Posts Tagged ‘Work’

The last few weeks or so, I’ve seen the same video endlessly going around on Facebook: a snippet of an interview with Simon Sinek, who lays out what he believes to be the key problems with millennials in the workplace. Every time I see it shared, my blood pressure rises slightly, until today – joy of joys! – I finally saw and shared a piece rebutting it. As often happens on Facebook, a friend asked me why I disagreed with Sinek’s piece, as he’d enjoyed his TED talks. This is my response.

In his talk, Sinek touches on what he believes to be the four core issues handicapping millennials: internet addiction, bad parenting, an unfulfilled desire for meaningful work and a desire to have everything instantly. Now: demonstrably, some people are products of bad parenting, and the pernicious, lingering consequences of helicopter parenting, wherein overzealous, overprotective adults so rob their children of autonomy and instil in them such a fear of failure that they can’t healthily function as adults, is a very real phenomenon. Specifically in reference to Sinek’s claims about millennials all getting participation awards in school (which, ugh: not all of us fucking did, I don’t know a single person for whom that’s true, shut up with this goddamn trope), the psychological impact of praising children equally regardless of their actual achievements, such that they come to view all praise as meaningless and lose self-confidence as a result, is a well-documented phenomenon. But the idea that you can successfully accuse an entire global generation of suffering from the same hang-ups as a result of the same bad parenting stratagems, such that all millennials can be reasonably assumed to have this problem? That, right there, is some Grade-A bullshit.

Bad parenting isn’t a new thing. Plenty of baby boomers and members of older generations have been impacted by the various terrible fads and era-accepted practises their own parents fell prey to (like trying to electrocute the gay out of teenagers, for fucking instance), but while that might be a salient point to make in individual cases or in the specific context of tracking said parenting fads, it doesn’t actually set millennials apart in any meaningful way. Helicopter parenting might be comparatively new, but other forms of damage are not, and to act as though we’re the only generation to have ever dealt with the handicap of bad parenting, whether collectively or individually, is fucking absurd. But more to the point, the very specific phenomenon of helicopter parenting? Is, overwhelmingly, a product of white, well-off, middle- and-upper-class America, developed specifically in response to educational environments where standardised testing rules all futures and there isn’t really a viable social safety net if you fuck up, which leads to increased anxiety for children and parents both. While it undeniably appears in other countries and local contexts, and while it’s still a thing that happens to kids now, trying to erase its origins does no favours to anyone.

Similarly, the idea that millennials have all been ruined by the internet and don’t know how to have patience because we grew up with smartphones and social media is – you guessed it – bullshit. This is really a two-pronged point, tying into two of Sinek’s arguments: that we’re internet addicts who don’t know how to socialise properly, and that we’re obsessed with instant gratification, and as such, I’m going to address them together.

Yes, internet addiction is a problem for some, but it’s crucial to note it can and does affect people of all ages rather than being a millennial-only issue, just as it’s equally salient to point out that millennials aren’t the only ones using smartphones. I shouldn’t have to make such an obvious qualification, but apparently, I fucking do. That being said, the real problem here is that Sinek has seemingly no awareness of what social media actually is. I mean, the key word is right there in the title: social media, and yet he’s acting like it involves no human interaction whatsoever – as though we’re just playing with digital robots or complete strangers all the time instead of texting our parents about dinner or FaceTiming with friends or building professional networks on Twitter or interacting with our readerships on AO3 (for instance).

The idea, too, that millennials have their own social conventions different to his own, many of which reference a rich culture of online narratives, memes, debates and communities, does not seem to have occurred to him, because we’re not learning to do it face to face. Except that, uh, we fucking are, on account of how we still inhabit physical bodies and go to physical places every fucking day of our goddamn lives, do I really have to explain that this is a thing? Do I really have to explain the appeal of maintaining friendships where you’re emotionally close but the person lives hundreds or thousands of kilometres away? Do I really have to spell out the fact that proximal connections aren’t always meaningful ones, and that it actually makes a great deal of human sense to want to socialise with people we care about and who share our interests where possible rather than relying solely on the random admixture of people who share our schools and workplaces for fun?

