Towards An Understanding Of Work Discourse
Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Protect My Menty Health
First, some objective facts.
The pandemic’s effect on the job market has been immeasurably immense and is still developing. People’s relationship with their work has been changed dramatically by the general dismantling of in-office, white collar work.
It is an employee’s market, not an employer’s market. Firms have more open spots than they can fill. For employees of almost every level, but especially those at junior levels, this is a good thing. Leverage is a nice thing to have.
Job hopping is good for making money. It’s always been true, but it’s more true now. If you want to make more money, switching firms is one of the best ways to guarantee that.
Second, some subjective facts.
The Discourse about Work is worse now than it has ever been. It’s a hack literary technique to describe anything in the American Cultural Lexicon as becoming increasingly bifurcated, but I don’t think it’s especially wrong to say that Work Discourse is moving towards two poles.
On one hand is the SuccessWin Business Freaks. Gary Vee is the final boss of this ilk. Anyone who’s ever been on an Instagram page called something like “@secretmillionairemindset” listening to someone saying something like “you can make $400,000 reselling couches on Craigslist if you Want It Enough” falls into this camp.
These people are transparently evil and wrong and stupid. GrindsetPorn about how you should work 14 hours a day and keep focused on your wallet and follow Jordan Peterson and Harvey Specter as spirit guides is so transparently a game for hucksters and grifters that dedicating even these two mocking paragraphs to them makes me feel like my brain is leaking out between my ears.
The hold this Type Of Guy has on certain pockets of population is firm, and it sucks, but the very nature of the genre forces it to be a minority of a minority of people. Its whole ethos is that Only Real Ones Know That A Dinner With Jay-Z Is Worth More Than $100,000 Cash, so there’s no real threat of this thinking really permeating the mainstream. No one, even the most fervent of SuccessWin Believers, would even describe that as a goal.
On the other hand is this man, who is my enemy.
The eponymous hero of the @rod channel, Rod, spends his time cosplaying as a permanently stressed, over-caffeinated, vaguely depressed millennial, doling out wisdom on the ideal balance between work and life between such illuminating windows into the 30-something’s soul like “does anyone else remember this song that was 8th on the Billboard top 100,” or “does anyone else drink coffee,” or “does anyone else realize that time keeps inexorably moving forward?”
The character, beyond being just staggeringly unfunny, loves giving the kind of empty calorie work advice that sounds good but sucks the second you put it into any kind of practice. A sampling at some of his latest Certified Club Bangers:
Doing work outside of your job description is bad! Good call! Never pushing yourself is a great plan that definitely won’t cause your career trajectory to stagnate before you get so pissed off at being (correctly) skipped over for raises and promotions that you leave your job in a huff after 18 months. Rock on!
It’s cool to be in a permanent state of fear over whether or not you’re performing well! My brother in Christ, for as much as you talk about ✨toxic✨ work environments, maybe you should investigate whether needing constant validation is more ✨toxic✨ than being normal.
All of this feels cozy to anyone doing a fake email job (for disclosure, I too have a fake email job), and none of it is any good. People have these thoughts and keep them to themselves not because of “stigma” or “toxic culture,” but because everyone in their heart of hearts knows that it’s myopic and while gratifying in the short term, damaging to the firm and to the employee themselves in the long term.
It’s important to be realistic about what careers look like and how you can navigate them. Do you want to protect your leisure time? Don’t expect to be first in line for promotions or pay raises. Every firm will say they value mental health, and most believe it when they say it (after all, burnt out employees are expensive to replace). But they’ll always prioritize a person of similar talent who stayed online an hour longer to get the job done.
Corporate ladder climbing is a zero sum game. Because it’s a business. And that’s how business works.
It makes no sense to me why anyone would even want to resonate with Rod’s character. What is the utility of seeing someone is permanently on the edge of an amorphous mental break due to Literally Just Sending Emails and thinking “wow this is just like me?” Every time I am served a video where my internal monologue is on the screen, it makes me feel silly for ever having thought that way. How embarrassing that I also debated over using exclamation points in back to back sentences. If this guy cares this much, I clearly shouldn’t. Thanks for the heads up, Rod.
Rod’s whole raison d'etre is to absolve employees of agency, to simplify the experience of Work as something that happens to you and that you are powerless to change.
Why would anyone see that and think it’s good?
It makes less sense to me why the character exists to begin with. Somewhere along the journey of “normalizing conversations about mental health” or whatever other comfy spin creators of this ilk would describe their content as, mental health has been trivialized past the point of recognition. Cutesy memes about “being depressed,” which in Rod’s world appears to just mean “being less than ebullient for 5 minutes every once in a while” don’t help anyone. Mental health isn’t cute, it’s serious. It’s not content, it’s a condition.
Just as mental health is cheapened through this content, it’s also redefined. This video, especially, has jokerfied me.
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What does this even mean? What does “mental health is first” look like in practice? Is leaving your job actually good for your mental health? Surely in some cases it inarguably is, but isn’t starting from scratch at a new company with new people an extremely challenging environment in which to keep your mental health strong? Why does putting mental health first necessitate leaving your job, even if your job isn’t great? Can you not work to change your firm, or at least your expectations within it?
It reads, as most content like this reads, like a child throwing a tantrum.
What accounts like Rod, or Corporate Natalie, or Insert “Annoying 20 Second Video About How Zoom Calls Are Like Even Though We’ve All Been Doing This Shit For 30 Months Now And The Novelty Has Worn Off And There’s No New Ground To Cover” Creator Here are always are alluding to but never have the courage to admit is that there is moral value, some societal cache in disliking your job. Or, at least, that there is a job just over the horizon that is perfect and will pay you what you’re worth while letting you work only as long as you want while also stimulating you intellectually.
Reality isn’t like that.
Work is work. It’s what you do between the hours of 9-5 that puts food on your table, a roof over your head, and. if you’re lucky, some money in your pocket to do the things you want to do. Work is one of those “you have $20 to build your starting lineup!” memes. You want Hall of Fame level pay? You’re going to have to settle for role player work/life balance.
Suggesting you can have it all is, beyond unrealistic, unproductive. Employees should learn how to navigate that world and prioritize their wants, not wish-cast reality away by making content about how saying affirmations over their iced coffee supports their “menty health.”
Or if they have to wish-cast, at least make the content funny. This shit isn’t cutting it.
So you're saying I shouldn't re-engineer my own Substack to feature pieces such as "Have You Ever Noticed That Sending Emails Looks Like a Fam?" That's disappointing. More inspired work on the ash heap