Dreams and the Day Job

For those in that position…

Does everyone, as a child, imagine what they will be like when they grow up? What they will look like as a working person, doing something? Or even not only as a child, but at different times. So often “Who do I want to be?” equals “What do I want to do?” Which is naturaI, because also through doing you become more of your own person.

Plus, how else does it work?

(Or you do things for a while and then realize you don’t really know anything, nor will you know EVERYTHING FOREVER AND RIGHT NOW, but you know enough for this moment and that’s fine.)

In your mind, especially in your teens, when you’re not a kid anymore, but also not an adult with some quantity of experiences and years allowing you to look back, gain perspective, you end up planning it all out in your head. This is the dream, this is what I can do to get there, here’s the research. Sometimes it’s more a list of questions than a plan, in varying internal tones of seriousness or worry. You might set yourself time frames, because not only are you extremely eager and ready, as you think, to get where you want, you also want to get out of wherever you are now.

Through various circumstances relating to the practicalities of life, geography, relocation, money, concentrating on an education and those first part-time jobs, just to name a few factors, and work, work, work to know as much as possible about what sets what YOU want to do apart, that time plan, those earlier images might be somewhat different in reality.

But are they? OK, maybe getting that degree took longer, but you wanted it and you had a lot of support while you were at it. Maybe you met your best friend during those few years. Maybe that first internship that wasn’t directly connected to writing, in the beginning, was the first foray into working in a medium that would turn out to accompany you for the next four years in various (very educational) internships before you landed the day job. Maybe you learned a lot of other things (the workings of an office universe) before that first internship led to a lengthy translating and writing stint in two languages you originally didn’t expect to work in, or even imagine you’d have fun with. Maybe that other assignment at that next job that friends don’t believe you about when you tell them now taught you how to concentrate on getting the job done correctly no matter the subject matter.

Having a day job and being a creative person have been two elements perfectly capable of combination for centuries, even if it’s sometimes a challenge. It doesn’t hurt the dream to have a framework of stability and it certainly helps it grow. I’d say it even feeds it and there are so many conclusions, discussions, thoughts, ideas I may not have arrived at for those joyful creative hours otherwise. All of that makes what I create more relatable, at least to me, which is where it all starts anyway. In turn, the creativity feeds the day job and prevents me from taking myself too seriously, or helps during difficult moments, by just mentally stepping away and thinking for a moment, “This could be good for a story or a blog post.” Whatever it is doesn’t always end up in a story or blog post. Sometimes it ends up on a spoon tucked into an evening bowl of ice cream, but that’s not so bad, either.

So maybe the packaging is different, but the contents are the same. There isn’t just one way to do things anymore.

Or, as my mother says, don’t overanalyze and go for it.

TV Shows to Watch if You Work in an Office

The shows listed below are enjoyable all on their own and I could talk about The Big Bang Theory for hours, quoting and reenacting my favourite parts, which measure whole episodes. Obviously the list I’m posting here is based entirely on my personal opinion and experience. There is a lot of cool TV and film content (let’s use the modern word, darlings) to choose from across countries and decades, should you feel the burning need to find fictional visual representation of what you may have witnessed in the workplace.

(I didn’t watch The Office because I just have other tastes and I did need a bit of mental distance, preferring to transfer what I had seen back and forth on my own terms.)

Any office is a world of its own, where we might sometimes have to come up with a bit of a character to survive encounters with all sorts of other characters. And so, I lean heavily on…

The Big Bang Theory

This is arguably one of the best sitcoms and TV shows ever made. Whip-smart writing and jokes, memorable characters, relatable humor and immediately recognizable situations, a talented cast that only got better season after season, terrific comic timing, masses of quotable quotes and that constant influx of nerdvana and pop culture that I feed on in my daily life. The Big Bang Theory was also more than the comedy in it, reminding of the bigger things beyond the laughs – friendship, love, family, movies, physics…

The reason that it’s perfect fuel for navigating an office job is because it’s like a catalogue of quote cards for the inevitable absurd or funny situations we encounter. Pull up a scene from TBBT and it adds some sparkle to a frustrating moment, or creates a shared laugh with a coworker who might also be a fan. The best part, of course, is seriously quoting suitable passages at someone who has no clue. This trick also applies to the other two shows I’m about to mention, and they are…

The IT Crowd

Another one for the books. This is a British show from some years back, starring the brilliant Chris O’Dowd, Richard Ayoade and Katherine Parkinson, as well as many other wonderful actors.

