Working at a desk job blows. Try to escape from yours as soon as you can.
But until you do, you might as well make the best of it. As long as you’re punching the clock, you can do a few simple things that will help you make more money, negotiate more time off, get promoted faster and get treated like a superstar by your boss and coworkers. You’d be an idiot not to.
There are basically two options available to the disenchanted young professional in the 21st century. Option #1 is the Edward Norton Approach:
“I got in everyone’s hostile little face. Yes, these are bruises from fighting. Yes, I’m comfortable with that. I am enlightened.”
In other words: Fuck the man! He can’t keep me down. I ain’t gonna wear a TIE and shit. Worker bees can fly and the queen is their slave, mothafucka!
This approach is characterized by slacking off, looking like shit, arriving late, leaving early, having a bad attitude and generally doing barely enough work to make it not worth your boss’s time to fire you. Benefits include: More free time, less money spent on clothes/haircuts/dry cleaning, and the self-satisfactory cathartic pleasure of your daily small rebellion. Sure, your lot in life is to toil for unworthy masters, but that doesn’t mean you have to be happy while doing it.
“The gods had condemned Sisyphus to ceaselessly rolling a rock to the top of a mountain, whence the stone would fall back of its own weight. They had thought with some reason that there is no more dreadful punishment than futile and hopeless labor.”
It isn’t unfair to compare most 21st-century white collar workers to Sisyphus. It’s not that finance, law, academia, public service or teaching aren’t noble professions. In a sane world, they would be among the noblest. But in the stiflingly bureaucratic world that we live in, it’s often impossible for even the best individuals to actually improve the world by working in them. Odds are, that rock you’re pushing is going to slide right back down from the top.
And yet, here I am, suggesting that you pour your vital energy into whatever paper- or spreadsheet-pushing job you’re in. In a world overflowing with reasons for despair and defeatism, I’m telling you to become the most uncynical creature known to man: The Gunner.
A “Gunner” is someone who tries hard to be successful in life. Of course, it’s pejorative. As Mike puts it, “Only in America is it cool to hate on people who study hard.” It’s generally used to describe ambitious law and med school students, but I’ll define it here as an employee who puts effort into advancing their career. This is the exact opposite of the Edward Norton approach, so we have Option #2: Become a Gunner.
What does a Gunner do?
He dresses for the job he wants, not the job he has. He has a positive, professional attitude. He finds opportunities to get recognized. He puts in extra time. In return, he gets bigger raises, faster promotions, and more leverage for negotiating extra vacation, unpaid leave and teleworking agreements. Basically, if you aren’t an idiot, you know what you have to do to kick ass at your job. The hard part is choosing to do it.
So why is it difficult? Because doing pointless work is hard on the soul. Acting like you care takes effort when you don’t, in fact, care. It’s hard to smile in the elevator every morning, knowing that one day you will be ash, and nothing you do will have mattered. Searching for purpose in a 9-5 career is a fool’s errand. But every man needs a purpose.
“You have already grasped that Sisyphus is the absurd hero. He is, as much through his passions as through his torture. His scorn of the gods, his hatred of death, and his passion for life won him that unspeakable penalty in which the whole being is exerted toward accomplishing nothing. This is the price that must be paid for the passions of this earth.”
We all want to make money effortlessly. But we can’t all become Tim Ferriss overnight. Yes, I know you have dreams to start that business, make millions off that smart investment, and lucratively monetize your blog in defiance of all known laws of internet economics. Me too. But until we get to that point, we have sacrifices to make. Looking good in a suit is the price you pay for the resources to do what you really want in life.
Not only that, you’ll be a happier and more productive person if you make a habit of being excellent in everything you set out to do.
“ Sisyphus, proletarian of the gods, powerless and rebellious, knows the whole extent of his wretched condition: it is what he thinks of during his descent. The lucidity that was to constitute his torture at the same time crowns his victory. There is no fate that can not be surmounted by scorn.”
So either do a damn good job of using your job as a means to an end, or quit and buy a one-way ticket somewhere. But fuck the middle ground between the two. Sitting on a fence is how men get their balls crushed.