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The worst jobs I’ve ever had have involved cubicles.

Cubicles are to humans what blinders are to horses. They block out all unnecessary distractions–things like the sun, the sky, and the air, so one can focus on the task at hand. Sort of like prison. Not many distractions there, except for fighting for one’s life, of course.

If your current job involves spending hours in a cubicle and you think that’s just delightful, this article is not going to help you much. However, if you’re tired of feeling like factory-raised livestock, here are five things I did to make the existence more bearable:

1) Fill your cubicle with candy and quirky toys to encourage your coworkers to visit. (Of course, you’re already crammed in what amounts to a beige cardboard box, so this tip is not for the claustrophobic.)

2) Get a pet fish. The fish is already in captivity, right? It won’t mind. And as you watch another live creature search desperately for a way out by swimming in circles, you will feel an odd sense of kinship.

3) Cover your cubicle walls with posters. You may be spending most of your days in a box, but no one said that box has to be beige.

4) Spend as much time as possible outside your confinement. Long lunches and short days? Inexplicable attacks of stomach flu? Might as well. And if you’re working at a place with cubicles, they probably have plenty of meetings. Freedom, blessed freedom! Oh, waitโ€ฆactually, meetings aren’t that much fun. Scratch that last one.

5) Present a puppet show atop your cubicle wall to entertain your coworkers. (Yes, I really did this. Obviously I was on a fast track for promotion.)

If you’re the perceptive type and realize these suggestions will only provide a brief distraction from your misery, here’s how to brave the outside world and leave your cubicle behind for good.

1) Come up with a plan. What could you do that other people would happily pay you for? What gives you the most joy? (I’m willing to bet it doesn’t involve spending hours upon hours in a beige box.)

2) Save, save, save. Put aside at least six months of living expenses–maybe even a year’s worth or more in a bad economy, but be careful–this step can easily be a trap as well, because you’ll never have “enough” money to quit your job. No one does, unless they’re independently wealthy. And if you have a spouse and children to think about, clearly they have to be factored into your plan.

3) Start taking baby steps. You know that idea from point one? Begin putting it into practice, a step at a time, while you’re still gainfully employed. You are laying the foundation for your great escape. This is a test, so use this time wisely. Are you really happy doing this kind of work? Will people really pay you for it? If not, go back to step one. Just the fact that you are doing something will give you the momentum you need to move forward.

4) Get comfortable with your decision. Make pro and con lists. Discuss your plans with those closest to you, but be prepared for resistance from the risk averse. Take courses if need be. Make use of your benefits and credit as an employed person while you still can. You may want to take out a line of credit for emergencies (I said emergencies!). Make sure you have the insurance you’ll need once you lose your employee benefits.

5) Realize that no one is ever ready. Escaping your cubicle takes plenty of guts, but remember–someone once escaped Alcatraz. It can be done. There will be bumps along the road to freedom, but you’ll never regret it.

Life is too short to live in a cage.

This post is part of the April A-Z Blogging Challenge. If you’d like to see the list of participants or join in the fun,ย click here.ย 

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26 Comments

  1. Chrys Fey

    I love these tips. They also work for an office or for a desk set up in a corner, like mine. I’ve been wanting to get a beta fish to accompany me at my desk for a long time, but now I have cats. I don’t think that’ll go too well. lol

    Reply
    • Holli Moncrieff

      Thanks, Chrys. Betas were what I had in my cubicle hell too. Unfortunately, they don’t seem to live too long. My plain companion fish that I bought to keep them company outlived them by years.

      Reply
  2. Crystal Collier

    I have never worked in a cubicle, but I would totally buy a pet fish. In fact, if I didn’t have kids buzzing around my desk all day, I’d get a fish just to keep me entertained when I needed to space out, but I do have kids, and spacing out is not an option. That’s how knives end up in fingers. *sigh*

    Reply
    • Holli Moncrieff

      Maybe when the kids are grown? Or perhaps they would find the fish entertaining enough to space out to as well. Everyone I’ve ever met loves watching an aquarium. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Reply
  3. Elayne

    Hi, stopping by from the A-Z Challenge. Great post. I am fortunate to have never worked in a cubicle, but my husband spent many years there. At least now he’s in a big office, with a large window and a stunning view of Dallas.

    Reply
    • Holli Moncrieff

      Hi Elayne. Welcome to my blog! All you lucky people who have never worked in cubicles…I envy you! I’m sure your husband can tell you how much fun it was. I’m happy to hear he’s escaped.

