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!