HOW TO BE USEFUL: A Beginner’s Guide to Not Hating Work

by Jacquelyn Lewis

Vintage advice on tackling office apathy.

In How To be Useful, Megan Hustad addresses the problem of work ennui. Using literature about how to be successful from decades past, Hustad distills vintage advice to tackle what she sees as an epidemic: kids today don’t have a clue about office culture. Picture an intern who shows up at 10:30 a.m. with wet hair, slouches about the office offering unsolicited opinions, and then asks for a raise after six months. Her response? You have to play the game. This involves dressing plainly, taking the blame, smiling, volunteering for extra work—basically, behaving in the cube as if you were avoiding being voted off the island. In the end, Hustad concludes that knowing these rules “helps you become re-enchanted with work.”

Yet, being told to dance the merry jig when the bosses command it (or even when they don’t) made me want to live in the woods and grow my own food—anything to circumvent the nebbishy performance Hustad believes is necessary to get ahead. But perhaps you’re like me and already find yourself cast in the role of office drone. It is entertaining to read Hustad’s examples of office life gone bad—with bosses that break into your desk to eat your stash of raisins—and who am I to say that her tactics won’t work? I’m pretty sure talent plays only a small role in promotions and bonuses. So go ahead and try her suggestions for approaching your job as performance art. But for most of us, this Beginner’s Guide to Not Hating Work will only strengthen the existing desire to flee this broken system. Considering that Hustad, an office worker turned freelance writer herself, has already escaped, her “kids today” stance is irksome; don’t hate the players, hate the game.

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