sucking me down into the abyss. There is really no solution except to hope that someone out there is still allowed to dream and to do what they want to do instead of what is afforded to them by their lot in life.
Don’t quit your job but realize it is the least important part of your day. They are paying you to show up and do a list of chores. Do them and do them with aplomb. If you do anything in life you should do it to the best of your ability. Don’t let it drag you down and come home so tired and run down you can’t enjoy your down-time. Shit, the simple fact that the term “time” is devoted to work and your “down-time” is everything not-work-related should serve as a shock to the system.
Enjoy your work-life as much as possible but remember that real, honest-to-goodness life is waiting for you when you leave, you might as well live it. Give your significant other an extra long embrace, scratch your pet’s belly a little longer. Go watch that movie, go dancing, do karaoke, learn to spin plates, write pointless rambling articles on a website. Who cares? Just live.
“We are glad to have you here at the workplace. We sincerely hope you enjoy being part of this team. We value your contributions and you as an individual. I apologize, what’s your name again?”.
Author’s note: So, yeah….that happened. In the future I am going to try not to do this type of thing. Honestly this went from jokey list-thing to potential suicide note in record time. I apologize and I honestly thought about not posting this but I think there are some decent points in the midst of the hurricane of naivete. I’ll be back next time with a review of the movie “Good Burger”. Probably not but I’ll try to make it something lighter.