3 ways to survive as an offbeat employee in an onbeat job

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As a creative working an office job, you may come to love that copy machine. Illustration by Summer Pierre, from her book The Artist in the Office

In honor of Labor Day, I figured I’d veer a little bit from our usual in-home content to talk about some outside-the-home career realities. I spent five years working in corporate staffing, so this sort of thing is oddly near ‘n’ dear to my heart.

The Empire must be filled with people who have to make an offbeat personality fit into a very very non-offbeat job and workplace, and I’m curious as to how they do it. I’m only 23 and am looking for work and even having to fit myself into the norm for interviews etc is (warning: overly dramatic and kind of ridiculous statement ahead) kind of killing me inside a little. Applying for jobs with companies whose ethics I question, and whose goods I don’t believe in and wouldn’t buy makes me feel sick and suffocated, and like I’m trading in on my own integrity. How can I deal with these feelings? Everyone tells me to suck it up and get on with it. I feel like I’m being completely ridiculous, but this is important to me. -Arlina

Oh man, Arlina. I relate to this question so profoundly. With the exception of a few lucky periods of freelancing, I spent over a decade (between ages 22 and 34) working corporate jobs. Some of my greatest moments included a temp job for MDA where I spent all day on the phone calling taverns that were selling paper shamrocks for charity, another temp gig where I was word processing documents for a company producing urine testing kits, and dozens of shitty copywriting jobs writing ad copy for terrible products I’d never use. I spent year after year, sitting in basement cubicles writing crap like this. Every once in a while I would snag a “cool” corporate gig, like the couple of years I spent as an editor for Movies.com — but they were still 9-to-5 jobs where I was required to sit through corporate training programs and felt like a fraud.

All those years of toiling away taught me some critical coping mechanisms and ways to make myself feel ok about what I was doing. I will share these with you.

Always know your big-picture goals

Think ahead five to ten years and picture where you want to be. Try to identify the ways your current day-job job can help you get there — are you paying off your student loans so that you can start your own business? Are you building up experience so that you can go freelance? Have clear financial and career goals, and work to find ways to make a seemingly unrelated day-job feel relevant to those goals.

For me, I treated all my low-level copywriting jobs as a way to hone my writing skills. My big picture goals were to work full-time as an independent writer/publisher, and so I viewed every cheezy marketing collateral I got assigned as an opportunity to test my skills. Could I write compellingly about an ear and nose hair trimmer?! Well, goddamnit, if I could write about THAT, then I could write about ANYTHING.

For me, it became a challenge: I worked to do my don’t-give-a-shit-about-it jobs really well, so that once I was in the place to do the work I was passionate about, I had my skills DOWN.

Think of it as reconnaissance

A few years ago, a young lawyer friend of mine needed to find some work. He’d been focused on energy reform law, but all his contracts had dried up and the only work he could find was working for a multi-national oil company. In other words, he had to go work for the enemy. How does a progressive energy reformist justify working for a conservative oil company?

“I need to understand how these people think,” he told me. “This is one of the largest, most successful petroleum companies pulling strings internationally — whatever they’re doing, it works. If I’m going to stand a chance in reforming this industry, I need to really understand how things are run.”

He spent six months working for the devil, as it were, and came out with his debts paid off and a glint in his eye. “I get it,” he told me. “They all work 80 hours a week. They never sleep. They’re tirelessly dedicated to what they’re doing. I totally get it now — if I want to beat these guys, that’s how I have to work.”

Another anecdote: Years ago, I had an editor job once where my manager was an aging tabloid journalist from Los Angeles. My fellow editors and I, all Seattleites who couldn’t STAND cheezy journalism, rolled our eyes constantly at the headline suggestions we got from our boss — so tabloid! So cheese! So lame!

But I had drinks with one of my former fellow editors a few months ago (now an editor for a mainstream news outlet) and we both confessed that the old tabloid headline methods we learned from that cheezy aging manager were some of the most useful editorial tools we had in our arsenal.

