Archive for June, 2011

Stop thinking and start working on it

Work toward your goals.

We all have an idea of success in our heads.  Personally I have three.  I would like to start and run a small business.  I would like to write for a living.  I would like to travel the world and work from wherever.  These are pretty lofty goals.

When I think about them, I tend to think that I just need to get there to be happy.  I just need to open up a bar or write a great book or quit my job and move to Europe.  It seems like there is always that one thing you need to be happy.

We start to develop this perfect idea of our ideal lives in our head.  I think, if only I could start that restaurant, everything will be happy and perfect.  We get these ideas of what “success” is, but they never seem to come true.  Even if we do achieve our goals, there is always something else we need.  We crave change and excitement.

I’ve spent a lot of time doing this.  When I was a kid all I wanted to do was get out of my hometown and go to college.  I couldn’t wait for this big new thing that was going to change my life.  I spent more time thinking about what it would be like that I forgot to enjoy my time in high school.

Then I went to college.  It was fun, but nothing really different.  I was older and learning more and in a different town, but that didn’t matter.  So then I graduated and decided that I needed to move out of the state and to a whole new part of the country.

I did.  I drove across the country all alone to try this whole new world.  I got a job, found a place to live, and made some friends.  Then I realized that it’s still pretty much the same.  I live in a new place and know different people, but life is still the same as usual.

Recently I’ve been tired of the cubicle life.  I start making plans and have thoughts about opening my own business or traveling the world.  I think of how awesome it will be when I get there.  I think about how all I need to do is start that perfect business idea or come up with the great book idea.

I spend so much time thinking about this stuff that I forget to enjoy my day to day life.  I forget that I have things pretty good.  I have some great friends and a good job.  I can still work toward these goals, but I need to stop dreaming about the future and start living in the present.
This is part of the reason why I started writing “Surviving the Cubicle”.  I just needed to get going on something instead of thinking about it.
See where I’m going here?  We’re never going to find that one thing that makes life perfect.  We can never be complacent.  Whenever we achieve something we find something new to look forward to.  I think a lot of people are just like me.  They spend too much time thinking about how great things will be once they “succeed”, but there is really no such thing.  It’s all just about doing what it takes to make yourself happy.

If you want to quit your job or start a business or write a novel or buy a house or whatever, you just have to start working on it.

What I’m saying is that success is not the end goal, but the process of getting there.  If you can enjoy yourself along the way you’ll truly be happy.

So stop thinking about the future.  Stop dreaming of a perfect lifestyle where everything will be easy.  It doesn’t exist.  If you want something, start working your way there.  Set realistic goals and get them done.

The future will get here fast enough so enjoy the present while you still can.

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We need a challenge

I’m trying to find my voice here on Surviving the Cubicle and am having a bit of trouble.  I find that I talk like a bad motivational speaker sometimes.  I really don’t mean to do this.  I think I am just trying to sound professional.  I’ll keep working on it, but if any readers have any ideas to help this, let me know.

Anyways, I’ve been thinking about working in an office a lot lately and one of the biggest problems I see is that there is no challenge.  When I start a new job or take on a new project the work is challenging for a few weeks, but then becomes pretty mundane.

It seems like we learn our roles and responsibilities, but then it just becomes routine.  This really annoys me.  I like to be challenged all the time.  I think we all do.

A challenge allows us to put in hard work and use our brains.  Then when we complete something we feel a sense of accomplishment.

Office life doesn’t give us that.  Well at least for most of us.  It also feels like I’m not getting better at anything.  This is frustrating.  How are we supposed to spend our whole lives working, but not improving at anything?

This adds to the feeling of “floating by” and wasting time.  I wake up every day and head in to work.  I’m not bummed about it, but I don’t feel like I have a big challenge ahead of me.  I may feel like I have a lot to do or a long meeting, but I rarely feel like I have a big important task with many obstacles to overcome.

I more or less feel like I have “stuff to do”.  Stuff to do is boring.  Accomplishments to achieve, things to produce, and problems to solve all are challenges.  Yet, these things are pretty rare.  Usually I just have stuff to do.  It all seems like I’m just passing time.

Why do offices work this way?  Am I the only one who feels like he needs a challenge?

Are there good jobs out there that provide this kind of challenge?

In the old days, people went to work to build something or create a new invention or drive a business to success.  Now everyone has very specialized tasks that they have to get done every day.  Every task is so specific that we don’t really have to think much to get them done.

We don’t have to learn new things and become better at our jobs to get through the work day, we just have to get our “stuff” done.

