We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.
-Tyler Durden, “Fight Club”
This quote is one of the most memorable of the movie Fight Club, as Brad Pitt’s character uses it as a rallying point for the men who are searching for meaning through intense, counter-cultural experiences. The first time I heard it, I actually choked up a little bit. To a lot of people, it carries a lot of weight, because it is common to tell kids that they can be anything they want to be.
Fortunately, some of the time, the parents or other guiding figures in a child’s life remember to include “If you work hard” at the beginning of “you can be anything you want to be.”
However, as I’ve observed before, not everybody can get their goals. I’m sure that in the history of the United States of America, there have been way more people who have wanted to be President, for example. Not everybody gets it, even if they’ve worked really hard. That’s part of the point of Fight Club. Many of the characters in the movie have been those hard-working, “successful” people, and they still haven’t found what they’re looking for out of life.
Not only that, but “working hard” is a little bit vague. Most things worth accomplishing involve more than one single thing, and you can’t just work hard at one single thing to master them. You can’t become a brilliant cake chef by only working hard on fondant. You can’t become a brilliant baseball player by only working on hitting curveballs.
This obvious-seeming fact dawned on me today, near the end of a brutal work week.
You see, I’m not particularly good at my job. It’s a job I never wanted but that was offered to me as an alternative to a severance plan, and I’ve been stuck in it for nearly two years now. I’ve gotten better at parts of it, but there are parts of it I’m just constantly struggling with. And I want to be better at my job, if only so that other departments will consider hiring me away from my current one. Right now, I’m stuck because my “scores” in a few areas make other managers immediately reject me as a candidate for jobs that I would actually be much better at.
And this week was hell. A massive influx of claims increased my total workload by almost 50%, and while others in my department were getting mostly “easy” claims (hail, for example), I received a lot of multi-party unclear-liability claims. I missed a lot of phone calls. My manager got five escalated calls on my claims this week; that’s three more than anyone else on my team.
And it occurred to me. When I say that I want to be better at my job, that’s vague. That’s not dealing with the complexity of the job. Because there are some things in my job that I excel at. Interpreting policy language and comparing to state regulations, for example; I’m very, very good at that.
But the areas where I don’t do well… I had to be honest with myself about them.
Do I want to get better at finding liability offsets? As in, not just to get better at my job, but as a goal unto itself? …Not really. I often find that the liability offsets “found” by many others are ones that I just can’t support with logic.
Do I want to get better at answering a higher percentage of my phone calls? …Not really. When I let a call go to voice mail, I am usually doing my best to finish up the work I need to do on Claim A, which I started working on forty-five minutes earlier before being interrupted by a phone call that got me doing work on Claim B, which was then interrupted by a call that got me doing work on Claim C, which was then interrupted by my boss asking me what was going on with Claim D… and none of them are done, and if I answer a call to try to deal with Claim E, I am likely to screw something up on one of the other claims. I have seen this happen repeatedly. And the suggestion management has of keeping a file open that I can document with what I have to do on those claims so that I don’t lose track? That’s all fine, but when you finish out your day with literally fifteen claims that have notes about what you need to do, you will not have time the next day to do them all because of the rest of the work you’re supposed to do that day, plus the new phone calls, and so on. There is flat-out just not enough time for me to do this job. Most of my successful teammates work a lot of overtime; some others are just naturally better at the job; and there are some in my department that I will always, always suspect of taking shortcuts.
I doubt this is different from most other workplaces.
But do I want to be better at my job if it means becoming like the people who are better at the job?
And that’s nothing against them personally; I’m glad there are people with personalities different from mine. I’m sure they wouldn’t like to be like me, either, and that’s cool.
It occurred to me today that I am not willing to sacrifice the number of hours it would take to do enough overtime to stay on top of this job thoroughly, because I don’t want to be an expert at this job, even if it gets me the opportunity to get out of this job.
I don’t want to quit; I need the income and the health insurance benefits. I don’t want to get fired; I’m not aiming to fail. I really do try my best at work and give it my all (which is part of the reason it’s so frustrating to be bad at the job).
But it occurred to me that if I didn’t have this job, I would gladly — gladly — work way more hours at the replacement job if only it gave me something that I wanted to do.
(For example, writing. I recently learned that an old online-friend works 60 to 70 hours a week, but is making a living as a fiction writer. If I thought I coul make that transition without bankrupting us, or if I lost this job against my will and had a fighting chance at making it work, I’d be all over that.)
But that’s the catch to life, isn’t it? That when things are bad, we can’t just make them better by wanting them to be better. We have to figure out what specific steps would make it better, and figure out if we want to do them, or if we’d be robbing one part of our satisfaction to pay another.
I’m not on the verge of blowing up or anything. This isn’t meant to be an Office Space moment.
“We don’t have a lot of time on this Earth. We weren’t meant to spend it this way. Human beings were not meant to sit in little cubicles staring at computer screens all day, filling out useless forms and listening to eight different bosses drone on about mission statements.”
-Peter Gibbons, “Office Space”
This is just me, thinking about how often we say we want things, but we don’t want all the smaller things that big thing entails. What we’re really saying, I think, is that we just want life to be easier.
That’s why I think it’s important, when you find something you love that you can incorporate into your life, you grab it and hold on.
In this world where so many people have it so much worse than any of us do… what more could you really want?