Dale Carnegie Versus Office Space
Recently, there was a training at my workplace (call center) to focus on how better to be a success at the company as well as how to advance within the company. As I took the training, the interesting part to me was relative to polling the workers whether either of these laudable goals was one which they shared.
In the grouping I was in, there was one woman who generally talks about how much she wishes she was not forced out of her current job. There was another younger woman who was basically happy with being a military wife as well as raising her small children. Then there was me, who will take every moment of down time I can throughout the day, and attempt to write something for somebody. It’s clear I’d rather be writing full time, than answering phones.
This does not stop the need for the work we are doing to actually be done. It does however demonstrate the uphill battle that corporate America currently faces with its own workers.
Forget ‘Success,’ Avoid Active Sabotage
The main problem with most employees is not that they do not know how to advance. The main problem with most employees is that they actively hate their jobs. The obvious problem here is low productivity. The greater problem is that there are a lot of employees who hate their workplace to the point where they will try to actively sabotage the company with deliberately terrible work that contradicts the companies goals.
After the economic collapse of 2007-2008, people needed jobs. The fact is that people who were already unhappy in their workplace desperately clung to their jobs and people who were unemployed took anything that they could get. Among the rank and file, the Great Recession never actually ended. You have a ton of people working jobs (which are necessary) who believe that they should be doing something else or believe that they are too special to be doing the work which they are doing. This brings up the next point.
“When Everyone Is Special, No One Is…”
In the movie The Incredibles, the villain Syndrome touched on a salient point in our society. He said “When everyone is special, then nobody is….” In the last couple of decades or so, there was a shift in our public educational values which was at the crux of The Incredibles more than super powers.
First, you had ‘No Child Left Behind’ and now you have what is known as ‘Common Core.’ Both of these systems are different ways of doing exactly the same thing. They put education down to the lowest common denominator. The part that they excelled in was inspiring people to have great self-esteem and feel like they were individually ‘special.’
The problem with that (other than some really questionable behavior on freeways) is the notion among many people that they are ‘better’ than what they are doing for a living. That means from the second that they clock into work till the moment which they bolt for the door, they feel like they have completely not only wasted their ‘talents’ but also have been wasted as human beings for a wage which they consider to be an insult. This is the absolutely unenviable task that workplaces deal with in trying to inspire their ‘workers.’
They Are Very, Very Pissed Off
No one is ever raised to be happy being a garbage collector. In a way, that is sad as well as destructive to society. If your garbage collector is still pining over his failed garage band in high school or still thinks that his football career would have gone farther without that ‘twisted knee,’ then you have a garbage collector who legitimately does not care whether or not your garbage gets strewn across the street.
Today’s society is unique in that fact that you can and can not be whatever you want to be. That is actually the good news. The bad news is that no matter how good you are at it, there is also an excellent chance in which you will never get paid for it.
In 1999’s Fight Club, Tyler Durden talked about how we had a society which promised that people would grow up to be millionaires and rocks stars. They found out that was never going to happen and they were ‘very very pissed off.’ The truth of the matter is that in the internet age, you can absolutely save up your own money and buy studio time. You can purchase your own equipment. You can get a few friends together. You can record your song or album. You do not even need a radio station or a record label to validate your song. All you need is YouTube. The downside is that you spend thousands of dollars and only get five views.
You can self publish and be on Amazon. You can spend money to learn to make video games and put one out there. You can accomplish anything in the internet age. Don’t expect to get paid, but you can accomplish anything. The notion that no one will support your talent however is almost as daunting as the fact that you will have to do all of the work yourself before anyone will support you.
No One Reads ‘Brave New World’
Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World described a future in which people were genetically engineered for certain attributes. One of the interesting points of the book was that originally everyone was engineered to be at the highest levels which were ‘Alphas and Betas.’ In addition to sounding curiously like a frat from Revenge of the Nerds, the society was an absolute failure.
To get back to our garbage collector, stacks of garbage just piled up because no one thought that they should be doing it. They all believed that they were ‘above’ that sort of thing. We all know that person whom we are actually surprised when they express a view or superiority in some way. We put people into mental classes based on ability. The problem is that these same people never realize this. Again, in a society in which everyone believes that they are ‘special’ and destined for greatness, it is kind of hard to get shoes sold by someone who should be a rock star millionaire running for President while being the first ninja in space. You can understand how someone who is destined for Space Ninjaness might not be the best person to talk to about whether you should buy Reeboks or Rockports.
