If we're always connected and always on, why are we always stuck in a cubicle?
(My coffee mug and water bottle on the left.)
First, let’s start with a laugh.
Imagine a work environment where your bosses wanted you to have fun at work. Where company time was set aside for outings, events and whatnot. Where you were encouraged to get out and play once in awhile.
Okay, stop laughing. That used to be true.
Because companies used to follow research. And research has consistently shown that when employees have fun at work, they are more productive and more committed. Here’s an excerpt from one study:
“Studies suggest that workplace fun may be an inexpensive, profitable mechanism of engagement that correlates directly with increasing employee job satisfaction, cultivating morale, and improving quality of customer service.”
Anyone remember the term, “work/life balance?”
About 15 years ago, I wrote a web site for one of the big accounting firms targeting new graduates that was devoted entirely to work/life balance. Today, that’s a term about as popular as a Flash website.
Welcome to Dickensian hell.
Unfortunately, the age of fun at work has passed. Today’s workplace has become a Dickensian hell where people keep their heads down and are just relieved to have a job, as miserable as it may be.
We’ve become Great Recession babies.
Why the grim change? Lots of reasons: the Great Recession of 2008, constant mergers and resulting employee “redundancies” leading to regular layoffs, global competition, online disintermediation, and a bunch of other multi-syllable words.
And today, even though the economy has changed for the better, the overall mindset hasn't. We don't expect to enjoy work. And if we do, we suspect that we must be doing something wrong since everyone else is miserable. Which then leads us to believe we will most likely be first up for the next round of layoffs.
Fun? That’s just a funny word. Fun at work? That’s just sacrilege.
I didn’t realize how un-fun we have become until I collaborated with B12 Productions to create a tribute video for Mike Lazur, who was inducted into the Medical Advertising Hall of Fame (MAHF). It was a fabulous video project, as I got to direct and interview Mike and other top folks in the medical advertising industry. What came across was how much fun they all had doing groundbreaking creative. In fact, the stories about arm wrestling in bars, pop-up band improvs at work and best dressed competitions kind of stole the show.
(See video at https://vimeopro.com/markbellusci/commercial-productions/video/205436198)
Lack of fun is not only the fault of corporations.
It’s not just the economy and corporations who are to blame for fun-less workplaces. It’s also us self-employed contractors and freelancers who make up a large and growing segment of the workforce. And I’m as guilty as anyone. Years back, an afternoon without a deadline meant it was time to take out the bike, take a nap, or take in a matinee. But in today’s fun-less world? A light afternoon is time for employment paranoia (“Will I ever work again? Should I be doing more? What did I miss? What kind of busy work can I drum up?”) And that refreshingly free afternoon could easily turn into a tedious and tenuous slog through useless make-work.
How to bring a little fun back to your job.
First of all, if you’re waiting for a company field trip, good luck on that long line to nowhere. And if you need me to give you tips, your fun-less condition may be even worse than I feared.
But what the hell, I’ll throw out a few suggestions:
Make a fun plan.
Don’t worry if you don’t get the hang of this fun thing right away. Just stick with your plan. And that strange feeling that will appear on your face? It’s called a smile.
Feel fully secure in your career position? Great. You are in a select group of one.
For the rest of us, long-term job security is as common as a hole-in-one. Whether we’re junior or senior in just about any field, we’re all just a consolidation, budget slash or reorganization away from missing the cut.
So how can you keep your career on the fairway?
1. Stop thinking.
Worrying incessantly about the next corporate move can drive you crazy. More importantly, it can distract you from digging in and doing your job to the best of your ability. You can end up spending more time posturing and politicking, and less time producing. Which can make you even more vulnerable.
2. Let it happen.
So much energy is wasted strategizing and scheming to control what can’t be controlled. Now that doesn’t mean your should bury your head in the sand. Of course you should be aware of office politics, consolidations and budget constraints that can affect your career. You should always do all you can to keep yourself well positioned.
But just as important is knowing when to stop trying to control what you can’t. Whatever is going to happen will happen anyway, so know when to get out of the way and let it happen.
3. Be the product.
Forgive me, Harold Ramis (RIP), Chevy Chase, Michael O'Keefe, Bill Murray, Rodney Dangerfield (RIP) et al for paraphrasing your famous golf line from Caddy Shack, but it’s the most important point of this article.