The fact that Sinek talks blithely about how all millennials grew up with the internet and social media, as though those of us now in our fucking thirties don’t remember a time before home PCs were common (I first learned to type on an actual typewriter), is just ridiculous: Facebook started in 2004, YouTube in 2005, Twitter in 2006, tumblr in 2007 and Instagram in 2010. Meaning, most millennials – who, recall, were born between 1980 and 1995, which makes the youngest of us 21/22 and the eldest nearly forty – didn’t grow up with what is now considered social media throughout our teenage years, as Sinek asserts, because it didn’t really get started until we were out of high school. Before that, we had internet messageboards that were as likely to die overnight as to flourish, IRC chat, and the wild west of MSN forums, which was a whole different thing altogether. (Remember the joys of being hit on by adults as an underage teen in your first chatroom and realising only years later that those people were fucking paedophiles? Because I DO.)

And then he pulls out the big guns, talking about how we get a dopamine rush when we post about ourselves online, and how this is the same brain chemical responsible for addiction, and this is why young people are glued to their phones and civilisation is ending. Which, again, yes: dopamine does what he says it does, but that is some fucking misleading bullshit, Simon Says, and do you know why? Because you also get a goddamn dopamine rush from talking about yourself in real life, too, Jesus fucking Christ, the internet is not the culprit here, to say nothing of the fact that smartphones do more than one goddamn thing. Sinek lambasts the idea of using your phone in bed, for instance, but I doubt he holds a similar grudge against reading in bed, which – surprise! – is what quite a lot of us are doing when we have our phones out of an evening, whether in the form of blogs or books or essays. If I was using a paperback book or a physical Kindle rather than the Kindle app on my iPhone, would he give a fuck? I suspect not.

Likewise, I doubt he has any particular grudge against watching movies (or TED talks, for that matter) in bed, which phones can also be used for. Would he care if I brought in my Nintendo DS or any other handheld system to bed and caught a few Pokemon before lights out? Would he care if I played Scrabble with a physical board instead of using Words With Friends? Would he care if I used the phone as a phone to call my mother and say goodnight instead of checking her Facebook and maybe posting a link to something I know will make her laugh? I don’t know, but unless you view a smartphone as something that’s wholly disconnected from people – which, uh, is kind of the literal antithesis of what a smartphone is and does – I don’t honestly see how you can claim that they’re tools for disconnection. Again, yes: some people can get addicted or overuse their phones, but that is not a millennial-exclusive problem, and fuck you very much for suggesting it magically is Because Reasons.

And do not even get me started on the total fuckery of millennials being accustomed to instant gratification because of the internet. Never mind the fact that, once again, people of any age are equally likely to become accustomed to fast internet as a thing and to update their expectations accordingly – bitch, do you know how long it used to take to download music with Kazaa using a 56k modem? Do you know how long it still takes to download entire games, or patches for games, or – for that matter – drive through fucking peak-hour traffic to get to and from work, or negotiate your toddler into not screaming because he can’t have a third juicebox? Because – oh, yeah – remember that thing where millennials stopped being teenagers quite a fucking while ago, and a fair few of us are now parents ourselves? Yeah. Apparently our interpersonal skills aren’t so completely terrible as to prevent us all from finding spouses and partners and co-parents for our tiny, screaming offspring, and if Mr Sinek would like to argue that learning patience is incompatible with being a millennial, I would like to cordially invite him to listen to a video, on loop, of my nearly four-year-old saying, “Mummy, look! A lizard! Mummy, there’s a lizard! Come look!” and see what it does for his temperament. (We live in Brisbane, Australia. There are geckos everywhere.)

