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.