Overcoming Dying in a Cubicle

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One of the most interesting articles I’ve read in a long time was Pamela Slim’s “If you are stuck in a cube and dying to get out, what does it specifically feel like?” over on Escape From Cubicle Nation. She’s writing a book on moving out of corporate life to having your own business and asked this question to help her write the book.

It’s a good question. More interesting are the comments. Here’s just a few that especially appealed to me:

I feel like a trained Monkey sitting in a cage watching the real world go by. My masters give me stale peanuts as treats, in the form of paltry raises, corp-speak and broken promises. Daily I am expected to perform like an organ grinder monkey. The audience gets a kick from my work while my master reaps the rewards.

I feel as if I don’t have a soul anymore. I feel like I am mostly machine and all traces of humanity have been sucked out of me. As my wife says “You used to be fun, but now you suck!”

Cubes feel like prison to me. The generic, vanilla, white box environments contribute to the same old ideas for the same old problems. Without visual stimulation and a quiet environment, it’s certainly difficult to concentrate, but it’s even harder to produce new ideas.

There were a few (also good) comments on the true environment of working in cubes, especially about the amount of distractions that working in a cube provides when attempting to get things done.

But most of the comments were not really about working in cubes, but about not enjoying the work being done. Whether it was not being given enough work, not given work that engages the employee, or managers not valuing the work being done, the person working in the cube was not working on what was enjoyable and challenging for them.

Not everyone is cut out to go develop their own business. Many people need to work for Corporate Earth. And companies, in spite of their faults, have provided some pretty terrific benefits to their customers, employees, and (almost criminal) wealth to their upper management.

But, the potential of an engaged employee is just something to behold, not only for the company, but for the individual.

How can you avoid dying in a cube? Here’s a few suggestions:

Know your talents. If your talent is strategy, you will die a little every day if your entire job is data entry into a database. Doing something in an environment that changes quickly will better enable you to work the strategy of becoming the next big thing.

Know your strengths. If you can consistently do something well 99% of the time and lose yourself in doing it, that’s a strength. Work your position, or find one, that allows you do do more of your strength and a good measure of happiness will follow.

Minimize your weaknesses. If you hate administrivia (as I do), don’t let that dominate your position. Likewise, don’t view a weakness as something that will someday will become a strength. Instead, become competent in your weakest areas so you aren’t hurt and move your job to your strengths.

There’s a good number of people who believe that it is management’s responsibility to give them challenging work. Some of that is true. But there is a great ability of each of us to try and do the tasks that are more oriented to what we do well — from taking on assignments that match our strengths to doing what we do well in a team situation.

This isn’t the end-all answer of course. But there is much that we can do to influence the type of work we do, from working on a job to match our strengths in the tasks we work to moving to a different job or company that better matches our talents.

Not an easy thing, but how well do you know yourself?

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