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Sunday, 7 February 2010 at

Work isn't Your Dad

After I'd written the last blog post - a good while ago now - I was gently chided by a friend of mine for writing such a cocky article. An article that kind of implies that other people are stupid, but not me. He suggested that I add to it some examples of my own stupidity, preferably humorous ones.

OK. This is something I have done several times. I have opened a brand new box of cornflakes. And because it's a brand new box, the cornflakes tasted great. So when I come to put the box away, I've been worried that that plastic inner bag won't be adequately sealed, still keeping those cornflakes deliciously fresh. So I've taken the inner bag out of the box, and, holding one of the open corners with each hand spun the bag over and over to get a tight seal.

And the bottom of the bag has burst and I have found myself staring at a pile of fresh, lovely cornflakes, almost covering my shoes. This has happened at least twice, I hope I've learned.

But the real example of my stupidity that I want to talk about today is something that it's going to take a lot longer to laugh about. Here it is:

For years and years I thought that for some reason, I was entitled to work somewhere where I was treated fairly, where the people that I worked for were concerned for my career and my development and, crucially and most stupidly, where the things that I was given to do made sense. When I found, in job after job that this wasn't happening, my reaction was outrage and my solution was to move, looking for another job that hopefully did make sense and where I would (in my opinion) be treated fairly.

I first got this "Work isn't your dad" idea while reading Gail Sheehy's fascinating, fascinating book "Passages". Her point is that once we've fallen out of the cosy creche of university we tend to go through our twenties looking for a substitute for our parents. And where are the two places we look? Work and love life of course.

When all excited at this new discovery I explained my theory to a friend of mine (the same one that objected to the "On Stupidity" post) the dialogue went something like this:
"Work isn't your dad"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, work's unfair, it's capricious, it makes no sense, it doesn't have your best interests at heart."
"That sounds exactly like my dad."

Mmm. OK. So this might need to modified.

Work isn't your ideal parent.

Many, many of you might think that this is blindingly obvious, and if you do, that's fine. You can move on. Nothing more for you to see here. But for years and years it wasn't obvious to me. And many, many others don't see this. Clever people's lives are made agony because they don't see it. If that weren't the case, why would I find myself saying to close friends of mine things like:
"If your happiness rests on a committee of academics (who are all your rivals) making a just and fair decision, then you are royally fucked."

If this were obvious, why would a friend of mine invite my wife and I around for dinner, and then read us his 360 degree performance review? Desperate for us to agree with him about the unfairness of his bosses comments?

I know this now. But from minute to minute, that doesn't mean there isn't a serious danger that I might forget, and get all self-righteous and indignant that I haven't been treated the way *I* expect to be treated. One final slogan, may help me through, I read it in a nutty, nutty book, The Grunch of Giants by Buckminster Fuller, that reads as though it's been written by a man with a silver paper hat on his head to keep the aliens from probing his brain waves. But when I first read it, it was like a shot ringing out around the world.

You can either make money or sense.

PS This also ties in with the stuff I've been reading by Vankatesh Rao about the Gervais Principle. If you expect work to make sense your are probably one of the "clueless" as I was for oh so many years.

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