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Work/Life: Not going anywhere? Make your place of work a place to stay

“IT’S ALL very well for you, I’d love to travel, but I can’t leave my job because because because …” I hear you. Books, life-coaches and Oprah articles abound on ‘cutting loose’, how people have gone from actuary to Aeolian harp restorer, cabinet minister to cabinet maker or weekend gardener to orchard owner in Vermont. You can do that, but the reality is, the majority of you won’t be quitting or switching careers – nor need you.

“IT’S ALL very well for you, I’d love to travel, but I can’t leave my job because because because …”

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I hear you. Books, life-coaches and Oprah articles abound on ‘cutting loose’, how people have gone from actuary to Aeolian harp restorer, cabinet minister to cabinet maker or weekend gardener to orchard owner in Vermont.

You can do that, but the reality is, the majority of you won’t be quitting or switching careers – nor need you.

I’m talking about transforming your ‘real’ job unto an ‘unreal job’. I hesitate to use the cliche ‘dream job’ – if you’re dreaming you’re sleeping, and that’s not the 8 hours that are causing you grief.

I was sitting in Italy wondering, in between bites of pecorino and sips of wine, what right I had to be sitting there on the clock anyway, when a customer said to me: “Lynette, you don’t need to be rich, you just need to hang around rich people having fun.”

This got me thinking about something other than my perilous future for a change. If you remove the ‘rich’, the ‘people having fun’ part is key. Why do you go on vacation? To have fun. Why do you agree to have dinner with friends? Because it’s fun. You get away from work so you can have fun. That’s an expensive two week vacation you’re talking there, and it’s all over in a blink. So why not see how you can make that 8-12 hours of your waking day fun?

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Think about your office. Is it fun? Is part of the reason you dread going in there because it’s just not fun? It’s probably because the people aren’t having fun.

I once worked at an ad agency in Ireland. I confess I soon became far more interested about improving their work environment than writing ads for what was then a very creatively conservative marketplace. The office atmosphere was dreary and cautious, in my mind, the work reflected it.

Have you ever been ‘flavor the month’ or ‘the golden haired boy’? When a new person enters a work environment they’re often bestowed with that ‘do no wrong’ halo at least for the first couple of months. If that’s you, use the time wisely. In Ireland I saw that people didn’t go home after work, they went straight to the pub to drink Guinness, play pool, indulge in great craic.

Somehow I got the boss to agree on putting a pool table in the middle of the office. What I fraud I am … I don’t even play pool.

Meetings started taking place around the pool table. They place started to loosen up. The craic started to trickle. They got less offended by my headlines.

Then, after reading about how a fish tank is good for the psyche, I got one installed. Soon, the office had named each fish. The dark overlordy one that popped up from behind boulders to scare the tetras – he was the boss, unbeknownst to the boss. (Whenever he came in the room one of the designers played the famous Darth Vader theme on his computer. The fish wobbled.). There were the garish, pushy fish, fast swimmers that flitted just out of sight behind the boss fish, and sullen bottom feeders – everyone knew who someone’s alter-fish.

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For the first time in a long time, we got some kudos in the local advertising awards that year, I hope it was because people were having 10% more fun. Not bad for a 800 Irish pound investment in motivational office furniture.

A friend took up a night job as a courier truck packer because he desperately needed the money for college. He cringed at the thought doing this “lowest of the low” job. The manager was embarrassed at the minimal wage mandated by corporate, so took it upon himself to to supply a 3am hot breakfast he’d whip up on a stove he brought from home. “All of a sudden the job seemed better,” said my friend. “And we got into a kind of rhythm tossing those boxes to cool music, fueled by a hot breakfast … we got really upper-body fit; after a while it seemed “like a really good gig”. The only reason he quit was because his friends needled him about never being available, and the visionary egg-flipping manager was moved onwards and upwards. That’s all too common – when things are functioning, they’re liable to break. You have to be vigilent. The egg flipper took responsibility for changing the environment, and my friend allowed himself to appreciate it.

You can also misfire. I once interned at an place where the office was one gigantic room painted like a basketball court. There was a hoop at each end. Nice idea, but after a few days I wondered who, aside from the coolest cat in the office and the boss, actually played basketball. The others just hunched over their desks on the sidelines, like can-clutching wallflowers around a pulsating dance floor. Forced cool is cruel – it can alienate and intimidate. ‘Never out-cool your customer,’ says my super sales woman (at 70!) mother.

