Friday, February 10th, 2012

Some Advice for Young People

From time to time I am asked by young people for advice in matters of work and life, generally by people who have mistaken my age for seniority. I don't really have any advice, though, is the problem, beyond some basics and also "don't do what I did," but usually it goes like:

1. Why don't you think about that over the weekend and if you still feel that way on Monday, you can totally send that email, okay?

2. Yes, you should not worry too much about the consequences and you should definitely quit your job that you hate and it'll probably all work out great. Job quitters are the happiest people around.

3. Pretty much the rest boils down to which moles people should get looked at and why Maalox is the best and how quarterly taxes are a necessary evil.

But now I realize that I do have a bit of work-related advice for young people! And it's something you maybe actually need to know.

As you, observant young person, have likely seen, in pretty much every decent-sized workplace you will find in a big city, there are an assortment of types.

• There is an array of normal, helpful, kinda boring, kinda decent, maybe-fun people who do most of the work.

• There are the funny, or super attractive, or moody, or, most often, very sleepy people, who appear on the surface to be engaged in the work and a vast benefit to the office, because they likely make you laugh or they make the office sexier, but they are just biding time at the office, because they have a Dream Career. In New York City, about 1 in 20 of these types are going to be mildly locally famous, at least in their chosen field of sculpture or knitting or standup or whatever. That's fine; let them follow their dreams. At least 5 out of 20 of them are going to be sending you annoying invites to comedy shows for the next 20 years, but you know what? You should actually go to one of those once. It's not that bad. Just be nice. Maybe you'll even enjoy it! Live a little! But most importantly, the good will that you accrue for this act will follow you for years.

• Then there are a smaller number of operators, divas, drama queens, vampires, bitter underminers and soulless careerists. This is what we are concerned with today.

These people are commonly regarded as annoyances. That is not quite correct, but a few of them are. You will learn to recognize the vampires. They're easy to disregard. They corner you, physically or digitally. They are coworkers who text you on weekends. They touch you in the office, in an attempt to suck energy through your skin. They stand in doorways, preventing people from passing. They tell you long, agitated and boring stories about people you don't know. (So do the drama queens.) They post on your Facebook page. They are unable to read normal friendship signals and pursue interactions that you have not instigated. You must not encourage these people; they'll follow you around for years, even when you no longer work together. You must 100% not engage, and let them have no traction. Eventually they will wander off.

The drama queens are a little more dangerous, because sooner or later you'll "betray" them and become a character in the stories that they bore someone else with. When they finally snap, go cold. Don't apologize, engage or grovel. If there's one thing I wish I'd learned at 18, it's that it's okay if a crazy person hates you. Everyone else will understand in time. Meanwhile, let them expend that energy. Go work on your novel or whatever.

And the bitter underminers, well, they're too obvious to even worry about. OMG they're going to make fun of you on their Tumblr!? That's okay. They are just frustrated. Be nice to them, they can get better with time, because eventually most of them realize that composing nasty emails about people they don't really know to their friends all day has been a waste of their energies. Some of these people turn out great actually!

Because vampires and divas and underminers are so loud and distracting, they take up all the emotional energy that we should actually be devoting to the real enemy. This is why we never destroy the soulless careerists. This is, I think, the number one mistake that we make in the world of work.

These are the boys who suck up to the boss's boss. They're backslappers. These are the girls who beg you to come out for drinks so they can talk about the tortures of their latest job offers. (In the world of writers, these are often people who are always telling you about what story they're pitching to whom.) They're often imperious (but not always; sometimes they disguise their narcissism as insecurity, to be manipulative). Really, they lack fear. They are likely sociopaths. They are identifiable because, if you stop and look, you'll realize it is unfathomable to you that this person who actually does nothing but complain in the office, and who goes out to lunch every day for hours, should be getting these opportunities. Oh, should I or shouldn't I take one of these exciting new jobs that I just can't choose between! they'll ask you.

