What a Way to Make a Livin

They just use your mind and never give you credit

It’s enough to drive you crazy if you let it

This morning I officially set out on a mini-course in something most my age have long ago experienced…9 to 5 work.  I am a public policy fellow in the City of Chicago Mayor’s Office, which means that for the next three months my work days will fit neatly into boxes (kinda).  There are five boxes a week.  Each box is 8 hours long.  Amazingly, I have rarely been put in this box.  Thinking back, since turning 18, I have been either an undergradate or gradute student for every school semester except one.  My class schedule has never come close to 9 to 5, and my work during the semester was quite flexible.  The one exception involved one-of-a-kind work in our state capitol with hours that resembled nothing of set schedule office work.  My summer work the last two go-rounds involved partially creating my own hours and partially working via computer from any location of my choice.  Only the first two summers after graduating high school did I have set 5 days a week hours, and they were far and away my least favorite summer endeavors.  Then again, those two summers invovled installing random computer software over and over on an endless line of iMacs.  The hourly schedule was likely least of the problem.

Yet, the entire point of this post was to admit my feeling of apprehension as this summer fellowship begins.  I am continually worried by the reports I hear back from friends and family who despise their job.  And those who do not despise their job rarely actual like their job.  And I couldn’t name anyone I know who loves their job.  This terrifies me.

The fear has igniting a quest to discover the secrets of work happiness before I begin making more important choices that will affect my own long-term work experiences…beyond this summer.  I am lucky.  I have no money, but I also have little weight (or, quite frankly, much responsibility) holding me to a job or location that may create misery.

The way I figure, the next year or two will likely offer more complete and utter freedom in all aspects than at any time in my life.  So perhaps my goal is to position myself such that the next fifty years of my life maintain the beneficial parts of my current life.

I would greatly appreciated all of you working folks thoughts on your work-happiness in general.  And I certainly plan on discussing the topic much more as I learn and process.

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3 comments

  1. welcome to the cliche, 9-5, real working world. in my short 9 months of being a part of the american workforce, i’ve picked up a few things that i wish i had known when i started. granted, the business world is probably different than the world of politics, here is a list of things i’ve picked up along the way:

    – you have less free time for yourself, but this can be remedied by trying to get as many personal things done during downtime at work. it makes a whole world of difference
    – also, trying to be organized, make a schedule, micro manage can help greatly
    – it’s very easy to come home and not want to do anything but lounge around, but i think about the fact that i sit in front of a computer at a desk all day and it forces yourself to get up and workout, go outside, be social, etc
    – traffic in chicago and other miscellaneous travel can suck 1-3 hours out of your day. sucks, but once you come to terms with it, its a lot less frustrating/stressful
    – only married, engaged, or real estate owners bring their lunch to work
    – lunch is expensive, but don’t be one of “those” people who bring their lunch every day unless everyone does it. the best way to make social work friends is through lunch breaks.
    – also, it’s very easy to eat unhealthily, true corporate america charges us more for healthy lunches, so find your equilibrium
    – who you work with makes a whole world of difference
    – elevator/bathroom encounters in the work place is a sub culture of its own. simply trial and error. good luck
    – caffeine becomes your best friend (i know you’re a coffee junkie so skip this one)
    – dry cleaning is an extra expense that pops up out of nowhere

    that’s all i can think of, but i’m sure there’s more that will pop up. most importantly, what i’ve learned is that those classic paul richardson values always come into play when it seems like work is beating you down. always think positive, make the most of the situation, and remember its never the end of the world or worst position to be in. try to have fun, make friends, and remember its work, but it shouldn’t run your life. the whole “work hard, play hard” ideology is important, although cliche. good luck

    ps also, i’m working at state and monroe all week (which is unique that i get to be downtown) since that’s close to where you are working, let me know if you want to grab lunch any day this week

  2. These thoughts are fantastic. And helpful.

    Though I am worried about the lunch thing. I do not think I can afford to eat out 5 days a week. Nor would I ever want to take the health cost.

    And do I have to dry clean? I can clean most things myself, right?

    But this is good stuff.

    And lunch this week sounds great. I could likely do any day except tomorrow. We shall be in touch.

  3. Hey Paul,

    I couldn’t help but respond to this. I haven’t seen you in, oh…15 years? I’m glad to see you’re doing really well. I only recently joined facebook, which is how I found this, and I can’t believe the names that are popping up from eons ago since I joined.

    I can’t speak for 9-5 jobs in the city, which is an entirely different animal than Kankakee, but I can tell you that not everyone hates the 9-5 shift. I don’t necessarily enjoy how it ties me up from doing other things, like finishing my degree, but I do enjoy my job. I work at a bank, and yes, the work is tedious and can get pretty boring, but I mainly enjoy it because I love the people I work with. Having a comfortable, easygoing work environment with your coworkers and your boss makes a huge difference in how you feel when you get up in the morning to go to said job. It also helps to learn how to pick your battles with a coworker that might be a great person, but also kind of sucks at his or her job and isn’t pulling the weight. Try not to dwell on that, because it will drive you crazy if you’re not in a position where you can do anything about it but pray that individual just decides to not show up anymore. I work with someone like that, and where I pretty much try not to let it ruin my day, it drives another coworker into a frenzy and she’s constantly threatening to quit.

    There is less free time, but there is downtime occasionally, and use it to your advantage – I end up bringing reading material for my classes and finishing some assignments, since my boss is fairly lenient on schoolwork as long as I’m not doing it constantly.

    I agree with the other poster that not many people take lunches to work anymore. I’m lucky enough that I can still go home on my lunch break, and yeah, eating out for lunch can get expensive. It is very easy to eat junk food on your lunch, but even if the healthier choice is a little pricier, you’ll be surprised at how crappy you feel if you’re constantly eating fast food. If you really can’t afford it, then by all means bring food with you, or if you can keep snacks stashed so you don’t starve.

    I also agree that keeping organized and allotting yourself enough time to get whatever you need accomplished during one day by making a schedule keeps you from taking the stress home with you.

    If you love what you do, you’ll find something to enjoy during the workday. Chances are the work might get boring, but the relationships you’ll make at your job will make it worth it. Good luck!

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