It’s Only Labor If You’re Not Having Fun

This post is in response to Victoria’s “Monday Morning Writing Prompt” about Labor Day from her blog Live To Write Today.

Bertrand Russell famously quipped, “One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one’s work is terribly important.”

It was the last straw for Gertrude. Milly tried to comfort her, but the stress of having the semicolon in her opening sentence of the document that would save the world (okay, the Interlibrary Loan Policy) changed to a comma was more than she could bear.

I can think of examples in nearly every one of my various jobs in which people (including me) must have been close to nervous breakdowns because we behaved like our job was to save the world from an alien invasion. Yet I never worked at an organization where heavy artillery precision operation or keen military “strategery” were prerequisites of the job.

Yeah, no. I never had a job that required me to use anything like that. But it sure would have been cool to bust up a few extra boring faculty meetings with one of those laser thingies.

I’m a sociologist by training and profession. We observe human social life, notice others and ourselves in everyday situations, and think way too much about what it all means. I’ve thought a lot about Bertrand Russell’s observation and my 20 years of experience as a college professor. Here are my thoughts on the matter of laboring in the labor force:

  • When more than 30 minutes of a general meeting is spent debating punctuation, it’s time for a new leader, team, objective, and/or job.
  • People at work like to complain…even about people who complain all the time.
  • Nothing gets people’s attention more than a suggestion about changing up the bathrooms at work.
  • Almost everyone feels underpaid and underappreciated for the important work s/he does.
  • Almost everyone feels they’re as irreplaceable to their organization as the Hope Diamond is to the Smithsonian’s Collection of Rare and Precious Gems.
  • Although no one really understands anyone else’s job, nearly everyone feels expert enough in those other people’s jobs to criticize them provide helpful suggestions on how to improve their job performance.
  • Never say in writing or directly to a person what you can say behind that person’s back–maintaining the appearance of collegiality is of utmost importance to “good” working relationships.
  • Never fraternize with people from “other” major sectors of the organizational chart–you will be deemed slutty (sleeping your way to the top), traitorous (getting in bed with the enemy), or a panderer (sleeping with “those people”) and your “friendly” colleagues will say nasty things about you behind your back. Basically, no “sleeping” on the job.

I loved teaching with a passion most women reserve for George Clooney or [insert your dreamy lust object]. Inspiring my students to think critically kept me fresh and motivated as a teaching professional. I’ll admit, I got caught up in some of the above-mentioned beliefs and behaviors in the midst of my academic career. The college was my world, well, my professional world. It was as small and as artificial as any workplace was.

The semicolon is a tricky matter. We need to give this sentence careful consideration. I believe the formation of a Task Force is in order to review the merits and consequences of chosing the semicolon over the comma in this one sentence. We have a duty to this generation and all future generations to punctuate our sentences properly. If we don't, cultural chaos will ensue and we will be no better than the primates!

Then, about 10 years ago, I got dizzy and the dizziness made me sick. The funny thing about all the dizziness and sickness was that it turned my world around (pun intended). I started seeing my work and my place in it very differently–objectively. Debates about punctuation or frantic conversations about changing the bathrooms that were so serious to others became comical to me. I gained perspective when I lost my health.

Don't you just hate it when you're the only one laughing and you can't stop, but you try to stop and trying to stop only makes it worse? Well, my colleagues did.

I worked for 4 years as a dizzy, sick professor. Those were the most fun years of my professional career because I lightened up. My students appreciated my relaxed approach to academia. My scholarly standards didn’t waver; but I made sure to demonstrate how funny human social interaction can be to finding humor in each day through observation.

Trust me, when humans interact, the potential for humor is endless. You just have to be willing to see it.

Yeah, I'm looking at you!

~ by Lorna's Voice on September 5, 2011.

31 Responses to “It’s Only Labor If You’re Not Having Fun”

  1. Thanks so much for stoping by and commenting. You got dropped in my spam folder, so that’s why I haven’t responded quicker.

  2. Yeah and some Musak (is that how you spell that horrible looping elevator and put-you-on-hold-telephone music?).

  3. Now there’s a great idea. That and maybe toss in some absolutely horrible food and stale coffee…

  4. I love your quip about meetings. I think ALL meeting rooms should be conspicuouly devoid of chairs. That would solve the endless banter and make people get down to busniess fast!

  5. Great post! I find myself nodding in full agreement at so many of those observations. For almost a decade, I worked as a financial executive in a fairly large Healthcare setting. I was always amused that the solution to any problem was to form a committee or a task force. The real comedy however is the composition of those committees and task forces was almost always the same damned people! I never understood why we just couldn’t solve the problem when it arose, since it was going to be the same group of folks discussing it when we convened the “other” task force.

    I’m reminded of an old business quip – Meetings are events where the minutes are kept and the hours are lost…

  6. And what does your computer screen say back? I hope it’s an agreeable sort! 😉

    I love that you comment. It let’s me know you came, you read, you cared enough to spend a bit of time to share your thoughts. Keep commenting. It motivates me!