And because you're a good person, you'll squish down your resentment and annoyance, because you think those feelings make you a bad person. In normal circumstances, you'd be right to do so. (And you should!) But not with these little monsters.

Because if you think you feel weird now, just wait until you read about their $500,000 book deal. Or their appointment as the editor in chief of whatever. (Again, not that you should be jealous or petty about the good or hard-working or hilarious or wacky people who get these things. Try to be excited or at least amused about that! It's actually easy to love it when your pals become successful.)

The soulless careerists, though: they get where they are because social training doesn't allow us to stop them. They depend upon our unwillingness to say "bad things" about people. But if you don't, who will?

It is incumbent upon you to put a fucking boot in the face of the soulless careerist.

When people ask you about them, tell the truth. Practice saying "They're useless and horrible." Practice saying "They're soulless careerists who don't care about anything or believe in anything and they're just using us all to get ahead at any cost." Practice telling the truth. They can't stand the exposure in the light of day. They can't keep stepping on people if their previous steppings-on are known. You'll all be happier in the long run.

Do it for the generation to come! Do it for all of us.

Alternatively, you can just go to a lot of yoga and not worry about any of this at all, that really works too.

79 Comments / Post A Comment

keisertroll (#1,117)

You forgot about wearing sunscreen.

Brian (#115)

You should probably work up to that massive careerist boot-kick. Practice on the drama queens, they're total pussies.

Soulless careerist sounds much better than "useless and horrible". Changing my résumé.

Brad Nelson (#2,115)

For worship someone who actively despises you.

Regina Small (#2,468)

"If there's one thing I wish I'd learned at 18, it's that it's okay if a crazy person hates you." Still trying to get this one through my thick skull.

Nick Douglas (#7,095)

@Regina Small It's even OK when they make an un-spellchecked blog just to mock you.

brianvan (#149)

Is it wrong to hope that, the night they sign their big $500k contract, they do a few coke lines to celebrate but then keel over and die? It worked for Knicks fans!

boyofdestiny (#1,243)

@brianvan Still too soon!

Somewhat helpful! But, re: the numbered pre-advice. Are grad school quitters happy? Leaving my phd program to go pursue Dream Career (which means I get to be bullet point two?).

boysplz (#9,812)

@armagnacforbreakfast I'd say so. I quit grad school and while I may not be in a "dream career" I also haven't ever looked back on it.

jfruh (#713)

@armagnacforbreakfast I too quit grad school to pursue a non-dream career (grad school WAS the dream, initially), and instantly was 1000% happier. It turns out I wasn't a friendless loser, it was just that everyone in grad school had no social skills!

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

@jfruh You guys are killing the buzz on my current fantasy of leaving the increasingly pointless job for a Ph.D. program. (Well, you and conversations with actual graduate students.)

riotnrrd (#840)

Depends on the Ph.D. program. In the humanities, probably it's wise to cut bait and leave. If you're in engineering or the sciences (i.e. your school is paying for you and you will find a job when you leave), stick it out.
Of course, this is the same advice I gave to a friend in grad school, who then ignored me and became employee #15 at Google and probably doesn't regret the decision.

@riotnrrd Currently in grad school in the humanities (1st year). No debt from undergrad or master's program (because the god of money took pity on my future decisions and decided to throw some free cash at me)…so my school is paying for me, but there are no jobs at the end of this. Bad news is that my dream career involves writing. Fiction at that-which I do now, with small successes here and there. (But also, you know, getting a real job to pay bills, etc).

bshep (#746)

@armagnacforbreakfast It needs to be way more socially acceptable to quit grad school. For some reason it remains one of the few things it's still not ok to walk away from, at least based on my experience of struggling with this myself and watching others struggle. Think about it– You probably wouldn't tell your friend to stick with a bad marriage or miserable job, but when it's clear grad school is practically killing them you're expected to say "You can do it, keep at it, you're almost there" even when in most cases "almost there" means another year or more of misery, poverty, isolation, intense labor on something they've long ago stopped caring about and only a couple people will actually read, zero career prospects at the end and very little other apparent benefit. It's crazy really, and I suppose the taboo against leaving exists because if it didn't most people would leave.

