How to Survive the Cubicle (and Get Out of It)

By Scot Herrick | Cube Rules Commentary

Nov 23

In our media, The Cubicle (the dreaded cubicle) has been depicted as hell on earth. If not exactly hell, then definitely hell’s waiting room. Movies, TV shows and even modern art (like in the case of George Tooker) agree that there is no worse place to exist in than The Cubicle.

If we are being totally honest, it is not exactly as bad as some people want you to think. Granted, it is not the same as living on a Caribbean island and making a living painting sunsets, but it is not exactly risking your life in a mine several thousand feet below ground. Still, some people find it a less-than-perfect work environment and this particular piece of writing is aimed at them.

So, how does one survive The Cubicle and (hopefully) escapes it at one point?

Your Job is not Your Life

Some people may disagree with this, people who see their job as the focal point of their life. In most cases, these are the people who feel the “calling” and who spend majority of their lives striving for as much professional success as possible.

Now, we are not saying that there is something wrong with this (to each his own, or suum cuique as the Ancient Romans would say), but for most people, their jobs are just a way to make money so they can live a certain lifestyle and enjoy aspects of their life that are, well, more enjoyable. For most people, life is about family, friends and new experiences, not just about work.

If you happen to find your life in The Cubicle unbearable, keep repeating this to yourself, “Your job is not your life. Your job is not your life.” Consider this a mantra of yours. It is just a part of your life that is allowing you to enjoy the rest of it.

Be Realistic

This is a piece of advice that refers back to something we have already mentioned in the introduction – The Cubicle is not exactly the worst working environment in the world. When the deadlines approach, when your boss seems to be hovering around you like some sort of a vulture in a cheap polyester suit, keep in mind that there are people who are much worse off and earning a fraction of money you are.

This requires a great deal of empathy and increased control over the sense of self-pity we all sometimes experience, but try to think of people who would change places with you in a heartbeat. Think about 10-year old children who try to make a living salvaging precious metals at computer dumps around the world; think about people who spend 12 hours a day sewing clothes for a dollar a day; think about people whose jobs involve risking their lives on daily basis.

The Cubicle suddenly seems much less daunting, doesn’t it?

Acknowledge the People Around You

When working in The Cubicle, you are surrounded by people. And yes, at times this can be a negative thing. You might feel surrounded by senseless meat and “…hollow men. The stuffed men” in the words of T.S. Eliot. Concentrating on the negative sides of working with other people is one of the worst things you can do for your cubicle experience. More often than not, you will find that these people are perfectly agreeable, often very nice and quite helpful if you give them a chance.

If you know what is good for you, you will turn your coworkers into allies and not your enemies. That guy who is in the cubicle next to you and has a noticeably heavy breath might actually be a super cool guy who shares your interest and might surprise you if you give him a chance. Be nice to your coworkers; or more precisely, be likeable. It will pay off.

Do Something About It

If you are really that fed up with The Cubicle, if you know that you deserve more and can do more – prove it. Do something about it. There is nothing worse than inaction. Learn what is needed to make the next step that will get you out of your cubicle. If you hear that there is a management position opening soon, take management courses like those from Upskilled, or similar places. If there is a project that you can contribute to, raise your hand; do not slink back into The Cubicle. Learn. Understand your workplace.

Better yourself.

Transcend The Cubicle.


James D. Burbank has traveled the world as part of his career in trade show industry and he has seen so many business practices and cultures that he could write a book. If he only had the confidence. If you have the time, check out his blog – BizzMarkBlog.



About the Author

Scot Herrick is the author of “I’ve Landed My Dream Job–Now What???” and owner of Cube Rules, LLC. Scot has a long history of management and individual contribution in multiple Fortune 100 corporations.