But what really pisses me off about Sinek’s millennial-blaming is the idea that we’re all willing to quit our jobs because we don’t find meaning in them. Listen to me, Simon Sinek. Listen to me closely. You are, once again, confusing the very particular context of middle-class, predominantly white Americans from affluent backgrounds – which is to say, the kind of people who can afford to fucking quit in this economy – for a universal phenomenon. Ignore the fact that the global economy collapsed in 2008 without ever fully recovering: Brexit just happened in the UK, Australia is run by a coalition of racist dickheads and you’ve just elected a talking Cheeto who’s hellbent on stripping away your very meagre social safety nets as his first order of business – oh, and none of us can afford to buy houses and we’re the first generation not to earn more than our predecessors in quite a while, university costs in the States are an actual goddamn crime and most of us can’t make a living wage or even get a job in the fields we trained in.

But yeah, sure: let’s talk about the wealthy few who can afford to quit their corporate jobs because they feel unfulfilled. What do they have to feel unhappy about, really? It’s not like they’re working for corporations whose idea of HR is to hire oblivious white dudes like you to figure out why their younger employees, working longer hours for less pay in tightly monitored environments that strip their individuality and hate on unions as a sin against capitalism, in a context where the glass ceiling and wage gaps remain a goddamn issue, in a first world country that still doesn’t have guaranteed maternity leave and where quite literally nobody working minimum wage can afford to pay rent, which is fucking terrifying to consider if you’re worried about being fired, aren’t fitting in. Nah, bro – must be the fucking internet’s fault.

Not that long ago, Gen X was the one getting pilloried as a bunch of ambitionless slackers who didn’t know the meaning of hard work, but time is linear and complaining about the failures of younger generations is a habit as old as humanity, so now it’s apparently our turn. Bottom line: there’s a huge fucking difference between saying “there’s value in turning your phone off sometimes” and “millennials don’t know how to people because TECHNOLOGY”, and until Simon Sinek knows what it is, I’m frankly not interested in whatever it is he thinks he has to say.

annie-mic-drop

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Standing in what turned out to be an utterly redundant line at Edinburgh Airport this morning (we’re now in Munich!), I overheard the following exchange between a father and his approximately seven-year-old son, who were standing behind us:

Boy: What does ‘suspended’ mean?

Dad: It means to be hung upside down from your ankles. [Long pause.] No it doesn’t. It means that Mike can’t go in to work for a while.

Boy: Why not?

Dad: Because he said there were no hot chicks at the office.

Boy: [Something unintelligible I didn’t catch.]

Dad: I wouldn’t say that, no.

Boy: And then his wife will smack him! SMACK SMACK SMACK! [Proceeds to mime a double-handed face-slap with indecent glee.]

I swear this is verbatim. Internets, it took ALL MY POWERS not to laugh out loud. Or, you know, to turn around and ask, WHAT THE HELL, DUDE.

I’ve fallen behind in my blogging this week (apologies!) on account of having just started my first day job since moving to the UK. The work falls well within my zone of competence, the people are nice and the commute by bus, if longer than I’m used to, at least allows for a lot of reading. Even so, it’s been something of a shock to the system to actually have to GET UP and engage in all the daily palaver that constitutes being employed. My last Australian position finished in mid-December, which means I’ve been out of work for three months, and even though I spent more of that time moving countries, finding a house and getting settled in than I did writing, I’ve still grown used to the freedom of setting my own routines, working on my own projects and generally acting like the self-employed author I strive to become. Which isn’t to say I’m not coping – I always have in the past. It’s just that it’ll take me a while before I slip back into my old routine of frantically cramming word-work into every odd corner of the day, as opposed to stretching it out at leisure.

Stupid pragmatism.