@bshep The Awl – so helpful! So filled with heartening advice. Makes me wish that I went to the Awl Bawl and bared my soul for all to enjoy.

JennFizz (#172,488)

@bshep: Couldn't agree more. I spent seven years slogging through a Ph.d program with the most melodramatic, fickle department you could imagine with lousy placement rates to boot. It was soul crushing. I finished two chapters of my dissertation and just set it aside and walked away. I'm currently waiting tables, adjuncting, and preparing to open a used bookstore but at least I never have to see any of those people ever again.

Danzig! (#5,318)

@jfruh I am right there HELP ME

Kevin Finnerty (#31,992)

@armagnacforbreakfast Not actually true about job prospects after grad school in the sciences anymore. See:

hapax (#6,251)

LOL @ your first sentence. No young person has ever asked an older person for advice about anything.

Ralph Haygood (#13,154)

@hapax They do, though, sometimes. It's really quite disturbing.

@hapax I've asked Choire for advice. Granted, it was about a swimsuit, but still.

The the nasty email was indeed a waste of my energies, but that Tumblr joke was gold. EAT IT, jerkbrains.

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

Wish I'd heard that about quitting the senseless job before a) this recession and b) I had these two kids.

katherine (#10,025)

But what if you ARE the operator/diva/drama queen/vampire/bitter underminer/soulless careerist? I feel like there needs to be a "How to Tell If You Are Actually The Worst" companion guide.

lempha (#581)

@katherine If you care to ask, you're obviously not.

Brad Nelson (#2,115)

No, no, I feel like you still could be.

@katherine But if you have to ask, you obviously are.

skyslang (#11,283)

@katherine If you have to ask, you're a Drama Queen.

Nick Douglas (#7,095)

@katherine Most frustratingly, it's possible to be half the worst and half the best, no? I think I've fallen at that spot most of my life.

omitofo (#4,921)

I actually had a work anxiety dream this week which involved me going up to the Soulless Careerist in my cubicle pen and yelling "Why are you so mean to me? I do nothing to you! I am so nice! why are you a bitch! I'm doing such a good job! you make more money than me! WHY ARE YOU SO MEAN?!"

I woke up in fear that I'd actually done it. Took me a couple hours to recover!

deepomega (#1,720)

Things everyone should learn to talk about:

-Other people who are shitty at their jobs/lives

(Also quit your job. Seriously.)

iwantyrskull (#1,706)

@deepomega Yes, definitely more folks need to learn to talk about money: how much you're making, how much your services are worth, and how to ask for a raise when appropriate.

MichelleDean (#7,041)

And they called it "Choire's Law."

In These Uncertain Times, if you do quit your job, be sure to have a well thought-out plan. I quit a job I hated years ago, and I was all, "the universe will provide a path for me" or some Tobias Funke shit like that. LOL, no. You have to make your path. Try to have some pragmatism, is what I'm saying.

brianvan (#149)

@are friends electric

My pragmatic instincts are telling me that I'm part of a very large group of not-rich people that the very-rich are trying to choke out right now, and that if I intend to be one of those who makes it out of this decade alive, I better learn how to choke them harder.

My softer instincts are telling me to go with the well-thought plan, but I can certainly tell you via repeated experience that the "market" can stay insane and vicious longer than your deeply-meditated "plan" can stay solvent. That's pretty much what OWS is about… not some half-cooked Boomer excuse for inequity that Millennials can't stand focused labor. Any boring, laborious but effective plan is vastly more appealing than a self-inflicted hopeless future. But when the plans stop working altogether, the knives come out.

hman (#53)

Yikes, what the hell did Balk do today?

@hman Inorite? I feel like someone should have whispered "you know it's a two-man operation, right?" to him before he hit the publish button.

