Get down with your ‘bad’ self @ work
Of all the possible approaches to coping in work, the ‘chicken noodle soup for the soul lifestyle-coaching ten Stepford-style steps to achieving fulfilment in your working life’ pisses me off the most. I don’t mind people who just skive, even though they make more work for me, because I appreciate that skiving is a perfectly rational response to tedious or morally questionable tasks. I even have a grudging admiration for those who just stick their heads in the sand or disappear into a drug induced haze. You know the type: like the guy at the desk opposite you who visits his GP regularly to ask that he be prescribed as much Mogadon as is legal and then takes it all at once. That I can respect. But what I can’t stand are self-styled work-gurus whose implicit message is ‘it’s not work, it’s you that’s the problem’.
Take Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project; here’s some of her gems of work related advice. Imagine offering the following to British Airways cabin staff:
Sit up straight — every time I do, I instantly feel more energetic and cheerier.
Or what about this one for harassed academics facing cuts in higher education:
Indulge in a modest splurge, i.e., consider whether there are ways to spend money that would make a big difference. Could you invest in some desk accessories to help you stay organized? Could you replace an inconvenient lamp with something that works better.
Go on, splash out on a Newton’s Craddles and imagine that two of its little balls belong to your Vice-Chancellor. Or here’s one for all public sector workers: go explain to your line manager that you’d like to
take a ten-minute break each hour. Studies show that the break boosts your retention level.
Alternatively kick him in the ballacks. The effect will be pretty much same.
Elsewhere, ‘author and speaker’ Danna Beal at Healing the Workplace recommends ‘Rebuilding relationships in the workplace by replacing fear with trust and compassion’. Here you’ll encounter advice like:
Restoration to your true self, your authentic self, occurs naturally when you begin to question the limiting beliefs and lies about yourself. Emancipation from your false beliefs arises within you and you begin to live in an awakened state. The process will be reinforced, as you commit to your own progress.
Now I tend to avoid any temptation to restore my ‘true’ or ‘authentic’ self at work, as anything so bold would likely get me sacked. Instead I split and project.
Psychoanalysts will tell you that this is a consequence of institutional/work induced anxiety and a failure to achieve a proper integration of the ego. But ego integration is over-rated, a mere papering over the cracks of what capitalism has striven to rent asunder.
So how does this splitting of the self work as a survival strategy in the day to day work environment? Well, you have a ‘good’ self and a ‘bad’ self. Your ‘good’ self is the institutional mindset, the part of you that performs obediently in work and seems to believe in what you do. Your ‘bad’ self knows that everything your ‘good’ self is working for is a lot of balls and given the chance will sabotage your ‘good’ self’s best efforts. Here’s an example of how you might ‘operationalise’ this strategy at work. Your ‘good’ self spends all week working on that uber-important report for the boss. Once its finished you allow your ‘bad’ self to convince you that a celebratory drink is in order on the way home. Your ‘good’ self says in his usual cringing manner that one won’t hurt but your ‘bad’ self gets you monstrously drunk and leaves the said report on the back seat of a taxi – the sort that’s full of red diesel, doesn’t have a brightly lit sign on the top of it and is driven by a bloke whose missing both thumbs and an eye, because that’s the sort of company your ‘bad’ self keeps.
So embrace your fragmented state, and make your alienation work for you. As Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi points out in his new book, The Soul at Work: From Alienation to Autonomy, ‘Workers do not suffer from their alienation when they can transform it into active estrangement, that is to say, into refusal.’
Only your ‘bad’, estranged self will make you free, for only s/he sees clearly stupidity and corruption of the institutions and organisations you work for, the inanity of so much modern labour and the indifference of your employer to all this. Seen in this context, striving for restoration of your true self or for an integrated ego, is nothing short of capitulating to your class enemies.
P.S. Only one of the people in the thumbnails below is a spectre haunting capitalism. Can you tell which? The other two are Gretchen Rubin and Danna Beal. Now, which side are you on?