North American Contrarian

Telling it like it is… in North America

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I quit my job. God has kissed my soul!

So here it is.  After months of attempting to find happiness in a 9-5 office routine I am here to report back.  These words come from a true, gonzo style experiment to live the life of a a typical office worker, wear fancy clothes and be pinned to a desk for 9 + hours a day.  Here it is, in writing, once and for all.  Office life sucks.  The monotony is deadly.  The politics will eat your soul.  So I quit. You would think this would be a concern and I would feel some level of regret.  But I must say that I don’t sorta feel better.  I feel totally and completely redeemed, like a sweet, kind deity has kissed my soul and my every burden has been lifted.  Yes, it’s that good.Here is my advice to you, dear reader.  Look at your life regularly.  Examine what you are and what you aspire to be.  See how distant those two points are.  If they seem too far from each other it may be time to do something drastic.

I don’t want to get overly academic about this.  But in his book Thinking Slow and Fast by Daniel Kahnemam (which I highly recommend) the author discusses the Sunken Cost Fallacy.  Here’s an analogy.  You are waiting in line at Starbucks because you really need a fix of caffeine.  The line is long because it’s 8:30 in the morning.  And you notice that people are ordering those fancy drinks, that take a long time- don’t they realize you’re in a hurry, self-centred bastards!  You stand there for a while and more people file in behind you.  Now you’ve been in line for 30 minutes.  You think, man, 30 minutes to get a coffee, this is crazy- I should really just pack it in and skip the day’s caffeine fix.  But, then a doubt enters your mind.  It’s a very human response.  It goes like this.  Well, I’ve already sunk 30 minutes waiting for this coffee.  And if I leave now I’ve literally wasted those 30 minutes.  And the line is sort of moving.  And what about all those people behind me- if I leave, those guys will be one pace closer to a glorious cup of coffee, and I’ll loose half an hour.  How is that fair?  No, I can’t leave now, it just doesn’t make sense.  This is the sunken cost fallacy.  And it misses the point.  Time is not concerned about how long you have waited.  Just because a half hour is gone, it does not automatically follow that you will get that mug of coffee in only a short period.  Yes it may take five more minutes but it  also may very well take another two hours.  If the latter is the case, you should have cut your

losses at the 30 minute mark.  But you didn’t because you’d already invested 30 whole minutes shuffling forward in line.  This is a fallacy and  it’s very difficult to accept.  On a bigger scale, in life, it goes like this.  Well, I’ve been at this office for two years.  Yes, it sucks and I’m unhappy.  But if I leave now, I’ll lose all my benefits and have to start again.  And what about that position that is supposed to open up in management?  I’ve been here for so long I must be next up for that position.  And what about the parking… what a deal that I can park at the office for $150 a month! (true fact: this is what people at my former office actual advised me).  Oh yeah, no question, I should definitely stick it out here…at least for a few more years.Do you see the fallacy?  Do you see that you are miserable and that just because you have been there does not mean better days are necessarily ahead?  It is a very human error, rooted deep in our psyche   Just like the line in Starbucks, you do not want to sink all that time into a losing prospect.  Yet sometimes, if not often, your best move is the hardest to do.

It’s to leave.  Just up and go.  Accept that time has been lost.  But you need to truly assess if there is more to gain by leaving than by staying. And when you consider this decision, remind yourself of these words.  I will surely find another cup of coffee.  I will surely find another job, another partner, another, happier life.  I did, and I feel much better.


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I escaped the cubicle farm and you should too.

Here's where I spend 8 waking hours of my day.

What’s in a cubicle?

The story goes that, in 1967 a man named Robert Propst was asked to make a cost effective system that would create more productive office workers. At the time, workers were seated at open desks. The hum of the office and the visual stimulation was considered a distraction and Propst was asked by Herman Miller to find a more suitable office structure that would make his employees more effective.
Propst took the scientific method. He studied how information travels, how sounds filter through the cavernous spaces of offices and how workers’ eyes could be better fixed on the glowing computer that was rapidly becoming the centrepiece of their attention.
The result- the common cubicle- seems so obvious it’s difficult to even conceive of an office before this innovation. Here, workers like myself are seated in a semi-enclosed space. The carpeted walls that flank their desk ensure that focus is only uni-directional, and all attention is funnelled towards the beam of the computer screen.
It may seem dramatic to equate this to the cows feedlot or to horses blinders. But, in fact, Propst genuinely used such examples as inspiration for his concept
The question, however, remains: does the cubicle make employees better at their jobs? Let me give you my opinion.

Pros and Cons of Cubicle life:


  • They are cheap to install.
  • Employees are quieter than in an open seating plan
  • Personalize them with pictures of all the exotic places you have been or plan to go… is it just me, or is this a bit ironic considering that, herein, the greatest portion of your life will be limited to a 10 X 10 box.


  •  The illusion of privacy isn’t fooling anyone:  Employees hear everything- phone calls, the low din computer keys being tapped, coughs and deep breaths.  (Last week I played game to see if I could guess what three colleagues ate for lunch without stepping foot in their cubicles.  Thanks to the crinkle of packing and wafting smells I was three for three!)
  • Little collaboration, and conversation: Here’s my question.  What’s the point of an office?  I mean, I get the fact that work gets done, but why do I have to physically be there if I am going to hole-up in a fabricated box?  To me, here’s where the cubicle really looses in the new economy.  Those low walls keep people apart just enough that they can’t easily get input from their cubicle mates, or share ideas about a project.
  • They’re kinda degrading: the management wants to be able to see my work, but doesn’t trust me enough to let me physically see my co-workers.
The Final Verdict:

Ok, so you can see that I haven’t exactly embraced cubicle life.  I’m sorry if this is negative, and I apologize to everyone out there who also shares my fate.  But here I know I’m not alone.  Years later, after Herman Millner gave accolades to the new office configuration, Propst reconsidered his social experiment.  He now had years of data collected and he began to reflect on what was not a $5 billion dollar industry that was a staple of modern office life.

His words are summed up in the following letter he wrote to Milner.

One does not have to be an especially perceptive critic to realize that AO II is definitely not a system which produces an environment gratifying for people in general. But it is admirable for planners looking for ways of cramming in a maximum number of bodies, for “employees” (as against individuals), for “personnel,” corporate zombies, the walking dead, the silent majority. 

I also would like to share with the world that in three weeks time, I will officially be leaving the cubicle for an office of my own. With a door.  And a window.  Send my regrets to Herman Miller.