My friend Lauren recently posed the question, “How do you survive an office job as a creative person, without letting it break your spirit or drive you crazy?” As someone who worked as an office temp and managed to survive with my soul intact, I began making a list of all the tricks I used to avoid losing my mind.
At first, it wasn’t too bad. Easy work, good pay, and when I went home at night I left the job at the office. But after a few weeks of going to bed at 10:30pm, getting up at 7am, and staring at computer screens under flourecent lighting for eight hours a day I began to go a little crazy. I realized that the work I was doing all day had no meaning. Old married men were hitting on me, people yelled at me on the phone, and treated me like I had no skills outside of making photocopies. I couldn’t take it anymore.
I couldn’t afford to quit just yet, so I decided to make my life more creatively productive and satisfying as best I could within the limitations of office life. If you feel trapped in that cubicle life, suffocating, like you want to run out of the building screaming at the top of your lungs throwing staplers at people, here is a list of tips and tricks that I used to maintain my true self in the midst of the soul-death of the office:
1. Read something interesting on the subway.
2. Wear fun outfits that make you feel great!
3. Always eat something good for lunch. Bringing lunch from home is a good way to save money (so you can quit sooner), but it won’t break the bank to treat yourself once in a while to a lunch out that will make you feel happy.
4. Write stories, plays, satirical pieces, anything creative, into bodies of emails to yourself. This way, it looks like you are writing important, business-related emails so when people walk by your desk they will just think you are working.
5. When someone yells at you about making copies, or booking conference rooms, don’t take it seriously. Shake it off if you can. Those things don’t matter. They are not important. Try to laugh at things rather than getting frusterated. It’s very easy to go insane with frustration if you let it get to you.
6. Remember that you are not defined by your job. When people ask you what you do, don’t say, “I’m a receptionist/office temp/whatever.” Instead say, “I’m a writer/artist/dancer/actor/director/insert your passion here.”
7. Go “commando” on casual Fridays.
8. Remind yourself that this is temporary.
9. Make your home space as pleasant and creatively inspiring as you can. Make it a place you want to be in and come home to at the end of the day. Make it a place where you can make your real work.
10. Do any little thing that makes you happy. Go see a movie. I once spent my last ten dollars on a movie (back when movies in the city were still $10). Remember these things that make you happy. Eventually you will find something you can do to make money that won’t make you crazy. I did. And it happened just like that. I was walking down 6th avenue, saw this movie theater, and just knew I had to work there. I applied and got the job the next day. It is the first time I can honesly say I love my job, and I still have enough time to devot to my real work. If you surround yourself with things and people that you love, this creates a positive energy, allowing for the right opportunities to find you. See yourself where you want to be. Trust yourself. You are the only one that can be you.
Thanks, and I’ll see you next time.