Kick Ass At Your Job

by Frost on March 2, 2011

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.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Sunny October 22, 2012 at 7:50 am

Got the beard trimmed to a nice even mold, combed my hair properly, got a clean shirt, and going to my shitty job to act like I give a fuck so that when the good one comes around, my boss will praise me endlessly. (Like I need her help, but hey, looks good, don’t it?)

Bullshit aside, excellent article. Keep up the good work, brother.

chiochoi January 10, 2012 at 10:51 pm

wow, i knew what I was doing and why I was doing it but now I see that am the “Edward Norton” type. Being like that is actually equally as taxing as trying to care about the job I don’t care about. You offer some good insight as to what one can do: be the Norton or be the Gunner. Perhaps I’m taking the “easy” way by being the Norton; not shaving, not getting a haircut, etc. The “Gunner” seems to be the more challenging path but perhaps more rewarding in the end- that’s how we advance in life; by doing what is more challenging.

Brendan March 4, 2011 at 11:10 am

Having worked in the law now for almost 20 years I have to say that the gunner option sucks ass for the long term if you are working for someone else. The reason for this is that you’re generally doing crap work (and that’s still the case as you move up the totem pole, trust me), and gunning it means that you’re sucking away so much energy from the rest of your life that the rest of your life begins to look like a mess.

I agree that the Tim Ferris approach is a pipe-dream. However, if you truly have the persona of a gunner, I would strongly, strongly recommend that you get away from working for other people as soon as you can — you’ll get much more bang for your buck gunning it, if that’s what you want to do, if you are working for your own deal, or something that you and a few other people are working on together, for yourselves, than working for a company which will take all of the gunning you have to give and leave nothing much for yourself.

Rob March 4, 2011 at 10:39 am

If you have a big decision to make, and you don’t know what course of action to follow, DON’T DO ANYTHING. Rarely is a choice so urgent it must be made right away. Sleep on it even if you have to sleep on it for a while. Man can afford to make many small mistakes, but the big ones are costly.

raliv March 4, 2011 at 8:31 am

“Or, ditch the white collar and go for a skilled trade. Plus the sense of accomplishment and self respect from a job well done under difficult circumstances. ”

I am taking this option. Another benefit of a blue collared technical career is you don’t have to deal with caddy annoying women.

NomadicNeill March 4, 2011 at 6:24 am

I took option #1.

Couldn’t face working my way up the ladder.

I remember sitting in a meeting room and seeing all the seniors, each at 5 year increments ahead of me. There’s the guy that’s been here 5 years, there’s the guy that’s been here 10 years.

Sure they all have more money and responsibility.

But at the end of the day they’re still all sitting in this stupid little room having th same pointless meeting.

Not for me.

Mike March 2, 2011 at 9:06 pm

Yep. Make that money. Don’t buy a house or too much car, and most importantly, don’t allow a woman to treat you as an ATM.

Then expatriate to a country where the money you earned will go three times as far and last three times as long.

BTW, don’t buy into the Ferris myth. He got rich off of his book, and was not living the “4 hour workweek” lifestyle. He’s like that guy who wrote “Rich Dad.” Not much of a success until the book came out.

At your age, you ought to consider a move to Silicon Valley. Web 3.0 is in the Valley, and fortunes are being made.

It’s also a very youthful culture, e.g., google “San Francisco Peter Pan.” Guys still have roommates into their 30’s, and San Francisco is Ground Zero for Generation Zero.

rehabonhigh March 2, 2011 at 5:54 pm

“he travels worldwide regularly”


MW March 2, 2011 at 4:09 pm

Nothing wrong with looking good in a suit. Three wise men once said, “Every girl’s crazy about a sharp dressed man. The gunner is a better strategy, I think. All the while evaluating an exit strategy.

Or, ditch the white collar and go for a skilled trade. Plus the sense of accomplishment and self respect from a job well done under difficult circumstances. If you’re in the right city, try and get on with the longshore union. Good wages and man’s work.

Or a technical profession. Went to school with a guy who became a hydrographic surveyor; he travels worldwide regularly and makes big dough. Same with a geologist and geotechnical engineer I know.

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