Whatever your company’s products, services and/or offerings, the closer you are to producing them, the more secure your job. That means if you’re in an accounting firm, you need to be crunching numbers. If you’re in a design firm, you should be putting stylus to pad. In the sales department? You want to be contributing directly to the bottom line.
Sounds simple. It’s not.
Today, there are so many ancillary positions and off-line roles that are not directly related to your company’s output. Even if you now contribute directly as a hands-on engineer, sales person or mechanic, you could very easily be promoted out of those direct line positions. That promotion may elevate your career and salary, but it can also make you more vulnerable at consolidation time, since companies often look at non-line items first.
So how can you be the product?
If possible, get close to what your company is making. If that’s engineering, be one with blueprints. It it’s copywriting, put pen to paper. Being the product means being a more indispensable part of your company’s offerings (or your own if you’re self-employed).
If making product isn’t part of your official responsibilities, spend some your own time building, creating or selling — whether it’s for a second business, an online course or content generation for blogs and web sites (see my article, Build Crafts, Not Careers). Even if it’s non-paying, it’s worth it to make/sell/build something — doing so can boost your confidence, reinvigorate your passion and help you develop skills that are valuable, ownable and transferrable.
You can then start thinking about how to package what you do as a unique offering; something you can shop within your company, with another company, or as an independent consultant.
So stop thinking, let it happen and be the product. Oh, and take a break to check out Caddyshack for non-stop laughs.
What do two immortal baseball players have to do with writing? In the case of Satchel Paige, a perennial star of the Negro Leagues, the oldest rookie to play in the major leagues and an all-star well into his forties, it’s his famous saying:
“Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.”
Apply that to writing, and you get:
Keep putting words on paper without looking back at what you've written.That leads to future first ballot Hall-of-Famer, Mariano Rivera. It’s not what he says that makes him a writing rock star; it’s what he used to do.
He was a finisher.
For writers, this means:
Finish what you’re writing before you start editing.How many times have you written the first few sentences, then lost all momentum by going back to review what you’ve written?
Editing something you haven’t finished not only wastes time, it derails your train of thought and could sap your writing confidence. By looking back at your incomplete piece, you’re letting all those negative “not-good-enough” thoughts gain on you.
8 steps to becoming a writing closer:
Mark Bellusci is an award-winning filmmaker, published playwright and freelance copywriter. He writes in twenty-five-minute bursts, using his phone timer and never looking back till the first draft is finished. See his stuff at markbellusci.com/video and markbellusci.com.
Somewhere in high school, we’re introduced to, and then inundated with, the “career” word. We’re instructed to figure out what we want to do with the rest of our lives. The career pressure used to start when we became high school seniors. For my kids, it started as high school freshman.
Right. Like a 14-year-old who can barely decide on her next anime binge can suddenly figure out her life calling.
A legacy of slow, steady, boring.
For many, this approach led to a steady-if-unspectacular-career, in an arbitrarily chosen field, with the goal of spending decades moving up the ladder to a middle middling position.
But in today’s world, maybe the last thing we should think about is a career.
The danger of career thinking.
While a long track record in the same company used to convey loyalty, selflessness and determination, it can now connote laziness, lack of initiative and unimaginative acceptance of the status quo. All of which could land you on the wrong side of a downsizing, asset consolidation, destaffing or whatever head chopping euphemism is currently in vogue.
So how can you avoid turning a career into career suicide? By mastering a craft.
Craft for life.
A craft can be anything you have a passion for — whether it's writing, financial planning, auto repair or design. It means devoting yourself to your craft, always looking to improve it, and sticking with it whether you get paid or not. Like Steve B, of Steve B Leatherworks, who's a career marketing strategist who also happens to be a master leatherworks craftsman (https://www.etsy.com/shop/stevebleatherworks).
Do what you love; love what you do — or some combination therein.
Ideally, you’ll love your craft and make a living at it. But not everyone can be so lucky. You may love a craft but not get paid for it, or get paid for a craft you don't love but excel at.
Whatever your situation, you still need to hone a craft. By doing so, you'll continually rekindle your spark to create, and that spark will be reflected in your overall outlook, energy and determination.
Craft is the new black.
Because you'll move quickly and decisively while working your craft, you'll rediscover what it means to act with a sense of purpose and passion, which can help turbo charge your career.
You'll also be more interesting to bosses and coworkers when they see your rock collection at a mineral show, or your time management app featured on mobile sites. All other things being equal, people like to work with people who are passionate and engaged ... in something. Anything.
