Mark Thompson

About Mark Thompson

Mark Thompson lives in regional NSW working by day as a journalist, and by night lives and breathes being a food and wine snob.

The childhood myth that makes work unsatisfying

Are you wondering what that promotion would be like? Well, save for a lucky few, work doesn’t get any more satisfying, no matter what the title is. The rest of us are doomed from childhood.



As far as discernible talent goes, I feel that we may have been taken for a ride on that behalf, I know I have. The thing that we’re all taught early on is that due to individualism, we’d experience a varied exciting life of multiple careers, and we’d deserve that.

Because we’re us.

Our personalities, if nurtured, would see us through. My nurtured personality seems to be a recipe to allow a step sideways, not forwards. I suppose you could say that my most unique attribute is being completely average. I’m the guy you see outside the office, the one that you make eye contact with as the mind reels in familiarity, the one whose name and relevance you recall only after we’ve stepped past each other. I am one of the peons that rows the industry boat. Reliable, but totally replaceable. I’ve come to realise this with the wide array of jobs I’ve done since University, all different, but all linked by the similarities. I’m trusted, kept to a certain point, the first one passed over for a promotion, the first one gone in a reshuffle.

But that’s fine. I’m sort of fine where I am. Not happy, nor content, but just fine. As part of the average, I don’t define myself as my position, because my position is nothing.

Thing is, I’ve worked to get to this level of mediocrity. In a position long ago, I knew someone in management. A work friend, someone who I’d never see socially, but around the office we were friendly and every so often, usually in a concerted effort to put off our commute, we’d find ourselves at the bar, with the conversation invariably turning to work. During one of these sessions, on the cusp of turning one pub into two, he came out and asked me why I was resistant to climb the ladder. Eventually, we drunkenly convinced each other that it was down to a lack of opportunity.

So it came to pass that with his recommendation, I was boosted over the next wrung. The fears of a lack of experience, or the requisite credentials were quashed under the repeated mantra of it being “good for the career” despite the fact I had no idea what that career was supposed to be. The job was already nothing near what I studied to be, and the elevation to that position seemed to be a validation of this new path, as opposed to the one I started on.

For the first time in my life, I was expected to be defined as my job. The title was substantial enough for my friends to be impressed, and the culture of the workgroup demanded me to wear it. So, who I was at work bled over into my social personality. Adding to which, the new demands and responsibility, and the extended hours, reduced the number of social hours, and I needed to be always contactable, so the walls of those social hours would stand under the threat of spontaneous destruction by the train of my work life. Slowly, I became the work me. I spent my life as I did at work. Short-tempered. Pushy. Micromanage-y. However, as the to-do list grew, I couldn’t escape the nagging realisation that the holy land of middle management wasn’t that different to the landscape I fled. It was just larger. And it followed me home.

I let the contract run out. By this point, I had come to realise that the ambition that drives us, does so to unhappiness. That management job I was taught to seek did not make me happy.

The other problem was also specialisation. I was the manager of a very certain aspect, in a very specific market. It was a management position that only really held value in the walls of the office. It was like Monopoly money. I could buy anything I wanted, but only in the rooms of my plastic hotel on Old Kent Road. Yet, for all intents and purposes – and all the assurances I had received that it was “a good job”, and that I was lucky to have such “a good job” – the truth of the matter is that for all management, it’s just a different type of boring. Those with whom I shared the title were the same as I: not particularly good at anything. We were powered by the assumption that we were doing the job because we were picked to it, a theory kept in check with the printed out morning motivational memes and the fear of management cracking wise to their mistake.

Pro-tip: those who realise this point are the approachable management types; those who swan through the door with elevated noses, do not.

The only matter of escape was up. The route became obvious. I needed to ingratiate myself in, with someone higher, and chisel whoever out of their job. However, as the numbers on the elevator grow larger, so does the loosening moral code. It became clear that I was, as it was put to me, “rolling with the big dogs now”, where, much like a prison, one would have to prove oneself all over again through the judicious use of lunchtime meetings and subtle undermining of fellow staff.

I let the contract run out. By this point, I had come to realise that the ambition that drives us, does so to unhappiness. That management job I was taught to seek did not make me happy. That childhood romance of what is possible is what breaks our hearts as adults, as we arrive at the fact that the doctors-cum-pilots-cum-marine-biologists we always wanted to be will forever elude us. It’s something we all must accept. I suppose the closing lesson is thus: no matter where your desk sits, and no matter what country your car hails from, the feeling is the same when the alarm goes in the morning.



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