And those awful AWFUL employee reviews I had to do in old corporate jobs? As much as I hated them (and dudes: I HATED THEM) the methods I suffered through back in the day have become really useful to me now when I’m talking to my own employees. I realized that the methods were right on — it was just the application that was grossing me out. Ultimately, employee reviews can be a really awesome way to talk to staff about what they want out their job. Who knew!?

Cast yourself as the artist in the office

My friend Summer Pierre spent so many years working office jobs while living a double life as a creative that she wrote a book about it. It’s a great read for those of us who are living double lives, working a boring day-job while also actively scheming toward something bigger, better, more creative, or just different.

My experience of being the weirdo in the office was generally positive — as long as I did my job really well, I found that my coworkers got a kick out of having an offbeat type at the next cubicle over. Sometimes my 40-something coworkers would come talk to me about their teens (“So my daughter wants to dye her hair pink…”). Sometimes I felt like my managers used me to boost their own cultural credibility (“Yeah, I hired this Burning Man type ‘cuz, you know, I’m forward-thinking like that…”).

I’ve written about this elsewhere before: as long as you do your job really, really well, you might be surprised at what you can get away with culturally and appearance-wise at work. Granted, I’m coming from the perspective of someone who works A) in the tech industry and B) on the West Coast, both microcosms of relatively relaxed, progressive workplaces. But seriously: if the Goth in the Office can get away with it? You can too.

Not that every office is a sitcom, but it sometimes helped me to think of it that way. By letting a bit of myself shine through in my at-times culturally stifling day-jobs, sometimes I felt like I was just doing my part to fill a role that was needed in the microcosm of that office’s culture. It helped to pass the time.

Knowing when to draw the line

I don’t want to mitigate the fact that there are jobs that are an intolerable cultural mis-match. I’m thinking here of an atheist friend who worked for a very conservative office in Texas. The culture of the office was heavily religious (prayers at meetings, etc) and it became clear that my friend was more than just the “weird one” — she was seen as anti-Christian, and therefore untrustworthy. This was a case where culturally, I don’t know if things were ever going to be reconciled. The heathen in the office isn’t as much fun of a role as the artist.

This is all to say, while I think there are methods you can use to feel less icky about working a job that’s a perfect fit, ultimately there times when you’re confronted with working for a company that you hate. Sometimes, you have to stand strong — I once turned down a job for a company called x10, who were famous in the early ’00s for being among the first businesses to use “pop-under” ads. I also turned down a job at the corporate offices of an international multi-level marketing company — I wouldn’t have been active in the scamming, but my work would have been supporting the scam.

That said, I did spend almost three years working for Microsoft, a company that makes lots of products I won’t use. How did I feel ok about it? Well, I was working in staffing marketing, and so the product I was selling was working at Microsoft… and Microsoft offers some of the best employee benefits in the US. Basically, instead of thinking about how Windows Vista or Hotmail or Windows phones made me want to barf, I thought about how great it was that I got to help people get jobs that gave them great benefits. (And, of note: it was ultimately the health benefits at Microsoft that made it possible for me to conceive, so, you know: thanks for that, Microsoft.)

Ultimately, it’s up to each of us to figure out where the line is when it comes to making cultural or ethical compromises for a job. And let’s not ignore the fact that at least in the US, we’re in the middle of what may be a long, double-dip recession. Especially for those just starting their careers, it’s not an easy time to be picky about work. If you have your long-term goals in mind, there can be something to be said for being able to get a job (any job at all) these days.

Comments on 3 ways to survive as an offbeat employee in an onbeat job

  1. I think you mean reconnaissance, not recognizance. Reconnaissance is gathering info on the enemy, recognizance is like in a legal situation when one is released on their own recognizance.

