Life in the Trenches – Getting Out Alive (by guest blogger AJ Valliant)
This post is by a guest blogger.
This is my first guest column by friend and fellow blogger AJ Valliant. AJ is a regular writer at Beats Entropy. I wasn’t expecting something of this quality, and I’m sure you will enjoy it.
In an inexplicably poor lapse of judgment (ET — one of many), engtech has recruited me to write a column relating my experience as a former arts student trying to make a living in the cold, heartless and geeky IT world. I can only assume this is a misplaced gesture of friendship, or some repressed blogocidal urge; either way I agreed and will attempt to drop some knowledge. I do internal technical support and problem co-ordination for one of the largest corporations in the world with no background other than a B.A. in psychology.
Life in the Trenches – Getting Out Alive
I am the least qualified person ever hired at my work. Were I to be hired at your work, I would almost certainly be the least qualified person in that given environment. There are children who grew up in the slums of Mumbai that are more qualified for my job than me; self-educated through tattered scraps of Wired magazine, and overheard conversations while seeking warmth in call centre crawl spaces. Sounds rough I know, but surprisingly irrelevant to my job performance.
It turns out that unless you are designing or programming something the only requirements to excel at mid to entry level IT jobs are literacy, a modicum of cleverness, basic critical thinking, and effective communication skills. I am sure you guys know the requirements to excel at my job better than I do. What I do know, however, is how to succeed at my job without it turning me into a bland, stressed, deeply compromised, office drone (ET — tell me what you really think of me).
So here is my guide for getting out alive.
If it’s Not Funny don’t Laugh
Nothing erodes the soul quicker than fake, patronizing, laughter. Letting them think they’re funny is a disservice to joke teller, and it conditions you to act in a pathetic, insincere manner. In similar vein don’t talk about things no one cares about to create to illusion of conversation. IE: weather, new office policies, how your kids are doing in school. Engaging in insipid contentless small talk is the first step toward becoming that rambling boring guy nobody invites to parties (ET — tell me what you really think of me).
Angry People are Angry People
I am constantly confronted by hostile, rude, irrationally angry clients. They are not calling because they want their problem addressed. They are calling because they are deeply unhappy and feel the need to lash out. I can give some fantastic tech support but it doesn’t make their childhoods less painful, restore their potency, or compel their wife to stop running around. I do what I can, refusing to buy into a rage that has nothing to do with me, and let them have there childish tantrums. Getting drawn into their frustration just poisons my own mood.
Let’s get this straight: if you are a backstabbing and manipulative snitch of a punk at work, then that is all you are anywhere. You don’t get to selectively apply Character when it’s convenient; if you would sell out your co-workers you would sell out your friends, it’s just a matter of the price is right. No amount of money, prestige, or accomplishment replaces being a quality human being. Think about what you are throwing away before you decide to be self serving prick.
Stand Up for Yourself
Don’t ever just sit there and absorb verbal bullying, snide emasculating jokes, or any sort personal attack from co-worker or superior. I’m not saying turn their lights out, but , it will turn into the ugliest kind of self hate and frustration if you just swallow it without comment, and take that ball of poisonous contempt home with you. Keep it civil and controlled, but call them out on what an unprofessional asshole they are being. Shame them with respectful professionalism, and be willing to accept whatever consequences result from it.
This is a huge one. If you get into the habit of rolling over to bullies it will destroy your self esteem and make you powerless in every area of your life. No job, no career even, is worth that kind of sacrifice.
Have Some Perspective
If you are reading this at work you will never be able to justify having a “bad” job. It may be difficult, demanding, and stressful, sure. But in the larger scheme of things it’s soft and likely well compensated.
You think your job sucks? Take a day off and hang out with a dishwasher, or roofer, or some guy that fishes nickels out of the sewer for living. Spend some time with someone who work a sixteen hour day, comes home exhausted and wracked with pain, just so he can make one third of what you do (if he’s lucky).
Don’t whine, not only does it make you look like an ungrateful pussy, it annoys all the people around you. Most office workers fail to realize how close they are to getting brutally murdered by the janitorial staff.
More than the magazines, more than my colleagues, more than the standards of society, I know what I need to consider my life a successful one. Would I be happier if my pay was tripled and I was promoted to the director level tomorrow? Not if it meant working 12 hour days and being chained to a pager; narrowing my life to one thing I can, at best, tolerate. I can always get cheaper hobbies and slightly crappier apartment. I can’t manufacture more time or restore a squandered youth. Wealth and prestige have a very marginal happiness utility that doesn’t really scale up; expirence and relationships have near unlimited potential for reward.
Ultimately I consider my biggest workplace success being able to maintain who I am through every phase of my day. I same person when I wake up that I am work, that I am with my friends, and that I am with my enemies. I fight to create and maintain my identity every moment, of every day, and success of this battle is the only measure that means anything.
AJ regularly writes for Beats Entropy. B.E. features his writing and the Passive Depressive web comic by Kenji Toyooka and Phil Steinersen. Thanks for the guest post AJ. I really enjoyed it. — engtech
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