Consider your own work situation for a minute. Would you bristle at being compared to the actors in this drama? To be sure, our Canadian example comes down to matters of choice and human rights. Very few of us would agree that it’s acceptable to coerce other humans to chronically act against their will in return for money.
Or, wait … is that your every day?
I’m not talking about run-of-the-mill job dissatisfaction. You’re a big girl; he’s a big boy. You have a brain and a passport. If things aren’t working out at work, it is incumbent upon you to do the hard work of self-examination. What am I good at? How do I self-actualize (or not) through work? What is the appropriate balance between the office and my life outside? When should I stand my ground?
Still, it’s not that easy, is it? We don’t all settle into some sort of job-satisfaction equilibrium by the time we’re thirty-two, like shaking a container of irregular spheres that tend toward higher density as the smaller ones sink lower. Often we dutifully undertake our responsibilities, but we mutter under our breath as we read yet another email from management and think, ‘Why on earth am I being asked to do this? It makes no sense.’
I see evidence of such frustration in the law and accountancy offices that my clients occupy. One department wants less coverage on Brexit, another wants more; a tax associate is keen to respond to a think piece in The Times, but her marketing department wants sexier topics; two senior partners are after a more casual tone while three others most certainly are not; a competitor’s piece on Dubai’s legal system made some waves, and the team needs to show it is on top of the issue, so the brief is for a short — no, long — piece, and it’s got to hit all the same points — but be really different.
When we sit down to discuss industry-beating work, I hope to hear my clients say:
we’ve got a great message for the world! we just need help saying it.
Except that’s just not how it is. They aren’t sure what they want to do or say.
Trapped in these unhappy chains, it feels impossible to achieve any sort of excellence at all. These clever, overeducated people of commerce and the arts are unable to simply ask me for good work.
In the face of all this second-guessing and fuzziness, I feel compelled to put my hand flat on the table, gently yet forcefully, and say, ‘Look, let’s not worry about any of this. Instead, let’s create some reports and blogs that people actually want to read — that you would actually read. Something you can be proud of.’
Actually, I don’t usually get the courage to do that until the third meeting, if I get a third meeting.
I know what’s happened: it's been years of twisting themselves into knots serving a master who is hard to please; a capricious boss, an ill-defined marketing goal, requests from demanding clients who are just as confused. They’ve lost sight of the sheer virtue of applying their expertise. Add a dose of short-term-profit-seeking and a class system that puts up barriers to communication, and what have you got? An entire office engaged in an interminable guessing game about what the senior partner wants, what the client wants, and what their line manager wants instead of spending the bulk of their mental energy just being good.
What are thinking, breathing people supposed to take from this state of affairs? When what you are being paid to do chronically doesn’t make a lot of sense, it’s not necessarily Kafkaesque or backwards, but usually no one has explained the proper motivations, or the motivations are so self-interested that the instigators can’t come out and say it, or the only motivation that matters is whispered by the walls: more money, more money.
I don’t want my idealism to stretch plausibility. Every job entails tasks that we’d like to see the back of, but in the main, if you’re not showing up to the office to apply your brain and natural talents every day; if, instead, you are relying on your wiles to navigate a protean, confusing or unrealistic path to ‘success’, you are probably someone who hates their alarm.
Be good at your job. Work somewhere that asks that of you.
Otherwise, expect your waking hours to be spent on tasks that you would refuse to do if someone wasn’t paying you. In Canada, lawmakers have prohibited such exploitation in at least one industry.