This all makes office work unfulfilling.  We never seem to accomplish anything.  This goes along with the feeling of a lack of reward at work.  The job itself isn’t why we work anymore.  There is no satisfaction of a job well done.

These days there is just the paycheck and another day tomorrow.  Oh and maybe retirement someday.

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Sweets

Everywhere I’ve worked there is someone who loves to bring in sweets.  At my last job there was a lady who kept an entire drawer full of candy for anyone to eat.  Now I’m surrounded by baked goods.  It seems almost every day there is a new tray of brownies or cookies sitting out in the office.  There sitting right behind by cube as I speak.

This doesn’t even count all of the cupcakes and cakes for anniversaries and “town hall meetings”.  It seems like every day is spent avoiding sugary foods.

It’s nice that people are excited to bring in food for each other, but it can be very frustrating when you are trying to eat healthy.  Sitting in a cube all day is already terrible for your body, why is every so enthused to load up on sweets at the same time?

When I first started working, I would eat the candy and cupcakes that people brought in pretty regularly.  I’d have some kind of junk food almost every day actually.  It seemed great.  Everyone was so nice to bring food.  Then I realized that I was getting pretty fat.  I’d gained about 20 pounds in 3 years.  Something had to change.

I had never been in really good shape, but this was a major change.  The combination of junk food and sitting was killing me.  I worked out a lot too, but it didn’t help.  I eventually changed my diet and cut out almost all junk food.  I started eating plenty of meat, vegetables, fruit, nuts, and some dairy.  I cut out all grains and sugar.

I basically switched to the paleo type diet.  Click here to check out my success story on Mark’s Daily Apple.

I’m not here to debate types of diet though.  We can all agree that eating candy and brownies on a regular basis will make you fat.  It will eventually give you cardiovascular disease or diabetes.

So why do we think it’s a great idea to feed this to our coworkers all the time?  Maybe people really just hate each other and are trying to get ahead by killing the competition…  Funny, but I doubt it.

I think we do it because we’re depressed about working in an office.  We sit here all day long in dreary gray cubicles and need something to pick us up.  Sugar does a pretty good job of that.  We’re also stressed.  I know that I like to eat bad when I’m stressed out.  I had a family member die recently and all I wanted to do was eat pizza and ice cream.  It just seems to help for some reason.

Having some junk food every once in a while isn’t really a big deal.  If it’s in response to something like a death, it’s probably even pretty good for us psychologically.  Having it daily to deal with the stress of office work is another story though.  It becomes a habit and makes us more stressed.

The sugar makes us hyper and antsy.  The extra calories make us fat.  Being fatter makes us more stressed.  Being unable to get up and move around makes us even fatter.  All of that makes us want more sugar because we’re depressed.

I think that eating sweets while working in an office is just a downward spiral into obesity, depression, and poor health.  It may make us happier at the time, but in the long run it will only make us sad.

It’s hard to resist though.  Like I said, there is a tray of baked goods sitting a few feet away from my desk right now.  It can be annoying at times.  Especially when people are always asking you if you want some.  I make up excuses or tell people that I’ll have some later.

I personally think that it takes more than willpower.  Willpower will get you through until you get stressed or have a bad day.  Then you’ll usually give in and grab a cookie.  I have to make up my mind that I don’t want to eat the junk food.

I’ve decided that I don’t need it.  I like to pretend that the person who brought the cupcakes in is intentionally trying to make me fat.  Then I secretly laugh at them while not eating the cupcakes.  I know that they didn’t get me that day.  I know it’s kind of dumb, but it works better than willing yourself to resist.

I may be crazy, but it works.  And by no means do I completely avoid sweets.  I just made a rule for myself that I can only eat them on special occasions like family gatherings, parties, and baseball games.  That’s what sweets should be anyway, a treat, not something you have every day.

So stop eating junk food, especially at work.  Do it for your health or to spite the lady who always brings in brownies or your boss who’s always eating candy.  Whatever reason you have, your body will thank you.

Break out of the work, stress, sweets, work, depression, sweets, work, death cycle.  I for one want to live for a while after retirement.  Don’t you?

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The Paycheck

It’s the main reason most of us work in an office.  We need it to pay for things like our home, food, electricity, cell phones, debt, travel, etc.  The majority of us spend 1/3 of our daily lives working for our money.

Working in an office allows us to make pretty good money as well.  I really liked making sandwiches in high school, but it didn’t pay much more than minimum wage.  Most physical labor jobs don’t pay as well as office jobs.  It’s unfortunate.  Most jobs that would be a lot of fun don’t pay much either.

