If you are stuck in a cube and dying to get out, what does it specifically feel like?

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stuckincubeI am in book writing mode today, working on the chapter which describes the conditions that led up to the current state of corporate life, and the subsequent impact on the emotional lives of its cube inhabitants.

Although I get tons of wonderful and detailed emails from the “cube oppressed” around the world, I would love some very specific quotes about what it actually feels like to be in a work environment that doesn’t fit your true nature and crushes your creative spirit.

In a few sentences, could you tell me what it feels like to you, as specifically as you can?

If you are not comfortable leaving your answer here on the blog, feel free to send an email to pcs (at) ganas (dot) com with the subject line “How I feel about being stuck in a cube.”

I will not use anything in the book without full permission, and of course will respect those that choose to remain anonymous.

Thanks in advance for your help!

49 Responses to “If you are stuck in a cube and dying to get out, what does it specifically feel like?”

  1. Rob says:

    I know this is very late and the book is out but here is exactly how I feel (from the movie Con Air):

    “What if I told you insane was working fifty hours a week in some office for fifty years at the end of which they tell you to piss off; ending up in some retirement village hoping to die before suffering the indignity of trying to make it to the toilet on time? Wouldn’t you consider that to be insane?”

    Not too late Rob: and my book is not out yet! Could be confusion with the “other Pam’s” book on escaping.

    Thanks for the comment!

    -Pam

  2. Corporate Drone says:

    I knew that I hated my job in Corporate America the day that I had a daydream about falling down my stairs and breaking my leg rather than facing another day at work. Pretty sick thought, but at least I wouldn’t have had to see my stupid jerk of a boss that day.

  3. Justin says:

    Working in a call center/cube farm for a huge credit card company, my first thought as I started to post was this: This is probably just some way to get me to give out my email so this person can spam/sell it around. That is the worst thing. I automatically distrust everything because of what I see go on at work. I have become jaded. Nothing my company does surprises me anymore. We should have a series of signs at the entrances that say things like: ‘abandon all logic at the door’, or ‘please check your soul at the security desk’, or ‘warning inhuman levels of greed ahead’…It is the most soul sucking thing ever and human beings were not meant to live this way. I’m so emotionally drained when I get home that I don’t feel like doing anything. I drive home in what I can best describe as shell shock, feeling half comatose. Everything that takes place there is done with utter and complete disregard for morality and decency. It’s all based on legally can we get away with it. They even have a slush fund to pay fines when it is more profitable to break the law and pay the fine. Then they make the workers take all these training classes on how to become a better company. We just enforce the policies set by the higher ups in the company. They are the ones who need shaping up. My job disgusts me. I will never recommend anyone to work there even though it would earn me a bonus, I wouldn’t want to make anyone else go through what I do. I don’t ever recommend anyone to have one of our credit cards either. To some it up, I feel like a slave, tied to a cubicle by a hated headset through which I am forced to listen and respond to endless whining, complaining, screaming, yelling, angry people. All the while they are shipping jobs in droves to India and Manila to people who can’t even communicate beyond poorly reading scripted responses in English, all for less than $3000 a year per worker. It makes it tough to ask for a raise.

  4. Diana says:

    Once upon a time I was selling posters for a political cause on the streets of San Francisco for $1 each. A homeless guy wanted one for free, as he had no money. I said no. A few minutes later he came back, and bought 5 with $5. He said as long as he had to panhandle/beg to get the money, there was no point in asking for just $1…

    A few years back I was miserable in my cubicle-job. I finally took six months off, fully intending to quit. But I didn’t have another job so came back. However, when I returned, I realized I wasn’t the only one that wasn’t happy and wanted out, and that if I was going to try to get out or change things for myself, I might as well try to change things for everyone else while I was at it.

    That shift in perspective has done wonders. I became much more engaged in everything, and though not a manager, I kept thinking about how to make things really work better for all of us, and not just me.

