Economic downturns have a funny way of turning your fate.
Early this year, fresh from the dot.com boom and bust, I set out in search of a new gig. Surely some creative company would snap me up. After all, I had a lot to contribute creatively — a varied background in multi-media production and journalism, coupled with eclectic tastes in dance, music and art. Well, to my chagrin, the ad agencies and production houses never called back. Things got pretty slow in the interview lane. Just for kicks, I interviewed at a large corporation, the kind of place where Casual Friday means khakis and Izod shirts. I walked in, confident that they would dismiss me. I was safe. Besides, I thought, I couldn’t imagine myself working in such a place anyway.
Well, low and behold, here I am, six months and one official economic downturn later, yanking myself from bed at 6am five days a week to get to my corporate gig. I drive seventy miles round trip each day, I wear pantyhose with the corporate skirt, and I play the back nine on Fridays with the VP of marketing. Ok, so the last item is a lie (thank God.)
Of course, you’re probably saying to yourself, “She wears pantyhose to work? Ha! I’d never sink that low!” And you’re probably right, of course, especially if you’re a guy. But the pantyhose and Izod shirts of corporate apparel are not important. The important lesson about working in a corporate environment is figuring out how to keep a grip on your soul. So here, as a public service “if this ever happens to you” type thing, is a short list of adages and observations around the topic, “Corporate Life, 101″ — or how to wear the corporate badge and still keep your inner edge.
1. The hardest part of a 10-hour workday can simply be staying awake. The routine can be hallucinatory. One morning I thought I saw fishes cascading down the atrium stairs (and that was before I had the free cup of morning coffee.) Go with the hallucinations, they are healthy. Make a note of them for future reference, in case you find yourself still working in the gig two years from now. Such amusements of the mind are a reminder that no matter how long you play the game, you must never mistake it for reality. If your imagination suddenly feels starved and put out to pasture, don’t panic. Find some choice creative outlets for your mind and body outside work hours. Avoid excessive drug use though — it’ll make it hard to get those pantyhose over your head in the morning.
2. Corporate life is surprisingly benign. What’s big is procedure. There are always too many people involved in any process, including whatever it is you’ve set out to do. An otherwise two-day process will take two weeks in the corporate maze. This may lead you to think that you can sit back and ride the slow wave, but you’re wrong. Look at it from another angle. The slo-mo nature of the system will give you time to develop your thoughts, come up with some innovative ideas and score big. It won’t happen overnight. But then again, nothing ever does in the land of corporate living, because –
3. Rules rule. If they say the workday starts at 8:30 everyday, then gosh darn it, it does. Does that make sense? No. But such rules are necessary when you’ve got thousands of people coming in to work everyday, in a place where the bottom line rules. Remember that consistency counts for a lot in the corporate realm. And let your consistency work for you — be on time often enough so you can afford to be late sometimes, and your boss won’t mind. Speaking of your boss –
4. If they hired you, someone obviously must have thought your point of view was worth bringing into the fold. So make sure and find out as much as you can about what’s expected of you. Not just the written job description — find out what they like about you. Create unique goals with your boss that are about your viewpoint, what you can offer, what you bring to the job. Make a unique contribution to the company. It will be duly noted.
5. Do not seek out “partners in crime,” i.e., people who you might think have your same strange, slightly demented view on reality. It’s likely that no one in the place has quite the same twisted take you do anyway. Keep that for yourself to enjoy.
6. Embrace the uniform dress code. Who wants to think about what to wear to work everyday, day in and day out? When you’re faced with another, “Oh my god, it’s 6am and what’ll I wear?” scenario, you’ll be glad you’ve got something mindless to slap on your body. And if you find yourself wearing pantyhose to work, say to yourself, “So what. I wear pantyhose to work.” Even if you wear them underneath your khakis.