      Reply
  4. Stephanie Faris

    LOL–I escaped, so it can happen. I’m one of the “work-from-home” population now! Even worse, they’re cramming people into tiny spaces now and taking their walls away, so not only are they imprisoned, they have zero privacy. So glad I got out of the rat race when I did.

    Reply
    • Holli Moncrieff

      Congrats, Stephanie! Welcome to the other side. The grass is definitely greener over here.

      Thanks for commenting, and welcome to my blog! ๐Ÿ™‚

      Reply
  5. Tui Snider

    Hi Holli, I’ve had one full-on cubicle job, and several office jobs. Every time I quickly became the office gopher and would run any and all errands. My other strategy was to take “goat breaks” because I got annoyed by all the smokers taking smoke breaks whenever they felt like it. I’d just stand up and announce, “I’m taking a goat break” then head outside to pet a goat and dog who lived next to the office building. It was months before anyone questioned it! They all thought they were mis-hearing me… Ha!

    ~Tui Snider~
    @TuiSnider on Twitter
    My blog: Tui Snider’s Offbeat & Overlooked Travel
    I am also part of the #StoryDam team, a friendly writing community!

    Reply
    • Holli Moncrieff

      Hi Tui,

      A goat break! That’s awesome. I wish I’d had a flock of goats outside my office buildings, but unfortunately I lived a goat-free existence.

      There does seem to be an unfair advantage given to smokers sometimes.

      Thanks for commenting!

      Reply
  6. Javier

    I have escaped the cubicle. I now have an office, LOL. Good post.

    Reply
    • Holli Moncrieff

      Yes, the offices at the museum are mostly awesome. I loved my office there, and was heartbroken when I discovered I’d left it for the smallest cubicle in the world.

      Here’s to freedom! ๐Ÿ™‚

      Reply
  7. Rhonda Parrish

    Dude. I’ve never been so grateful to have never had a cubicle job LoL

    Reply
    • Holli Moncrieff

      Glad to nail that point home for you, Rhonda. ๐Ÿ™‚ Do me a favour and never get one, okay?

      Reply
  8. Mary Aalgaard

    These are great tips. Love the puppet show idea. In fact, I am teaching puppet plays for kids starting next week. I am not in a cubicle, thank God, but still need to think of creative ways to get paid for doing what I love and am good at.
    Play off the Page

    Reply
    • Holli Moncrieff

      Hi Mary,

      Welcome, and thanks for commenting. You can tell those kids that puppet plays is a skill they may need as adults if they end up in the corporate world. ๐Ÿ™‚

      I’m glad you’ve been able to find a way to use your creativity and earn a living doing something that makes you happy. That’s a rare and wonderful thing.

      Reply
  9. Petnet Steve

    Stopping by via a to z challenge. We write about pet food, fitness, and wellness at our blog petnet.io/blog

    Sitting in a cubicle, or just plain sitting all day is the scourge of modern society. Our bodies are meant to move and sitting all day teaches it otherwise.

    Same for our pets (although most pets don’t work in a cubicle ๐Ÿ™‚ ). They need to stay active!

    Reply
    • Holli Moncrieff

      I completely agree, Steve. That’s why I now have a trek desk! I think desk jobs are some of the most unhealthy jobs in the world.

      Reply
  10. Jamie Dement (LadyJai)

    I’ve actually considered buying a sky/cloud poster and put it over the light above my cube. Or our local craft store has a small “window” I could decorate like it views outside. ๐Ÿ™‚ I hate my cubicle, but I don’t need people coming in to me. I like the isolation, I just don’t like the not seeing outside.

    Jamie Dement (LadyJai)
    My A to Z Challenge
    Caring for My Veteran

    Reply
    • Holli Moncrieff

      Whatever works for you, Jamie. I hated both. Sometimes I wanted privacy, but to me, there really was only an illusion of privacy, as my cubicle-mates could hear everything I say and “pop in” at any time.

      The poster/window sounds like a good idea.

      Reply
    • Holli Moncrieff

      Ah yes, Dilbert! Who could survive cubicle life without Dilbert? That comic was a lifesaver. When I worked in a cubicle, people used to give me Dilbert books as gifts.

      Reply
  11. Doreen McGettigan

    The worst job I ever had involved a cubicle. I filled it with plants. It helped, a little. I was so glad to quit that job.

    Reply
    • Holli Moncrieff

      I’m so happy you escaped, Doreen! Plants died in our office because of the lack of light, so I didn’t have that option. It was just me and the fish. But you’re right, that would totally help.

      Reply

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