Most of us are drones. Management types like to call us “team members,” but we’re really just cogs in the wheel.
I sometimes feel like I’m trapped in that Talking Heads song, and I say to myself, “My God, how did I get here?” But I know how I got here. It’s no mystery, and the story isn’t particularly heartbreaking or unique.
In the early 90s, I was a liberal arts major, working on a liberal arts graduate degree, at what was, at best, a second rate university. (To my credit, I only went there because I was awarded an assistantship!) I never had any money, and when friends with great, $25K/year jobs would want to go out and do things, I would have to decline. But who cared about money? I was going to have a career in academia, and I was going to do what I loved.
The department advertised an opening for a tenure-track assistant professor position. The curricula vitae (nearly 600 of them) poured in from all over the world. One day, I rifled through the stack of C.V.s that was sitting on the secretary’s desk. This was the “thanks, but no thanks” pile, and the credentials were way more impressive than those I had at that point, and way more impressive than what I could expect from myself. These candidates had Ph.D.s from places like UC Berkeley, Cambridge, Yale, Oxford, and they were all vying for one position at one crappy university.
I realized that I did not want to spend the next six years of my life holed up in some university, conducting esoteric research on a topic that, when all was said and done, no one really cared about. What I did want was to be able to get new brakes for my beater car without having to go to the bank of M&D, yet again. I decided that I would complete my M.A., and then sell out and get a job in business.
Twenty years later, here I am. Cubicle dweller, PowerPoint producer, widget maker. I still sometimes feel like a sellout, but I’ve come to realize that it’s important not to take any of it too seriously.
One thing I’ve learned is that it’s preferable to be a drone, because most drones retain their humanity and have interests outside of the world of work. We read novels, not management books. In our free time, we see plays instead of watching webcasts on product development. We definitely don’t work phrases like “proactive synergies” or “boil the ocean” into our conversation.
Everyone has a story. Embrace the dronedom.