    Writing a book about the human experience of working in cubicles seems extremely important… It is like the echo/reverberation back of what its like. What everyone has written here is the reality that has been going unnoticed. I believe this feedback needs to be heard.

    When will your book be out? I’ll bet one-size-fits-all is the problem. Some people like cubicles…

  5. sarah says:

    Warning: this is quite a rant!

    Working in a cube… where do I start?! Having only been a member of the glorious cube farm lifestyle for roughly the last 2 and a bit years, I seriously cannot fathom how soul-destroying it would be to spend the next 40 years of my professional life sitting in one!

    I hate it with a passion so strong it is actually quite scary. I’ve started building my business on the side, so at least I feel like I’m making some progress on Mission Escape. But for the eight hours per day that I’m stuck in my cube, I can actually feel my skin crawling. Lately I have caught myself spending 20 minutes just sitting in the toilet with my head in my hands, wondering how to fill the rest of the day. (Unfortunately I’m also quite underworked, so I know a lot about boredom and clock-watching. I am also an expert on how to look like you’re working when actually you’re just trying to kill time.)

    I hate this ridiculous corporate culture of ‘face time’, and I hate being forced to work between 8.30am and 5.30pm when naturally I’m not the sort of person who works well like that.

    I feel like the life gets sucked out of me every time I walk through the doors. There is zero creativity or reason to feel positive or energetic. I basically feel like I’m wasting my life and doing something that is completely out of whack with my personality, values and interests. Did I mention it is also unbelievably boring? On my frequent walks to the kitchenette I often look over at the hundred heads hunched in their cubicles, and I really can’t believe that anyone can honestly enjoy working in this environment. My hatred of corporate bullshit speak is at an all time high, and if I hear one more person say “moving forward”, “synergy” or “can we have a conference call about it?” I will scream! Sometimes I literally have to fight the urge not to jump up on my desk and yell “This SUCKS!”.

    So yes, I guess you could say I hate my job! 🙂 The good thing is that once you admit that to yourself, you have to do something about it! I am, and if all goes well (I am going to MAKE it go well!) in a year from now, I will be singing a different tune.

  6. Kristi says:

    The challenges of my job, unfortunately, match the skills I had in 1998, so I find my work within a cube mentally infuriating and spend much of my time literally fighting to remain somewhat on task. Despite this, I’m able to maintain my tradition of working rings around my cube-mates. The problem with this, and how it relates to cube-drain for me, is that when I come home, even if I intend to work at home, I turn on the tv and mentally have to veg out for several hours to quiet the frustration raging through my thought processes. I should probably mention that I’ve been efficiency-ized and find myself working in a cube for the first time, after previously having Real Offices with Walls that go All the Way to the Ceiling, and Windows, and best of all, Doors!! Oh, how I miss the doors. I don’t remember keeping mine closed much, if at all, but the comination of Real Walls and Doors seemed to have reduced significantly the amount of white noise that currently proliferates what I experience in cube-life: the radios (I’ve even bought people headphones, to no avail), the corporate web broadcasts, the web-based training, and the uber-enemy: teleconferences. I just cannot understand why multiple people – sitting mere inches away from eachother – would not want to meet in a conference room to discuss their work rather than disrupt everyone within a six-cube area in order to discuss their projects.

  7. I knew something was wrong. I kept looking for something to read that would help me feel more comfortable in my business “garb”. Then I attended an all day image class where I learned that even my body says that I’m more comfortable in dresses then skirt suits. But I couldn’t wear dresses to my current job. It was then I started the process to find a job where I could! It felt good, but not any where as good as making the shift to owning my own company and wearing dresses … or PJ’s!

  8. Jay Stone says:

    I guess I am in the minority. Working in the cubes at Hewitt Associates gives me a feeling of protection and security. I don’t have to work out in the harsh elements, I have the benefit of air-conditioning & heat. We have it better than 2/3’s of the rest of Planet Earth’s working class. Think before you gripe so much.