  2. Great post. I am a nurse, a pediatric RN, andi just dyed parts of my hair purple. Would I be ableto pull this off in the hospital? Not likely but my patients mom’s trust me to do the best for thier kids, and because I made that impression first I can get away with purple hair now. That was something you touched on the first time you talked about this that has always been my mantra. I am also covered in tattoo’s and I like people to get to know me before they have a chance to judge me. It makes me feel like I taught them a little lesson before they even see my tattoos. Especially college professors. Anyways, oh and to redeem my favorite state a little, Texas, I promise we’re not all ultra religious assholes. Even us half-conservative-ish ones : )

  3. Oh man, I’m not trying to be snarky here — quite the opposite, in fact, since you seem to have had a lot of luck finding work in your field, even if it’s not always offbeat work — but I’d love an article on how to even get one of these allegedly boring soulless jobs in the first place.

    I’ve got a degree, I’m smart, and I’m hard working, but in interviews there’s no way for me to hide that I’m a little weird, and I feel like that plus recession, plus young and not much experience, is keeping me from getting anything.

    • Sometimes if nothing else is working, side projects can help. Showing exactly what you can do can help set you above the competition — start an event, launch a blog, take on leadership in a volunteer setting.

      When I got my first Big Kid job I had a blonde stripe in my very-short hair, a lip ring, and a degree in painting. In insurance-capital-of-the-world Des Moines, Iowa, I was not making the best first impression. I got the job — as a project manager for a non-profit — because I had a stellar contact to vouch for me and a few years’ experience of actually managing projects. I’d organized art exhibitions, rallied comrades, and volunteered my time for local arts media, and those all gave me an advantage over the other applicants.

      And MMHMMM to Stacy’s comment below — Ariel’s post about impressing conservative neighbors is right on here, too. If you’re even a smidgen offbeat you’d better be rocking extreme friendliness and confidence.

      • And these extra activities don’t have to be stuff you did specifically to help get a job or directly related to it. I’ve been told that moderating internet forums in my free time helped me get jobs because it shows I can work with people who are not in the best mood or feeling especially cooperative (which accounts for about 1/2 of what I do at work now) and shows that someone, somewhere thinks I’m responsible and trustworthy.

        Although I admit I was very careful about which sites I admitted to moderating. One of the best selling video games magazines in the country? Hell yeah! Obscure drama-filled rock band? Not so much.

      • Side projects are uh-MA-zing! They serve as a creative outlet and give the opportunity to really shine by showing your interests and creative solutions to problems! If it weren’t for side projects and my really awesome boss, I think I would hate my job.

      • This (and all the folks chiming in) is really good advice. I’m trying to branch out into more volunteering/personal enrichment projects, and need to remember not to get so discouraged. Thank you all for the pep talk!

      • I agree with Cat here, if you’re struggling to get work, try and get some experience other than paid work.

        I totaly empathise with this article, I finished a double degree is psychology & marketing and basically found that any job involving marketing involved starting off selling things that made me physically sick to sell. So I looked for jobs that involved selling things that I could actually feel passionate about: education, charities, performing arts, even things like art supplies. Things that I believed added something to the world rather than take something away.

        In the end I found myself working as a careers adviser in a high school, which I love every minute of. Basically I’m allowed to be who I am and sell ‘having a good life’ to teenagers.

        Having said that some workplaces vary within an industry as to what they will allow. Soon after I started I walked past a guy with a sleeve tattoo (he taught maths) and immediately knew that I would be safe here. 🙂

        Keep your chin up and just keep swimming!

    • While this does nothing to help you out now, rest assured that this dedicated offbeat empire member is hard at work earning an HR degree with the intent of bringing the offbeat mentality into every workplace I touch. An office that turns you away because your hair is purple, even if you’ve got the stellar resume, is an office that suffers from major productivity loss issues, in my mind.

