Aside from the almost three week long government shut down, I have now been working for almost three months. I don’t like it at all. It’s ironic, really, that I’m in this position. For years, my parents instructed me to stay in school, work hard, and do well so that I could have a job doing the stuff I would do for free. That’s sound advice, right? Get yourself to the point where you get paid to do what you love. I thought I had done that—after 20-odd years of reading, writing, and researching, here I am, sitting at a desk, working for the federal government doing just that. And as it turns out, I have no problem doing the work, the research and the projects and all that. The actual substantive work is not the problem—I would have the exact same complaints were I paid to go into work and sit at my desk and do nothing but read all day long. My problem, as I’ve discovered, is that the work world itself is not for me.
The list of things I heartily dislike is long (don’t worry: I’ll go through each, at length). I’ll start with the hours I must spend in my office every day and the productiveness of those hours. As a government employee, I work forty hours every week. This means that every day, I have to arrive at work at 7:25, and I cannot leave until 3:55 (the mandatory half-hour lunch does not count toward my daily eight hours). Now, many professional-type people (including most of my fellow law school graduates) would rejoice at these hours. But an eight hour work day is absolutely ridiculous: (1) the eight hour requirement is completely divorced from my workload and (2) an eight hour work day is incredibly unproductive.
Some days I don’t have quite enough work to fill the whole day but I have to stay there, sitting trapped at my desk for the whole day. I’ll spend those days procrastinating because I know I have more than enough time to get the work done later. Other days I come in and have to work all day. On those days, though, I’m nowhere near as productive as I would be at home, dressed in comfortable clothes, able to move about our apartment freely (taking pull-up breaks, push-up breaks, a quick break to unload the dishwasher, and so on), working where I work best, either sprawled in the bed with my papers spread all over it or standing at our kitchen counter. An assignment I could do in three or four hours at home might take me the entire day at work for several reasons: (1) I’m more comfortable at home; (2) I work productively because I don’t feel the constraints of the 8 hours; (3) I feel free to follow the advice of scientists and work in 90 minute intervals, taking productive, non-computer-time breaks in between them; and (4) I’m free from the distractions of everyone else in the office, the idle chit-chat, and internet procrastination (at home, I don’t procrastinate because I just want to get the assignment done). The eight hour day is absurd.*
Then there’s office culture. I’ve never been a fan of small talk (participating in it, that is. I really do enjoy observing it, or talking to people who love to talk because then I get to analyze them in a sociological way, which is one of my favorite things to do. My idol in this is Larry David, by the way, who famously despises “stop and chats”), and my time in Iowa, somewhat shockingly, did not make me better at fake politeness, happiness, and cheer. Thus, I don’t enjoy the “How was your weekend” conversation. Or the “What are your plans for this weekend” conversation. Or, for that matter, the “Oh, you’re staying in, well let me tell you about my weekend then” conversation. The people I work with are really nice, but I’m not friends with them. I can only have that conversation so many times.
Along the same token, when I need a short break from an assignment, since I can’t do anything active, I’d rather read up on the news. In my office, however, the other employees take breaks by walking and chatting. They’ll pop into my office and stay there, talking about nothing particularly interesting, for quite a while. As I said, these are nice people, and we have nice conversations, but because we’re not friends, and because therefore we can only discuss polite society-vetted topics like weekend plans, the weather, and the terrible Redskins, they’re not that interesting. My office is very chatty and has great camaraderie; they all share their lunch hour and routinely go to happy hours after work together. I have nothing against this; I think it’s great. But it’s just not for me. During my lunch hour, I want be outside; I want to walk, and think, alone. In the winter months, this will be my only chance to be outside while it’s sunny out. As for happy hour gatherings, by the time happy hour rolls around, I’ve been away from home for more than eleven hours. I want to go home, and I want to go home right then. Why would I want to stick around DC any longer, go to a bar, and endure another hour of polite pseudo-conversation?
This leads me to the awful fact that I have to spend 8 hours a day sitting at my desk dressed in the most terrible dress clothes. Why? Why is this necessary? I’ll limit this discussion to the legal world—as that’s the office work world I’m most familiar with—but it seems to me that some (many?) lawyers wear dress clothes mostly so they can go to court and feel superior to the clients who are frequently poorly dressed. Or, for transactional lawyers (lawyers who help big companies write contracts or handle property), they wear such clothes to impress their uber-rich clients. As I am in neither situation, it’s completely ridiculous for me to dress up. I never go to court; I never even leave the office. The clothes are not comfortable, nobody looks good in them, and they impair mobility and make it impossible to do anything but sit at a desk. Study after study has shown the dangers of sitting all day long—this sedentary lifestyle leads to weight gain, chronic inflammation, fatigue, muscle loss, decrease in lifespan (this is starting to sound like the side effects quickly presented in a drug commercial) and all sorts of stuff I don’t want happening to me (the most sedentary individuals have a 49% greater risk than non-sedentary individuals of dying prematurely—regardless of exercise).
Lastly, I cannot escape the feeling of entrapment that comes with each work week. I have to go to work every day. I have to be there at 7:25. I have to stay until 3:55. It doesn’t matter how hard I work, how much I get done, or how much I don’t have to do. I’m just there. I can’t take it. I dread going to work every single morning. **
*I have no problem with hard work. In fact, I like it. I’ve worked incredibly hard for the past seven years in school. The difference is that in school, I could (1) work from wherever I wanted; and (2) I had the freedom to schedule my studying and my classes. I was never, ever trapped, forced to sit somewhere for eight hours just because that’s what I had to do. This is my biggest complaint with the working world.
**I wrote this post focusing only on work world problems that are the most prevalent to everyone in the work world and not particularly personal to me. Personally, my work day is made seven million times worse by the fact that Tanner and I are in completely separate work worlds. After spending the past three years never separated at law school, taking all of our classes together, studying together, doing absolutely everything together, I cannot accept the fact that we’re now supposed to spend almost all of our waking hours apart. In fact, I refuse to accept it.