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Thursday, November 3, 2016

On starting a new job

I recently heard from a friend who is starting a new job. He said:

I think I feel about most jobs/professions the way some people feel about romantic relationships: it doesn't take me long to get the lay of the land and at that point the intellectual challenge seems to just fizzle out. And once that happens, I lose most of my motivation to do the 'good worker' thing. I swear, this is my revelation of the year. I've felt that way about every position I've ever held -- every single last one. Even when I worked with published authors and renowned 'experts,' I distinctly remember getting that familiar feeling: "Ah, so that's the way the game is played here." Every single time. 

So with this new job, I have a different attitude. I'm just going to stay humbly grateful for a decent-paying, relatively flexible position that doesn't leave me bored out of my mind....

I'll vouch for this guy: he is extremely intelligent, and has spent his life somewhat underemployed, working at jobs where he must inevitably have been far more intelligent than his bosses. (He didn't say this; it's just my assumption.) And, like all employees who are smarter than their bosses, he has felt all of the frustrations and even contempt that situation usually entails.

One of the things people who are starting a new job will say most frequently is, "Oh, I really like the people there!" (The subtext is always, "They're not like those assholes at my old job!") And every time I hear that, I think, well, that's just because you don't know them that well yet.

It always reminds me of that old joke:

Q: What's the definition a normal family?

A: One you don't know well.

It's like, as my friend said, starting a new romance. Things are always best at first, when you don't know each other that well yet. Then, once you each become acquainted with each other's weaknesses, and discover the limits to each other's repertoire, the infatuation tends to fade.

Anyway, this guy seems to have had all of that anticipated. But he's also right to have his stated attitude of humble gratitude for a steady income and flexible hours.

(I'm not betting his attitude will necessarily last, but as of now, it's a good one to have.)

And, at least he won't be disappointed as he becomes better acquainted with his coworkers.


Anonymous said...

A psychopath could sound similar to your friend.
It is on Hervey Cleckley's checklist for psychopaths, FAILURE TO FOLLOW ANY LIFE PLAN.
Psychopaths show excitement at first, but then lose interest. They go to school for a job, AND THEN they don't practice that profession.
TRUST ME, this is a good point I am making.
====fake baba

John Craig said...

Fake Baba --
I understand what you're saying, the lower IQ ones do fail to follow a life plan, and they do lose interest in people and things in fairly short order. But you'll just have to take my word for it, my friend isn't a sociopath. (And I'm the first to suspect that.) I think that what he was describing about starting out at a new job is in fact fairly universal, most people have a positive impression of their new surroundings and coworkers at first, and that tends to go downhill after a while. I've just heard too many people say, "Oh, I really like the people at my new job" not to see a pattern.

Anonymous said...

Fortunately, I have a job that doesn't "bore me out of my mind," enjoying some aspects of it. Once, you get settled into your work, you do learn the "layout of the land," realizing who the good employees are and the not so good ones are.

- Susan

Anonymous said...


I was very hurt by fake baba's comment because I haven't followed a life plan and I'm neither a psychopath nor a sociopath. Of course, I've learned from you, Yoda, that being hurt -- I'm offended! -- is not a legitimate stance. So I moved away from it to a place of neutral disagreement.

If you are unfocused for whatever reason, genes or upbringing, you are not necessarily psychopathic or sociopathic. A lot of people who are smart but consistently underemployed and who job hop, are a touch autistic when it comes to dealing with people though. I don't mean classically autistic, I mean a little unrealistic about How The World Works. I am Exhibit A in that regard.

I think that all people want to be creative, want to work hard, want to, they just want to survive and go home and watch TV and drink beer. I also didn't understand hierarchy. I could go on and on..but thanks for this post. I'm exactly like your friend.

One piece of advice I'd give to anyone is never, ever confuse a job with a romance, or any kind of personal relationship. Your friend was supposedly just making an analogy but I think he was really telling you that he Cared with a Capital C, and put too much of himself in these jobs, and ended up with nothing.

A job is totally impersonal. You have no control over anything or anyone except yourself. You can't do a thing about a lousy boss, or a lousy co-worker. You can only control - and trust - yourself.


John Craig said...

Puzzled --
Yoda?? That's who I am? C'mon, please pick someone more appealing, I don't even like Star Wars. How about someone just a LITTLE sexier, say, like Gollum from Lord of the Rings.

You'll have to take my word that my correspondent is neither sociopathic nor autistic. I may have taken too much trouble to disguise him (he didn't want to be identifiable), and some stuff may have gotten lost in the translation.

Yes, I think this person started off as an idealist, and that sort of attitude tends to get trampled pretty quickly once you're out in the real world. And he wasn't confusing a new job with a romance, but just, as you said, making an analogy. And really, the only point of the post is that familiarity breeds contempt. Or, at least, a less starry-eyed attitude.

And yes, you're exactly right, you can't do a thing about a boss from hell, as they're called, and such bosses will always do their best to make you feel bad about yourself, so the only sane attitude is to (inwardly) ignore them while doing whatever you have to do to survive at work.

Anonymous said...

Puzzled makes a good point about work. A job is "impersonal." It's not advisable to take your job too seriously. Work is just another aspect of one's life. Do your best in your line of work, but hopefully, have more interests in your life besides work (which I think most people seem to do anyway).

- Susan

Anonymous said...

LOL John, please don't take these things personally. Don't get offended!! I really mean Obi Wan Kenobi. I'm not a Star Wars fan either. I mixed the two up and got it wrong.

I totally believe that your friend isn't a psycho or a sociopath. In fact a lot of psycho and sociopaths have distinct life plans. Oh, they are very good at planning. And I wasn't saying your friend was being literal about a romance but that he took jobs personally. It's a difficult trick to pull off but you can't. It's just a paycheck.

And co-workers from hell can be just as bad as bosses from hell, in the way that minorities can make majorities lives hell. There isn't a thing you can do about it.

"Never complain, never explain."


Anonymous said...

I found this post very useful. I sometimes feel that I'm the only one who put too much stock in jobs and discovered in middle age that it was misplaced energy, and that just having an income was sufficient. As Bette Davis said, "if you want friends in Hollywood, get a dog." I say, "If you want fulfillment, don't look for it in a wage paying job."


John Craig said...

Puzzled --
Why can't I be Luke Skywalker? Or maybe Han Solo.

Glad you found the post useful.....Yes, I'd heard that Bette Davis expression used about Wall Street, too. Both are cutthroat places. When you first hear that about Wall Street, you think, ah, yes, we're in cutthroat competition with other firms. But in fact the ones who will do you the most harm are your co-workers, as you say.

Anonymous said...

Hi John,

Embarrassingly I've said to a friend recently "Oh, I really like the people there!" my friend just replied 'you haven't been there long enough'.

It's my current job ha, and they were right...

Other people I know have always taken your friends attitude to work but why has it taken me 20 years? ha

Thanks, I really enjoyed this post.


John Craig said...

Thank you Andrew.

Nothing to be embarrassed about, I think it's pretty much universal human nature to be a little more entranced with the unfamiliar.