When I was little, take-your-kid-to-work-day was one of my favorite days of the year. My parents would pack an array of Veggie Tales and Disney VHS tapes, a portable TV, stacks of books, and ample coloring supplies next to my dad’s briefcase, and off I was to make the 40 minute commute to my dad’s office on the other side of town.
I felt like such a big girl, getting a peek into my dad’s professional world. I would entertain myself with the movies and books, occasionally taking a break to draw or write my name over and over on my dad’s whiteboard, pretending like I was also just as hard at work as he was.
I could tell my dad was important, and by association, I felt important. I loved the handful of times when I got to visit his work in this way, before I got too old for take-your-kid-to-work-day and security became too tight for me to visit his aerospace company’s facility.
At some point, whether through dinner time conversation about the monotonous nature of my dad’s job or the way office work is portrayed in movies and sitcoms, I became disenchanted with the idea of a cubicle. I began to think of the 9-5 as some sort of adult death sentence. As if you only lived until you graduated college, and then you got an office job and your week became 5 days of paper pushing and broken staplers and meetings you could hardly stay awake in.
Well I graduated college last May and I had 3 months of traveling, Netflix-bingeing, pool-soaking, book-reading bliss, and I started my desk job on Monday. Today is Wednesday, and I’m trying to cram a small hour of creative writing in before I dawn my dress pants and make the 30 minute commute to my office on the other side of town.
On Monday, I drove to work grinning. Over the last four years of college, my idea of business was transformed from a soul-stifling portrayal of copy machines and coffee cups to teamwork and travel. My communication studies degree coupled with various internships and leadership positions infused my post-collegiate dreams with hopes of bursting into a collaborative, vibrant workforce with world-changing passion. I knew it would be hard, but I was ready to bring all the hustle and hope that my 23-year-old brain and body could muster.
On Monday, I drove home from work crying. It wasn’t awful. It was one day. I know I can’t make an emotional judgment call on one day’s experience and that there will be days when I do drive home victorious (let me tell you, day two was much better, and I’m discovering that I work for a really amazing company). But day one was full of technical difficulties and monotonous training and disconnected people and bottomless coffee cups. I felt the excitement of take-your-kid-to-work-day turn into the dread of take-yourself-to-work-day. Every day. 8 hours. 10 days PTO (RIP summer). With no end in sight. With bills to pay and a life to support and less margin for error. Now I’m not reading books and doodling on a whiteboard. I’m not even writing essays and cramming for exams. I’m memorizing policies and sending emails and trying to figure out how to organize conference calls and giving myself a crash course on excel and getting up for a bathroom break or another cup of coffee whenever I feel like I’m starting to become one with my chair.
Probably around 1 or 2 in the afternoon on my first day, as I did my best to fully engage in the safety training video I was watching, I had a vision of myself in 20 years. My already darkening roots turned undeniably brown from too many hours indoors, the ends dry from repeated curling. My face haggard from too many cups of coffee, eyes strained from squinting and staring at a computer screen for hours and hours on end, lumpy and bloated from walking only the few steps it takes to get to my car, to the office, to the bathroom, and back to my seat again. I panicked as I saw my semi-fit 23-year-old body (I just graduated from college people, I haven’t broken a routine of donuts in the morning and pizza at midnight) and my dynamic, rapid-fire brain and my hopeful, idealistic heart turn into a corpulent, disengaged human, like in the movie Wall-E. Humans in this Disney-Pixar film can barely walk anymore because they sit in front of computer screens, day-in and day-out, intaking far more calories and talk shows than outputting energy and social connection. They are totally disengaged from the realities that are forming around them on their space ship, as they orbit far from the planet they once called home. This terrifying vision initiated a quick lap around the office and several preventative prayers before moving on to data privacy training.
I cried on my way home, frustrated about the hours spent on the phone with IT getting nothing accomplished and saddened about the lunch break I spent alone and annoyed that the skills and talents of this capable college grad were being underutilized (I know it was day one, have patience with my dramatic brain. Just imagine living in it everyday). I self-soothed, threw on some encouraging music and reminded myself that I was called to this city and this job and this season. I gave myself a pep talk, promising myself I would give the spreadsheets and the conference calls and the jammed staplers all the heart I could muster for as long as I am called here. I reminded myself that starting is never easy, but always worth it. I determined to find some office buddies who I could eventually get to grab lunch or happy hour or exchange banter with.