  9. Being in a cube reminds me of an old prison movie I watched when I was younger. A prisoner comes up with a plan to sneak out in a coffin and have some one dig them up later. Right before the movie ends the prisoner in the coffin lights a match to see he is in the coffin with the person that was to dig him up. You are alive but have lost all hope of living.

    P.S. I quite my job yesterday and am starting my own web development business!

  10. It feels like being an animal in a cage who has its leg caught in the trap and is trying to chew of its own leg in order to be released.

    It also feels very insulting and lack of privacy because everything you say or do can be seen and heard by everyone for aisles. The lack of windows or fresh air makes me feel like my soul and personality has been vacuum packed & put elsewhere. I was once told by a manager I reported to that I need to leave my personality at the door everyday. How’s that for fun?

  11. Tricia says:

    Every day when my alarm goes off, I hit the snooze buttone several times. The more frustrating the previous day, the more times I hit the button. Once I’m here, I feel like an actor in a ridiculously schmaltzy play, where I am Suzie Sunshine, and I know I am the wrong actor for the part. I have surrounded myself with as many positive images as I can, including photos of my family, flowers, and a pink “Life is Good” coffee mug. I find myself clinging to these items by my fingernails, depserately trying to find and hold onto some bit of positive energy. I amswer every “How are you” with a big cheesy smile and “Best ever!” It’s all a big lie, and the energy it takes to keep up the act is exhausting. I am physically and emotionally drained, anxious, depressed, fat and out-of-shape. I am eating my hatred of this life, and with every bite I want to gag.

  12. Theresa says:

    The above comments are a big reason why I keep having to talk myself into finding a job and going back to work.

    I remember the cubicle and the warehouse jobs, and while I was able to occasionally see the sunshine, the mentality was definitely still there. The mentality was in other jobs as well; I disliked it then, and I see it hasn’t changed much in the past two years while I have been going to school.

  13. Kris says:

    I’m not even technically IN a cube, but with a cluttered corner basement office I might as well be. It might be hailing outside, I’d have no idea. In winter I can go an entire day without seeing the sun.

    I could probably move to an office with a view if I pushed for it, but somehow I don’t think that’s going to fulfill me here. It’d be just one more confusing “scooby snack” that people (like my mother) would tell me to sit nicely for.

    The cube is a state of mind and I’m in one at the moment! I need to get out!

  14. Mark says:

    Greetings –

    Just found your article. I think most of America is, at one point or another trapped in a cube. I know I was but I did something about it:

    http://www.mytropicalescape.com/2007/07/09/do-you-find-yourself-caught-in-a-cubicle/

    I hope to get people moving out of their cubes and into living.

    Best.

  15. chris says:

    Working in a cube increases my stress and kills my productivity. With all the noise and people walking around it is impossible to focus on any task. Everyone sits in their cubes with headphones on to block out the random distractions, so very little of the supposed benefits of cube working (increased interactivity and collaboration) never happens. I’d jump out a window, but I’d have to break into a manager’s office just to get to one, and their doors are closed. I get more work of much better quality done in 4 hours at home then in 10 at work.

  16. Beth says:

    I feel like a brand new Ferrari 575 M Maranello in the middle of a Namibian farmer’s corn field. He asks me, Do you have any water?’ I ask him, ‘Do you know where the freeway is?’

    Problem is, we don’t speak each other’s language.

  17. I’m lucky enough not to work in a cubicle but rather in an office in a beautiful old Victorian building but it still feels like I’m locked in an airless box every minute I spend in there. I have large windows which let in both light and air yet it still seems dark and stale inside. I am also lucky enough to be making progress in getting out of the rat race. I know I’ve just got to stay focussed and not let the feelings of oppression dominate my other, postive activities which will unlock the box for me forever.

  18. Dixon says:

    I see what I need to do to get ahead in the company: undermine this person to her boss, set that person up for failure, always watch my own back … And, when I get home at night, I when I get home at night I get high and imagine I work someplace that doesn’t make me hate myself.