By the way, if there are any of those ‘motivational posters’ with pictures of people rowing saying’Teamwork’ or gazing off into the sunset saying ‘Creativity’ hanging in earnest in your office, slip them in the recycle bin when no-one is looking and you know nothing, nothing about what happened to them at all ….

So far I’ve talked about being a catalyst for change by finagling with furniture.

Now what finagling with the live furniture – you and your co-workers.

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People talk about having friends vs co-workers. Why separate the two? Your friends were once total strangers – you met them by chance. Your colleagues started out the same way, and at least you’re some way along the acquaintanceship path with them. Perhaps you’ve never seen them as potential friends just because you work together. The same argument can be said for neighbors. How inconvenient is it to fly half way around the world to hang out with friends while assiduously avoiding potential friendships right across the street? If the fossil fuel runs out you’ll be stuck.

I’m not saying you have to be in each other’s laps, but try looking at the people who are actually in your life in a new light – unscrew the bulb and put in something softer. If you fear your co-workers and neighbors as potential friends, there’s possibly something you fear about the work environment. In a seamless work/life, there is no distinction, and therefore no fear, between work and life.

What about intolerable people? We all know there’s always at least one person in the office who makes life miserable for everyone else. Hey, it might even be you, so read the following replacing ‘they’ with ‘you’. These people are basically a pain in the brain. You collectively roll your eyes when talking about them behind their backs. They obstruct or play pitiful politics. Everyone steers a path around them, no-one has the guts to confront them or get rid of them – especially when they’ve got status – they’re a rung or three above you. Oh, you could tolerate your mundane job and middling pay if only that person would get up in the morning and head for a desk in another building.

Guess what. Buying into their game is making you (they) miserable.

Try cutting them slack, like you do your friends. They’re clearly unhappy, otherwise they wouldn’t be so miserable. Be the first to approach them differently, especially if they’re standing guard over your career path, and face it – everyone in your environment can influence your path, people gossip and take sides. Stop talking negatively about them. But don’t be a phony, because that’s as obvious as being defensive and insecure and twice as unattractive.

I have male friend who is smart and attractive but feels thwarted by a couple of layers of what he believes are unhappy female supervisors. I got tired of hearing him complain daily about them, while being nice to their faces. other colleagues have moved on or away. He’s still there. His unhappiness and thinly veiled displeasure is probably contributing to the unhappiness of the entire office – never mind the women. I feel he should either leave, shut up, or do something about it. Like this man:

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He was attractive and charming and knew it, yet was smart about it. He used it as just another skill in his armory. He’d book appointments, then come back to the office and make notes. One note I saw under a female potential client was ‘she’s attracted to me.’ I observed how any subtle manipulation by him was recognized, reciprocated, and enjoyed by both parties, be they colleagues or clients. This is called people having fun. It’s a kind of authenticity that removes the need for political correctness, rules and fear of saying ‘the wrong thing’ or harrassment. In that environment, even saying the wrong thing can be quickly forgiven.

Life tends to work like that, if you just get out of the way and let authenticity do its work. My friend leveraged off life, and made great friends who genuinely liked and respected him even if they never did business with them. He is now very successful, in all areas of his life. And from a one man show with a notebook, he’s now worth almost 30 million, but even long before that, everyone in his life was having fun.

So if you’re not going anywhere soon, what could you do to make your job exactly where you want to be for the next few hours, and ideally, the rest of your working life?


The Galfromdownunder upset everyone at the office yesterday by pointing out yet another glaring typo in a newsletter headline, and proposed a solution. Some thought she was trying to make a fellow colleague look bad. Some thought she was making out she was superior. Some thought she was sucking up to the boss. Others attacked her for being a pot calling the kettle black. She didn’t take any of it personally. The moment passed, and no one has moved her to an office without a window to spite her. Business as usual, and she’s having fun, blogging here for FC on a sunny Tuesday in New York. Now if we could just find a solution to that constant typo problem …

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About the author

"Be social and the networking will follow." Lynette Chiang is an award-winning copywriter, brand evangelist, social media community manager, filmmaker, solo world bicycle adventurer and inventor of useful things. Her work has been featured in Forbes, Harvard University curriculums, the New York Times Book Review, FastCompany and the relationship marketing business press

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