Adonis Diaries

Bored to Tears by a Do-Nothing Dream Job

Posted on: November 26, 2015

Bored to Tears by a Do-Nothing Dream Job

More than a decade ago, I was in the type of job where, if I had sat down at my desk and worked for 100 hours straight, I would be only slightly less behind than when I started.

I was a newspaper editor, stuck in the type of never-ending grind that caused me to begin having a regular daydream.

Wouldn’t it be nice, I would tell myself as I rushed to meetings and faced down one deadline after another, if I had a job where I could just sit completely still for eight hours a day.

No duties, no meetings, no responsibilities — just enter some kind of building, sit down at a desk and collect a paycheck at the end of the week.

I wanted to do absolutely nothing.

Of course, at the time I never believed such a job existed, except perhaps in a few dusty corners of the government.

But then, after suffering complete burnout in my newspaper job and finding myself back on the market, I discovered firsthand that it was possible to end up with such a position in the private sector.

Based on the advertisement, the job I applied for and got appeared to require actual work.

I was to be an editor for a company that produced in-house publications for associations.

My task would be to work with the members of the various associations to edit and prepare monthly magazines and annual directories. It sounded like just what I was looking for — no daily deadlines and far less stress.

I arrived on the agreed-upon Monday morning at 8:30, and soon learned that I had struck gold. The business model was explained to me: The company’s sales staff approached and signed up various associations across the country, then editors like myself produced their publications.

But — and this was the most important detail — editors had to be hired before the associations were on board, so the company would be ready to go as soon as a deal was signed.

A typical editor at the company managed 15 to 20 publications, but as a new hire I would start out as the editor of zero.

(Editors earned cash bonuses for each magazine or directory they completed, so nobody wanted to pawn off any of their accounts to newbies.)

On my first day, I was given an employee handbook, a thick, three-ring binder of boilerplate company material; shown to a cubicle; and told to wait. For days? Weeks? Nobody I asked could be sure.

I approached my supervisor and several co-workers about how I was expected to fill my time.

Should I assist other editors? No, I was told, they work independently with their associations, so that wouldn’t be necessary.

Should I study up on the publications I would produce? No, each association was different, so that would serve no purpose. My supervisor pointed to my cubicle and the employee manual, making it clear that at this point I was infringing on her valuable time.

The first thing you deal with in a work environment with no work to do is the insecurity that comes from the peering eyes of your co-workers. Even though you have been told to do nothing, it still feels wrong to graze on the Internet or read a book at your desk while, all around you, actual work is being done.

The company occupied an extended single-story building in a small industrial park. The building backed up to a retention pond, and in front of the pond was a grassy area with a few picnic tables that served as a smoking section for the nicotine-inclined sales staff.

To create a little separation from the actual workers, I began to make my way outside to the picnic tables, a newspaper under my arm.

At first, I would sit at the table for 10 or 15 minutes at a time, chat with the smokers, relax by the pond and then brace myself for another hour in the cubicle.

Quickly, 15 turned to 30, and 30 turned to 60. Nobody needed me, so nobody came looking for me.

Soon, the smoking salesmen began to notice that each time they cycled through for another cigarette, I just happened to be on a break too, sitting comfortably at the picnic table.

Between puffs, one of them casually broached the subject. “What, exactly, do you do here?” he asked. (Most of the public servants in Lebanon don’t even have to show up to their supposed work)

The company was very successful, and much of the success was attributed to the military-type discipline that was imposed on its sales staff. Ten new people were brought in and trained each month, and about 10 unproductive ones were shoved out the door, like so much grass spit out of a lawn mower.

Those in sales would hit their mark of 60 cold calls per day or face consequences. All employees were required to be at their desks at 8:30, precisely. (For some reason, the rule was in place at the end of the day as well; at 5:32, the building was a ghost town.)

One morning, I entered the cubicle at 8:35 to find a note on my desk from my supervisor. “We expect everybody here on time,” she told me. “Please don’t make me ask you again.” My idle presence would apparently be needed for the full eight hours.

With no way to shorten the endless hours of nothing, I began to create activities to pass the time. The company had a new health policy that encouraged walking.

Pedometers were distributed. To capitalize on this, I tried to organize walking groups among the other editors. A few of them agreed to walk around the industrial park for 15 or 20 minutes in the afternoon.

When a few of them began to beg off because of work, I became desperate and began pleading with them. Before long, the walking group was defunct.

I started calling in to midday radio contests. “The 23rd caller wins lunch for the entire office!” Nineteen of the first 23 calls were from me. With unlimited time to call in, I won several lunches for my co-workers. They were underwhelmed.

I’ve often wondered why the so-called Masters of the Universe, those C.E.O.s with multimillion-dollar monthly paychecks, keep working. Why, once they have earned enough money to live comfortably forever, do they still drag themselves to the office? The easy answer, the one I had always settled on, was greed.

But as I watched the hours slowly drip by in my cubicle, an alternative reason came into view.

Without a sense of purpose beyond the rent money, malaise sets in almost immediately. We all need a reason to get up in the morning, preferably one to which we can attach some meaning. It is why people flock to the scene of a natural disaster to rescue and rebuild, why people devote themselves to a cause, no matter how doomed it may be. In the end, it’s the process as much as the reward that nourishes us.

Eventually, associations were signed and work began to appear on my desk. But by that time, my need for purpose had jumped the line. I had begun taking graduate school classes, and they did not fit into the strict 8:30-to-5:30 company schedule. No exceptions would be made.

I stuck with the classes, and in short order I was out, just another blade of grass spit onto the sidewalk.

I took a part-time job at a newspaper.

The first day, my supervisor asked me to edit a page of church announcements, the most menial of tasks in the newsroom. I lunged for it as if I were dying of thirst.

As my workload grew and again began to eclipse the number of hours in the day, I held on to the cubicle experience. It was a blessing to have fulfilling work, to be a cog in an important machine, to have a reason for being.

Still, it wasn’t long before, on those days when the work was piled high, with no end in sight, I began to slip into a familiar daydream. “Wouldn’t it be nice, if. …”

 Andrew Bossone shared this link

We all need a reason to get up in the morning, preferably one to which we can attach some meaning.

It is why people flock to the scene of a natural disaster to rescue and rebuild, why people devote themselves to a cause, no matter how doomed it may be. In the end, it’s the process as much as the reward that nourishes us.”|By Ted Geltner

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November 2015

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