So, I'm guessing Choire is a reformed bitter-underminer :

"because eventually most of them realize that composing nasty emails about people they don't really know to their friends all day has been a waste of their energies. Some of these people turn out great actually!"

A.K.A. Sicha after Gawker

copyranter (#440)

Yoga totally does NOT work.

signed, exceedingly angry hack.

El Matardillo (#586)

Should I wear shorts?

barnhouse (#1,326)

Fascinating and I think correct, in general. Personally I feel that the vampires are the worst ones, but that is because I suffered from them the most. I would have put them at the end of this list and illustrated with planes crashing and forest fires.

fek (#93)

Or "How to Never Get An Email From Anyone Under The Age Of 30 Again." Bookmarking.

osmium (#7,705)

And of course you should remember that these definitions are relative, because the soulless careerist might just be someone who rubbed you the wrong way the first time you met, and other reasonable people might think they're fine.

Going cold on someone is a drama queen move itself. It makes you part of the games instead of above them. Don't let them drag you into drama or acknowledge outlandish accusations, but try try try to keep your cool, appreciate that person's insecurities, keep your distance, but stay positive. Everyone has value. It's great if it doesn't bother you when someone hates you, but it should bother you when you contribute to a self-conscious, insecure person hating themselves.

hockeymom (#143)

Without specific names, this list is incomplete.

metoometoo (#230)

Well, I quit my job and do a lot of yoga and I'm really happy, so, FYI.

Wait, hold on, back up: did Choire just use the F-WORD in a published post?

iplaudius (#1,066)

The "soulless careerist" characterization works for almost everyone in Los Angeles.

shostakobitch (#1,692)

@iplaudius I was about to give you shit for this but my roommate is, as described in this article, a soulless careerist to a T. Along with mediocre law school grades and insurmountable debt, she is slowly driving me towards the hangman's noose as surely as the sun sets in the West.

Tully Mills (#6,486)

What about the "soulless can-I-make-rent-this-monthist?"

flow my fears (#215,679)

"If there's one thing I wish I'd learned at 18, it's that it's okay if a crazy person hates you."

I'll take it farther, it is absolutely essential that crazy people hate you. There is no surer sign of sanity than the hatred of the mad. Though of course you could just be a different, unapproved species of madman yourself.

musicmope (#428)

This is the most roundabout beatdown on Jon-Jon Goulian, yet.

assorted (#215,814)

I could see a soulless careerist thinking of your comments on them as that of a drama queen, painting you as such, and thinking similar thoughts you've expressed about others, about you: "well that person is crazy I don't care if they hate me," the soulless careerist will say & think about you…

HiredGoons (#603)

aka New Yorkers.

Patrick M (#404)

Can you do one of these for old people too?

Pizza4Life (#215,907)

One pitfall that isn't really mentioned. When you're surrounded by soulless careerists who spend 99.9% of their time and energy pretending to be busy and sucking up to the boss, and they get ahead, and you feel like you're going crazy so you talk about it to other people – and they assume that you're the drama queen.

The most positive outcome you can hope for is that they'll have to work with these douches, too, and experience it for themselves. Forget revenge. Nothing feels as good as that 'Oh my god, you were right about soandso!' email.

DrFeelGood (#14,494)

@Pizza4Life What do you do when the soulless careerist is combined with the drama queen and is your boss? Well, I quit, but just wondering…

sharilyn (#4,599)

Another thing only alluded to in this (excellent) piece: We've probably all been vampires, drama queens, and underminers at various times and at various unhappy jobs. I know I've played all those roles, but never for too long. Choire is so right about the soulless careerists. They are THE WORST.

lianaoregon (#216,161)

"its OK if a crazy person hates you"

love it.

theoeckh (#216,297)

crazy ppl hates everyone

Dianne Smallwood (#7,694)

we hate it when our friends become successful…

dona4lon (#216,357)

thanks for advices.

lawyergay (#220)

It's okay to ignore phone calls, emails or text messages from people you don't like. It's good to have a mentor/champion/Virgil in your chosen field.

zidaane (#373)

My email drafts folder is full of horrible drunk emails I've never sent because they took like 4-5 hours to write and by that time I was kind of sleepy.