  19. Michael Campbell says:

    When I walk through the door I feel like I’ve entered the pits of cubicle hell. The stench of negativity in the air over takes my senses. I feel trapped and I need a messiah to save my creative soul from this unpleasant misery of corporate oppression. Living this lie eight hours a day make me yearn more and more for the truth that’s within me, that will free me from never ending torture of cubicle life.

  20. I have two really gross ones that don’t apply so much to my situation now as to a past job. One — I felt as if the blood was being siphoned out of my body. Not enough to put me out of my misery, just enough to take away my will to live! The other one — pardon the crudeness — I felt like I was tied up and splayed for people to come by and do as they would.

  21. David says:

    The previous comments are very legitimate and really speak to the unhappy state of affairs in the cubicle nation.

    There is a distinct class difference between the cube dwellers and office dwellers.

    I wonder if anyone has ever reviewed the metrics between the two groups. Are cube dwellers handicapped by virtue of their class in reviews or promotions? Does an open space or office foster creativity and a superior product? How can collaboration thrive as a culture in a cube? What is the turnover ratio between those in and outside of a cube? How many days of work do cube dwellers tend to miss than those not confined?

    Keep up the great work Pam. I’m looking forward to your book!

  22. Kacy says:

    Cubes feel like prison to me. The generic, vanilla, white box environments contribute to the same old ideas for the same old problems. Without visual stimulation and a quiet environment, it’s certainly difficult to concentrate, but it’s even harder to produce new ideas.

    My back is to the “entrance,” which automatically puts me in a position of lesser power energetically. I have no storage space for the 50 or so binders I use to organize events and tradeshows, so my desk and floor are in constant disarray…which causes extreme anxiety for those of us who are a Type A personality. And I sit in the middle of the outbound sales team, so phones ringing, customer conversations and general auditory distractions are common.

    Your blogs, podcasts and personality have been extremely valuable in keeping my hopes high, so thank you, Pam! It helps me remember that someday I will also be able to bolt out of here so I may perform work that is meaningful and passionate….in a much more purposeful environment.

  23. John Ahrens says:

    I’m working very hard to get out of it. At my stage in life (early 50’s) I’ve figured out (finally!) that I don’t want to commute to work every day any more, and I want to be able to work from anywhere.

  24. Cathy says:

    I like the job I have now – but my last job was a completely different story. I was treated like a naughty child by a wicked stepmother, aka my boss. It was like being back in high school – I felt very oppressed and depressed.

    My predecessor had an office, and I assumed I’d get it. But no! First day I was put in a cubicle, with no way to see the outside. I probably would have been happier in prison!

  25. Pamela Slim says:

    Wow, everyone, thanks for your comments!

    I feel bad for having you tap into such yucky emotional places! Brings back some memories of “dead moments” as a consultant, staring at the fabric wall of my cube as I attempted to make sense of an absurd management situation.

    The only thing I can say is that tapping into how it feels to be in a situation that doesn’t fit your true nature and spirit is the first step in changing it. If you repress these feelings, sooner or later they come back to bite you, either in the form of health problems or unexpected moments of “snapping” which may include stapler and paper-clip throwing, paper eating and profanity spewing dances on top of tables at excrutiating meetings.

    Don’t let it get that far! Start planning your exit now.

    I REALLY appreciate all these comments and the personal emails. It gives me inspiration to keep writing the book, so I do my part to help illuminate the “Underground Railroad” out of corporate doom and gloom.

    Sending a big hug to all of you and wishes for a rapid escape.

    -Pam

  26. Everyday I feel that my true life is passing me by. I feel that I will never realize my true passion (being a lawyer). I hate getting up in the morning. At night I tell myself “only 4 more days till the weekend”. I really only get Saturday and half a day on Sunday because about noon I get that knot in my stomach. You know the one. You’re dreading Monday morning because it starts all over again. It seems that I have to keep showing up here because it pays the bills but is that all that is important? Should you do what is responsible or should you pursue your dream because if you don’t is the hollow existence your left living even worth it.

