The company where a friend of mine works was recently Streamlined For Greater Efficiency, which means he was Invited to Exit so that his position could be Folded Into Internal Synergy.
(translation for those who don’t speak Doublespeak: The company’s going broke, so he was laid off after his position was eliminated)
In order to maintain some income during this period, he’s taken on holiday work at a big-box store. He’s less than excited about the development. It got me thinking about a job I had for a while – one of those times in our lives when we look at our careers and think, “Well, this can’t be right…”
Now there’s certainly nothing wrong with working jobs like these; but it’s when you find yourself in a job that you know with every fiber of your being is the wrong place for you that wounds so deeply. For me, the indignity I felt was also fueled by the fact that less than a year earlier I’d been terminally Too Cool For School.
I was still a full-time comedian, working in a couple of theater groups, running a rapidly failing theater show. I was a gen-x bohemian of such incredible pomposity it’s a wonder I didn’t collapse in on myself, black hole-like. Jobs were for chumps. Societal rules were written for the sheeple who couldn’t think for themselves. Anything “normal” people did was pathetic. I hung out at dark bars and talked about edgy things and… you know… blah blah puke.
I was also miserable and broke, and decided I needed to make a change.
When I abandoned that I was so unused to being outside of my little alt-rock cocoon of bartering that when I had to start paying for my own drinks again, I was floored.
So, I’d decided to try and build something meaningful in my life, and while I was rebuilding, I had to get a job at the nearby Pseudo-Fancy Furniture & Lots Of Stuff That All Smells Like A Robot Pine Tree chain store. I dreaded people I knew coming in.
I’m sure they didn’t care what I was doing. It was my self-judgment projecting on to them.
To be clear, though: the job sucked. I’d worked a lot of jobs from coffee shops and bars to more bizarre ones, including Submarine Tour Guide (which I’ve written about in “My Secret Resume”) but I’d never worked retail, much less in a chain-store, so I wasn’t used to The Way Things Work.
The managerial staff were either unable, or unwilling, to think independently. They literally read from scripts given by corporate when addressing the employees. In day-to-day workings, even when blatant logic suggested a harmless alternative to a directive, they reacted as if you’d said, “What if instead we burned American flags in the window displays?”
This thinking extended to employee meetings where they attempted to “motivate” us by reading from a script, and offer sales competitions where the winner would get, not a bonus, or a raise, but a candy bar. A candy bar.
Lots of things got thrown out because it wasn’t selling or whatever. I thought, “Well, I/someone I know can use it” but when I went to take something was told, “It’s the company’s garbage.” I explained that it’s garbage, and could be put to good use. They said, “It’s the company’s garbage.” I said that, actually, the law says that once something has been placed in the garbage, you no longer own it. They said, “It’s the company’s garbage.”
The head manager applied this “inside the box in another box” thinking to her entire life. She perhaps demonstrated this best through trying to lose weight, but refusing to exercise, eat better, or eat less, but simply through a full-throttle approach to the Atkins Diet. I also found out later she would take home the in-store security tapes and watch them in her off hours to see what employees were doing when she wasn’t there.
But the thing I remember most? The music. They had 1-hour music loops, filled with songs that market research had shown inspired people to shop more, and it played every hour. I’d hear those songs 8 times a day, every day.
I still have a ridiculous, quasi-PTSD response when I hear some of them to this day.
Man, that was awful. This started out with the intention of being a “Hang in there, buddy; it’ll be fine” thing.
Ron, my friend, it will likely suck. But, for one thing you’ve got some great other things going on, including directing a play. Plus, as they say, the only constant is change, and as sure as life leads us in to those situations, it leads us to new places from there.