The IT Crowd literally saved me from succumbing to a bad case of nerves during the first weeks of my new job. Not being an IT person, I had the typical episodes when trying to deal with a computer problem and then I had to actually contact someone about it. That was only half bad, being new and a shy person, but trying to explain what I thought was wrong and then attempting to answer additional questions was terrifying. But because I’d watched The IT Crowd and some of the things happening during my conversations with the lovely people trying to help me out were verbatim what I’d heard on the show, I knew this was real and that I would be alright.

In addition to the above, plenty of scenes in the show do deal with working in an office space and the resemblance to what I had seen in real life was, as they say, uncanny.

Downton Abbey

I got on this train rather late, after the first hype and leveled out a bit (or has it?). There’s something about all those British accents that makes me sit up straighter and feel like I can take on the world. Even when a chain of sudden social occurences threatens to create a scandal of horrific proportions one will never, ever recover from, the characters still sound like they could carry on. Or at least affect that posh accent and regal bearing while desperately figuring out what to do.

In the case of the “upstairs”, if you take away the grand setting and manners, it’s clear that the near constant upshoots of intrigue, emotional and social manipulation, mind games, but also attemps to work on things together are not much different from the day-to-day of interacting with other people while working on projects or creating something between the time spent at your desk.

Just as with the other two shows, a quote never hurts when someone tries to catch you out. In which case I would recommend either turning to the inimitable Lady Violet (hat off to Dame Maggie Smith) or Lady Mary, because whatever you may think of her, she certainly never has to look for words in her pocket, as the Russian saying goes.

 

So Busy

Wish we could turn back time, to the good old days

When our momma sang us to sleep but now we’re stressed out

Stressed Out by 21 Pilots

During one of my jobs I had to sit down with a colleague to discuss a project we had been working on together. I had made careful notes in preparation for our meeting, while handling other tasks and calculating how much longer I would have to work that day to make up for having to leave earlier later in the week. At the same time I might have made a to-do-list for my after-work grocery shopping and worried about a friend who was not doing well.

As I I walked together with my co-worker to our conference room and politely asked how he was doing, he replied with a frustrated sigh, “Oh, it’s been crazy, I’ve just been so busy, just this constant load of things to do. I’m so stressed, I barely have any time.” He looked disgusted, as if someone was personally inconveniencing him. OK, the fact that I already knew him to be not the most reliable colleague and disregarding of efforts made by others contributed to the lightning-speed reaction in my head. What I thought was, Buddy, I’ve been here twice as long as you, and you think I’m NOT busy? Or anyone else?

Maybe it’s all in the wording. Maybe we react stronger to those who repeat something like the above, while not asking us how we are doing. Maybe both my natural state of positivity and my desire to maintain it drives me to say, I need to finish some things first, but I could get back to you * insert suggestion here *.

I have seen this time and time again, both in the workplace and outside of it, people who visibly do not trouble themselves or rush to exhibit involvement, committment, dedication, discipline, who cancel plans at a moment’s notice or simply don’t show up. They are surprisingly eloquent and clear as soon as they start talking about being “stressed”, while those at their desks rarely do. Why? Simple! One group has time to talk and the other doesn’t.

We all feel stressed or tired, we all share about it. We’re all busy most of the time. Sometimes you do have a hard day and end up talking only about your own experience. But the way it seems to work normally is saying, Wow, I’m just so wiped out from today, thanks for understanding, or I did this and that and now this, I just want to put my feet up, have a nice evening. Because the truth is, most of us are regularly stressed, tired or busy. There are rare exceptions, but I can’t think of any. It’s just the way life is, and the broader issue is how to deal with it and make sure you’re alright in the process.

I also think it’s pretty galling for people with less experience and a poor track record, in any context, to confidently tell someone on the opposite end of the spectrum about the tough time they are having. . .dealing with a sudden busy day, especially when half of what they are supposed to do ends up not being done. Again.

Whenever these encounters happen, I always come back to the same passage in one of Mindy Kaling’s books.

“. . . I do not think stress is a legitimate topic of conversation, in public anyway. No one ever wants to hear how stressed out anyone else is, because most of the time everyone is stressed out. Going on and on in detail about how stressed out I am isn’t conversation. It’ll never lead anywhere. No one is going to say, “Wow, Mindy, you really have it especially bad. I have heard some stories of stress, but this just takes the cake.I don’t believe anyone will ever give me a cake just like that, so I will simply bake my own.

As soon as I stop being so damn busy.