  7. Now, whatever would make you think a thing like that? 😉

  8. Hi Lorna – I loved your tongue-in-cheek (correct word ? hyphenated ? wouldn’t want to offend the Punctuation Police now , would we ?) post ! The chimp pics/captions are hilarious !
    I think that a rare and precious quality in the workplace is the ability to be able to laugh at onesself … and to be the first to do so !

  9. Did you write that first image comment about me? 🙂

  10. By the time I get here, all the good comments are taken. 🙂 Great blog Lorna. I always smile, usually nod and even occassionally say “I know!!” to the computer screen.

  11. Thanks Ray! I played in both ends of the sandbox–faculty and administration. No one is immune to taking trivial things and turning them into 12-hour debate worthy topics.

    30 years of administration. God bless you (and not for sneezing)!

  12. Hi Lorna, isn’t that the truth. I was in the management world for 30 years and as you said we are going to worry about the dumbest things. Surely it can be a waste of time. Good story Lorna.

  13. Perhaps my “uncommon sense” is contagious? I hope so!

  14. Thanks, Jeanna. Faculty argued over many trivial things–“the” versus “a” was a common target if you can believe it!

  15. It happens everywhere–not just in the halls of “higher learning.” I’m just glad a few of us have the perspective and “uncommon sense” to notice it and laugh about it!

  16. Love it. I’m an avid observer of human behavior for no other reason but for my own enjoyment. I worked in a mailing house once and would almost go into hysterics just listening to the Sales Managers and Company Directors serious and sometimes heated discussions about the most trivial of matters. Sometimes I felt like standing on the table (and I needed to!) and saying, “Oh for crying out loud! We’re talking about junk mail here, not a cure for cancer! No one reads it!”

  17. hehehehe, hey I work in a place like that!!! I’ve loved English and Literature my whole life and still find the semi colon to be a PUNK. I just throw one in now and then to keep things interesting. Kind of like a Latin song in the middle of a Mozart cd. Loved this post!

  18. You sure have a knack for comedy. Have you thought of stand up????
    Really these are so true … people do think they are under paid – and – that they could do a better job then the other person. You are RIGHT-ON my dear.

    DDdddduuhhhhh … please don’t look at my comma’s or semi-colons. HAHahhhaaa … colons … now that brings something funny to mind.

    Why do I get so silly when I post on your blog ????

    Your a hooot ……!!! ~~~~ : – )

  19. Dead on Lorna. Those last two sentences; they say it all. (Did I use the semi-colon properly, prof?)

  20. Everyone needs a Milly in her life, you’re right; but not every sentence needs a semicolon. That one did, however… 😉

  21. I hear that phrase a lot. It’s really judgemental and nonsensical all at the same time. Your response is perfect.

  22. Thanks so much–high praise from such an evocative writer. Writing is therapy for me. When I’m focused on writing, I’m able to push the dizziness in the background. It’s kind of like a vacation from the spinning. That’s why I spend so much time writing. 😉

  23. Thanks, Victoria! A few of my colleagues appreciated my humor; but most academic-types are not the most self-deprecating bunch of people. They take themselves way too seriously (which is funny in and of itself). 😉

    I’m glad you liked the post.

  24. Oh yes, it’s worse (or better) when someone has the giggles with you! 🙂

  25. Happy to oblige! Thanks for stopping in and commenting!

    I, too, love the saying that we are human beings, not human doings. I’ve used it a lot since I’ve been retired and people keep asking me what I do with all my time.

  26. I love that idea of finding humor in our day-to-day human social interactions. It sure would make life a lot more enjoyable. Usually, it’s me and someone else who can’t stop laughing together. One glance at the other “laughee” and I lose it even more!

    Thanks, Lorna, for being so much fun!

  27. Boy, does this ring true! I’m not a humorist, but I used to try to inject humor at work. I loved to use Calvin and Hobbs or Far Side cartoons on meeting agendas. Just the thought of going back into a stuctured work environment, though, makes me want to hurl. So glad you joined up, Lorna!

  28. The potential for humour is endless. You are right, and you see it in many things which is great because what you write is often moving but also makes me laugh. I always enjoy your Blogging and hope it does’nt bring on any dizzy spells

  29. A co-worker once said of another co-worker, “She needs to get a life.” My answer was, “She has a life — this is it!” I then vowed that no one would ever be able to say that about me!”

  30. Semi-colon use is a minefield fraught with perils, and Milly is a true, blue friend.

  31. Ain’t it the truth!? What many people fail to realize is that, in truth, there is someone else out there who can do your job as well or better than you do. No one is irreplaceable in that regard. That’s why we should work hard to cultivate relationships with loved ones regarding things that truly matter.

    A friend of mine once said, “We are human beings, not human doings.” Ever since I heard that, I’ve changed my entire outlook towards work and what elements of my life should and do have value. Thank you so much for a good chimpanzee and semicolon filled laugh on a gray Tuesday! 🙂

Silence can be just what the doctor ordered. You know I'm a doctor, right?

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