This week saw the release of Steven Pressfield's road map for productivity, "Do the Work." Friday, I reviewed the book. Yesterday, I discussed my ways for battling The Resistance. And, today, I offer a free excerpt from HOW TO FAIL which shows how protagonist Stu Fish fails at conquering The Resistance, at doing a single productive thing all day...
EH EH EH EH! My alarm clock buzzes strong at eight AM.
I'm not one of those people that hits snooze three times in a row, which I suppose makes me a success of the lowest regard, but it will be my only victory for the day so I have to brag a little.
I rise from bed like a zombie, hungover, perhaps still drunk, and enter my squalid bathroom. I should probably clean it this weekend during my hour or two of sobriety.
I flip two switches, the hot/cold knob on my shower, and the power button on the Bose wave radio I won at some charity raffle I should have never been at in the first place. The fates wish to musically mock me and the song that plays is Top of the World by The Carpenters.
I lean over the sink, staring at myself in the toothpaste-speckled mirror. Look at you, loser. My self-loathing turns to hatred for my job. I'm not the loser. I just have a shitty fucking job. Another fucking day at the shitty fucking job.
I reconsider the running water and turn the shower off. Cleanliness is not in the cards this morning. My first failure of the day, quite minor or quite huge depending on who you ask. You’ve heard of an Irish shower—washing your pits and crotch with a washcloth? Or, maybe, the Puerto Rican shower—dousing your body in cologne? I’ll take my own special Stuart Fish shower today. That’s simply doing nothing. I won’t shower, I won’t wash, I won’t splash on cologne or apply deodorant, I won’t even comb my bedhead or put on clean undies. I don’t care about the exterior I present to this world. I've been nothing but an empty vessel since Ash broke up with me.
Soon, I am on a packed subway, running late to work, disheveled in rumpled business casual attire. I have to wear anything-but-jeans to work, so I do, a single pair of shoddy fifteen dollar slacks with big pleats and bigger cuffs. At the end of each day I take these pants off, spritz them with Febreze, and drape them across my desk chair. I haven't had them dry-cleaned since I was dumped a few weeks ago. My dress shirts are three alternating button-ups I purchased my senior year of college for a variety of nicer functions I needed to attend. These shirts are old, worn out, perma-stained. My shoes are a stinky filthy pair of black Doc Martens I've been wearing for a decade.
I stare with admiration at the successes packed into the subway car around me. Them in their Hugo Boss suits, crisply pressed Thomas Pink oxfords, their Ferragamo lace-ups, a Wall Street Journal snapped and folded so they can read it, they soon to have their own woodcut visage on the front page no doubt, if newspapers even exist by then. The women in their sexy work attire, listening to music on their fancy iPhones which I can only dream of affording.
On my commute, I do nothing productive. I don’t read the paper, or a magazine, or a book. I don’t do a crossword or play Sudoku. I don’t even listen to an iPod or play BrickBreaker on my cell phone. I might ogle a businesswoman's pumped-up calves, thinking about them straddling my waist, being thrown over my shoulders. Thinking about her being my next girlfriend. But, usually, I just stare in a daze at the advertisements for chiropractors and ESL courses.
By 9:18 I've arrived to drop my shit at my desk, to check in and let my inferior superiors know I am in the building.
It doesn’t matter what I do for a living because I don’t really do anything for a living. I am essentially paid $39,000 a year to show up at an office building approximately 230 times a year for about eight hours a day. I never arrive at nine, not even close, but like Fred Flintstone I sprint out of the office the second the bird’s tail is pulled and he squawks five o’clock.
I am no hypocrite, just as I mentioned in Chapter Two how I don't give a shit what others do for a living, I am just the same when it comes to my own job. I frequently get the “So what do you do?” question, just like anybody does, but I rarely answer it by revealing what I “do.”
People ask “So what do you do?” to get a grasp on who you are as a person.
You're an investment banker = you work long hours, make a butt-load of money, are nerdy.
You're a lawyer = you had no explicit dreams in life so you went to law school, now you push paper all day waiting to be made partner in a decade or two.
You're a doctor = you like exploiting people's ailments for your own financial gain.
I tell people I'm a writer. Cause that's what I want to be. It's the only thing I could possibly enjoy. Screenwriter is the only job that's interested me since I realized at age fifteen I would never be a Major League third baseman.
“Wow, a screenwriter, that's awesome!” is what you probably think people would respond, opening me up to a series of uncomfortable follow-up questions proving I'm not really one. But, no. No one cares. People are just waiting for you to finish talking so they can start talking again. Follow-up questions only come if they think it will allow them to brag a little bit more about themselves.
After I've dropped my shit at my desk, I head off to get coffee, caffeination being of crucial importance for getting me through the wretched day. I need coffee like zombies need brains. I don't head to the standard break room, though. Instead, I walk down two floors and visit the janitorial lounge.