The large problem in society is not the fact that people did not end up being what they wanted to be in life. The large problem in society is that there are too few people who accept as well as are satisfied with the fact that they perform a necessary function and that is ‘O.K.’
You Are Not Your Job
One of the main problems with today’s society is also the insistence on reducing people to a label which generally includes their job. Billy Crystal’s character had a pretty famous melt-down in City Slickers which he starts screaming “Air! I sell Air!”
I remember reading a rather prolific and good internet writer who declared that “all I will ever be is a security guard.’ I remember thinking that I knew him as a writer. That was actually the first time in which I ever heard he was a security guard.
I also remember that Nathaniel Hawthorne, Charles Buckowski, William Faulkner, and Albert Einstein all had menial jobs. It is just a fact. I remember that the poet William Carlos Williams would go into an attic after his day job as a Doctor in order to write poetry. Karl Marx was a constantly poor man who had to beg for money most of his life. Jesus was a traveling minister. Edgar Allan Poe was a copy editor.
You can reduce your actual job to something that you do for eight hours a day. I know an electrician who travels on weekends to play with and promote his band. He calls it living his dream. When he passes, there will probably be more people who remember his music than people who compliment his wiring.
You Are Also Not Your Education
I have honestly gotten to the point where I have stopped telling people that I am in fact a college graduate. This is mostly in response to people who tell me that they are a college graduate. I would never argue that education is not important. I would tell you that I never got close to having a job even remotely to do with Classical Civilizations (which was my major.)
There is nothing sadder in the world than someone telling you what their major was (especially after they just graduated from college.) This is even truer when they tell you their major when both of you are already in a job. Basically, they have now been reduced to the Fat Ass in The Shawshank Redemption screaming that he is not supposed to be there.
A college degree has gotten to the point where in order to be seriously considered for a ‘profession’ in your ‘field,’ then you have to get an advanced degree. Otherwise, it is a line on your résumé under where they ask for ‘education.’ The fact that I can read Latin is not a stepping stone to a job. It is a ‘conversation starter.’ The one place where a college degree absolutely matters is if you enter the United States military. That will get you instant consideration for being an officer. Otherwise, the degree is a point of interest, but it should not and sadly will not define you in any way.
The ‘Cool Job’ Deck Is Stacked Against You
Do you know the people who tend to actually be most satisfied in their work? Statistically, that would be scientists with advanced degree. Yes, the guys in The Big Bang Theory do really love their lives that much. Do you know what the great thing is about Spongebob Squarepants is? Spongebob legitimately loves going to work every day as a fry cook.
The sad cold reality is that there are very few stories out there in which people succeeded based on their ‘talent’ alone. There is generally always some one who gave them a leg up whether they deserved it or not. The kid who wrote Eragon had a Dad who took lake fishing trips with major publishers. The kids of rich and famous people just happening to end up having fantasy jobs is just that. There is a litany of trainers, handlers, coaches, and money that you can throw at the situation to make children into whatever great career that they want to be. This is both comforting and disturbing on some level.
On one level, it really destroys the great American ideal of a ‘meritocracy’ in which your innate skill is just recognized and propels you to fame as well as adulation. Having a talent scout see you and sign you to a contract is as realistic as winning the lottery or getting struck in the head by lightning. Yes, it happens. No, you should not plan your day around it. The hardest thing that workplaces have to deal with these days is the perception that workers want to be happy and fulfilled in their jobs. Quite frankly, they would prefer that you wanted quantifiable things like ‘more money’ and a ‘promotion.’
Attempts To Make You Happy Will Be Embarrassing
About the most frightening thing which you can hear from a workplace is that there is some special ‘fun’ event which is upcoming. This means that upper management is going to come to you and try to ‘relate’ to you in some way. Generally, this is almost as successful as a pep rally featuring poetry written by cheerleaders. It will almost certainly involve a thinking that the height of ‘fun’ is small gifts, crossword, puzzles, ridiculous costuming, or (even worse) attempts at conversation. Food, balloons, and streamers are also really big during these times of crazy madness.
This is as awkward as a sorority girl in college believing that the best way to relate to the unwashed masses is to give them a ride to class so that her rush chairman becomes student council President. They have less than no clue how to relate to you. The good part of all of this is that you finally have an idea how a date with a cheerleader may have gone….if you had pictures of her with a goat or she had to because you helped her pass a class.
They really want to relate to you. They really want you to be happy doing exactly what you are doing. They have no idea how to convey this. Invariably, it will come off looking like a five-year old’s birthday party. That is the only happiness that they know. Beyond that, any reconciling of life is completely up to you.