My Eight Tips for Surviving Life as an Office Monkey, And Only One of Them Involves Alcohol

Because desk jobs can suck major wang, but they don't have to!
Publish date:
August 31, 2016
work, office culture, work etiquette

Any of you who say you've never read xoJane at work are lying. Unless you're an astronaut, I guess? Does the internet work in space?

Hi, my name is Rabbit, and I'm not going to talk about fat stuff today! Instead I'm going to tell you all about my glamorous life as a secretary and share some of the survival tips I've learned in between mainlining Starbucks and contemplating the evolutionary necessity of electric staplers.

Because desk jobs can suck major wang, but they don't have to! (Desperate laugh.)

I'll be 29 this year, which can be an uncomfortable age for lady-types in certain societies if you're spouseless and childless, the effect of which is compounded if, like me, you don't have a high-profile career or life calling to redeem yourself. Dirty Thirty looms ahead of me in the spectral garb of a spinster who owns 10 cats and wears cardigans in the summer, but joke's on you, Universe, cos I fucking hate cats, and I'm wearing a cardigan right now, they're classy, shut up.

Having a "job" rather than a "career" is not a stigma exclusive to women, but I've found that some people tend to be particularly baffled by young women working low-paying jobs who don't have a partner sharing the bills. That's actually my dad's main argument for why I should get married: It's more cost-effective. Although he got all the money in the divorce, so I'm not sure what to do with that advice.

I've never had anything I considered an actual career, and I graduated university mainly so I could say I was the first one in my family to do so. Neither of my folks finished college, and my maternal grandparents didn't make it further than primary school because of…well, war, I guess, and severe poverty.

I never had high life aspirations because I never expected to live past 20 — I almost didn't, but the near misses made me want to aim a little higher than "leave a good-looking corpse." So I graduated with a 2.1 GPA, and in the handful of years since I've worked in different fields and different countries, but nearly always around the same crappy pay level. My current job is my first time in a traditional American office environment. I've been here since February, and I wouldn't say I love what I do, but I've learned some ways to avoid either getting fired or throwing myself in front of the Red Line train toward Shady Grove, which has a delightful tendency to catch fire.

If you skipped my rambling back story and scrolled straight down to the list, hi! You didn't miss anything — here are some tips for the entry-level naïf:

Have a good understanding of what your actual job is.

This one seems obvious, but we have a pretty high turnover here of temps and external hires who get let go because they just never grasped their job duties. In an office with a lot of levels, sometimes your big boss won't know the exact terms of your job description, either — this won't work as an excuse. Understand your obligations, but also be aware of your position within the company; if a higher-up in another department tells you to do something contrary to what your own boss said, remember which one has the power to fire you.

Know the extent of your freedom.

My experience might be a little different because I work for a union, so we're all about grievances and contractual violations and documenting everything, but you should definitely read your contract (if you have one) and talk to HR about what is and isn't allowed. For instance, my contract doesn't include a dress code, so I could technically wear one of my Hillary T-shirts (I have three, don't judge me) and flip-flops to work and not get fired for it. My director wouldn't be happy, though, and I don't mind dressing a little fancy for the hot young staffers on the morning train. Professional attire also balances out my tattoos, which might otherwise reveal me for the lazy punk I am.

Embrace the happy hour.

If you don't drink, that's cool — I'm a lightweight myself, but the bigger point is to have some fun with people who normally see you stressed out and under-caffeinated. Fostering good relationships with your coworkers can make your work environment soooo much better, believe me. This isn't Shinjuku, though — try not to get so drunk that your office rival leaves you passed out on the sidewalk. Am I speaking from experience? Yes, but we went back for him eventually.

Look out for yourself.

Be a decent human being, obviously, but with the awareness that no one is going to stick up for you the way you stick up for you. Your coworker fucks up and tries to pass the buck? Don't start a fight — just go to your boss privately with clear evidence of your own work and output. And if you do fuck up, own up to it right away and present the higher-ups with how you're going to fix it. Trust me, you can never hide a mistake. It'll come out eventually, and you'll look worse for being deceitful.

Don't get hung up on where you are right now.

This advice comes from a distant family friend who started out washing the CEO's cars and now owns a six-story mansion. Obviously that's an extremely rare case unless you're hyper-focused or Drake, but for us common folk you can really stymie your own success by worrying too much about your present position. Hate your job? That's OK. A job can be just a job. I've never quite been sold on the bullshit rhetoric of "If you love what you do, you'll never work a day in your life." There's nothing wrong with having a dream job and working toward it, but not all of us have a clear goal in mind. If you aren't happy with where you are right now, just remember: It's not where you're always going to be.

Make some cheer.

I don't have my own office because haha, I'm the plankton of our office food chain, but I do have a big wraparound desk where I keep little things that make me happy: pictures of my nephew, toys, colorful pens, novelty coffee mugs, office supplies I brought back from Sekaido that are cute but functionally useless. Anything to brighten up my work space. You don't have to sacrifice your personality for your professionalism — even if it's just taking a break to walk to Au Bon Pain or sit on the roof listening to The 1975 and dreaming of having Matty Healy's access to good coke. Whatever you can do to lift your spirits during the day goes a long way toward your mental well-being. When I'm feeling low, I hide in the bathroom and scroll through my mobile Tumblr feed, which is largely full of runway fashion and gay porn. Don't tell my boss.

Don't burn your bridges.

Unless you're an indentured servant or super dedicated, you probably won't be working at the same company for the rest of your life. One day you'll have to submit a list of professional references, so if you decide to submit your resignation via taking a dump on the director's desk before lighting his computer on fire, you're in for a rough job hunt. Also, don't ever tell a potential employer that your previous employer sucked. That just makes you seem bitter and disloyal.

If all else fails, Leslie Knope that shit.

When I feel super bored or depressed at work, I ask myself: What Would Leslie From Parks and Rec Do? Even the most menial tasks are still things that need to be done, so if you can't change your job, you might as well change your perspective. Write that email with all your heart. Answer that call with a bellowing HOW CAN I HELP YOU? Restock the copier with a smile so joyous your boss will suspect that you're high again. I'm serious, this has helped me more than anything else.If all of this was very simple and common sense to you, then congratulations, you're smarter than someone who took six years to finish a four-year degree! Maybe I just wanted to share my story and offer a little glimmer of hope for anyone working the nine-to-five without the jaunty moral support of Dolly Parton, OK?Statistically, most of us are never going to be rich. Many of us won't even be financially comfortable. So whether you're folding clothes, harvesting pecans, or answering phones, let's make the best of what we have and just enjoy our damn lives. After all, Spongebob flips burgers while Mr. Krabs pays him pocket change, and he's the happiest little shit in the world.We should all be so lucky.