Outside, Looking In, Liking the View

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We haven’t done one of these for a while, so here’s another rerun from my original blog, the Daily Aneurysm—which, I notice, has finally disappeared from the Internet because somebody squatted on the domain name. This one is from December 22, 2005, and it has been edited slightly. As is the case with all of these off-topic posts, you won’t hurt my feelings if you skip it.

. . . I went out for drinks last night with some colleagues from my old corporate job. Everyone I was with last night has left the company since I did. We call our group the Alumni Association.

It’s too simple to say some people are wired for corporate life and some are not. Sure, some people take to it like a politician to prevarication—they thrive on its rhythms, take its peculiarities in stride, and live happily ever after without looking back. Others simply can’t handle it at all, out of an aversion to hierarchy, or neckties, or something. The vast majority of people, however, are sufficiently wired to handle it for a while, but the life of the wiring may be finite. How long your wiring lasts depends on the sensitivity of your crap detector.

For example: how well you can handle motivational rah-rah will determine how long you last. I have a friend who worked for a small, privately held company when it was purchased by a large corporation. The corporation sent some of its well-dressed executives from New York out to the provinces to aid the transition, and in the process, they unleashed a full barrage of MBA motivation-speak, to the point at which longtime staffers found themselves restraining laughter in meetings. “We’re too smart for bullshit bingo,” my friend said. And they were. People who are paid to write and think well—as these people were—have a professional obligation to avoid cant and boilerplate in their work, so what makes bosses think they’ll be motivated by it? If you can put that sort of thing in its place—either as background noise or words to live by—you’ll last longer than if you can’t.

The amount of tolerance you have for hierarchy will determine how long you last, too. The CEO of one company I worked for had his own private bathroom, but to his credit, he rarely used it, and more than once I found myself talking to him while we stood at adjacent stalls in the men’s room. But the same company had a rule that one particular conference room couldn’t be used unless one of the people in the meeting was at a sufficiently exalted level on the organizational chart. That meant it got used a couple of times per week, while groups of 25 or more crammed themselves into rooms meant for a dozen almost daily—which seemed to fly in the face of the we’re-all-in-this-together spirit with which we were supposed to work. If you can suppress your egalitarian impulses—or live with the absurdity of certain hierarchical prerogatives—you’ll last longer than if you can’t.

Whether you keep the job at arm’s length can also help determine how long you’ll last. Long ago I resolved to skip company parties and other occasions of forced office socializing, but that was only part of my strategy. I also determined not to give my life to the workplace—not to take too intense an emotional interest in it. Too much emotional involvement becomes an energy-sucking monster that can entangle a person in office politics and generally make it hard to leave work at work. In one case, however, I discovered after a while that keeping an emotional distance had a negative side-effect: I found myself crossing over from “not emotionally involved” to “not giving a damn.” Fortunately, by the time I made this discovery, I already had one foot out the door, and within a few months, the rest of me followed. If you can find the right balance between emotional involvement and emotional distance, you’ll last longer than if you can’t.

In one way or another, every member of the Alumni Association decided after a while that it was time to move on. Some did it to go home and raise their children; others did it for a better opportunity somewhere else. And some of us did it to cut the corporate cord entirely. Someday, I may have to go back to corporate life [note from 13 years in the future: nah], but I’m not looking forward to it. Right now, the view from wherever my laptop sits looks pretty good to me.

(Note to Patrons: the post that appeared here on Friday about yo-yo records needed more fact-checking than it got, so I yanked it until that can be done.)

One response

  1. Thankfully, my experiences with big company motivational hoo-hah are few and far between, but I can’t help wondering one thing. Everyone I know has scoffed at this kind of stuff, yet the companies still rely on it. Is it really possible that companies have been that clueless for all these decades, or does it actually work sometimes?

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