Not only does the lounge have superior coffee, but the janitors, repairmen, and handymen that congregate in this uncarpeted room are the best. All so funny, so interesting, so kind. All clad in jump suits or Dickeys, shirts with patches on them and their names sewn onto the breast, though these are people whose names I actually care to know. J.J. the electrician and Kenny the janitor, Oswaldo the plumber and Carl the superintendent. All with jobs that sounded a helluva lot better than mine. Getting to clean toilets, fix electrical cords, vacuum. Much better than being chained to a desk. You think I'm joking, but I'm not.
The only job I've ever enjoyed was a blue collar one. Back in the summer between sophomore and junior year of college, Keith convinced me that instead of interning at some stuffy office, waitering, bagging groceries, we should get a house in South Carolina and golf every day.
Our first day in North Myrtle Beach, we saw a rich local loading some day-laborers into a pickup truck and asked him about work, needing some coin to facilitate our golfing lifestyle. Mr. Showalter was having his gigantic guest house painted and was thrilled to have two English-speaking boys up for the low-paying job. Low-paying for a true adult, sure, but for us, ten dollars an hour was phenomenal.
Every morning, Keith and I would wake before sunrise, throw on some filthy coveralls, slam a thirty-two ounce Mountain Dew to shake off the cobwebs, and walk over to Mr. Showalter's house where we'd take our place among a few kindly Mexicans. There wasn't much talking between us painters—language barrier and lack of interest in each other's favorite sports—so it was very peaceful. Just standing on a ladder, you and the brush. Brush into bucket, up, down, up, down, up, down, dip, repeat. Seven straight hours of this. I figured out so many things during those days. I tackled my problems, had great explosions of creativity, planned the next fifty years of my life. Most satisfying, at the end of every day, I'd get off the ladder, walk back from the house about twenty yards and go, “Look what I've accomplished today!” You just can't do that in an office environment.
After our day of painting, Keith and I would rip off our coveralls and head over to cheap public courses where we'd get the twilight rate and rush through eighteen holes, our hands and fingernails still caked in paint flecks. After a quick clubhouse shower, we'd hit the bars for cheap beers and to try and hook up with tourists on the beach. By the end of the summer, I was breaking eight-five regularly and had upped my sexual number eleven-fold, but the painting ended up being what I remember most about that time.
The beginning of my day is actually the only part of my current work day I enjoy as I check the previous twelve hours of unread e-mails, though most are of the SPAM or “Please finish this report ASAP!” variety. The random personal e-mail excites me, however. I don't know why e-mail is still such an exciting form of communication. Did worker bees back in the 1970s sit at their desks staring at their rotary phone, hoping it would ring? That's how I treat e-mail. I always have it up in one of the windows on my computer and most of the time I just stare at the inbox with zero new messages in it, hoping a new one arrives. Story of my life, just sitting around waiting for others to take action. When the box refreshes and a new message comes in, I jump to, quickly opening it, elated when it's from an actual friend. A simple message, a funny link passed along, some sage wisdom forwarded.
Sometimes, on those days I'm not getting any messages, I'm forced to create them myself by initiating contact with someone in my address book, though never Keith or Danny or Jack because they tell me they're something called...“busy.” Do you know that word? They also fear repercussions from their companies for using work e-mail for personal purposes. And don't get me started about cursing. When we do actually e-mail, they make me write stuff like “sh*t” and “*ss” and “f*ck” and “c*cks*cker” so their systems won't be alerted to profanities usage. P*ssies.
Even without them, if I can get e-mailing threads started with five or so people, that gives me enough fodder to blow through a whole workless day.
When I've exhausted all my e-mailing, I start hitting up websites, anything to waste time. Sports, entertainment, politics. Shit that doesn't even interest me, though that's one reason I'm so smart. I'd much rather read a long, boring Wikipedia entry about Noam Chomsky than actually do work.
Before I know it, I've done not a lick for the entire morning though I have learned a reasonable amount about generative grammar. It's remarkable how quickly noon comes. Noon, on the dot, is when I go to lunch, a fact that makes my coworkers laugh at me. Not that I talk to those losers. I don't even know most their names. There's the one guy I call Flanders in my head because he dresses like Flanders from The Simpsons and is the most phony nice person I've ever met. There's Creepy Pants who I always run into by the copier. He has a perpetual look of pedophiliac leering on his face. There's Skank who is this jappy chick with the exact same job as me. She spends all day yakking on the phone to her friends. I call her Skank because every time she bends over to reach into her bottom drawer, her Filene's Basement blazer lifts up a little revealing a mermaid tattoo on the tramp stamp portion of her lower back. I have no idea if she is literally a skank, or a tramp, but that's what I call her because I don't know her real name.
