I don’t like to talk too much about my job. It’s not that it’s a bad job, one of those soul-crushing, life-extinguishing corporate slogs bathed in dead light and empty pallor. But neither is it particularly fascinating or compelling. It pays the bills, but it doesn’t exactly have me jumping out of bed full of piss and vigour, ready to conquer the world, to do some Great Work, let’s go! I feel I’m getting too old to be expecting too much of that, though. It doesn’t make me so tired that I can’t concentrate on anything else when I’m away from work, allowing me to indulge in any and all extracurricular activities without worrying whether or not I’ll be able to finish that report by Friday. It’s a job, and that’s that. I do it, and I go home.
Last week, I met up with a few old friends at Rockwells, a great rooftop terrace bar in central London with stunning views over Trafalgar Square. We met a friend of a friend, a mid-30s haggard woman who looked like she stopped caring all that much about life six or seven years ago. She was wearing a bland, dreary “professional” outfit, one of those drab white shirts with a big collar and grey trousers that, despite a baggy nature, probably should have been abandoned about 15 pounds ago.
I grabbed a drink and was introduced to her. Not all that compelled, I nevertheless tossed out the obligatory so-how-are-you. I don’t even think she paused to ask my name because she was off and running. “Oh, what a day at work I had! You know how some people, no matter how well you explain things to them, still don’t get it? Well, there was this woman, and I tell you, I don’t understand some people. I told her I needed the file by 3 p.m. and she told me she’d have it, but then she was avoiding my calls, and I dunno, our office is really formal, but I feel like people just don’t pay attention, because there’s this one woman in accounts, and I don’t know what her problem is, because she can’t seem to figure out her e-mail, so this jpeg I needed didn’t arrive until 4 p.m., which is just way too late for anyone to be able to do anything with anything. You know what I mean?”
I was surprised she hadn’t noticed that, halfway through her absorbing dissertation, I set fire to myself and leapt off the roof. And still, I could hear her going on about Sue in HR and Dawn from the office down the corridor, all the way down. To be honest, I think she was waiting for me when I hit the pavement, talking about how people just don’t really respect their colleagues these days, you know you know you know?
That day, I had written a business case for a project I’m trying to get underway this summer, had two meetings with senior management, emailed several potential suppliers about the proposed project, sat in on another department’s meeting, and tried my best to keep on top of all the other usual daily stuff. Does that strike you as anything even slightly noteworthy? I mean, it doesn’t strike me as noteworthy, and I work there. With occasional exceptions, our jobs are pretty much the most boring things we do. My job is what allows me to do fun, challenging activities outside of work; to expect the job itself to provide them is actually quite presumptuous. And even if it did, they’d only be of interest to me. I certainly wouldn’t want to force anyone else to put up with it.
My dad had the right idea about work. He had one priority: raising a family and providing for them. Whatever he did during the day to make that happen was beside the point. Sure, he took pride in his work, and he was very good at it, but I don’t remember him going on and on at dinner about this person’s constant screw-ups (although he did occasionally have some pretty hilarious stories), or cumbersome paperwork, or some new equipment they’d brought in. What mattered was us – Mum, and our education, and fun, and why our rooms were a mess. There is your job, and there is life, and they needn’t mix.
But some people just can’t stop. What amazes me sometimes is how people who claim to hate their job can’t stop talking about it. In fact, the amount they seem to despise their work seems to be directly proportional to how much they seem to insist the rest of the world cares. One would think that if someone were miserable at her job, it would be all the more reason to shut it out of her mind when she goes home. It never works out that way.
Your true friends consider what you do for a living so little in their assessment of you as a human being. It’s not like my friends liked me more when I was a full-time journalist and less when I moved into IT. With old friends of mine, the ones who live in different countries and who I talk to six, seven times a year, any conversations about our jobs are cursory. What’s important is that we have one, so we can live our lives.
My job provides me with income, a private office, Web access, an iPhone and constant access to online music when I’m at my desk. I just summed it up. Someday, I’ll have a job that provides me with more income. Maybe someday, I’ll get to a point where I won’t have to work at all. Until then, though, I’ll wake up, shower, walk to work, go home at five, and shut up about it. It is amazing how earth-shattering a concept this is to many!