Also, and apropos of absolutely nothing, I’ve given up drinking for April. So far, I’m succeeding. A few people have asked me if I’m doing it for Lent, to which the answer is a resounding no, as I didn’t even realise Lent was upon us. But I’d noticed (belatedly) that some people had given up grog for February as part of one of those internet-inspired thingies that appears every once in a while, and so I decided to give it a try myself, mainly out of curiosity to see if I actually could. The first couple of days were the most difficult – not because I’m anything even approaching an alcoholic, but exactly because I know I’m not, and therefore had to keep justifying internally why I was depriving myself of something I enjoyed for no particular reason. This was also exacerbated by the fact that the night of 2 April involved a dinner out with many, many friends as part of a philosophy conference paid for by the university, which featured – among other things – copious amounts of free wine. I stuck to water and still had a good time. The next night was another round of conference drinks at the pub. Though tempted, I kept to lemonade. It’s all been much easier since then, even during other outings with friends, which frankly is a relief: I’d been worried that not drinking while other people were would inevitably result in a situation where, past the first hour, everyone else would be drunk and on one wavelength while I trailed behind on another. Instead, it turns out that either my friends don’t drink as much as I thought they did, or else they’re still all awesome and interesting and interpretable to sober people while drinking. Either that, or I’m just crazy enough not to notice or care to the contrary, but still – it’s nice to know that, should the mood take me, I can have a night out without alcohol and still have a good time.

OK, so, remember how I said I’d be back in a week, like, three weeks ago, and then I wasn’t?

Yeah. That may have been some species of lie.

It wasn’t deliberate. I didn’t set out to deceive you all. Well, when I say all, I mean whoever-you-are who reads this blog, because presumably someone does? I mean, it gets hits, so I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that at least some of you aren’t turning up here by accident after taking a wrong turn at Google. The point being, I’ve been absent. And now I’m trying to be…less absent.

So, by way of quick explanation: I was, in the first instance, sick. Two weeks ago, I took the Monday off, went in the next morning under the impression that I was cured, and then collapsed beneath a coworker’s desk while waiting for someone to sign off on my Sick Leave form. As in, I fainted. One minute, standing, the next…on my back, with a very bruised arm from where I’d cracked it on the edge of the desk, and trying to figure out how I’d got there. Sufficed to say, the sight of several concerned editors standing over me discussing what to do with my feet was rather alarming, especially given the fact that one of them was reading out loud from the First Aid manual. In the end, a friend drove me home and I stayed there until Thursday.

Then came a furious spate of work on The Key to Starveldt, which I’m hoping to hand to the publisher before the end of the month. This may be outrageous optimism on my part, given that I’m still not happy with the structure and flow of events in Act Three, but then again, I’ve met far crazier self-imposed deadlines in recent memory, so why the hell not? Since my recovery from the Fainting Flu, and taking into account the number of words I’ve also chopped out, the manuscript has grown by about 20,000 in a bit under two weeks. With the exception of two small scenes near the beginning, I’m almost 100% happy with the way the novel works up until about Chapter 17, at which juncture I am currently stalled. This is due almost entirely to the fact that the current version of TKTS is about the fourth major draft I’ve produced, each one being significantly different from its fellows, and while the ending has never changed, there are now about six scenes leading up to it that either have to be dropped entirely, massively sleeked to fit the flow or else recombined in a different order. That’s my goal for the next two weeks: thanks to a thoughtful lunchtime deminap under my desk today – because I have been known to sleep on the floor a’purpose, and not just after my immune system goes flonk – I’ve suddenly realised two very simple, obvious-in-retrospect Things I Can Do To Make The Third Act Work, which is extremely helpful. With the end in sight, I’m taking the deep breath before the plunge in preparation for my traditional mad dash to the ribbon. Wish me luck!

As for the rest of the time: I’ve had work, and extracurricular writing projects, and the discovery of romance novels, which is a whole ‘nother blog post in and of itself. Also, I may have played a bit of Wii Tennis and Super Mario Galaxy while rewatching all of Firefly with Toby. I know, I know. But now I’m back, so let’s have a digital hug and get on with business as usual. Rant, anyone?