And even as I laughed at how real every episode of the Office had just become and how funny I even find my emotional, dramatic brain to be, I prayed a very real prayer.
God, don’t let my dreams die. Don’t let my mind and heart and body become numb or complacent. Don’t let my belief in creating meaningful work out of any job and my hope of eventually finding one that I absolutely can’t wait to get to in the morning get lost in the routine of 9-5. Don’t let me disengage from the idealism birthed in my academic journey. I will obey, I will be all here, and I will find meaning and connection in this cubicle, but, God, don’t let my dreams die.
So I got home. I called a friend and I ate dinner with my family and I took a bath and I was in bed by 9pm. I got up for day two, and I still drove to work grinning, sure that I would make a better day, and I did. IT finally got my computer to work and I really enjoyed diversity and inclusion training and I learned the names of more of my coworkers. I still ate lunch alone, but I brought a book and enjoyed 30 minutes of staring at words on a real page rather than a computer screen.
It’s only been two full days, and I’ve already learned so much. My phone still isn’t set up and I’m still trying to figure out how exactly to use Outlook and I still don’t know what all the pieces of my job description entail, but I’ve gained so much respect for the cubicle-dwellers, office-inhabiters, long-distance commuters of the world. As I inch my way down the 101 after work, I feel immense respect for my dad, who has driven over 50 miles round trip to work for 25 years. M-F. 8-5. And who still came home ready to help me with my homework after his already long, intense days. Who never missed a choir concert or a sports game, even though he’s a director at his company and the temptation to stay late at work to meet performance goals is always vying for his attention.
I feel thankful for anyone who goes all-in in their profession, whether it is their life passion or their temporary calling. Work – darn good work – takes heart. Commitment, Sacrifice. Intention. Whether you are an administrative assistant trying to manage schedules and paperwork or a first grade teacher trying to manage a classroom of little tinies, that takes hustle. And that deserves thanks, because each of us who join the morning and evening commute or who work from our kitchen table or who bag groceries at Safeway make the world as we know it keep spinning around.
I feel thankful, crazy thankful for all the working moms and dads out there. As I fumble with my keys to open my front door at the end of the day, the last thing I want to do is cook or clean. All I want is Grey’s Anatomy and sweatpants. I can’t even imagine having little tiny’s schedules to coordinate and mouths to feed and hearts to care for.
I feel thankful for the stay-at-home moms and dads who may have put some of their dreams on the back burner for a season in order to be with the tinys or in order to meet a family need. I feel thankful that they endure the judgment of the working world (I have been guilty as such), and that they engage in their own to hustle to feed and care for and provide safe spaces for their people. I am extra thankful for my mama, whose work in our home and beyond I have left unacknowledged for many years. Mama, thanks for making our world go round. And for the pesto ravioli Monday night – glad I don’t have to learn to cook on my own just yet ;)
I am realizing all of our work is hard and holy – because our lives are hard and holy. Whether we are parents or directors or teachers or waiters, whether we work in a cubicle or a classroom or coffee shop, we are part of something that makes the world as we know it keep moving. We are part of some call, some dream, some purpose-laden task. The key is not to get lost in the monotony of our season. I think you can lose yourself and your dreams just as much in a class schedule or a cleaning routine as you can in a commute.
As I whispered what is probably a pretty normal, post-grad, first-day-on-the-job type prayer, and as I have continued to watch on-boarding videos and troubleshoot technology problems, I hear God whisper back: Coves, be all here, be all in, find what I have for you in this season in this cubicle. But be ready to move. Never get too comfortable. I won’t let those dreams die, if you won’t.
And now I will close this computer screen, finish my make up, and drive to my office on the other side of town. Because even though this isn’t quite as exciting as take-your-kid-to-work-day, and even though I miss going to class (nerd alert over here, I love school), I know that my dreams are not going to die. In fact, I believe this might actually be part of them.