Dear Captain Awkward,
I’m currently in a very cushy but very boring job with a strange workflow: I’m either completely slammed or have absolutely nothing to do. As much as I don’t enjoy the work, I’d rather be busy than bored, but I seem to have fallen into a complete malaise and can’t figure out what to do with all that spare time.
I have made my supervisors aware of how lopsided my schedule is, but I don’t want to call too much attention to the lack of work or end up taking on responsibilities that are inappropriate for my position and then get overloaded and burnt out (something that happens a lot in this company). I have to at least appear to be busy, so it’s not like I can pull out a book and read. The thing is, I feel like I’ve reached the end of the internet and that I’m wasting all this time and energy that could used to cure cancer or whatever.
Back in high school I would use any free time I had to write, and while I still go through periods of creativity, more often than not I feel like I’ve become a cubicle zombie. In order to stay sane while in this very un-stimulating job, I want to make sure I stay engaged in things I care about (and ideally someday soon-ish be able to save up enough money to leave this job for more fulfilling, if less lucrative, pursuits). As things are, between boredom from my job and boredom from killing time, I’m becoming really unhappy with my work situation and it just exacerbates any other not-so-great feelings I’ve been having about other parts of my life. I’m not engaged when I do have something to work on, and I often feel really isolated from my coworkers. My question is: how do I get myself out of this rut, short of finding another job? Any suggestions on how I can get myself to use this time productively and/or creatively? How does one survive a soul-sucking work environment?
Feeling Like Peter from Office Space
Being bored is a good problem. My uneducated theory is that it means that your brain has the luxury of too many options and can’t pick one, like when you’re cranky-hungry (Commander Logic correctly calls this state “crungry“) and you end up in a restaurant with a giant 20 page menu and can’t pick out anything to eat.
I’ve got some obvious solutions for you:
1) Look for a new job you think you’d like more. Since you have a job already, you have the luxury of hanging out and picking the *right* opportunity and plenty of time to write and send cover letters.
2) Become a badass at something.
For example, you say you want to be a writer…I’m a writer. How did I become a writer? I wrote stuff. A lot of stuff. Hi, I’m writing stuff right now, because I’m a writer. Free time? A computer and a quiet space? Write stuff. You don’t have to leave that job to “become a writer,” or even be paid (at first) to be a writer, you just have to write stuff. I’ve started getting adorable emails from very young bloggers who ask “how did you become a blogger?” like there is some secret to it? The secret is: Make a blog and write stuff in it.
You could become a badass at something else, though. Here are a couple of badass training resources you could access from your cube:
- Learn to code. For free.
- Learn any kind of software – photoshop, video editing, you name it. (Not for free).
- A perennial favorite resource on these pages. Everything is free! Go learn it!
If you’re really smart, you can figure out a skill that both gets you more prepared for the work you’d rather be doing and that your current company might pay for you to acquire to use now.
3) Make your free time awesome.
Start volunteering and/or trying out things you think you might want to do with your life now, while you have a sinecure and see if you actually like them. Build your skills and your network, and then leap when you are ready.
Here’s how I learned I wanted to make movies instead of working in management consulting:
- During a depressive episode, began telling colleagues I had off-site client meetings. Sat in theaters watching 3-4 movies in a row.
- Quit my soulsucking job and moved to a city where I didn’t know anyone. Did a string of temp and odd jobs to pay the bills while I figured stuff out and stitched my mental health back together.
- Read everything I could about making movies. Joined a club of people who watched and talked about movies.
- Met a few local filmmakers, started helping out on their projects as a producer.
- Realized that I had strong opinions about some of their creative decisions, as in “Production design is not optional, it’s actually super-important in delivering character information.”
- Began speaking up about those opinions to the filmmakers.
- My input was not appreciated? There was an argument that ended with “WHY DON’T YOU GO AND MAKE YOUR OWN MOVIES, THEN?” “OKAY, FINE, I WILL.” Yes, I became a filmmaker partly out of spite.
- And then I did (via applying and getting into grad school somehow with a half scholarship?) and it was good.
- I need to change the bio where I say am a screenwriter who likes advice columns. I’m more of a director and editor, but I screenwrite so as to have material to direct and edit.
I could have not gone to grad school and done the DIY thing – I’d have less debt, for sure – I really wanted the structure and the ability to focus on nothing but making movies for a few years and build my skills up more quickly. Also, the teaching credential pays my bills (sort of). We’ll see if the trade-off was worth it if the student loans get paid off before I enter a nursing home.
My point is, you don’t have to quit your job in a blaze of glory to start getting closer to what you want. Start small. It will make your boring days go by faster if your brain is occupied by the stuff you want to be doing instead.