An Elephant in the Lunch Room


More than likely, the fact that I’m sensing an elephant in the room at this nascent stage of WCP is evidence of my possible tendency to overthink things*, as opposed to a reflection of anything that anyone reading this might be feeling. I mean, at a point where quite literally the only other person I’m certain is reading this is my mom (hi, Mom), chances are slim that anyone out there is freaking out over whether I’m going to address anything at all. But I rented this (free) auditorium so I could hold the microphone and babble to a bunch of empty seats, so here goes.

[*But do I overthink things? I don’t really know. Let me think about all the times I may have overthought things and figure out if the things I was thinking actually needed to be thought or if I was indeed thinking too much about thoughts that didn’t need to be thunk.]

The burning question: if the white-collar world is so intolerable as to warrant therapy by written cynicism, why subject yourself to it? And if the obvious answer to that is “to pay the bills”, am I implicitly condemning, to a life of misery, all those who have (practically speaking) no better option? Is it impossible to be fulfilled by a life containing 40 hours of forced pleasantry, awkward laughter and furtive eye rolls per week?

Hooboy. Big question. (But man, aren’t you glad we’re getting this out in the open?? Yeah, me too!)

Where to begin? Well…how about with a couple of disclaimers regarding my ruminations on white-collar purgatory? In a very real sense, the subject of this particular post is at the core of whatever this blog ends up being, so these disclaimers are meant to preface pretty much everything I have to say about office life, now or ever.

Disclaimer #1: These are First-World Problems

All of the complaints registered here are first-world problems. I know that as much as you do. This blog is not intended to deal with any variety of work-related stress that would register as actually problematic in a broader, more urgent sense. (Death by karoshi is out of scope here, to borrow a handy business idiom meaning “fuck off, I’m not doing that.”)

That said, the human animal is not programmed to only ring the ‘stress’ alarm after careful consideration of the severity of a problem against all other potential problems. The millionaire panicking about the scratch on his new Ferrari cannot claim to be suffering greater hardship than the unemployed guy who just got evicted for missing rent, but that won’t stop him from sourcing an aged, single-malt, petey scotch (I have no idea what I’m talking about) to numb the pain. As long as you keep a little perspective, I believe it’s possible to simultaneously answer ‘yes’ to “are you annoyed?” and “could things be worse?”, without (necessarily) coming off like a jackass. You become a jackass when you lose perspective and begin to overestimate the importance and/or severity of the things that get your goat.

So, of course, paper jams in the printer are not the end of the world. Contemplating murder over coffee-room etiquette probably constitutes a smidge of overreaction. But I think we’re kidding ourselves if we expect to never feel annoyed by anything short of legitimate life trauma, and it’s in that space that this blog plays.

The disclaimer, then, is to think of these as musings born not of misery, but of mild irritation and a desire to find salvation through humour.

Woe is absolutely not me. Capisce?

Disclaimer #2: There’s Nobility in Paying the Bills

Look, if we all had the opportunity to make ends meet by investing our life force in something holding deep meaning to us and the world we live in, I’m sure we’d jump at it, but I’m not here to imagine a utopia in which this is possible. Here and now, there are a whole lot of things people do to keep the lights on that don’t rank very high on the list of “things you would do if you won the lottery”, and that’s totally cool.

My intent isn’t to suggest that it’s every person’s duty to craft a livelihood that fulfills them spiritually. And by extension, my quibbles about the rhythms of everyday office life are by no means a tacit judgment of those who subject themselves to them. To wit, the target audience for this little corner of the internet is precisely those who, like me, participate in the white-collar world while not necessarily identifying with it. Ideally, we’re all in on the joke, rather than being the butt of it.

So go ahead: pay the bills and feel proud of doing so. There’s nothing wrong with finding deeper fulfillment outside these cubicle walls. Accordingly, a life of 9-to-5 cynicism need not be condemnation to a dreary existence. If anything, I think poking fun at all that is humdrum is a good way of retaining one’s identity and maybe even (gasp!) contributing to a greater quality of life in the process.

That Said…

In the ‘About‘ section of this WordPress website template, I suggested, as it relates to office life, that “contentment comes to those who repress their sentience”. That’s my tongue-in-cheek way of saying that white-collar wonderland is home to the facepalm. No, it’s never the end of the world and, no, you don’t need to feel badly for subjecting yourself to it, but if you pay attention in this environment, you’ll find plenty of things that fall outside even the most liberal boundaries of rationality.

The answer to the initial question, then, is not that the common office worker will inevitably lose his marbles and run screaming into the mountains forever. The marbles may roll away from time to time, but you’ll find them again. You may head to the mountains to clear your head, but the fresh air will make you feel better and you’ll come back, just in time for this afternoon’s training session on how to work the new printer.

…and now that we’ve acknowledged the trouser-clad elephant that was making things so awkward for us all (oh thank god!), let’s invite him to take a seat at the table as we slip some whiskey in our coffee and get back to talking shit.

One thought on “An Elephant in the Lunch Room

  1. I can’t argue your position except to suggest that Your purgatory is familiar to the purgatory of the stay-at-home mom, or the 20-something year old who suddenly realizes that adulthood is not fun and games. Sometimes it leads to change. And sometimes it leads to a better understanding of priorities. And ranting in a free forum is an awesome way to liberate the mind. There COULD be hundreds of interested listeners out here.


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