    • I’ve always been too shy to come clean about my lifestyle and politics, taking the middle road and wanting to just get on at work(s)…I’ve job hopped for a long time. I’ve realised over the years that it’s not worth your time to bend over backwards for a job you hate. It’s better to start a side project you love, regardless of whether it’ll make you money, even if just to release your pent up offbeat…my friends and I created a radical community library for example. Volunteering somewhere you’d like to work (if possible) is the best tip I can give, if you can show your worth and get on with the staff, the step to employment is nothing. Don’t sacrifice your dignity, find somewhere you fit or keep looking (temp work can keep the money coming in but not trap you). I’ve battled depression and anxiety to find comfort amongst the soul stealing jobs but now I’m finally where I want to be.

  4. I think your advice about renting while off beat totally applies here too! I always try to be super friendly to every one at work and it really works. I’ve been at my new job for a very large agency for a month now and already I’ve won over quite a lot of people this way at all sorts of levels and age groups. When you go out of your way to be friendly no matter how gruff, stand off-ish, or stuck up they are, people notice and not just the person you are dealing with but everyone else around you and it does pay off. Already I’m finding that people will come up to me and talk to me on breaks now because I’m getting a reputation for being approachable and easy going and this makes a work place more enjoyable no matter who you are 😉

    • I totally have to second this! I’ve been that slightly weird new girl more times than i like to remember but i’ve found that just being cheerful, polite and willing to help where you can can win you a lot of friends fast.
      also, i suggest making your own judgements about other staff – if there’s someone everyone in the office avoids, find out why that is! most often they’re just slightly offbeat compared to the rest of the staff and may have made a reputation from that. I’ve ended up friends with the “crotchety old man” or “crazy lady” in the office more than once by ignoring office gossip and continuing to be the happy friendly person to everyone regardless of reputation 🙂

    • Amen, sister…I’m currently working very successfully in an extremely conservative working environment and I’m anything but. I’ve fallen back on what I always do when I find myself outside my comfort zone…I smile, smile, smile! It has to be genuine, of course, but fortunately for me, being friendly and outgoing happen to be part of my bag of tricks. I can’t tell you how many conservative/mainstream friends I have because I’ve found myself in unavoidable circumstances (like living on a military base) and just decided to make the best of it!! When it’s all just too much, I retreat to my liberal/quirky and, yes, creative friends and get my mojo back.

  5. I think this is great advice. I would just add, as another way to look at it – not all “on-beat” people are drinking the Kool-Aid either. Even the boss doesn’t necessarily like sitting through PowerPoint presentations 😉 . But they find their own individual ways to deal with it/come to terms with it/put food on the table.

    Just something to keep in mind – you don’t need to feel “alone” if you don’t agree with all the company’s policies, and if you feel like the only ‘weird’ one – you *probably* aren’t! I bet there were some other people who worked/work at Microsoft who actually prefer Macs… 🙂 .

    • Oh, absolutely lots of Apple fans at MSFT… although interestingly, I wasn’t one of them. I had a Mac for several years, but I think I’m one of the rare few who switched back to a PC. I genuinely like Windows 7, and since most of what I do is web browsing and word processing, Apples are overkill for my computing needs. 🙂

    • Amen. That urine testing kit word processing gig I had was after almost a year of unemployment, and I have NEVER been happier to mind-numbingly boring work.

  6. Thank you so much for this great perspective. I think your advice could apply to any idealistic young person just starting out. We can’t all expect to land our dream job at a dream company right out of school, especially these days. One sign of being a “real adult” is being able to find the positive in an otherwise crappy job.

  7. I have another bit of advice: look for fellow offbeats, or at least people that share some of your offbeat interests.

    I work at a casino where a) there are literally thousands of employees and b)there is a uniform and strict appearance rules (natural hair colour, no visible piercings or tattoos, etc) so it’s really to easy to miss a fellow offbeat. Coworkers that look like every other cookie cutter corporate drone could be historical reenactors, completing their tattoo artist apprenticeship (while hiding bitchin’ sleeves under their work shirt), or hosts of a ‘psychic retreat’ (all real people I’ve met through work).