  27. Roman says:

    Leaders are like Eagles, There aren’t any here!

    This and other http://www.despair.com posters keep me smiling.

    Otherwise it’s Just Monkey Trainers watching as the monkeys sit in their cages and fling Poo!

  28. Phil says:

    It feels nonsensical and pointless.

    Ideas that would improve the situation are always put on the back-burner in favor of “critical” firefighting. People are oblivious to how the improvements would negate the fires.

    It feels thankless and like it’s never enough. I can work hard all day long and “almost make it”, or slack off all day long and “almost make it.”

    Tasks, interactions, relationships, and feelings start to lose their meaning.

  29. Kris says:

    No fresh air, no windows, no exercise. I feel like life is coasting by while I sit and rot. My eyes are dry and my wrist aches. When I see announcements for retirement parties here (cheap sheet cake, sugary punch, some kind of tacky appreciation plaque) I’m pretty sure I’d rather jump off a bridge.

  30. C says:

    Only being in the real working world for 2 years, I can’t imagine being in cubeland for another 40 years. It’s odd, but hating this environment so much actually inspires me to try and change this. I’ve actually started a blog and I’m writing about something I’m passionate about (so hard not to blog at work!) Please keep up the great posts as your blog helps us all make it through the work day!

  31. Katy says:

    When I’m working in an environment that doesn’t fit me, me personality or my working style it becomes a complete false economy for the company to keep me (and other employees) working in this way. Productivity drops, stress levels rise and as a result people do less work and take more time off sick. The sooner that companies realise that a happy environment equals a happy workforce the better.

  32. Neil says:

    I just wrote about this on my own blog: http://geekskillz.com/articles/escaping-the-cubicle

    We used to all have offices, and it was a much more social and comfortable environment. Now that we have cubicles, we all whisper and feel like we are intruding on each other’s privacy. Cubicles are more open, but somehow more isolating. It’s demoralizing.

  33. Bart says:

    I think I can best sum it up with the comment I currently have on my email signature. “Unless you’re the lead dog, the view never changes”. Every day a little more of the breath gets choked out of you. Dilbert’s definition of capitalism is “The harder I work, the fatter my boss gets”. That’s why I keep working to the day when I can jump over the cubicle wall and run to freedom!!

  34. jfriday says:

    It reminds me of barracks living during training rotations the Army, and the cadre would remove the stall walls in the bathrooms so all there would be is a row of toilets. No privacy, no dignity. At least in the Army, it was only done during in-processing/basic training situations to indoctrinate new recruits and tear down individualism to rebuild team-oriented soldiers. In the corporate world, it’s an end, not a means.

  35. Brad Holt says:

    Pam, I work in the cubicle world at Dell and I have been there for 10 years so I know a thing or two about working in the cubicle nation. I have three things I would like to share.

    1. During the ten years at Dell, I have been moved abbot 30 times. Every 6 months, a re-org happens, and cubes get switched. I gotten to the point where the only thing i keep on my desk is my laptop that I pack up every night.

    2. In my building space is at a premium. So about 2 years ago facilities and management decided that all individual contributors will have half cubes, these are desk without walls. About a quarter the way through, it cost to much to reconfigure the desks, facilities and management abandoned the project. I was one of the unlucky few that got stuck in a tech small desk as a PM it is hard to do my job with all the distractions.

    3. Looking at all the people in the desks as I walk up and down the aisles, the one thing that I notice are iPods. Yes iPods. Just about everyone on my floor has some sort of music playing device to keep out the distractions of the phone calls, conversations, and planning meetings that go on around them.

    The cubicle nation is alive and well at Dell. There are times when I go to a conference room to escape and get some work done and to dream about an office of my own that has no shared printer and a closing door.