Time well spent, even if you have none.
I know: you barely have enough time to get through your day; how are you supposed to work on your craft? Start small by cutting out a sliver of your downtime, like twenty minutes of TV or setting your alarm fifteen minutes earlier. As you delve into your craft, you’ll discover new levels of satisfaction and challenge, which makes finding time even easier.
Craft it up.
Maybe one day, you can figure out how to monetize your craft by either selling your creations, or teaching others. At the very least, you'll sharpen your career-enhancing cognitive and creative skills, and enjoy the reward of accomplishing something special in an area you love.
No matter how the rest of your day goes with work, life, family and friends, you'll always have your craft to work on. That’s something no one can take away from you. And something that can take your career to a new level.
I was shooting a mini-documentary of my buddy, Steve B of Steve B Leatherworks, who has built a nice business creating custom leather products for bikers, housewives, executives and everyone in between. Steve, a marketing veteran who started Steve B Leatherworks as an invigorating hobby, now combines his thriving leather business, marketing consulting and journalistic writing as a career. As I was shooting him over the sewing machine working on his latest belt, he summed up his career by saying, "These days, we're all stitching it together."
Sometimes, the perfect pun appears when you least expect it.
Back in the day, you chose a career, then a company, and basically stayed with that company for most of your career. That evolved into choosing a career, and trying to stick with it even as you bounced from company to company.
Today? Everything is up for grabs: the career path, the company, the industry, and everything in between.
You might start out as an accountant with a passionate hobby of collecting baseball cards, only to be deemed redundant and unemployable in a shrinking industry. Then, those baseball cards you've been collecting? They could become your best new source of income.
Maybe the baseball cards become part of your income through a consignment booth at a collectors mall, along with contract work in accounting, and maybe a bit of teaching at the adult ed center. And while the transition from one steady job to a series of disparate gigs may seem frenetic and fearful, you may discover you like the action and adventure of reinventing yourself. You may love turning a lifelong passion into a career. And you may find that the chaotic entrepreneur world actually gives you more control than the now tenuous nine-to-five thing.
That's what stitching it together is all about. And like Steve B, that's what more and more of us are doing — and having fun while we're at it.
A brilliant architect, Frank Lloyd Wright designed by his own rules, in harmony with the environment around him. He had the creativity and vision to see what was possible, and the perseverance to see it through. To accomplish his amazing architectural feats, Frank Lloyd Wright needed a blueprint -- just like writers need an outline.
Let it all fly in your outline.
There’s nothing more liberating than writing an outline. It’s your chance to let loose with any thought and idea, without worrying about word selection, structure or flow.
Your testing ground.
The outline is where you can put down all those off-the-wall ideas, approaches and thoughts, just to see what sticks. With the outline, anything goes, in any language you want: bullets, blurbs, hell, even curse words. Whatever makes you feel comfortable for getting thoughts down, use it.
Here are a few suggestions to get you cranking:
Some writers, like Stephen King, work without an outline. They like to be surprised by what they come up with. I admire their talent. But for me, I’ll stick with an outline.
If it works for Frank Lloyd Wright, it works for me.
Even in the digital / visual / social media age of micro-mini attention spans, writing rules. Whether you want to persuade, explain, entertain or sell, if you can’t get your ideas across in words, the rest of it is just eye candy.
To hone your writing skills, take a look a writing rock star: Plato.
The classical Greek philosopher Plato was a mathematician, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the Academy of Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world.
He was also one of the first regular users of an alarm clock (a water alarm clock, specifically). And that makes him a writing rock star.
Set an alarm, spare the writing angst.
How many times have you sat down in front of a blank page and froze? Like I do on just about every piece I write, including this one. You think about how much you have to accomplish, how many pages to fill, what to say, how to say it, why it needs to be said, and on and on and on.
Minutes, hours, days later, and the page is still blank.
That’s why you need to take a lesson from Plato and make a simple alarm clock (or timer) your most important writing tool. Here’s how:
Michael Schwartz is an amazing writing, dramaturg and assistant professor.Kathleen Kerns is such a good director, she took one of my plays and enabled it to win the Samuel French Festival some years back. So the fact that they're including one of my plays in a festival that includes works from award-winning playwrights like Daniel Damiano, well hell, I'm tickled pink. It's in Indiana, PA, so if you're anywhere near there, check it out. Or even if you're not, it'll be worth the road trip.