DrFeelGood (#14,494)

The best way to appear impartial is to be impartial. I have had so many bosses and co-workers who have tried to suck me into gossip sessions, only later to use the information against me. I now keep my mouth shut about 99.5% of the crap that goes on in any job, and I have one confidant who works in a different area and doesn't impact my job or my boss. This means that I don't have a lot of work friends, but that's ok, I have real friends at home. Perfecting the smile and nod face is the best too, when they throw bullshit at you, they want a huge reaction. If you give them little to no reaction, then they know you're not interested in playing their game and they usually quit it real fast.

Amanda@twitter (#216,612)

The awkward moment when you realize you are totally a vampire. Shit.

av6 (#216,788)

I'm the person inviting you to the comedy shows and if you ever actually came to one I would seriously be so amazed at your awesomeness I would be willing to help you move and possibly even consider us best friends.

nomorecheese (#15,517)

This article is so ridiculous. It is so judgmental and just incorrect. People who live for their careers are not evil just because they value their job highly. I'm going to get a lot of shit from the people who loved this but I think it is juvenile drivel.

Articles like this make me feel not crazy about the office.

The best advice for young people on the job would be to ignore this dysfunctional article and just learn to work well with others. When you start pigeon-holing and shunning your coworkers for their idiosyncrasies it just makes you the ice-princess with the chip on her shoulder. Wordscapes has some great pointers for working well with others, and maintaining a professional demeanor. Check it out! :)

nomorecheese (#15,517)

@Jeff Patterson@facebook I completely agree.

Electric Feel (#236,178)

@Jeff Patterson@facebook Eh. I can see your argument if a young person is in a serious job that they can parlay into their future career, where it would be important to forge connections you can use as references later. But if they're in the sort of common dead-end retail job that is just there to pay the bills while they work on school/training for the career they actually want – the kind of job MOST young people have in this economy – is there any reason to need to be particularly warm to your co-workers? Be nice, yes, but keeping to yourself a bit doesn't cost you much, and if you're already really uncomfortable in your job, staying out of the drama of coworker relations is a good survival strategy. For me, in my shitty retail job I had in college, a lot of it was just staying away from the assholes, and I really could have used some of the advice here – especially on vampire coworkers, who did a lot to make my time at that job more miserable than it needed to be (see my comment downthread).

GLanyon (#282)

The vampires are the WORST. Get outta my way! I'm trying to go home!

MikeLindgren (#19,770)

I like it! Go get those underminers! Never give in! "Tis a far far better thing! Nearer my God to Thee!

Electric Feel (#236,178)

"You must not encourage these people; they'll follow you around for years, even when you no longer work together. You must 100% not engage, and let them have no traction. Eventually they will wander off."

I disagree somewhat with the "100% not engage" part; if they're really going above and beyond and being a nuisance in their assumption that you are closer than you are, sometimes you really need to do something to put a stop to it and make it clear what your relationship really is. I had a "vampire" coworker who decided that my being nice to him not only meant that we were close friends, but also that we were destined to be together, and he took his crush on me to the point that he started recruiting coworkers in the scheme of tricking me into going out with him. He was constantly looking for excuses to ask me out. It was super-annoying, but ignoring him wasn't working. So eventually I had to start talking to him again and find a way to slip in that I had a boyfriend (which was true, but of course, he didn't know this because, you know, we weren't ACTUALLY friends) and it died down. I doubt that just putting it off would have been fine, though, because he was one of those extremely awkward people (I know, I used to be one) who just doesn't get any sort of a hint, but also was too afraid of rejection to directly state his feelings and thus allow me to turn him down. I would say in general if you suspect that your vampire coworker's behavior is going to drive you insane far sooner than it would take for them to get the hint that you are not best friends/potential lovers, you should probably just nip it in the bud. Especially if it's a job you already can't stand, as this was.

Post a Comment