    Last year I went to the local pop culture convention and ran into 4 other coworkers, all dressed in full costume. I’d known them for at least a year but we’d had no idea we were all into cosplay because none of us had ever brought it up, assuming the others weren’t interested (we’re going as a group this year).

    I found out recently that one of my managers was a cameraman on Star Wars and had only started working at the casino when his kids were born so he could have the stability of a steady paycheck as opposed to freelance work. He had so many stories to tell!

    So yeah, people can surprise you! You might not be the only offbeat stuck in a conservative workplace!

  8. So I used to work for a company in the gaming (read: gambling) industry. Not exactly the most glamorous, progressive-friendly job in the world. (Which got me some flack from friends and acquaintances, but I needed to pay my rent, dammit.)

    One thing that helped me do was get the experience I needed to go on and get the job I just started recently at a medical device manufacturer. I love that I can use my job to help people now, but I did need to work in an industry that I didn’t feel that great about to get there.

  9. A friend of mine has always said that offbeat and modified folks have to work almost twice as hard as onbeat people to show the world that they are worth hiring/renting to/allowing to adopt. Want to have visible tattoos, piercings, and dreadlocks? Great! But you also need the glowing professional references and amazing portfolio to go with it.

    I have an amazing albeit rather conventional law firm job now that I got after managing a call center for a few years. Call center=totally ok to whatever. Law firm=took some time. I didn’t come out of the off-beat closet right away, but after several years, I’m able to dictate progressive incentive reform and health insurance programs, not to mention the pretty usual dress code issues. Same sex parental adoption leave policy? Check! And all with stretched lobes, several piercings, and visible tattoos. Sure, in a few years I want to get a job paralegaling for some crazy liberal environmental firm, but right now, it pays the bills, and I’m making amazing references from some pretty remarkable people that will help.

  10. In terms of how to survive on the inside, I think it is really important to clarify your values. If you have values that you would rather starve for than go against, awesome. If you have some that don’t meet that criteria, also awesome. But you have to be honest with yourself about where those lines are. I think that’s the first step to *feeling* like you’re living with integrity.

    (Edit: I realize that’s a lot like what Arial said at the end of the article. I think that my point is to clarify those values for yourself *before* the choice comes up, if at all possible. Your values are yours alone, and if you’re sure in yourself, you’ll be better able to defend them to the people who matter, and tell other people to shove it.)

  11. I very much appreciate this article. Now if only I could figure out what my career goal is….

    In the mean time, I worked 12 years for a corporate insurance company and always felt like I stuck out. (and I’m not different to get attention, just to express myself – I don’t like getting a lot of attention) Now I work for a university and it is so much a better more accepting atmosphere.

    • I came here looking for the “I’m offbeat in an onbeat job and I have no idea what I really want to do” comment because this is totally me. It’s funny you mention working at a university, because that’s the route I took (thinking hey, at least it isn’t corporate and I’m all for academia! Plus there’s that whole public service loan forgiveness thing). And I ended up working for a top US business school, most recently for their executive mba program (read: I’m as good as working in a corporate environment). I covered up my tattoos for the interview and when I finally let them show at work I got some very obvious looks and condescending “oh what’s your tattoo?”s from my boss and coworkers. I usually don’t let them show when we have students around to impress but there have been a few cases when it was unavoidable, and I ALWAYS get looks. Why are tattoos still such a big deal?

      At the end of the day, academia/higher Ed administration isn’t completely onbeat always, but I suppose I need to do a better job of finding a good offbeat area to work in until I find what I really want to do.

