Wednesday, May 22, 2013

6 Life/Work Lessons from The Office


Did you see The Office last week?  After nine years muddling through interoffice romances, downsizing, and quite a few comic misunderstandings, America’s favorite paper company signed off with the brand of heartwarming storytelling that made the show famous. 

It’s very trendy right now to pull broad, general life lessons from seemingly unrelated media (check out “5 Social Media Lessons I Learned from My Mom”).  But, it would be difficult to argue that The Office had nothing to teach us.  The show delved deeply into interpersonal relationships, life’s greatest joys and challenges, and the way we all feel about work.  So next time you catch a rerun of The Office and laugh at Dwight Schrute’s zany antics, think how the touching comedy relates to your own life and work.  Here is what I was able to glean.

1)  Everyone is just doing the best they can.  Every day we work with or around difficult people.  We come in contact with our own Michael Scotts or Angela Martins.  People who just don’t seem to get that their actions are bugging everyone!  People who criticize or speak loudly or tell inappropriate jokes…It’s easy to get frustrated.  But The Office, better than any other workplace comedy, demonstrated that these individuals who annoy us so much have their own stories, their own heartache.  Life is hard. For every single one of us…It’s a struggle.  Michael declared bankruptcy.  Angela’s husband was cheating on her. Pam and Jim had to see a counselor. And, while there isn’t always a camera to reveal our quiet tragedies, believe me…they are happening. Cut people some slack.

2)  "There's a lot of beauty in ordinary things."  Pam said this in the concluding episode, and while we have all certainly heard the sentiment before, it is important to restate.  Sometimes our day-to-day can seem so trivial.  But when you step back and look at your experiences in the aggregate, it can be quite meaningful.

3)  Growing up doesn’t mean giving up on your dreams.  We all wanted to be something special when we grew up.  The Office did a fantastic job demonstrating the very sad reality that as we age we make compromises…Like taking a job at a paper company.  The show took that devastatingly depressing reality and revealed how we can all overcome it.  Pam was never happy as a receptionist. She wanted to be an artist.  So, she went to art school and eventually wound up painting murals for the city and her employer.  Jim was passionate about sports.  So, he took a risk and created his own sport’s marketing company.  Andy wanted to be an entertainer and along the way discovered that he was better suited as an admissions officer at his beloved Cornell. Kevin, the office dimwit, was fired in the last episode and is shown owning and managing a successful bar as a result.  We don’t always wind up exactly where we want to be, but that doesn’t mean we give up.  Make your life fit your dream.  Paint murals.  Plant a beat farm.  Do what you enjoy, even if it isn’t your full time job.

4)  Make Unexpected Friends.  Work brings together a lot of different types of people.  People of different ages, interests, and backgrounds often find themselves on the same team.  At the end of The Office we see that Dwight considers Pam his best friend.  Oscar helped Angela care for her son and allowed her to live with him during tough times.  Stanley and Phyllis clearly miss and value one another.  Even Kevin and Dwight find common ground.  Our work can bring us out of our comfort zone.  It can let us meet people we might never come upon in a social setting. These unexpected friends can wind up meaning everything…

5)  Know when its time to say goodbye.  This is a hard lesson.  But its one The Office does very well – regarding both the actual show and its plots.  When Michael Scott realized the love of his life needed a change, he said goodbye.  When Andy realized he could never be an entertainer if he stayed at Dunder Mifflin, he said goodbye.  When Jim, Pam and Darrel realize that they are being called to move on, they say goodbye.  When the creators of The Office realized that they had taken the show as far as they could and that it was time to wrap up nine years of story, they said goodbye.

6)"It all seems so very arbitrary. I applied for a job at this company because they were hiring. I took a desk at the back because it was empty. But, no matter how you get there or where you end up, human beings have this miraculous gift to make that place home."  Isn’t that how it goes?  How many of us can say that life took us exactly where we expected to go?  I know in my case many of life’s greatest joys came from chance.  We don’t always know what will happen if we sit at a particular desk or talk to a particular stranger.  It may be nothing at all.  But it may be something spectacular.  And, I suppose, that’s what makes every day matter.

Nicole Palmisano

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