Putting aside the crippling debt and the broken liver and the permanent aversion to whiteboards given to you by college, four-year universities—and high schools, as well—do a really bad job of providing any sort of expectation about what to expect from the working world. This is far from a new idea, but it’s worth saying again: Some sort of two-week class on taxes, office social norms, and answering emails like a normal fucking human being should be a graduation requirement. Because, over your first two weeks cutting paychecks, you’re an alien. An alien who has been instructed by his leaders to blend into an office setting, and who has been beamed down to Earth with only the knowledge garnered from a few Spin City episodes pirated by your UFO. You don’t have a clue.
With that in mind, here are 15 myths about the modern American workplace, debunked:
1. You’ll be constantly busy.
Is this really a myth? It’s not, is it? No one really thinks that work is this constant assault. Downtime is inevitable with any job, save maybe a 1905 spinning factory.
The myth lies more in your belief that there’s something to fill in the time when the assignmentsaren’t pouring in—an adult version of the word puzzles substitutes would hand out when they needed to shut you up in third grade. There isn’t. That structure is gone. You’ll find yourself with vast swaths of the day just… empty, an existential crisis that leaves you scrambling to somehow fill the hours between pressing deadlines. You’ll walk to the water cooler. You’ll walk back from the water cooler. You’ll test the limits of IT’s NSFW software, and you’ll find yourself mindlessly scrolling down to the comment section of articles about politics. You’ll read the horrible things said in said comment sections, and you’ll then discover that awesome sites are blocked from your view. It’s not a myth that you’ll be constantly busy, but you will be stunned by the amount of freedom you’ll end up accumulating.
(Also: This is why Mad Men is, ultimately, a look into a hell I could never live in. Unless you were Draper or Sterling, you couldn’t get away with drinking or banging in the office—leaving what, exactly, to fill the space left by Reddit time? Were office drones just reading the morning paper again and again, like a two-year-old and Good Night, Moon? Horrific.)
2. You won’t be able to hook up with co-workers.
Since you’re not going into upper management right upon graduation, you probably won’t be fired if you and Suzy in HR hook up at the office Christmas party. For most companies, inter-office romance isn’t this huge deal-breaker.
Of course, said hook-ups will lead to fun scenarios like the one described to me by a buddy who works at a consulting firm in Boston: “If you spend long enough with a girl and you’re not hideous, there’s a good chance you two can get together. That doesn’t mean it’s a great idea,” he said. He added that he and his certain female co-worker, who he no longer speaks to, share a desk.
3. Traveling for work is a perk.
Everyone likes traveling for work… at first. Then, before you know it, you’re boarding a plane every Monday at 6 a.m. to head to an office park in Des Moines, and you start recognizing the faces of your other weary travelers on that flights, and, by Tuesday, you just want to travel straight from your office to your bed. But you can’t, so you drink top-shelf margs at Applebee’s four straight nights.
4. The water cooler is this massive base of conversation.
“Water cooler effect” is in the dictionary. It’s supposedly an explanation of why human beings congregate at the one source of office water, like lions on the Serengeti. It does not exist. The “water cooler effect” was a term invented by the creators of Lost to justify keeping the show on the air when it stopped trying to make sense.
If you head into your first week of work and post up at the water cooler so you’re “hot” on the “office gossip,” you’re going to have about as much luck as the guy who never moves from one spot at the bar. Unless your boss is an impossible asshole, you can talk at your friends’ desks. Like normal humans.
5. Your boss will be an impossible asshole.
Which brings us to this: Your boss probably won’t be a Bobby Knight character. Society seems to be moving in a more passive-aggressive direction, and some bosses are just as scared of an HR reprimand as you are having a phone thrown at your head. So you’ll become a master at discerning subtle jabs or round-about criticism. You’ll be forced to think about the 15 different meanings for a statement like “We like the start-up idea of ‘working when you feel like it,’ but we also need from you some kind of a schedule.” And, pretty soon, you’ll wish for the phone to be chunked at your skull.
6. Milton doesn’t exist.
A Milton, that meek and strange creature from Office Space, exists in every office. You will not know how he’s managed to keep a job for so long. It’s unclear what he actually does. You will soon hear his breathing as you try to sleep at night. Milton is a menace. Even though you don’t know why.
7. You can’t take dumps at work.
Guys: No one cares, and, in fact, many co-workers will encourage pooping on company time as a way to make up for some of the drudgery you’re forced to deal with day-by-day.
Girls: Different story.
8. You’ll be able to balance what you love with your job.
- Challenging job
That’s all your sanity is going to allow here. Because, let’s face it: It’s mentally necessary to occasionally go home, have a couple of your roommate’s Miller Lites, and watch a Bar Rescuemarathon. Trying to have a “well-balanced” life is a recipe for a stroke.
9. You’ll hate your job.
It’s not all bad. Even if you take a job more for the money than the “love of it,” odds are you’ll make friends, find some entertainment in it all, and then appreciate the money that allows you to buy video games, alcohol, and the company of the Girls of Madam Camae’s Filipino Palace. Few people really, truly hate every minute they’re stuck in an office.
10. It’s 9-5.
Not anymore. Most jobs exceed those hours, because most jobs don’t provide you with a steady stream of work every day. Hence a few late nights, as well as a few opportunities to take summer “Fuck it Fridays.”
11. You can just disconnect on weekends.
An intern I know worked back-to-back-to-back 15-hour days at a bank. He took the 4th and 5th of July off to go back home. He slept in on the 5th. When he woke up at noon, he had four urgent unanswered emails, as well as a furious voicemail from a superior asking why he had taken four hours to answer an 8 a.m. message. This is not uncommon. Unless you go on vacation, make a big deal about “Disconnecting” and leave that ubiquitous Facebook status update that says”Disconnecting for the week,” then you’ll be expected to always be near your email.
12. Advancing is relatively easy.
Most people think that advancing in a company is mainly up to you. That, when you begin to apply yourself—i.e. brownosing the right people, charming the VP, and remembering to bathe regularly—you can begin a climb to the top. It doesn’t always work that way. It’s more random. A hierarchy isn’t a strict meritocracy, meaning there will probably be some real morons ahead of you.
13. “I can just quit and go to law school.”
DO NOT THINK THIS. Law school is an enormous investment, you’ll probably leave it with over 100k in debt, and that exact philosophy is why there are a fuck-ton of law school grads looking for jobs right now.
14. You can save money by bringing lunch.
Well, yeah, that’s true, but look: To leave the office for a lunch hour is a holy sacrament. Do you want to cheapen that by saving $6/day on a crappy PB&J?
15. You can’t go out on Thursdays anymore.
You CAN go out on Thursdays. Many people still do, actually, go out several days a week.
You should know, though, that if you go out every night until 2 a.m., and keep following that “OJ’s for mixin’, not for sippin’!” philosophy, you’ll be dead by October. Remember to sleep. In a bed, not the bathroom. That’s for 30 minute poops.