Thursday, January 22, 2009

Who Are These People?

I’ve always had a bit of a rebellious streak. It used to drive my mom crazy when she’d go to a parent-teacher conference and my teacher would say something about how I deliberately didn’t follow directions. My mom would come home from the conference and ask “Why do you do that? The teacher tells you to do something and you do the exact opposite.” Then of course I wouldn’t answer her question, just to do the exact opposite in that situation too.

Largely I’ve tamed the behavior that used to make my mom crazy. Though there are still times when I’ll do the exact opposite of what was asked, for any number of silly reasons. Over the course of my career I’ve purposely opted out of activities at work just so I didn’t have to be “one of them.” At the gigantic insurance company that once employed me, I routinely tossed out the morale boosting mail out of my mailbox before reading it. When asked to take one of the dozens of required online courses, I didn’t bother to read the course material and instead just jumped to the exam at the end and guessed at the answers until I got them right. At another place of employment I was awarded a red polo shirt with the company logo on it after passing my 90 day probationary period. Never one to wear clothing emblazoned with the logo of my employer (with the exception of my own company), I left the polo in its cellophane wrapper in the bottom drawer of my desk until my last day. I gave it to my office mate before heading to the elevator with my box of stuff.

I view morale building activities with suspicion and disdain. When presented with a dress code, I test the limits of it until my employer gives up on asking me to dress to the code. When given required reading at work, I toss it aside until it ends up, unread, in the trash or in a drawer after a desk cleaning binge.

I was just given a required reading assignment by my employer this week. I bristled as the book was presented to me. I felt a “baaaaah” sound try to escape my lips as I imagined my co-workers in sheep’s wool clutching their copy of the book and quoting it at every possible moment. I set the book aside on my desk, with the intention of never cracking it open. The all familiar and comforting suspicion and disdain came flooding back to me as I consciously set the book aside—in a prominent location to make it look like I was actively reading it, yet not so prominent that it’s not in the way.

Then I picked it up.

Then I opened it.

I thumbed through the pages, resisting the urge to snort and roll my eyes. “Oh great, more touchy-feely business crap…” I thought to myself. Who cares what color my parachute is, or who moved the cheese? Why are people moving cheese instead of just eating it with some crackers, anyway? Then I straightened my shoulders and said “What the hell, Beej. Give it a whirl. You do love reading, after all.”

Over the last few days I read two chapters of this book. Somewhere in chapter two, the author talked about wanting to build a workplace at which people were excited about working for. He wanted to create a workplace at which people would wake up and get excited about going to work. I’ve known dozens of entrepreneurs and managers who said this very same thing.

Are there people out there who actually do this? I thought back to the gigantic insurance company that once employed me. I recalled the bland row after row after row of cubicles, and pictured mine with the pink flamingo lawn ornaments on the top of it—the only flash of individuality and color in the vast expanse of the cube farm. I wondered about this concept when I worked there. Were there people who went to gigantic insurance company truly excited about getting to work? Were there people who worked there who were actually and sincerely excited about insurance?

I like my job right now. My workplace is probably the only place I’ve worked in the last 10 years that I’ve actually liked (other than my own company, of course). The people are nice. The work has purpose—there is more purpose to what I do now than there ever was in marketing widgets, insurance, or developing content on a technology news web site and whatever else I’ve done in the last ten years. Does that mean that my alarm goes off in the morning and I leap out of bed excited about going to work? Hell no. If I hit the lottery the first thing I will do is quit my job and live my life on my own terms. I’ve always viewed my job as a means to support my lifestyle and as nothing more. I do the work, I complete my tasks, and overall I like dealing with my clients and I try like hell to make working with me fun and easy. But at the end of the day, I do this job so I can afford to do other things.

So, who are these people who get excited about waking up and going to work? Are you one of them? I am genuinely interested in what makes you excited about going to work?

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've always thought that employers who go around spouting that motivational crap or, better yet, making it mandatory reading, must have a good reason to have to be going around working on morale. Namely that the general corporate culture there keeps the morale in the toilet in the first place.

I'm not one of those people. It would be nice to be, but nope.

January 22, 2009 at 4:13 PM  
Blogger BJ Knapp said...

I am actually surprised at this book. It's not at all my genre, but it's pretty interesting. It's probably not something I would have bought on my own, or taken out of the libe, but I think it's a bit more real than any other business book I'd ever read. (And I majored in business in my undergrad.)

But I think it might be that I am more tolerant of this book b/c I like where I work. If my last employer told me to read it I'd probably hate the book b/c I hated where I worked.

January 22, 2009 at 4:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My mother is one of those people. She's a college professor, research-oriented rather than teaching-oriented, and you literally have to pry her away from her desk to get her to eat. She's doing what she was born to do.

BF works as a videogame designer, and while I don't think he loves most aspects of his job, I know he likes the general job a great deal. But he's not excited about getting out of bed in the morning - I think he'd much rather sleep for a few more hours.

January 23, 2009 at 8:46 AM  

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