If money is the real reason we spend 40 hours a week stuck in a dull cubicle, then why do we always seem to be short on it?  We buy homes and cars that we can’t afford.  We have credit card debt and student loans that may take 15-30 years to pay off.  Why do we always seem to spend the same amount that we make?

I think that a big step to happiness in an office job is saving money.  I don’t mean just contributing to your 401k and IRA for retirement.  I mean actually chunking money away into a savings account or other liquid fund.  Something that we can watch grow and actually use when we need it.

This is more about the satisfaction of making the money than the being rich.  We need to feel like we are accomplishing something in life and if you can see that bank account number go up after each paycheck you will feel pretty happy.

It used to be that I made just enough to cover my mortgage and other expenses.  I was perfectly fine and even contributed to my retirement accounts.  The problem with this is that we seem to get the feeling of just “floating by”.  We are able to live comfortably with our income and expense, but it never actually feels like we are getting ahead.

As I gradually made more money over the years, I decided that I didn’t need to increase my standard of living.  I spent the same amount on my home, food, entertainment, and other expenses.  I just put the extra money in my savings account.  As I watched that number go up every month, I felt pretty happy about it.

I think that this “accomplishment” of saving money is pretty rewarding.  This is important when you work in an office job that doesn’t provide a sense of reward or accomplishment.  If a construction worker can look at the house he/she built and a cook can look at the meal he/she made, we can at least look at a number in the bank account.

It’s hard in a culture of consumerism to do this though.  The television tells you to buy new things constantly.  Everyone seems to need a bigger and better house.  People buy new cars every couple of years.  Advertising and marketing firms make millions of dollars every year by getting you to spend every cent you have.

The world is not against us, but it’s certainly not looking out for our wellbeing.  We need to save money to be happy.  We need to feel like we are actually getting somewhere in life.  We need to stop floating by.

If you want to be happy save for retirement, live in an affordable house, make due with what you have, don’t buy new cars, and stop buying junk that will just clutter up your life.  You can spend your money, but be more conscious of it.  Spend it on things that will make you happy.  Don’t buy things just because they are new and exciting.  The TV doesn’t know what you need, you do.

Most of us are bored with our jobs.  For us, payday is the best day of the month.  Why blow all of that on things we don’t need?

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The day before you go on vacation

The day before you go on vacation.  Arguably the best day in the office.  I love to travel and always look forward to my vacations from work.  It’s like going on an adventure.  You’re all ready to go, but just have to get through one last day first.

I usually pack up and clean my house the night before.  This way I have nothing to do when I get home.

I usually get up a little early because I’m just excited to get the day over with.  I grab some good coffee on the way to work so I don’t have to make a mess making it at home.  I don’t usually bring a bag or anything more than my keys.  It’s like a work day light.

The morning is usually pretty busy.  I try to get everything done that I need to as soon as possible because I know I won’t be able to focus that afternoon.

I like to go out for lunch too.  Usually I have no food in my house because I’m about to go on a trip and don’t want anything to go bad.  I still try to eat healthy, but it’s nice to have a good reason to skip bringing my lunch.

It’s nice to have everything done by lunch so I can relax that afternoon.  I check itineraries, tickets, schedules, and make sure everything is good to go.

It’s nice to know that you won’t be in tomorrow and that all the work can wait till you get back.

Then I try to leave a bit early so I can hit the road or just relax before leaving the next day.  After all, I’ve gotten all my work done that morning.

See, there are definitely some good days in the office.

And I’m out.

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Everyone should be ready to lose their job

I posted the other day about how you shouldn’t worry about losing your job.  We shouldn’t worry about that.  If it happens it happens, but there are definitely some things you can do to prepare for losing a job.

Some things to prepare for losing a job:

Financial Tips:

Save your money – I’ve talked about this before, but you have to save money.  Build up an emergency fund of at least 6 months worth of expenses.  Keep this money in an easily liquidated account like a money market or savings account.
Then build up another 6 months worth.  You can put this into a CD or something less liquid, but you still need to be able to access it.  When you have one year’s worth of expenses saved up, you can feel pretty confident that a job loss wouldn’t be the end of the world.

Live below your means – This goes along with saving your money.  Don’t buy the most expensive house you can afford.  Don’t buy new cars just because you can.  Stop buying luxurious things.  Save up that 12 month worth of expenses first before you splurge on things.

Don’t get into debt – Never buy things on a credit card unless you intend to pay it off in full every month.  Credit cards ruin people’s lives.  Save up to buy that new car or furniture.  Or better yet, buy used.

