It could be worse

September 26, 2012, 3:02 pm

Sometimes when things get overwhelming at work and I start humming my dearly departed father’s favorite song (“Take This Job and Shove It,” by Johnny Paycheck), I try to remind myself that things could be worse. I could be in the private sector.

I spent a couple of years in the corporate world between college and graduate school, in the typesetting department of a financial printing company. As nice as it was making $50K/year with awesome benefits right out of college, the main thing I got from that job was the firm knowledge that I DID NOT WANT TO BE THERE. This was 1996-1998 – exactly the time period that the movie Office Space was based on. I almost cried the first time I saw that movie, because it was such a perfect representation of how awful my job was.

Just a few of the many things I hated about that job:

  • Having to work overtime/weekends/holidays whenever needed, or else risk losing my job
  • The mind-numbing tediousness of my tasks
  • The petty monitoring and comparing of hours worked, by people who thought they did more than everyone else and that it wasn’t fair
  • The stupid uniform shirt with the logo
  • Salespeople were considered superior to all other employees
  • Clients were wined and dined, allowed to smoke cigars inside the building while they waited for their documents, and regularly taken to stripclubs by the salespeople. Of course, only the male salespeople could take their clients to strip clubs, so the women naturally made less money…
  • The never-ending reminders that we were expendable

By comparison, dealing with faculty egos and the shocking inability of academics to follow instructions seems much painless. While I don’t exactly make my own hours, I almost never have to work nights and weekends. I do have to dress somewhat professionally (at least, by academic standards) but nobody is making me wear an ugly polo shirt. There are no clients, no stakeholders, no stock prices – I actually care about my work. And above all, I (usually) feel appreciated and needed.

I just have to keep reminding myself of these things every time a faculty member asks me a stupid question or claims to be “too busy” to comply with the reporting requirements of their funding awards.

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