  12. as a tattooed teacher this post was really interesting to me
    I always try to dress professionally but
    I’ve worked in schools which HATED my tattoos to the extent that I would be told off for wearing clothes that showed any extent of them where other teachers could wear much thinner strapped tops etc, but they never once said it was because of the tattoos (how ridiculous, I would have had WAY more respect for them if they had simply asked me to keep the tattoos covered rather than a 1 rule for me, a differenr rule for others)

    but on the otherhand I’ve worked in a school that LOVED my tattoos, the deputy head even said I should show them off to teach our students about stereotypes and how having a tattoo doesn’t make you a bad person

    • That’s awesome that there are school administrators who support tattoos. I’ve been trying to get a teaching job for over a year now, but I’ve also wanted to dye my hair blue. It kills me that I can’t have blue hair and be hired as a teacher at the same time. Since when does your hair color affect your ability to teach (or do anything else)?

      • I am a teacher and I refuse to take my facial piercings out when I interview for jobs because my theory is that a school that doesn’t want me for the couple of tiny pieces of metal in my face obviously wouldn’t be a good fit for me. Have I missed out of jobs, absolutely, have I worked at some really fantastic schools, also absolutely!

        I have also been thinking of going blue, my job is not what is holding me back, but I am teaching at an awesome place at the moment 😀

  13. awesome advice, all of it!

    though i would add: know how important your job is to your identity. i suppose this falls under “know your big-picture goals” – perhaps none of them have to do with a career or job! but i suspect they do involve money in some way. acknowledge that it’s okay to work a shitty job in order work towards *other* goals.

    make money to give to your favorite non-profit? get vacation time to go to dragon*con? make money so that you can eat, etc. in order to be alive to do all the other awesome stuff you do? win-win-win! (even if your job is not a winner)

    obviously, that doesn’t work for everyone all the time, but i think it’s worth acknowledging.

    p.s. sometimes i miss working at the video store, because i was freaking *great at my job* – which is a nice feeling, even if you know it’s just ’cause your job is easy =)

  14. I look pretty normal (although I would have purple hair if i could) – no tattoos, no piercings in unexpected places – and am really good at tamping down my weirdness in interviews into a “quirky but that’s a good thing” persona, so getting jobs hasn’t been hard for me. Keeping in mind that I live in Taiwan and a.) Taiwanese culture is a lot less forgiving of people who look ‘weird’ and b.) I have a skill set that is much in demand here, but that wouldn’t matter if I had purple hair. I work in corporate training so the chance is not always there to make a good impression first and come out of the offbeat closet later, as I am constantly in front of new groups (many of whom are large firms, banks etc. that won’t trust a purple-haired young woman to teach them how to give an effective business presentation).

    I have found though that with my long term clients that I can start out seeming fairly normal, maybe a bit quirky (which is OK because “all foreigners are quirky” to many so it’s expected) and then come out as being more offbeat than they realized after they’ve gotten to know me.

    One thing I should technically “be able” to hide but can’t is how my style of dress betrays my offbeatness. I can and, according to the typical style of corporate training, should stick to office clothes in conservative colors…but for some reason I can’t help it when I wake up one morning and decide that that gold-threaded heavy sarong I bought in Laos and had converted into a skirt would be just fine with a matching scarf and black top. Or that if I can’t go purple, flaming red is still “natural”, right? (No, no it’s not, but it’s close enough to ‘natural’ that we all just pretend that I meant to go for a natural redhead look). Then I wonder why people can often tell immediately that I’m not a typical cube monkey.

    I’ve found in Taiwan that if it’s clothing I can get away with it to some extent, especially as my style isn’t punk, goth, cosplay or anything that really wouldn’t fly in my field: I wear lots of bright colors and ethnic-inspired clothes (especially from India, CHina and SE Asia). Tattoos (seen as a sign of being in a gang here), crazy hair color or piercings not so much.

    It also helps that I mostly deal with students day to day, and I know I can use the power of personality to win them over even if their companies are conservative (one student said to me “I don’t care if you dye your hair purple. The problem is that my HR will care if the trainer has purple hair.”) My own company, who always has and always will think “corporate training” means “boring powerpoints by boring guys in suits” (no changing that – I’ve tried!) are folks I don’t have to deal with often, and my student feedback rating is so high that even if I do show up in some crazy outfit, they can’t really say anything.

