Oh, Nicole loves advice, you can never have too much of it. Both questions for Aunt Acid this week are about the workplace, but since we have a brand-new workplace advice column in place, you should feel free to ask Aunt Acid a variety of non-work related questions at firstname.lastname@example.org at any time.
Dear Aunt Acid,
I enjoy my job and I like working hard, but one part of employed life really gets me down: I struggle to connect with my co-workers, while they all seem to have found their cliques. The ones I supervise see me as uptight (as far as I can tell); the ones who supervise me aren’t that friendly. I feel stuck in the middle, with few confidantes on either side. Sometimes at a happy hour my anxiety dissipates; but day to day, I feel awkward–saying the wrong thing, not getting other people’s jokes, taking things seriously that everyone else seems to laugh at. I know my co-workers aren’t necessarily going to be my friends, but I’d like to think I could feel better about interacting with them. It almost feels like I should live in another country, where workplace mores come more naturally to me. Am I describing a person with situational social anxiety? Or should I just get over it?
Lonely from 9 to 5
Pop-culture has raised many of us to believe that we can have, and perhaps even deserve, a well-paying, challenging, stable job with benefits, wisecracking but good-hearted colleagues, and a gruff or neurotic, maybe, but fundamentally competent and admirable boss who properly gauges our value. When you think about it, that is a tall order, especially since we often wander out of college and through the double doors of the working world into scenes of fluorescent-lit horror replete with the kind of screaming mismanagement and corrupt idiocy that would surprise Hieronymus Bosch, although not Jean-Paul Sartre. He knew that Hell is (working with) other people.
At that point it is not useful for folks to tell us, when we look to them for help, that work is not supposed to be fun, that we are lucky to have jobs, there are children starving in Africa and so on. What we do for money makes up 40+ hours of our lives each week and a similarly large chunk of our personal identities, especially in a city like New York. Besides, we want what we were led to expect, dammit: the lady in the living room and the whore in the bedroom—professionally speaking.
What do we do, as mature if disillusioned young professionals? We compromise. Maybe we sacrifice some of the salary or benefits a large corporation can offer to fit in better at a small non-profit; or more challenging work for more accommodating hours; or a sane boss for better coworkers. Except please don’t make that particular trade. Whether or not your boss is a whirling dervish makes the most substantial difference in your quality of life.
The best you can expect from an office is 80% happiness, and even to get to 75% is pretty spectacular. They do not teach us this at school but they should. If you feel like, despite the occasional awkwardness at the water cooler, you’re near 80%, try to recalibrate what you want out of your relationships with your co-workers; figure out how to be satisfied with who they are as opposed to who you would want them to be. Maybe choose one or two you think have extra potential and cultivate them individually, in the office and out.
If you are only 60-70% happy, examine your options. After all, we’re not guaranteed happiness, but we are guaranteed the right to pursue it. Apply elsewhere. (You should probably be doing that anyway.) Maybe you’ll land in a place with great co-workers and different drawbacks that bother you less—or at least offer the benefit of novelty.
I found a $20 bill on the floor of my office’s communal ladies’ room. There was no one else in the bathroom, and I hadn’t seen anyone exit in the couple minutes before I entered. There are probably 20 women on my floor, and a woman who cleans the bathroom, though not around the time I found the money. Should I keep the money? And if so, do I have a moral obligation to spend it in a certain way?
The Conservative Answer: What are you, crazy? Keep the money! You found it, it’s yours. Buy yourself some common sense, you hippie.
The Liberal Answer: Someone needs that $20 more than you do. Put it back where you found it and hope that the next person who comes across the money is on the janitorial staff and not from the CEO’s office.
The Charles Schwab Answer: Invest it. Put it towards retirement so that you don’t have to spend the last decades of your life wading through fountains looking for coins.
The Buddhist Answer: The happiness of ownership (atthisukha) cannot compare to the happiness of sharing one’s wealth (bhogasukha). As the Buddha said, “Grass is to be sought for by those in need of grass. Firewood is to be sought for by those in need of firewood. A cart to be sought for by those in need of a cart. A servant by him who is in need of a servant. But in no manner whatsoever do I declare that gold and silver be accepted or sought for.”
The Talmudic Answer: The money is yours, but it would be best if you acknowledge your unearned good fortune by spending it on others, perhaps by buying a friend lunch, says Hillel. Is the friend Jewish? says Shammai. Does it matter? says Hillel. It might matter to her mother, says Shammai. Especially if the friend is a boy. (The halacha is in accordance with the House of Hillel.)
The Simpsons Answer: “Aw, twenty dollars? I wanted a peanut.”
Illustrator: Liana Finck’s work has appeared in The New Yorker, Lilith, Tablet, and The Forward. Her first graphic novel is called A Bintel Brief. Her webcomic, Diary of a Shadow, can be read on her website.
The role of Aunt Acid is played by Brooklyn-based know-it-all Ester Bloom.