Recently, I’ve been struggling to comprehend the social ramifications of defamation, censorship and privacy laws in government and industry. While the scenario of a verbally abusive co-worker or boss is undeniably awful, and while nobody should have to put up with insults about their character, religion, race, competency, sexuality and/or personal hygiene, I can’t help but feel that restrictions designed to enforce polite behaviour are increasingly infringing on freedom of speech. Prior to the rise of the internet, I imagine there was a fairly intuitive rule of thumb when it came to bitching about colleagues, viz: don’t write anything down. Trash talk was for the pub and other such friendly gatherings, or at the very least somewhere courteously beyond earshot of the person in question. Email lead to a new caveat: keep it off the company servers. Personal accounts are personal accounts, but you never know when someone might have legitimate cause to flip through your business correspondence. Even in this instance, however, there was still a veil of privacy, in that barring an authorised, dedicated search or deliberate hacking, there was no way for the subject of the conversation to accidentally ‘overhear’ and thereby take offence.

But sites like Facebook and Twitter have changed all that. Now, employees are able to form online groups and discuss the foibles of their jobs en masse or tweet about the demands of annoying co-workers – with troubling consequences. The blogsphere, too, has created workplace turmoil, with some employers sacking staff for mentioning their jobs online. While companies are well within their grounds to worry about the release of actual business information, especially where a preemptory or unauthorised mention of same could cause genuine loss or damage, the notion of bringing a company’s reputation into disrepute simply by admitting to personal foibles and opinions is deeply troubling. Satirising a job is not the same as maligning it, and criticising management should not be a sackable offense. Nonetheless, such things are currently happening.

As a student, I never liked the idea, put about at assemblies and other such spirit-building occasions, that I was moving through life as a ‘representative’ of my school, nor that my behaviour at all times, regardless of whether I wore the uniform, was correlated to some nebulous, anachronistic notion of school pride or reputation. As a grown worker, the sentiment still holds. First and foremost, we should belong to ourselves: all other affiliations, be they professional or academic, are secondary. There’s an ugly paternalism to schools and businesses laying claim to the morality and opinions of their attendees, and this is what rankles: the notion that our individual humanity is permissable only insofar as it doesn’t contradict the party line. It’s a big, messy, multifaceted issue – slandering colleagues is different to releasing confidential data is different to criticising management is different to having a sense of humour is different to daily blogging – but it is, ultimately, the same issue. Namely: how should we act online?

In a perfect world, people wouldn’t insult each other, nor would certain personality types be incompatable. But this is not a perfect world. In an age when instantaneous, public communication has dropped the veil of privacy from personal complaint, we need to grow thicker skins and get used to living with other people’s opinions. Because what’s really throwing us for a loop isn’t the fact that people have opinions or even that they’re different from ours: it’s that, all of a sudden, we know what they are, and feel moved to respond. Companies are kidding themselves if they think that the vast majority of their employees would still work if they didn’t have to. Work is a necessary evil: get over it. Employees are kidding themselves if they think that bitching about co-workers in cyberspace is the same as bitching at the pub. If you wouldn’t say it to their face, don’t type it where they can see it: simple. The law is kidding itself if it proves systematically incapable of distinguishing between serious, ongoing abuse and satire. People make jokes, and every exchange is nuanced: take it into account. Authority figures are kidding themselves if they think their position should put them beyond mockery or scrutiny. As in politics, you will be teased, disliked; your decisions will be questioned. It’s the price of being in power: live with it or step down.

But most importantly, we as a society are kidding ourselves if we think the solution to socio-digital omnipresence is to segregate our personalities. Our jobs and lives are bleeding together exactly because the two should be compatable; because people want to enjoy their work while still retaining the freedom to speak their minds. Communication should be used as a tool for social improvement, not restriction, which means compromise on both sides. And historically speaking, compromise has never involved the building of walls between different groups or ways of life.

Instead, it knocks them down.

I’ve never liked the New South Wales Board of Studies. As a student, I loathed their jargon-bloated English curriculum, a position I’m yet to renounce; and even as a functioning, happy adult, the word juxtapositioning continues to give me grief. Internally, I still picture them as a befuddled panel of port-sipping old duffers interspersed with managing executives in shark suits: the ultimate amalgam of straw men. I’d love to be proven wrong, of course, because it would mean things might actually get fixed, but so far, there’s not been anything especial to convince me otherwise.