  15. One thing that’s helped me get jobs is I have a special section of my resume that outlines my improv experience, tutoring, and illustration. It’s small but shows that I am always working. More importantly it gives my employer a chance to see a part of my personality and determine if we’re a fit.

    That little section has also lead most interviewers to comment on my diversity and then lead into, “So why do you want this job?” My answer is, and will continue to be, that I’m looking for work that will round out my skillset as a freelancer and allow me the free time to continue doing those projects in the odd hours. And sure enough I’m working at an amazing company owned by a small corporation in a very conservative field (insurance). Each of the employees is offbeat in their own way (pink mohawk!) and we’re okay with it.

  16. You know, this gave me an idea, which might be totally not feasible, but I think it would be awesome. Can we have a place for offbeat jobs, where offbeat employers and employees can look for each other? I’ve been looking for a teaching job for over a year (or any job to pay the bills, for the past couple weeks), and it would be awesome to find a principal/superintendent who likes offbeat teachers (and students).

    • Aww, although this is a sweet suggestion, I’m definitely not in the place to be running a job board, nor am I wanting to compete with Craigslist. :/ The Offbeat Empire is already starting to feel spread pretty thin, and adding a careers category to Home feels like as much as I can commit to at this point. 🙂

  17. This is just what I needed to read. I work in accounting/purchasing at a university, with a humanities masters in a field that doesn’t exist outside of academics, and with tons of interests in crafts and creativity. Sometimes I feel like I’m drowning, when I’m processing mind-numbingly dull reimbursements, or getting chewed out by a lazy prof. Other times though, I’m enjoying learning about depreciating equipment and how to reason with illogical people. What keeps me going is knowing that I’ll have skills that will come in handy if I want to start my own business someday.

  18. This is seriously legit positive advice. I have worked for non-profits for the past 5 years, but now that I’ve moved to SF, finding a job I really want has been insanely difficult. I’ve been pretty negative about the fact that I am currently employed as a stylist at Levi’s, where jeans cost more than I can afford, but hey, it’s a chance to meet new people in the city, and since it’s part-time, I can really make use of the extra hours to keep volunteering and searching for that dream job!

  19. Thanks so much for this article. I have turned away from a few jobs recently for (some may say) silly reasons. A temp data entry gig had me processing thousands of credit card apps. But if that wasn’t bad enough, myself and the other new hires were working so efficiently we allowed the older hires to have time to process Focus on the Family donations. Bleech!! It was too disheartening. That, and that night I was listening to some thoughtful music that was basically telling me not to sell my soul. So I walked out on a great paying gig that I really needed. More recently, I had a second interview for a military organization, although I am very anti-war, anti-violence, etc., etc. …I’m sure many of you know where I’m coming from. It would have paid me almost double what I am making now. Yet, I instead chose an organization that pays basically minimum wage and am not yet working enough hours to pay the bills. In fact, I am earning a third of what I used to. Will I regret this choice? Maybe. Will my soul die for my participation in the military complex? No, thankfully. My partner is giving me some flack for not taking the great opportunities, but I really feel too educated to be selling myself short. Then again, I am needing to quickly pick up a part-time gig such as the ones discussed here, in order to continue paying the bills, clearly. Yet a conservative culture and an ethical dilemma are two very different problems to me. Thanks again for a wonderful article. Ariel you sure help out with a variety of dilemmas. I’ve been creeping on your empire for a while now (near-future obb), and I appreciate all that you do.