If you are already in debt, start paying things off as quickly as possible.  Some people say to pay off the higher interest loans off first and some prefer the debt snowball method.  Whatever it takes, just pay it off.  I’m currently trying to pay off my student loans.  I realized that I spend over $100 per month paying these down.  That’s a lot of money I could be saving if I didn’t have these loans.

Less debt means less monthly expenses.  Less monthly expenses means less to worry about when you lose your job.

Buy a modest house – This goes along with avoiding debt.  Most of us will want to buy a house and have a mortgage at some point, but we need to be sensible about it.  I made the mistake of buying a house above my budget.  You think you can afford more than you really can.  The mortgage banks approve you for more than you can handle so you need to use some restraint when it comes to buying a house.

When you go to buy a house think about how much you would be willing to pay in rent.  Don’t take out a mortgage with payments higher than that.  It will depress you and make life more stressful.  Remember that it takes a lot of work to sell that house.  If you lose your job you may have to foreclose on it if you are stretched financially.

Personal Tips:

 Learn to cook – Eating out is really expensive.  If you lose your job you’ll want to cut this out entirely.  Cooking is an invaluable skill, especially if you’re short on money.

Learn to garden – Like cooking, the ability to grow your own food will definitely come in handy if you’re out of a job.  Start small and learn the basics.  You can save a lot of money if you don’t need to buy vegetables.

Stay healthy – Eat healthy and exercise.  Drink in moderation and quit smoking.  There would be nothing worse than losing your job and getting sick in the same week.

Career Related Tips:

Diversify your skills – Take classes in things unrelated to your career.  Learn things that will help you around the house.  This can save you lots of money in repairs.

Take classes in things that can make you side money as well.  You might not be able to find a job in your field if the economy turns south again.  Learning a skill like bartending, carpentry, or welding could be extremely useful in the future.  You may even turn it into a new career.

Stay in contact with people that can help you find a job – This may be the most important one on here.  You have to network with people in your field.  Stay in touch with old co-workers and employers.

If you do lose your job, contact these people as soon as possible.  They may know of opportunities out there or may just be a good reference.  Regardless, it’s who you know, not what you know.

Keep your resume up to date – Nothing is worse than having to write up a resume during a stressful time.  If you lose your job, you’ll have enough on your mind that you won’t want to do this.  If the resume is up to date you can start applying tomorrow.

I wasn’t this prepared when I lost my job.  I really wish I was.  Being prepared for the worst gives us the peace of mind to stop worrying about things.

I’m sure there are plenty of other ways to prepare.  Leave me your ideas in the comments.

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Ridiculous Mandatory Training

I just spent 4 hours in a training seminar about teamwork.  What a joke that was.  Who comes up with these trainings anyway?  The training was run by two people.  I’m sure they get paid well to come up with this stuff too.

Maybe that’s what I should be doing.  It seems like it would be pretty easy.

The prepackaged training guides and group activities don’t really apply to real life.  None of it applies to actually working in an office.  It seemed like this was a basic management class from college that you spend 5 minutes studying for the morning before the test.

And I can’t forget about the online trainings.  I wonder how much money they spend every year putting together these videos.  If these companies put that money toward paying for the employee’s college courses and certifications we’d be a lot better off.

I understand that training is an important thing, but don’t these people realize that nobody is paying attention.  Why can’t they put things into terms that people actually understand?  We don’t need four different acronyms for three different styles of management just to make sure that your team shows up on time.

The one thing that they didn’t focus at all on was making the employees feel happy.  They didn’t talk at all about how to get people to feel like they are contributing to the company.  I honestly think the best way to make someone feel like a part of the team is by making them feel important.

If your work is important, you’ll take some pride in it.  If you know how you actually contribute to the bottom line, you will actually feel like a part of the team.

We don’t need vague mission statements and imaginary awards to do a good job at work.  We need real recognition.  We need to feel like we are producing something.  We need to know that we matter.

I wonder how effective these trainings are.  Do people actually come out of them and feel like they learned something new?

I don’t think so.  Everyone is more concerned with their actual day to day work.  People are more concerned about not getting fired that they don’t have any time to spend on this stuff.

I think we should manage by doing things to keep the employees happy.  Reward them with tangible things.  Show them how they are contributing.  Show them how their specific job impacts the company.  Let them have some input on how things work.  Stop micromanaging.  Give them clear objectives.  And mostly let them know that they aren’t at risk of being fired at any moment.  When people feel safe they thrive.  When they feel scared they shut down.

And stop with the vague and meaningless vision statements.

“It is our goal to destroy our competitors, steal their employees, and starve their children”

 

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