Does Your Work Suck? Make It Into A Game!
Do what you love. The rest comes. – Southern Comfort ad campaign, mid 90’s.
Just last week I found a new favorite radio show on NPR: Snap Judgment, hosted by Glynn Washington. And here’s the segment of his show that hooked me: Tatyana Brown’s “National Holiday Project.”
Tatyana, a poet, found herself in a situation very familiar to most of the poets and other artists in the world through time immemorial: working a “real” job to pay the bills.
In Tatyana’s case, she landed a job doing paperwork of some sort for a huge, soulless corporation in New York City. Now, not all huge companies are soulless – not by a long shot. But this one was. For instance, the requirement of every new-hire was to show up the first day in a blue suit. (Or as Tatyana put in, an “ugly” blue suit.) If this sounds like your company, let’s pause here for a second: this young lady’s job was to do paperwork involving contracts and her computer. Not to interact face-to-face with the customer. Not to interact face-to-face with the media, or with investors. To sit in her cubicle all day and enter stuff in her computer. I’m thinking she could do that at least as well in jeans and a t-shirt.
Anyway, the high pay she was finally making delighted Tatyana, but her cool friends teased her about dressing like a stiff. A bartending roommate asked, “What, is today National Dress Like a Flight Attendant Day or something?”
…And that got her thinking. What if it were National Dress Like a Flight Attendant Day? Then, instead of dressing up for The Man, she’d be dressing up to celebrate a fun and utterly frivolous holiday! Just like that, drudgery becomes fun.
Social is sooooo much more effective than traditional word of mouth. Two friends? On social, anyone can tell hundreds, who tell thousands, who tell millions.
Same situation. Different mindset.
Tatyana threw a scarf around her neck, took a selfie, and sent it to a bunch of friends who also worked in mind-numbing jobs they hated in order to pay the bills. They loved it, and shared it too, and all of a sudden a bunch of dispirited cube farmers became jolly, for an entire day. So jolly, they asked her what the next holiday would be about.
A creative movement was born!
Tatyana turned The National Holiday Project into her mildly subversive avocation. Every day she’d think up a new bogus holiday and share it socially with as many people as she could. National Dance Like An Idiot In The Elevator Day. National Have a Fake Swordfight In Public Day. Stuff like that. And her adoring fans and fake holiday participants shared it with their friends. And so on… and so on… Just like the Breck’s commercial from the 70’s, but social is sooooo much more effective than traditional word of mouth. Two friends? On social, anyone can tell hundreds, who tell thousands, who tell millions.
Finally, The National Holiday Project got Tatyana fired for being “grossly unprofessional and senseless.” Apparently, National Animal Print Appreciation Day went over the line.
Tatyana went home early with her small box of personal effects. Two days into her unemployment, not sure what else to do with herself, she checked her email – in which she read a missive from an art supply company that had heard about her National Holiday Project from a participant. This firm admired her creativity and organizational skills and just had to have her on staff! Was she open to a possible career move?
Embrace Your Inner Outsider
Tatyana wasn’t a misfit in life, just in her first company. The very thing that drove them to fire her was what landed her a wonderful new job with a company that loved her for her unique talents, rather than tolerating her despite them.
Is this Cinderella story inevitable for you? Sorry, it isn’t. Is it possible? Of course it is! Why wouldn’t it be? And in this incredible, liberating Social Age of ours, the chances of you finding the right fit for you (or vice verse, as in Tatyana’s case) is infinitely more likely. Life is no longer about who you know. In the Social Age, life is about who you’re connected to – and we’re all connected to everyone, much closer than most of us yet understand.
Life is no longer about who you know. In the Social Age, life is about who you’re connected to.
Tatyana is now doing her art for a living, as Captain of Lit Slam, a crowdsourced poetry… well, phenomenon. You have to check it out. Before the Interwebs, a poet running a poetry society never would have been possible; before the crowdsourcing possible in the Social Age, that would have been thousands of times harder.
It’s the Social Age. Redefine your expectations from life.
Now, here is where the more sober-minded among us ask, “If everyone’s doing what they want to do, who’s going to do all the necessary-but-kinda-soulless stuff in life that keeps the world going round?”
I have two answers for that. The first is less disruptive: Why the hell does that stuff have to be soulless? I guarantee you, the same work that is sheer tedious hell for your staff is being performed at another company somewhere in the world in a fun, creative, meaningful way. Make all the work at your company meaningful. Sprinkle it with fun – even if it’s the “fun” of working your ass off for a really important cause, that’s still great fun for some people. (I’ve got to raise my hand here.)
Make all the work at your company meaningful. Sprinkle it with fun.
Do this and you’ll attract talent where today you’re repelling it.
But my second answer, when asked who’s gonna do all the monotonous stuff that needs doing? Here’s what I’ll tell anyone who is unhappy at work and asks me that question. This is career advice that makes me happy to share:
Let someone else worry about that.
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