  20. This is a great post. I have a B.A. (music major, psych minor) and a Master’s of Music. I’ve worked a ton of random jobs since graduating, and even before, mostly admin work. As a musician, I always thought of my day jobs as just a temporary measure, hopefully anyway, to pay bills while I worked on my music. At times it was a lot easier than others. What, perhaps stupidly, really bothered me at times, was the assumptions and judgements people make about you based on your day job. I remember mentioning that I was currently working as a receptionist at xyz architectural firm and people asking me “oh, and that’s what interests you?” in a very pitying way. I also remember being a grad student desperate for any part time job, and telling an offbeat friend about all the places I’d applied- to and how frustrating it was, to have her ask why I was applying to corporations and not more small businesses, and my old workstudy bosses from college acting like I was squandering myself doing admin work, when it was always only a stepping stone measure. I think maybe in this country (the US) we tend to define ourselves and others by our jobs, which isn’t always best and helps to make working in an “on-beat” environment stressful for many of us. What was hardest for me in this job market of the past few years was feeling like I had to down play or minimize my musical aspirations so that employers didn’t say “well, she won’t stick around forever, pass” . I’ve worked all kinds of different places, some good, some bad, and will say that I’ve learned something useful from every job I had, and at one job as a housing counselor for homeowners at risk of foreclosure, really made a difference. What’s been craziest for me is how many financial industry jobs I’ve gotten, given that I have no educational background or real interest in it, but what I’ve found is that financial companies like to hire me because I’m polished, professional, trustworthy, and educated. Currently I have a part-time gig doing reception work in the morning for an investment a banking office, but since it’s just a part-time measure to bring extra money in, and they’re completely relaxed about my taking time off to audition and perform, it doesn’t feel icky.

  21. Sometimes when you can’t find a job at a company that you’re passionate about, I think it’s easier to find one that at least you don’t disagree with! Also, any company with a positive workplace environment/culture is going to be more accepting of people no matter what. Being off-beat is just another aspect of diversity. I’d recommend taking a look at companies on websites like glassdoor.com where employees provide their perspective on what it’s like to work for the company. You could also try looking at all of the “best places to work” that magazines (e.g., Fortune) and local newspapers often run. Any company that has a great culture is going to be one where you will feel more able to be yourself. I try to leave things like politics away from work (since this is unrelated to my field), but as long as people don’t feel like you’re forcing your agenda, open dialogue is genuinely appreciated in companies with good cultures. Bringing your unique perspective and knowledge adds value to a company, no matter how “corporate” the culture!

  22. I’m a total Offbeater in an OnBeat career.

    I’m the business interface and management for a group of engineers in Tech in the Silicon Valley. And unless you can break the sound barrier on amazing code, your look should be business casual. Since I am the business interface, I find myself even more pigeonholed into looking more ‘corporate’. Which is looser than Financial corporate, but tougher than what my engineers can get away with. I find little ways to express it though. When having to look business appropriate, you can get away with 1 or 2 pieces that are expressive to you. A funky t-shirt with a blazer and slacks, or a cool scarf and jewelry, or fun pants/skirt, with a professional top and shoes. I have found people like a little personality because otherwise, we all look like extras in the Devil Wears Prada Runway offices. So its pops of personality, rather than the whole enchilada. It also showcases those pieces in a way that invites conversation with you, rather than about you. My favorite thing is expressive jewelry, I like big obnoxious pieces and generally wear them over more sedate clothes in the office.

    Also, there is clip in hair pieces now in every color imaginable, so you can do crazy hair on the weekends/after work, and then have normal 9-5 hair on the weekday.

    I always tell my interns/mentorees (I mentor young women in Tech) that you have to remember that the people making the decisions on your future within the company are generally at least 10, but probably closer to 20+ years older than you. For them, certain styles, personal appearance items like tattoos, represent something that doesn’t represent you as you’re on two different generational and even cultural wave lengths. So for you, it may represent individuality and your soul on your skin, and to them, it may represent something very negative. They’re hiring to fit the team culture as much as they are hiring for skills. And when we’re running the show, the next generation will have things that make us roll our eyes or think is negative, as they had in their generation. So within the 9-5, don’t hide your personality, but test the waters before committing to all out demonstrations, its as much work finding your place in the company culture as the actual job.

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