I Wear a Uniform at Work

And So Can You

A screenshot

That was a pretty funny pic, I thought. And then I wore that vest – a lil Arcteryx prototype vest my aunt found at their Vancouver outlet and gave me for Christmas – everyday at work until I got too hot sometime in June.

Why? To remind myself that I was at work.

“That’s obvious, though! Why bother?” Unfortunately, while it may have been obvious that I was at work based on the beige and the cubicles, I had a lot harder time finding the distinction between what was and wasn’t work. At its core, this was a failure to distinguish what work could and couldn’t do for me: work could, I kept discovering, keep me diverted and engaged at its best. But it could not ever give meaning to my life.

Work, I kept having to remind myself, shouldn’t be everything. It shouldn’t be all-consuming. It shouldn’t be the thing at the core of my life that gives meaning to the rest of what I do. Because I’d lived that way for enough years and in enough failed ways to know that it is a lie. There is no life worth living for me where work is the principal thing, or even the third most important thing, in my life.

This last role I was in was very demanding: it felt a lot like being a startup founder again in terms of scope, but without any of the commensurate control and authority you enjoy. So that throwback to my startup founding days made it real easy to regress into an older way of being that really fucked me up, and translated into many small bad things, like spending too much time and emotional energy on work, even when I wasn’t there.

But once things got really bad at my job, it meant what little capacity I had for maintaining that distinction just completely fell apart. I leaned on every coping strategy I had until my finances and my inner life were a jumbled mess.

And then I got a uniform.

You wear the uniform at work, and take it off when you get home. And with it, you have a ritual for setting aside all of the demands work will place on you. Whether you concede to those demands even after you have removed your uniform is up to you, ultimately. But then the fact of your betrayal of your own self is a little plainer: here you are, in your own clothes and home, making the habitual out of the supererogatory, ignoring all the things inside you that you swear can wait just a little longer.

Sometimes, people will make fun of your uniform, which I think is great. A bud at work showed up wearing a black vest and looking stoic, and yep. That’s me. I have been read, and I have been placed. I am the guy with a uniform. I am doing exactly what I must, and then I am free.