Flanders, Creepy Pants, Skank, The Koala, Stinkbreath, Gayman, Fartface, Perv, and Ze Zit (an acne-scarred German fella), they work within a thirty foot radius of me, have for years, some of them, and I've never taken the time to know their names. I guess that's just the kind of person I am.
I would never pick these people as my friends. Why should I befriend them just because we're forced into the same situation due to every human being's need to earn an income? Having work friends I see outside the office would just remind me of my shitty job. I'm not one of those people that likes to bitch about things he dislikes, one of the major reasons a lot of people have coworker friends.
While the diligent Flanders orders in some Chinese, Skank goes out to grab a salad to bring back to her desk, and Creepy Pants nukes a Lean Cuisine, I luxuriate for the full hour I'm entitled. I stretch my lunch to about ninety minutes as I walk around midtown Manhattan, as far north as 59th and Central Park, as far south as 42nd and Bryant Park, as far east as Madison Ave., and as far west as Eighth, chowing down on styrofoam trays of Halal street meat, gawking at tourists, window shopping, reading magazines at newsstands, working on my tan.
Back from lunch and it's more goofing off. By now, I'm on cup five of coffee. Its lackadaisical laxative quality begins to rear its ugly head and soon some fecal matter will be rearing its ugly head out my back end. This is a terrific development as I can kill a good half-hour in the bathroom. I don't do anything special, I just treat the work bathroom like I'd treat my at-home bathroom. Sitting on the can, reading internet printouts about string theory, The Prisoner's Dilemma, Mel Ott, Pliny the Elder, texting people on my phone, working crosswords, daydreaming. I may even stick around for a few extra minutes to peel one off (please see Footchapter Four-B: How to Masturbate at Work).
By now it's three and you can't get any work done the last hour or two before it's time to leave. I've already begun packing it in for the day.
People say to me, “Surely at some point you've exhausted every single time-waster and literally have no choice but to work?!”
Amazingly not and I'm sorry if you lack the time-wasting skills I have. At the art of time-wasting I am, in fact, a wild success. I do have to work a little, just to assure I keep my plush job, but I've found that “little” can be fifteen to thirty minutes a day. To my credit, I'm actually pretty good at my worthless job when I do it, and a focused half-hour flurry can produce an output that rivals most of my dumb coworkers' whole afternoon.
On those days or weeks that my boss, Dough (pronounced Doug), feels particularly chippy, I'll focus a little harder, and produce so much work it'll make his life exponentially tougher as he has to process it all. I usually don't hear much for him after that and am again free and back to my own devices.
Remember, this is a time of recession. At least that's what we're told. No one really knows. Rich people know they are poorer. Poor people know that rich people won't shut the fuck up about it. No bonuses this year? Shit, I've never gotten a bonus in my life. A person like me loves this recession because it has made so many successes into failures. I know how to cope with failure. I've been dealing with it for years. But some dude who has been pulling six figs and taking black Towncars and bottle servicing it since the days of Clinton, that fuck has no idea how to cope.
In fact, it's possible, as we near a second Great Depression, I will soon be one of the leaders in this new world. As brokers and bankers and traders leap to their deaths from my building, I will slowly rise to the top of the heap of corpses. Why, I might just be the recession's white collar Mad Max.
If some cataclysmic event caused the world's modern technologies to go down, who would be the new leaders on this planet? It wouldn't be the well-heeled Ivy League educated poofs. It would be the high school dropouts that knew how to live on the land and deftly use a knife. As this cataclysmic economic event has brought the money world to its knees (and not for some fellatio), it's not the well-heeled Ivy Leaguer who knows how to cope. It's me. I thrive on failure. I watch CNN and read The New York Times to get a good laugh. The Dow Jones drops, and my place in the world rises. Those Depression-era movies never looked too bad to me. A lot of waiting on soup lines and drinking potato vodka while leaning against a building. I could handle that. Except for all of FDR's radio chats interrupting my favorite shows. Being an Okie and heading West? Well, at least we seem to have solved the major dust problems of the last century.
By 5:28 I am back home, sitting on my couch in a t-shirt and mesh shorts, watching Pardon the Interruption in a catatonic state, slowly coming out of that work-induced coma. Missing my ex-girlfriend. Trying to snap out of my malaise.
A box of pizza appears in front of me. I will eat it.
A six-pack of beer appears in front of me. I will drink it.
A reality show on MTV about tween semi-prostitutes appears in front of me. I will watch it.
By midnight, I go to sleep. Not because I’m tired but because I’m bored.
479 minutes later my alarm clock will read 7:59 AM as sunlight creeps through the window...
And then one more minute will turn over...
And then EH EH EH EH....
And I will shut it off...
And march to the shower...
And work another eight hours like a zombie.
If you enjoyed that I think you'll love the rest of "HOW TO FAIL" too.