  36. Duane Benson says:

    In many respects, I have an ideal job and I work with a few great people.

    Time and time again, though, I feel an overpowering sense of deja vu. I’ve had “this meeting” a dozen times before and I already know the outcome. I’ve had “this conversation” and I know exactly where it goes. The road ahead already has my own well-worn footpath.

    The names change, but at some point, the conversations, the decisions, the strategies and the people no longer do. It incites creativity as well as a tired sitcom rerun.

  37. yoga says:

    It feels like being naked in a cage with only enough oxygen to keep me breathing.

    I haven’t been in a cube in years, but the thought of returning to one makes my throat feel like those Chinese fingercuffs that get tighter the harder you pull.

    It doesn’t feel creative, productive, or meaningful.

    Can you tell I hated it?!

  38. Carolyn says:

    Working in a cube I feel everyone hears every conversation I have. I work on a helpline and it takes away from the business at hand, trying to concentrate on what the caller is saying while being able to hear everything going on around my cube. Bad business sense.

  39. Carolyn says:

    Working in a cube I feel like everyone is now aware of every conversation I have and everything I do. There is no privacy, it is hard not to hear everyone else’s conversations and business, both personally and professionally. I believe it has a negative effect on the business at hand.

  40. DAR says:

    It makes me feel like I’m back in elementary school. I’m a “little person” with no say over anything, and there’s an authority figure constantly telling me what to do. And I’m forced to do what they tell me or I’ll “get in big trouble”.

    It’s the absolute antithesis of feeling empowered!

  41. Richard says:

    I feel as if I don’t have a soul anymore. I feel like I am mostly machine and all traces of humanity have been sucked out of me. As my wife says “You used to be fun, but now you suck!”

  42. Laura says:

    I describe my office job and cubicle as toxic to my spirit. Sometimes I literally have to leave the building because it feels poisonous to be there. Before I had graduated, I was ambitious and excited and had big dreams. My work sucks all the creativity and fun out of my job and is starting to sap my spirit too. It has dampened my will and motivation and has just made me stop caring. I’m no longer ambitious (what’s the point of a promotion if the work is just more of the same?), no longer excited about projects or making a difference. I’m just going through the motions. My job has also created a horrible habit of procrastination that I didn’t have before.

    I’m afraid if I don’t maintain enough spark to stay motivated to start my own company doing work I like, then I will just meander aimlessly in my cube for 40 years. I try to separate the energy between my work life and the rest of my life so I can focus on creating an engaging career in the future, but it’s hard to keep the lethargic work energy from spilling over to other aspects of my life.

  43. Richard says:

    I feel like a trained Monkey sitting in a cage watching the real world go by. My masters give me stale peanuts as treats, in the form of paltry raises, corp-speak and broken promises. Daily I am expected to perform like an organ grinder monkey. The audience gets a kick from my work while my master reaps the rewards.

  44. Fred says:

    It’s stifling,, I’ve got a great view out the window, and all I want to do is work on my projects for my little company,, meanwhile, I’m trapped in an office (recent upgrade) where the only time I can do my “real” work is lunch, nights, and weekends (and yes mornings when I wake,, pre-coffee).

    I just want to push past it and make my dreams and actions reality.

    I know that every day is a step closer, which makes coming here (a 1 hour drive per day each way) all that much harder.

    All the more reason to keep working hard!

    (plus I’m surrounded by morons with no personality)

  45. James Jeffers says:

    It’s a crushing thought that I’ll be still in this cube in 30 years. I imagine the stretch of time when I could be doing what I want, and making a life worth living, and then I remember where I am, and the bills I have to remain a slave for.

  46. Jim Walton says:

    It feels like my body is here, but my mind and heart are everywhere else. I get up early in the morning and go to bed late at night working on things that I’m passionate about and in the middle of all of that is the 9 or 10 hours I spend in my cubicle.

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