A Little Bit of Wonder is where I journal about the somewhat roundabout way that I have been working to establish a career and a strong sense of self--I spend a lot of time thinking and writing about "direction" and "identity." I have a Master's Degree in Literature, but I'm no longer working as an English Professor; I'm starting the next step in my life as I work to establish a career as a writer in the non-profit sector.

At my companion blog, Little Wonder's Recommended Reading, you will find reviews for both books and other blogs that I enjoy. The two blogs are inter-linked, so you can access my reviews and reading challenges from the sidebar on the left.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Evasive Maneuvers

I start my new job on Monday, and I have to admit that I am a little bit nervous.

The biggest reason is because I’ve never had an office job before – I’m twenty-seven, but I’ve never gone in at eight to crunch numbers, never had to file reports and never had to work through lunch. In fact, I have avoided those types of jobs like the plague.

Many of my friends have worked at clothing stores, banks, pharmaceutical labs and corporate offices, but I have always sought out jobs that required a lot of interaction with other people—preferably children. Children are generally much more entertaining than adults, and far less capable of deceiving you. (Not that they don’t try, but they don’t understand that your intellect is far more developed then their own.) Give me a group of sticky, screaming children over adults or the company of a data entry system any day. I'd rather be out on a playground than behind a desk.

But although I’ve always dreaded the idea of being stuck in a nine to five, it wasn’t the isolation itself that I found terrifying. It was the tedium. I have a friend who used to sit at a desk all day, ordering nuts, bolts and tiny mechanical parts. Of course, I don’t actually understand exactly how my friend spent her time, but I am imagining that there were lots of forms involved: first sifting through order forms from different plant managers requesting more of this kind of nut and more of that kind of bolt. Then filling out more forms to actually order the nuts and bolts from manufacturing companies, once she had added up how many each plant manager had requested. I don’t know how someone could stand to do that job full-time, and my friend freely admits that she was miserable. Of course, that’s just the nuts and bolts job. Another friend of mine worked for Coca Cola – maybe it was slightly less tedious to be ordering big vats of that acidic syrup that they use to make Coke.

Let me be clear—it’s not that I consider the nuts and bolts kind of job to be of no value. I know that if I buy a machine of one kind or another, whether it is a car, a dishwasher or an air conditioner, I want all of its nuts and bolts to be in place and working properly. I rely on the people who have these kinds of jobs – to make sure that the parts on my vehicle remain correctly assembled, my apartment stays a cool seventy degrees, and there is plenty of diet Coke when I go to dinner at Applebee’s. I appreciate these peoples’ ability to put up with the tedium of their jobs so that my life is more convenient and comfortable. But if I’m honest, I don’t want to deal with a job like that myself unless I have to.

I worked very hard to steer clear of a desk job, in fact—and I don’t mean by simply avoiding employment in the business world. I actively took extensive evasive maneuvers: I nearly killed myself in graduate school so that I could spend my the rest of my days in the front of a classroom, pontificating on books that I like to read, making fun of the kids who fall asleep during my lectures, and occasionally prying an intelligent thought from some of my students. I love the exchange of ideas, the back and forth in a well-run classroom.

But even though I enjoy all this interaction with children and young adults, I am actually very content to be on my own when I am doing something that I find interesting and valuable. I can happily hole up in my apartment for days, reading and writing, whether it is studying literature or developing a marketing strategy and producing copy for events and services that have a positive impact on other peoples’ lives. That is why I wanted this particular job so badly – I have no problem being tucked away behind my own computer, working “nose to the grindstone” to write up articles, proposals and websites, especially when I know that it is part of a larger humanitarian goal. I think it will be really rewarding to put my skills to use like this—and I will be good at it.

So if I don’t think this job will be tedious, if I think that I will find it rewarding, why am I nervous about starting on Monday?

Because I’m used to wearing pajamas or sweats all day, and you can’t wear monkeys into the office. Because I get sleepy at 4:30 in the afternoon, even though I didn’t get up until 8. Because I like to work whenever my brain is in gear, whether that’s 2 p.m. or 2 a.m. – not necessarily between the hours of nine and five. If you give me a job and then leave me to my own devices for a few hours, a day or a week, I’ll get the job done and it will be shiny. But I’m used to working at my own pace and in my own ways. I know I can do this job and do it well – I’m not having self-esteem issues. But I know that I lack experience in the workplace environment because of all my elaborate, determined evasive maneuvers, and so there will be a period of adjustment.

Now I will have to quickly learn to live up to someone else’s standards—not just their standards for the product itself, but their standards for the daily, maybe even hourly rate of progress as well. I will no longer be able to go to the mall in the middle of the afternoon when I’m antsy, then pick up my work again late at night. (I’m not complaining, mind you – just coming to terms with that fact.) I’ll have to sit at my computer and attempt to be productive for approximately eight straight hours, and in order to do that, I’ll have to change the way that I think about myself. I’ll have to consider myself less of an independent artist and be more of a “team player.” Of course, that’s just the real world, and I suppose that I’ve been sheltered from that for far too long.

Basically, my concern is whether I will be able to adjust quickly enough to please my boss and co-workers. I am joining a small department that is made up of the director and two others; they tell me that we will be working closely together on various projects, depending on each other a lot. It’s been a long time since I’ve been a part of a team, and for the most part, I’m really looking forward to it. My new co-workers tell me that they spend a lot of time in each others’ offices, and when I went in for my second interview, they smiled and joked with each other as though they are pretty good friends. I have missed that kind of interaction in the workplace, and so I am looking forward to getting to know them. I just hope that I don’t come across as inexperienced and incompetent in my first days and weeks at my new job, before I get a change to adjust to my new life.


Kate said...

Hurray for 4:30pm naps!

Xiaoyan Chen said...

Interesting thoughts before starting your first "real job":) I imagine I would probably go though something similar if I were to decide to go in industry in the end. Rachel once joked that we had been so spoiled by the freedom in academia that it's really hard adjustment to the 9-5. I have also been fighting very hard to avoid a 9-5 job myself. For many reasons. But lately I became a bit more open-minded about it and am having a slightly different perspective. Just as what you have described, if the work is meaningful then the 9-5 wouldn't be too bad. In a way, that might even serve me better since though I also like to do things on my own terms, I do tend to have motivation issues from time to time and maybe a routine and an interdependent team at work could help keep me on track:) Thinking of getting into industry, although I'm still indecisive at this point, kinda scares me a bit too. I did have some work experience in the real world after college but it's such a long time ago I don't remember anything about it, talking about being 27 without any real work experience, haha I have more reason to be nervous if I were to start a job next Monday!:)
But I believe you will do a great job adjusting and people will like you a lot. With the heart and brain that you have I can't imagine otherwise.

Little Wonder Lauren said...

@Xiaoyan -- yes, academia has definitely spoiled us!! If you are thinking about jobs other than academic ones, you should start surfing through job search websites just for the heck of it. See what is out there that you would have the skills for. It makes it seem less scary if you can find something that you're truly interested in. :-)

Rachael said...

I started my first "real" job a little over a year ago. (Read about it here: http://rae-does-contiki.blogspot.com/2009/10/working-woman.html) Although it was really exciting do what I've always dreamed of doing, after years of being a student, baristaing and traveling, it felt a little claustrophobic at times. Just remember, if you get into the job and you don't like it, you don't have to stay there forever. Continue to ask yourself, "Do I like what I'm doing?" If the answer is "No," then seek out another job. As for getting through long days at a desk, make sure to get up and walk around often, do a little office yoga (i.e. chair stretches) and don't be afraid to make the coffee pot (or tea pot if you prefer) your friend.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...