Imagine my chagrin, therefore, at the following bold advice to HSC students struggling under the dual burden of coursework and part-time employment: to “set out a roster that balances time for their schooling and studies and their responsibilities with their part-time work.” 

On the surface, this is a seemingly reasonable statement. It’s also entirely unhelpful, and, like just about every other Board-originating comment in the article, so obvious as to be risibly condescending.

So,  for the benefit of those Board members whose own adolescence whipped by some time prior to the construction of the pyramids, take heed: teenaged checkout chicks have about as much negotiating power with their employers as a mouse does with a very hungry cat. Because of the limited hours they can work, they’re already competing for shifts with more flexible workers. Their pay is low, their rights are few and, appropriately, they are extremely easy to replace. Beginners in any field simply can’t advocate for the most favourable shifts with any weight, and most managers, nice though some of them undoubtably are, have a business to run: the roster is meant to work for them, after all, not slot in around the study habits of a junior employee.

Nobody likes to work late and get up early. It’s just that, for students, there are very few avenues of redress. School is non-negotiable; absences even for good reasons are frowned upon, as is running late – and I notice, Board, that your solution wasn’t to try and promote flexibility within schools, but to put the onus back on students and families to figure it out themselves. Which, undoubtably, they’ve already tried to do.

It’s not an optimal situation; I’m not even suggesting there’s an easy solution. But throwing a patter of useless, pat-on-the-head statements out into the ether and hoping that an ability to state the bleeding obvious counts as a proactive endeavour is worse than if you hadn’t actually noticed.

I’ve been pretty quiet on the blog front lately, mostly because being fired tends to necessitate a different, more productive use of one’s spare time, despite the fact that said time has, for the same reason, undergone a net increase. Apart from the obvious job-hunting chores, I’ve also been doing uni work and editing my novel. The latter activity has been particularly enjoyable. If my writing life were an RPG, I’d have recently levelled up, because my ability to self-correct has suddenly leapt forwards. In the past, frantic editing surges have usually resulted in scrapping the lot and starting again, but while I’m definitely rewriting en masse, it’s with an eye to building up instead of tearing down. Chapters I’ve been content with for months are being systematically fleshed out, tightened up and otherwise made over. The question isn’t why I’ve left it so long: it’s why I can suddenly see the flaws.

And flaws there are, ultimately as the result of sloppy writing. It’s a sobering realisation that despite my dedication towards becoming a published author, I’ve still, on some subconscious level, retained the belief that I can do less than my best, and have this be enough. Throughout school, I always coasted and cut corners for a number of reasons – disinterest in the subject, a preference to spend my time on other projects – and while these were usually, if not saintly, then at least defensible reasons, I ultimately did so, or was able to do so, because I was bright enough. Laziness didn’t punish me. Although I cared about being perceived as smart, I wasn’t fiercely competitive: a dip in marks didn’t matter, so long as they were still good marks. Which, looking back, was both a healthy mental attitude on one level, and an active choice not to be challeneged on another. Quite often, my parents would look at my results, sigh affectionately, and say, “Imagine what you could do if you’d put in some effort!” But only now do I understand what they meant.

Since starting the second novel, I’ve improved. Writing characters I’ve already introduced is different to starting anew: there’s an implied confidence to it, with room for more flourishes, in-jokes, insight and general development. It means that when I look back at the story so far, my standards have lifted. But, still, I’d been letting things lie. I’d read the first book so many times that I only saw the cadence of what I’d written, and not the substance. This time around, however, the veil has lifted. It was holding together, yes, but it wasn’t as good as it could be. 

And so I’m fixing it, hammer and nail. After completing the first three chapters, I even submitted yesterday to a local publisher, which gave me a tingly, back-on-the-horse kind of feeling. I still need a job, but in the mean time, I’m getting things done.

Who says getting fired can’t be a good thing?